Twisted tale of what happens to a showoff wife who provokes her alcoholic husband's ire by reading more than he does. His revenge is vicious and complete.
She Read Too Much
I had only two goals back then: To get drunk every day and to read as many books as possible.
Unfortunately, the two ambitions were in conflict. When I was drunk I couldn’t read, and if I wanted to comprehend the printed word, I couldn’t drink.
I tried drinking and reading together, but it was useless. Once the booze was in my system the words on a page began to look like little black, blobs.
To make maters worse, I had a wife who loved to read and who hated to drink. She seemed to devour books. Every chance she had she picked one up. If she was waiting for a bus, in line at a grocery store or in line for the john at a concert or sporting event, she’d have a book in her mitts and would be reading.
I didn’t read as fast or as often as she did, and whenever I did sit down to read, some kind of alcoholic beverage was usually around to distract me. At first our marriage was beautiful. We’d sit at home on the couch together at night, each with a book in hand—a stack of books beside Dorothy and a case of beer and a bottle opener next to me. Dorothy would read and turn page after page, and I’d keep up with her. Well, sort of. I would down a beer in the time it took her to read a page. By the end of the night, Dorothy had finished a book, and I’d be sitting there sloppy drunk. Oh, I got some reading done, especially when we first sat down—maybe ten or fifteen pages—but it was nothing compared to the three hundred pages that she had read.
At first I thought it was wonderful that Dorothy read so much. I was proud, and bragged to friends about her. But after a while the bragging stopped. Dorothy’s reading began to irritate me. I was jealous and mad at her because she read more than I did.
You see, I had never finished college and was sensitive about the amount I read. I thought the lack of a college degree could be made up for by reading a lot, and I actually considered myself superior to most college graduates because of having read more and a wider variety than they did. I was proud of the amount I read, and when someone outdid me in that area my pride was hurt.
But I wasn’t stupid or naďve. I knew there were millions of people who had read more and who were smarter than I was. But because I never actually saw them outdoing me, it didn’t bother me.
But Dorothy not only read more than me, she did it in person—right in front of my face! Night after night, week after week I sat and watched as she read book after book. During one three week period she read twelve books to my eighty-three pages.
The humiliation soon became too great, and I determined right then to push myself and never stop until I was reading more than Dorothy. I considered several courses of action: Burning all of Dorothy’s books, gluing their pages together, ordering her not to read anymore, poking her eyes out, punching her in the stomach every time she read, or buying her books in Chinese or some other language she didn’t understand.
The decision was a difficult one, but I eventually settled on a plan that promised the greatest amount of success without breaking the law: I would turn Dorothy into an alcoholic so she too would be drunk all the time and unable to read.
I began the scheme immediately. Dorothy never drank and it would have aroused her suspicions to suddenly begin offering her drinks. So from that day on, whatever she ate or drank, I secretly spiked with hard liquor. If she asked for a glass of water or cup or tea or coffee, I’d offer to get it, run of to the kitchen, sneak out a bottle of liquor and an eye dropper and spike the drink.
I began cooking meals, and everything she ate—salads, vegetables, and ham sandwiches—got a dose of alcohol. Dorothy loved potato chips, and so I’d open every bag we bought and spike each chip.
The doses were small at first—two drops per drink, plate of food or chip—but increased gradually every few days so that by the end of six months Dorothy was drinking several glasses of liquor a day. She never suspected a thing, even though she had constant headaches and liver pains. After two more months she had turned into a disgusting boozehound who fixed her own drinks and begged unashamedly for alcohol.
There are very few people on this earth who are fortunate enough to be able to say that a plan they had set in motion worked as intended and accomplished exactly what it was supposed to. When my plan ended, I was one of those few!
Dorothy was unemployed and without money. She had gotten fired from her job and couldn’t get another. Having quickly spent her meager savings on booze, she had become dependent on me for cash. However, I had gradually decreased the amount I gave her until she was completely without money.
Not only was she penniless, but her physical and mental condition had deteriorated as well. She bathed infrequently and stunk. Her hair was uncombed, knotty and filthy. There was enough dirt under her fingernails to fill a small flower pot. Her breath was foul, and a green scum had begun to accumulate on her teeth.
