THE STUNTMAN by Drew Buxton
The psychiatrist upped my Prozac, and now I’m feeling better, but it’s made it difficult for me to perform for my wife. It’s that, but also I think I’m just getting old and worn out. We’re moving in different directions, my wife and I, sexually, I mean. We live near the university where I’ve taught for the past 22 years, and when I take my walks, I see coeds jogging and walking their dogs, and I still like to look and admire, but I don’t have the same urges I did when I was younger. I tell you this as a way of explaining what led us to bring in the stuntman.
He’s here now, in the bedroom with Connie, filling in for me. I sit on the recliner in the study and read my Louis L’Amour novel. I can hear my wife, and I wonder if she ever sounded like that with me at any point, but the thought soon passes.
The study is right by the front door, so the stuntman passes by on his way out. He stops in front of the door to say hello. He’s very polite and well-dressed. Today he’s in a navy blue button-up and khaki slacks, and the shirt sleeves are tight around his muscular arms. You can tell he takes care of himself. I see him out.
“Have a good rest of your night,” he says and walks to his Kia Spectra. It’s older and too small for him, but he keeps it clean. I close the door and go to the bedroom and nestle up with Connie. She’s laying on her back, half asleep, sweat drying on her brow. I put on Friday the 13th, Part II. We’re going through the whole series. It was her idea, but she’s already asleep. Like most sequels, it’s worse than the original. I’m sure they’ll get worse and worse as we go. The truth is, the first one isn’t very good either, just a cheap ripoff of Halloween.
This goes on for months. The stuntman comes by on Saturday afternoons and maybe one weekday night, spending about an hour here each time. We’re so grateful for him. He’s taken so much pressure off of our relationship. Connie doesn’t get short with me anymore, and we start doing things we haven’t done in years. She plays chess with me, and we have picnics at the park. We drink wine on the back porch and have conversations late into the night.
One night during winter break is different though. After the moans and grunts stop, the stuntman doesn’t immediately emerge from the bedroom. I start to drift off on the recliner before he walks by the study and says goodbye. When I go into the bedroom, Connie is already asleep on her side. I want to ask her what she was doing with him but I don’t want to wake her. I suspect she was cuddling with the stuntman. I soon fall asleep next to her.
He seemingly stays later each night. I find myself quite anxious, too anxious to read, and the sound starts to bother me, the silence. The silence screams so loud. I watch TV with the volume turned up. The stuntman is getting sloppy, and when he leaves now, his clothes and hair are ruffled. He only mumbles a farewell as he shuffles out. I find Connie is distant. I ask her if we should put on the next Friday the 13th sequel, and she tells me to put on whatever I want.
I doze off in my recliner one night and am awoken by loud snoring. Connie doesn’t snore, so it can only be the stuntman. I get up and go to the bedroom door and ease it open. They are spooning, and the TV is on. I look at them for a while, standing in the doorway. I hear a scream from the TV. It faces away from the door, so I have to step inside to see it. I tiptoe in and see a hockey mask. He’s running too and carrying a meat cleaver. It’s Jason. I don’t recognize this one. Then I see Freddy Krueger and his long claws. I saw this in theaters when it came out. It’s Freddy vs. Jason, one of the last in the series.
I leave and sit on the couch in the living room. I do the only thing I can do. I weep. I weep through the night and eventually sink into a fitful sleep.
When I wake up, they are at the kitchen table, eating eggs and bacon. The stuntman says good morning. He is wearing my robe, and I don’t say anything. “No time to eat,” I say. “I’m late for work.”
“Oh, we didn’t make any for you,” Connie says.
The stuntman is there when I get home in the evening, and he stays with us from then on. After a few nights, I get accustomed to the couch. It’s not so bad. The stuntman doesn’t work, so he is always around. He spends most of his time on our back porch, talking on his phone and smoking cigarettes. He paces in my robe and pulls on his hair like he’s negotiating something.
About a week into these arrangements, I’m awoken suddenly by screams at night. They are not my wife’s, and after a moment they stop. I sit up on the couch, and the stuntman comes out of the bedroom in his boxers. He asks me if he woke me, and I lie and say I’ve been up.
“I need a cigarette,” he says and goes out to the porch. When he comes back inside, he says there’s no way he can get back to sleep. I feel wide awake too, and I offer him a beer. He accepts and we sit at the kitchen table. I’m surprised to see that, in the kitchen light, the stuntman looks tired and old. His hair is thin up front and lines circle around his eyes. He tells me about his nightmare.
“So I’m in my car, right, and I’m downtown somewhere, and I’m circling the block looking for a parking spot.” He stops and takes a breath. “Then I see a spot and just as I’m about to pull in, another car swoops in and takes it.” He stares off and there’s a pause.
“That’s it?” I say.
