It was about 2:13 in the afternoon when Hosea saw his wife walk into the bar with another man. She was laughing, he said, and touching the man’s shoulders and laughing. I saw her glance in our direction. She knew this was where her husband liked to drink on Wednesdays and Fridays, and she knew he started around noon. Hosea loved the girl behind the bar; she made him drunk before he even sat down.
Hosea and Esther were getting a divorce. He told me he was glad because he’d now be able to get pussy like the one pouring drinks behind the bar. Told me he wanted to lay her down, right there on the rubber mats. Said he’d make her cum so hard she’d have to call off work for a week. I told him that wouldn’t be nice, that she might have bills and need to work.
Esther knew better than to bring a man here. She knew what she was doing, and she knew first hand the shortness of Hosea’s temper. “Goddamn it! That haughty cunt!” He swore as he emptied his third whiskey coke into his belly. He stood in anger. He stumbled three times, once for every three shots of whiskey the girl behind the bar loaded into his coke; she knew what she was doing too.
Hosea anchored himself to the bar with an unsteady hand. His wrath contorted his face, although it might have been the booze mixed with the effort it took for him to stand that turned him pink. That, mixing with the emotional exertion it took to hold back all but those few drops of liquid I saw welling in the gullet of his eyes.
“Jesus-Christ, man!” He repeated this holy chant twelve times before realizing people surrounding the bar inching away from him. Internalizing the mantra, he began rocking. Esther and the man found a seat in the restaurant. I told the girl I needed another gin and tonic. I had a feeling I’d be driving home.
Years before they started the process of separating, Hosea was a preacher. He had stepped down from the pulpit to work on his marriage, he often told me. He was respected in town, and carried a Testament in his back pocket at all times. When he saw old church people he’d challenge them to “sword fights.” I gathered this was a race to find a random verse in the Bible fastest, but I never got comfortable with them calling their Bibles swords.
These daily challenges translated into quoting random verses at random times–often at the worst times. Hosea wrecked his car once and blamed the other person for not being on the path toward righteousness. When I met him, he told me I had to drop everything to walk with Jesus straight away. I told him I had already dropped everything and started walking. I told him I was waiting for Jesus to catch up. Apparently the idea was so awesome to him he gave me a hug and called me brother. On our way to the bar he stepped in dog shit and quoted a psalm. I have concluded that there is a verse for everything under the sun.
Hosea stopped rocking suddenly, lifted his head off of the bar, and looked at me. He quoted something out of Leviticus about not fucking your neighbor’s wife.
“I’m.. I’m gonna walk over there,” he pointed listlessly toward the restaurant.
“No, no you’re not buddy.” I patted his knee. “You’re going to sit right here and wait for the potato skins we ordered.”
“Damn. I– wanted to go over– give them a piece of my mind,” he forced the words out of his mouth.
Hosea was half-way through his third loaded potato skin when he staggered out of his seat. I was too focused on my gin and the hips I had fucked, unbeknownst to Hosea, that kept pouring drinks behind the bar. Hosea threw what was left of his skin at the broad-shouldered man sitting with his wife. Esther stood with the man. Hosea wept.
He started screaming about her being his wife and how she knew-what-the-fuck-she was doing. She screamed, “Jesus Christ Hosey! It’s fucking Friday at Fridays!”
“It’s T-G-I-Fridays! Don’t you take God out of it! Taking God out of our marriage!” he stumbled, crying now. The waitress set the two meals down.
Hosea was torn up over his divorce. The last big trip he took was to a city to hold a sign at one of those Marriage-Defense rallies, and here he was, still trying to defend his marriage. Trying his best not to lose the marriage.
The man with Hosea’s wife stood silently throughout the marital exchange. In towns like these, quiet mountain towns, no one is embarrassed at public spats like this one. Their flare was mild, and everyone knew what went on behind carefully numbered front doors. Or at least, they wanted to give the appearance of knowing, from behind their menus.
When they were both crying, Hosea went to step beyond the man to hold his wife. Esther stepped back. The man held Hosea away from her. Hosea punched the man under the ribs. He was much shorter than the man, but he had a wife and he thought it made him stronger. He strived against the man. He cursed the man. But Hosea forgot about Samson; he forgot about how wrong it can all end up.
The man threw Hosea over his broad shoulders and carried him out. Another man and his son held open the door. The man with Hosea’s wife and the broad shoulders just kept walking. He called him a cab. Hosea walked home in his indignation.