One day I came home early from work and found Dorothy crawling around the house on her hands and knees searching frantically for alcohol. She was filthy and smelly; her clothes were ragged and dirty; her hair was a mess; her eyes were glazed and he was mumbling some nonsensical rhymes—what a beautiful sight it was! Dorothy, who was once a beautiful, healthy and useful human being, had turned into a worthless alcoholic, and I was responsible for it. Was I ever proud of myself!
But even though I had succeeded brilliantly, there was just one thing wrong: Dorothy now read more than ever. It was incredible. She read and memorized the labels on whiskey bottles and beer cans. She studied the history of alcohol, and from the library brought home book after book on the subject. She read books and articles and methodically compiled facts on every brewery, distillery and winery on the earth. The process of making alcoholic beverages fascinated her and she read so thoroughly on the subject that it scared me. Not only did she read about the grains and recipes necessary to make booze, but she became an expert on agriculture and knew all about soil types, fertilizers, insects, diseases, insecticides, hybridization and photosynthesis.
She became an expert on farm machinery and could discuss the benefits of one brand of reaper over another, as well as quote prices of machines manufactured as far away as China. She studied packaging and knew how bottles and cans were made, and had opinions on how to improve the process. Dorothy quickly became an expert on factory construction, from architecture to concrete pouring, and from bricklaying to electrical work.
What types of wood were best suited for whiskey barrels was a question that Dorothy could answer. She seemed to know as much about forestry as did a person who had studied the subject for years. Advertising was one of her favorite subjects, and after reading volumes on the subject, she developed her own ad campaigns and submitted them to various companies. All of this she did on top of her normal reading. Christ almighty, it was crazy!
A lesser man would have been defeated by such an odd twist, but not me. I had read enough history to realize that no plan ever goes exactly according to schedule, and that success depends on the ability to anticipate, plan for and react to unanticipated developments.
I had done jus that. Whether a reading machine like Dorothy could be shut down in just one step, I didn’t know when I began. If it could, wonderful, but if it required two, three or even four steps, that was no big deal either. I had worked up supplemental plans, and now put one into effect.
It was really simple. I spilled out all of the alcohol in the house and no longer brought any home. I knew that with no alcohol in the house, Dorothy would have to go out and buy her own. And since she didn’t have any money, I figured that she’d have to start selling off her personal possessions.
I was right on target there. I noticed with pleasure as the drawers in Dorothy’s jewelry box slowly emptied as she continued to drink. I was happy when I opened her closet one day and saw that it was almost empty and that her most expensive outfits were gone.
I was happier still when I noticed that Dorothy no longer wore her wedding ring. But my happiest moment occurred when I came home one day and noticed that one of Dorothy’s book cases was empty. What a beautiful sight it was! I knew what had happened to the books, but I just wanted to hear Dorothy say it, so I asked her, and when she replied, “I sold them,” I was in heaven! Joy oh joy oh joy! She had sold them!
I considered myself a genius for having adapted so well. The booze hadn’t affected Dorothy’s ability to read, so I made sure she didn’t have anything to read. How brilliant!
As the days progressed I moved close and closer to absolute ecstasy. Dorothy continued to sell books. She sold library books and had her library card permanently revoked when I told library officials what she had done. Her own library continued to shrink as she continued to drink, and soon it was down to only a few volumes. Those I took and sold myself, so eager was I to deprive her of any reading material.
Finally, all of Dorothy’s books were gone and victory was mine at last. I was thrilled and she was depressed—a usual mood for someone in a perpetual state of drunkenness. For three days she refused to get out of bed, and just lay there drinking whiskey she had stockpiled. That was fine with me. I had the whole house to myself and didn’t have to share food or anything with her.
I had long before locked the three or four books I owned in a big safe in the house, and when Dorothy finally got out of bed she begged me to let her read them. I, of course, refused, and explained that I feared she would sell them. Then, in a grand moment o triumph, I got out a book, sat on the couch and read it in front of Dorothy. She screamed and pouted and cried for me to let her read, but I wouldn’t give in. It was the happiest I had ever been. I was finally reading more than Dorothy was!
