Brenda Peynado

 

BONUS

As he got older, he kept his love for his young, pretty Rita separate from the growing love for the new graying Rita he found himself beside through the years. He took turns between his versions of her, the one night keeping his eyes closed and imagining those first nights with her in the hotel rooms in Tampa, the next night commanding his eyes open to watch her figure soft with age, the recent careful touch of her fingers on his skin, as if she was measuring flour.

He met her at the company sales meeting in Tampa. They sold computers and registers to big businesses back then, and they’d sat at one of the breakaway tables together while some corporate education presenter droned about the new customer offerings. Later, she teased him over baseball hotdogs that she’d gotten better year-end sales figures. Then, the baseball came over the left field wall, sailing right towards them like a bomb in that complicated blue and Florida heat, and he put his hand out in front of her face and caught it. The burn of his hand. Everyone cheering like wild. Her eyes wide like he was not the man she’d thought.

Thirty years later he’d wear to work the ties she picked out for him. She had stayed home since the kids were born, and now the grandchildren. The technology he sold outpaced him. The new hires were faster, tech-savvy, better. He logged more hours, met with more customers than ever to compensate for his dwindling kill rate. He took breaks with the new hires to learn their secrets, but they gave away nothing. Instead, between meetings in the war room where competitors’ strategies hung in giant flowcharts, they’d talk about cheating on their wives in code so the women in the office wouldn’t understand, about their extra bits, their bonuses, the surprise customer offerings, and he’d chime right in along with them, although his bonuses were dwindling and his extra bit was his own wife, young again when he closed his eyes. He’d say, his bonus ripped the buttons off his shirt last night, his extra bit gave him a massage. Sometimes, when he went home, he’d be surprised by the scent of cookies in her hair, her round shape, the squeal of the two grandchildren when he picked them up, how he could only raise them half-mast anymore.

Then the stroke came. He heard the doctor tell Rita it was from high stress, too many hours. The night before the ambulance, he was making love to his bonus, and this burns in him. Because now he can see it on her face when she cleans his drool, cups his chin, slides the spoon between his slack lips, that she is remembering too, the one of him that caught the baseball in front of her face in the summertime. He waits in his wheelchair to be complete, for them both to stop remembering. He waits for his only Rita.

 

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