I took another sip of my gin, watery by now. I waited until the man came back before ordering another. It took time. After I had eaten the ice cubes, the man returned bleeding slightly over his eyebrow. Esther had finished eating when the man picked up his knife and started. They spoke quietly for the rest of the meal. I knew Hosea would tell me later that evening he tried reasoning with the man before hitting him. Hosea would teach me about righteous anger.
I ordered another drink from Rebecca behind the bar. With Hosea gone, I felt more comfortable engaging her. Casually talking about the next time we could fuck behind the bar when her manager was out of town. I told her I had an idea, something new to try.
* * *
It was a while before I heard from Hosea again. After heavy nights of drinking he spends a day on his knees praying for forgiveness in a worried way. Once in the afternoon I went see him, to check on him after a late night. He answered the door with tears in his eyes. He looked over my shoulder like someone was after his life. This time, however, it was a few days before he called.
When I went over, everything was dark. I assumed he hadn’t turned the lights on since Saturday when he got home. He let me in and offered me a glass of water. I accepted because my tap carries the sulfuric taste of a well, and his comes out of a fridge without having to open any doors.
“I want you to take me to see Esther,” He said. He cracked open a beer.
“Hose, it’s 11am on a Monday. She’s working.”
“Take me there.”
“I’ll take you over to see her after she gets out.”
“Jesus said, drop everything and come with me.”
“Well then Jesus must have had a car.”
Hosea hated the fact that he didn’t have a car, and I could tell he was already a little drunk. “Get the fuck outta my house saith the Lord. At the Great White Throne Judgement, Jesus will look at you and say he never knew you. He’ll ask me too, and I’ll say I never fucking knew you.”
* * *
Later that night I took Hosea to Esther’s apartment. She had a small apartment on the outskirts of the town. She was staying there until her divorce was over. It was simple– small sofa, writing table, drapes, a cross affixed to the wall next to the door with a message– God Go With You.
On the way over I asked Hosea why he wanted to see Esther. He spun his wedding band around his finger. After a moment, he told me he wanted to ask Esther to marry him again. I told him she might not go for it. He said it was all that he could think to do, and he at least had to try to get her back.
Esther welcomed us in. She loved Hosea deeply in the midst of all his shortcomings. She knew me and liked me by default. He wouldn’t hit her if I was around.
Hosea was crying by the time we were inside. She tried to ignore this and offered us something to drink. I asked for some water and she got a glass and filled it from the fridge until it spilled on the kitchenette floor. She was crying too. They both were. She handed me the wet glass and sat on the sofa next to Hosea. I leaned against the wall, next to the cross, and took a sip of the clean fridge water.
They wept silently, together for a while. Hard as a midwestern rainstorm, so loud one can’t hear the person standing next to them. When they embraced I looked out the sole window in the room. Outside, I saw the lot with one security light fastened to the top of a wooden stake.
“What’s this?” I heard Hosea. Suddenly composed.
“The man gave it to me.”
“Hosea–” I tried.
“No!” He ripped the necklace off of her throat. “And these!” He tried to rip the bracelets from her arms, dragging her to the floor.
“Stop! I love those!” Esther was hysterical, grasping for the gold in Hosea’s hands as he flung it across the room. She scrambled across the floor in search of her loss. Hosea was already out the door and heading down the steps.
“Are you out of your goddamned mind, Hose?” I called after him. I heard the gravel shift under his boots as he turned to run at me. His fist caught the side of my face, twisting my neck. I fell over, coughing. He headed up the road while I learned how to breathe in the parking lot.
On my back, the sky was nothing but impenetrable darkness. I was in some godforsaken country staring up at the night sky, and the only star I could see was a security light held up by bungee-cords and twine. I drove home and never spoke to Hosea again.
* * *
I saw the ambulances the following morning, heading out toward the edge of town, when I was on my way home from Rebecca’s. The obituaries read “loving husband” and “caring wife.” The caskets were closed, but I could be sure that Esther wasn’t wearing any jewelry. Hosea made sure of that. People at the wake said he tore off her hands, feet, and head so she’d never be able to wear another piece of jewelry again. Esther’s neighbors said he went crazy, stabbed his own palms and feet, and ran around asking for forgiveness, asking to be like Christ. The EMTs said it was the stab in the side that killed him.
The people who found the mess said the amount of blood was incredible. They said you could have painted the apartment with it there was so much. The preacher said he died holding that cross she had on the wall and her left hand with the diamond. He said that they, like Jesus, were willing to die for love.
At the funeral, the preacher read a verse out of the Book of Hosea. It seemed to be the only thing left.
Hosea was lowered into the earth a married man, next to his wife. Bound in the grace of God.
_ Kevin Kaminski 2012