A tearful, awed happiness wept over me as I sat back and contemplated the power of the human spirit—its resourcefulness, determination and indomitableness in its quest for dignity. I had been miserable when Dorothy was reading more than I was. I hated the inequality between us. I felt that I was just as good a she was, and every time she read more than I did I felt like my pride and dignity were slowly being beaten out of me.
I could have stayed in that condition, robbed of dignity, hating the world, myself and Dorothy while not being man enough to fight for what I wanted. But I didn’t. That spirit inside of me refused to be satisfied with the short end of a bad deal. It and I yearned for a better day—a day when I could say that I was equal or better, a day when I could say that I had read as many or more books that Dorothy.
The next three days were pure bliss. I took off work, sat around the house in my underwear and nearly drank myself to death. I read a little, too, and even though it was only three our four pages, it was three or our more than Dorothy read!
Life was finally worth living! Gone from my bosom was the misery—the pride-crushing sense of inferiority and the feeling that I would never accomplish anything; that I would never achieve greatness; that my dreams would forever remained unfulfilled; that I was not unique and was just the same as the billions of other people on this earth; that I was doomed forever to live in a state of depression; that I was a pathetic failure, a nobody.
Instead, I was filled with happiness, a supreme and absolute happiness born of an unfailing confidence and the feeling that I had accomplished something worthwhile; that I had excelled; that in the race for that life-fulfilling satisfaction that results from dreams come true , the world’s billions were forever and hopelessly behind me, mired in their spirit-crippling sameness; that mine was a spirit of optimism and achievement which soared every second to greater and greater heights; that I had succeeded and was finally a person of consequence!
As I staggered into the kitchen to get another case of beer, I thought that of all the possible situations to be in, mine was the very best; that what I was doing was the finest thing that any human could be doing now, in the future, or in the past; that my situation was perfect.
The only problem with a perfect situation, though, is that they never last very long. Mine didn’t because Dorothy suddenly went on a selling binge to get money to buy booze. First she sold our silverware, then the china, then the appliances and furnishings and carpets and towels. In a couple of months our house was nearly empty.
Dorothy started selling of my wardrobe, but I noticed it in time and locked my clothes in the safe. I came home from work one day and discovered that our dog was gone—Dorothy had sold it. She got a couple of hundred dollars for our car, and would have sold our house if the real estate agent hadn’t called me at work to congratulate me on the deal. One day I got home and received a phone call from the state police. I couldn’t believe it. Dorothy had tried to sell my grandmother! It was disgusting. Her lack of morals made me sick. Who could think of something so horrible and wrong as selling your grandmother for a bottle of whiskey? It was the ultimate in bad judgment and despicable behavior. I don’t care how bad things are, you just don’t go and sell of relatives—it’s just not right.
Well, that brought the old lady into the picture to further complicate my life. She was a nice lady, but she was old and crazy and was one of those hopelessly confused people who never see the world as it really is, but only as they wish it could be. She didn’t believe there was evil in the world. According to her there were no bad people on earth, only misguided ones.
And now she brought that disgusting attitude into my house and nearly drove me crazy. Did the old lady find it disgusting that Dorothy was a drunken slob with no job? Did she want to disown her for selling of her grandson’s possessions? Did she think that Dorothy should have been sewn into a straightjacket and locked in a closet for trying to sell of a relative? No. Granny looked on the bright side of things and said that it was clear that Dorothy had a natural talent for selling and that she could probably make millions of dollars if she made a career of it. She even offered to stay with us and help Dorothy dry out. Dorothy refused the offer, that is, until the old lady tricked her by saying she could use the millions to buy a publishing company.
It was a dirty, filthy, stinking trick, but it got Dorothy exited. She actually believed that she could own a publishing company. The change that that thought produced in her was scary. She started bathing; she stopped drinking and started eating health foods. But most frightening of all was that she started reading again—not just novels, but books on careers on sales.
I had no doubt hat my deadbeat wife could make millions in sales and actually buy a publishing company if she put her mind to it, so I fought hard to keep her down, and I used every trick I knew to get her to drink.