“Yeah, just that over and over. My therapist would probably say it represents how I feel like I don’t have any control over my life. Of course, I can’t afford to see her anymore since I got laid off.”
Before he finishes the beer, he starts slurring his words. “I don’t drink a lot,” he says. He goes on about his problems, and I start to feel for him because he really has a lot going on. He has several children by different women and is behind on child support. His father is elderly and requires more care than he can provide. “I try my best,” he says, “but I’m afraid it’s just not good enough.”
I don’t know what to tell him. I just listen and try to be there for him. I keep offering him beers and he keeps taking them. I haven’t had a cigarette in almost a decade, but I go outside and smoke with him. He tells me he loves me and comes in suddenly for a hug. I awkwardly hug him back, and in that moment, I feel like I love him too.
* * *
I wake up with my head throbbing, and when I leave for work the stuntman is still in the bedroom, sleeping it off I assume. It’s a rough day of writing reports, but I drink plenty of coffee and get through it. All I want to do when I get home is lay down in peace and quiet, but when I go inside I hear the moans right away. I go to get a glass of water from the kitchen, and to my surprise, the stuntman is at the kitchen table with his face in his hands. He looks up and manages a smile. I point to the bedroom, confused.
“Oh, that’s Ricky,” the stuntman says. “He’s filling in for a while.”
“It’s just I’ve got too much on my mind right now. Ricky’s a good guy.”
I feel like I should be upset, but I’m actually relieved. It’s back to being just about sex.
Tonight the stuntman sleeps on the other part of the sectional. He says he can’t stand the sounds, and I tell him he’ll get used to it.
After a few weeks, Ricky says he’s cracking under the pressure. More are brought in, and they get younger and younger. I don’t question the different men coming in and out of the house. They walk around shirtless in basketball shorts and drink the orange juice straight from the carton. One day this scrawny kid walks in, and I ask if he’s even legal. “That’s Stevie,” the stuntman says. “He’s good. I checked his ID.”
The stuntman controls the remote, and he likes to put on primetime sitcoms, something that won’t keep him up at night, he says. The sectional is full so I sit on the floor, and a few guys stand the whole time. Summer comes and we get restless, feeling a bit cooped up in the house. Ricky is captain of a softball team and has extra gloves in the trunk of his car. He suggests we start a team as a way to bring everyone together.
I start off playing first base, but soon we have more players than there are positions and guys are fighting for playing time. I mostly just cheer them on from the bench. They start playing in a league at the park down the road. The stuntman loses his spot in the rotation as well, not because he’s a bad player, but because his drinking has gotten out of control. He tells me his dad fell in his kitchen and lay there for hours while he was passed out drunk. “I hate myself for it,” he says. We stop going to the games and sit at home and drink. They come home excited after the game, saying they made it to the league championship.
When they get home from the championship game, they’re yelling at Stevie. Apparently, he dropped a fly ball in the ninth inning and cost us the game. Me and the stuntman defend him, saying it was an honest mistake, could’ve happened to anyone.
“He’s just a kid,” the stuntman says.
The guys don’t want to hear it though and voices get louder. We stand between them and Stevie. Eventually Connie comes out and tells everyone to cut it out.
“He blew the championship,” Ricky says and throws his gloves on the ground.
“I don’t give a shit,” she says and looks around the room. “Don’t you have jobs, families? What are you doing here?” she asks. Everyone hangs their head in shame.
“This has gotten out of control,” she continues. “I want to go back to when it was simple.” She’s looking towards me, and my heart swells. “I just want to lay in bed and watch horror movies again. The sex isn’t even that important to me.” I’ve really missed her. I think I’ve just been swallowing the pain of everything that’s been going on. My eyes well up and I’m too choked up to talk but I nod. She steps towards me and I crave her embrace, but as I open my arms she goes to the right, away from me. She goes to the stuntman. He hugs her so hard he picks her up off her feet.
After he sets her down, she orders everyone out. They groan and file out slowly. My feet are stuck to the ground, and I feel like I might faint. The walls feel like they’re caving in. Soon it’s just the three of us, and I realize Connie and the stuntman are staring at me. I get the message. I take a last look at what’s been my home for the past fifteen years and close the front door behind me. The cars parked along the street leave one by one, and I see the kid Stevie sitting on the curb. I ask him what he’s doing, and he says he’s waiting for his mom to pick him up. “What about you?” he says. I tell him I have nowhere to go, and I know I sound pathetic. I’m fishing for an invite, but soon his mom comes by and they wave at me as they take off. I sit on the curb and cry for I don’t know how long, probably hours. When I finally stop, I lay back on the grass, and I don’t hear a thing.
Drew Buxton is a writer and social worker from Texas. His debut short story collection So Much Heart is available now from With An X Books. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in Joyland, The Drift, Electric Literature, Ninth Letter, and Vice among other publications. Find him at drewbuxton.com.