Every time I was close, every time that Dorothy nearly had the liquor to her lips, the old lady was there to tell her that if she drank even a little, that if she drank just one tiny drop, she would never be able to read again.
It was a powerful argument, and one that was beating me. I was ready to give up. I couldn’t understand why all of this was happening to me. What had I done to deserve such misfortune? I was turning bitter. And yet, if I had given up there, I would have had nothing to be ashamed of. Dorothy had been born to read. It seemed as if the creator had picked her out especially and instilled in her that special drive. I wasn’t fighting ordinary human desires, and I knew that what I had done so far to keep her from reading could be considered a super-human feat and an inspiration to future dream chasers.
I was ready to panic, but fortunately, my dream made me forget reality and the futility of fighting further, and hurled me ignorantly forward until finally I realized that the old lady had to be neutralized if I was to succeed.
I soon realized getting rid of granny was no great problem. She was old, and her health wasn’t the best. She needed a warm environment to fight off germs and stay well. However, it was winter, it was my house, I controlled the heat and I planned to freeze the health out of the old lady. I kept the temperature in the house real low, and after two weeks I could tell that granny was weakening. But she wasn’t getting sick, so I decided to hit her from a second angle.
I stopped feeding our dog—a German shepherd named Bruno. As he got hungrier he got meaner and bolder in his quest for food, and at mealtimes he started eating the food off the told lady’s plate. She tried to stop him, but he nearly tore her arms off, and after that she was so scared that it was she who was begging him for food.
With her food intake drastically lowered, the old lady weakened even further. But still she wasn’t sick. I was getting impatient and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t ill. Finally, I realized that there weren’t enough germs in the house. That problem was easily solved. I invited friends who had colds and fevers over and had them breathe all over the old lady. It worked! In another week she was sick and hospitalized for good.
With the old lady gone, I got to work on Dorothy. It wasn’t easy. Granny had put so many rotten ideas into her head. Eventually, though, I got her back on alcohol, and for a while our lives normalized.
But what happened next convinced me that the world is full of tragic characters—people, who because they are never satisfied, always take one step more than necessary, and in doing so, turn a good situation into a bad one, good fortune into disaster and ultimately ruin their lives as well as the lives of others. As I sat around my empty house and thought about what I had done to Dorothy and why I had done it, I was filled with shame, and I reached the sad and painful conclusion that perhaps the most tragic figure of all was my own wife!
Dorothy had always pushed things. She wasn’t satisfied with having the ability to read—she actually had to go out and do it. And then, she wasn’t happy with reading three or four pages a day—she had to read hundreds. That tragic character flaw surfaced in her again and was the thing that turned me from a half-way decent guy into a mean-spirited, ugly one.
I had been happy with the situation as it was after the old lady was gone. With my blessing, Dorothy kept selling our furnishings to buy alcohol so she could stay drunk. But was she satisfied with the deal? Did she appreciate my generosity? Was she happy with a steady supply of booze? No. She had to go out and buy books with the money she got from selling our stuff. I was furious. I was tired of having my happiness interrupted by someone who didn’t know when to stop, by someone for whom a good thing just wasn’t good enough. I determined right then to end the interruptions and secure a permanent happiness for myself.
The next night while Dorothy slept I piled a bunch of open books on her bed and covered them with spiders and bugs and ants so it would appear that the bugs were coming out of the books. Dorothy woke up when the little creatures started biting her. The bugs were crawling all over her arms and legs and face and in and out of her ears and all through her hair. A first she screamed and squirmed, but she calmed down, and just as I expected, she refused to believe that the bugs existed. I had used her reading and intelligence against her. All of the books on alcoholism that she had read told her to expect the DTs, and now she was determined not to succumb to what she called an “illusion.”
What a pathetic sight it was. The bugs were all over Dorothy, and even though the bites had caused her body to start swelling, she sat motionless in the bed and stared at the wall and resisted the urge to flinch or scratch or pick at the bugs. Instead, she concentrated on trying to wipe the “illusion” from her mind.
The minutes passed and the creatures continued their work. Dorothy’s hands were red and swelled. He face was raw and puffy, and yet she still refused to flinch. As the ordeal continued she began to cry and began asking herself why the bugs weren’t going away. She closed her eyes as if to gather strength for a final burst of concentration that would set her mind straight and take the “illusion” away. The shrieks and screams that followed when she opened her eyes were filled with such agony and pain that I cursed the Almighty for having made Dorothy a person who could read so much. Finally, after nearly an hour, Dorothy succumbed to the “illusion” and fell unconscious.
I took her to the hospital where her condition was critical. The bites and horror had shocked her nervous system. The situation was tense for several days, but finally, Dorothy began to improve. However, as she did, it became clear that she had suffered a mental breakdown.
Dorothy now hated and feared books and said that their pages would turn into bugs that would eat her when she slept. She wouldn’t allow any books in her room and would scream with terror when one was brought near. It was what I had hoped for.
Her mental illness was my ultimate triumph. To celebrate, I treated myself to a case of beer and a nice little joke. I started sending Dorothy books through the mail and signed her up for memberships in all kinds of book clubs. I nearly laughed myself crazy when I was told how she screamed when she received the books. Her brain was nearly mush by the time her doctors caught on and began screening her mail.
With Dorothy confined to an institution and out of the way, I worked to reach my goal of getting drunk every day. It’s not that I hadn’t been getting drunk each day, it’s just that I wasn’t doing it full time. I was only getting drunk after work. That wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t one to leave my dream at home, so I took it and my bottles to work and drank on the job. The problem there was that I had bosses whose only dreams were to have no dreams, and who hated it when the dreams of others came true . No boss could stand it that I was achieving my goals. After being fired from six or seven jobs, I gave up trying to find a boss with an open mind.
But that created another problem to block my way to final fulfillment—money. I don’t care how cheap your booze is, you need money to drink. After having spent my severance pay, cashed in my insurance policies and spent my savings, I was nearly out of money. But again my agile mind came up with a solution. I rented my house out to strangers and moved into the garage. With a steady income and supply of booze, my happiness was complete—for a while.
Again, I was denied the happiness that I had fought so hard for. After several months, Dorothy was reading again. The doctors had worked hard, and even though she would read only when others were present and still refused to keep books in her room overnight, they were optimistic that she would be cured very soon.
Day by day that optimism increased as Dorothy improved. When she no longer required another person in the room when she read, the doctors began congratulating themselves for doing such a fine job. All that remained was to keep Dorothy in the institution for a few more weeks to make sure she suffered no relapses before she would be pronounced cured and released.
Well, I put an end to that optimism on night when I sneaked into Dorothy’s room and laid open on her bed a picture book about bugs and insects.
Today, Dorothy sits in that same institution and writes letters to presidents and congressmen warning them of the “insect plot” and of the threat that books pose to our national security.
Me? I sit around my garage each day and drink until I pass out. I read too, maybe a book or two a year, but mostly I read doctors’ reports about my bleeding ulcers, malnutrition and how my liver is going to explode at any second. My situation is a testimony to the effects of a relentless pursuit of success and of the ultimate rebuff of the foolish notion that the world is so huge and complex that an individual can no longer control his own destiny and must necessarily submit to being swept along on a wave of self-pity, ambitionless and dream-suppressing, mediocrity-accepting failures as is the rest of the world.
Who but an idiot could deny that I have achieved something? Let my experience stand as a monument to achievement and self-determination and a refusal to quit. And to those who want to wallow in self-pity and cry that the world is against them, I say it doesn’t have to be. There can be a day, when, like me, you can revel in glory and satisfaction, knowing that a dream you dreamed came true ; and came true , not because of luck, but because of your hard work and determination and refusal to let anything stand in the way of that success.
Oh children of mediocrity and disappointment, dream, dare to be bold!
Look where it got me!
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A Heartland Voice: Just Folks Two
by Jerry Engler
Jerry Engler, A Heartland Voice, humor stories, historical fiction, romance stories, animal stories, Heartland stories, Midwestern stories, Southwestern stories, small town stories..
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