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Contemporary Fiction Sad

Harvey was snoring louder than normal, so Gloria kicked his hairy leg aggressively under the covers. Without waking, he rolled from his back to his side, his big belly flopping on the mattress as if he were a seal basking in the sun. She noticed that his belly looked bigger than her sister’s had been when she was nine months pregnant. Feeling impish, Gloria poked her newly manicured finger into the flesh next to Harvey’s belly button, half-expecting a baby to kick back, but instead, the skin jiggled back down to its original position on the bed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She’d never be able to sleep with this snoring. She turned and faced Harvey again, inspecting her husband’s sixty-five-year-old face in the moonlight. His untamed, white eyebrows. The deep-grooved lines running down his face. Had he ever been attractive? Not when she’d known him. Maybe when he was younger. She could smell his rancid breath waft out of his mouth and whoosh towards her nostrils. Had he not brushed his teeth before bed? She gagged and threw the sixteen hundred thread count sheets away from her, huffing and puffing all the way to their master bathroom.

“Every time he has that extra scotch, he snores all night,” she grumbled as she relieved herself and rinsed her face with warm water. She grabbed her pillow from the bed and stomped down the stairs towards the pull-out sofa in the living room. What she wanted to do was go sleep in one of their empty bedrooms, but they were assigned to Harvey’s children.

“My kids still need a place to stay when they visit. This is where they grew up,” he’d told her when she wanted to turn Tara’s room into a meditation room. Gloria didn’t understand why twenty-something-year-olds still needed bedrooms in their father’s house when they were grown adults. Gloria hadn’t lived with her parents since she was eighteen, which made it seventeen years of her being on her own. Kids these days were spoiled.

As she walked down the spiraling staircase, she ignored the photographs of Harvey’s children displayed on the walls. Even after five years, this house still didn’t feel like hers. She walked through the marbled foyer, making a mental note that she wanted to change the flooring to a checkered tile. Change the crystal chandelier to a gold sputnik drop. Something more modern and sleeker. Enough was enough. This was her house now and it was time she made her mark. Harvey’s ex-wife, Michelle, was still all over the place and Gloria didn’t like it.

Too tired to be bothered with opening the pull-out sofa to make it into a bed, she plopped herself down and pulled the throw blanket over her legs, beginning to grow more resentful with her lack of sleep. Harvey never seemed to care if she didn’t get a good night sleep.

“You don’t work, just take a nap later instead of doing yoga and getting lunch with friends,” he’d said when she’d complained to him about his bad sleeping habits. She hadn’t appreciated his snide comment. Harvey snored. He twitched. He breathed heavily. He released gases from his nether regions. When he rolled in the bed, his big belly made the mattress jiggle like her grandmother’s Christmas Jell-O mold. Didn’t he care that he was unpleasant to sleep with? No, he didn’t care. He didn’t care because he made money and she didn’t.

Gloria closed her eyes and thought about her ex-boyfriend, Will. Will slept so silently, sometimes she thought he was dead. And he was so clean and hygienic; he brushed his teeth every night. Sometimes twice a night. And he had almost no body hair. Slick as a seal. A tight, twenty-something-year-old body. He’d make her breakfast in bed before going to paint in his studio for the day. Pancakes with whipped cream. He’d tell her she was beautiful. He’d tell her he loved the way she looked at the world. He'd brush the hair away from her face and stare at her in the eyes and smile. Why couldn’t Will have had a better bed? His bed was so uncomfortable. A little IKEA frame. A double mattress in a little apartment he rented. He barely made rent every month.

But Gloria had yearned for something more than pancakes in an IKEA bed in a small apartment. Gloria yearned what many young, pretty women yearn for. Gloria yearned to be rich. And so, Gloria broke up with Will. Told him it wasn’t him, it was her, which was the truth.

When they’d married five years before, Gloria had been so excited about Harvey’s bed. A California King his ex-wife had picked out. A California king bed on a luxury platform bedframe in a five hundred square foot master bedroom in a seven thousand square foot house in a gated A-lister community. She’d been thrilled about it all. Who wouldn’t have been?

They’d met while she was temping at his office. Isn’t that how they all meet? A thirty-year-old temping for a sixty-year-old CEO in a stale marriage. She’d been the one to make the first move.

“Can you help me move this box?” she’d asked him with a furrowed brow, pointing to a lightweight box she could have lifted with her pinky. But she’d wanted him to feel powerful.

“You’re so strong,” she’d said, rubbing his bicep. He’d blushed, not used to being hit on by a pretty young woman.

She’d started wearing low cut tops. Started going into his office and asking for help on silly things. Started dropping things in front of him and bending down in her low-cut skirts.

“Wanna grab a drink after work?” she’d asked after two weeks of flirting. He’d looked surprised. Uncomfortable. “Just as friends, of course. I’d love to hear more about your company. I aim to get into this field and would love some advice.” And that’s how she hooked him. Just as friends.

But didn’t he know old men don’t have young, pretty, female friends?

They’d gone to a bar a few blocks down from the office and she’d ordered the same thing as him, a scotch on the rocks. She’d laughed at all his jokes. She’d touched his arm every few minutes. She was amicable. Pleasant. Easy. It didn’t take long for them to start sleeping together. It didn’t take long for him to leave his wife for her. Three months to be exact.

“She’s just so difficult,” he’d explained about his wife, “She’s always nagging me. I can’t be me. There’s no lust anymore. No desire.”

So, Gloria gave him what he needed. No nagging. Lust. Desire.  

And Harvey gave Gloria a new life. A Range Rover-white with black trim. Hermes. Louis Vuitton. Chanel. A honeymoon in Bora Bora. She’d never have to work again. Flora cooked for them four days a week. Maria cleaned for them once a week. Gloria could do anything she wanted. Yoga. Brunch. Shopping. Massages. Pedicures. Smoothies. But what Gloria couldn’t get, and what Harvey’s money couldn’t buy her, was sleep.  

Gloria turned on her side and glanced at the framed photo of Harvey’s kids on the mantel. Tara the youngest, who graduated from Yale the year before, was now an intern at some startup company in Brooklyn for women’s rights. She usually ignored Gloria when she visited the house. Matthew, the middle child, was a snowboard instructor in Denver and dropped out of college with only six credits left to Harvey’s dismay. Matthew was usually too stoned to pay attention to Gloria. And lastly, there was Sacha, the eldest, who was a lawyer at an uppity firm on the west side. Sacha was only six years younger than Gloria and was more accomplished than Gloria would ever be. Sacha loathed Gloria and was quite clear about her feelings towards her. She was the one that had made Harvey sign a prenup before their wedding. She was the one who whispered lies into Harvey’s hairy little drooping ears about Gloria.

Gloria rose from the couch and grabbed the photo from the mantel, placing it face down. She couldn’t sleep looking at those kids. She laid back down and closed her eyes, thinking back to the lunch she’d had with her best friend from high school, Mora, a few days before. Mora was a social worker and lived in a split level with her husband and two kids. She’d shown up to the restaurant in a minivan. Gloria was almost embarrassed to park next to her. When they’d sat down to order, Gloria had noticed white goo in Mora’s hair.

“Oh, how humiliating,” Mora had whined, wiping the goo with a napkin, “Baby Jack is still spitting up.” Gloria had impulsively backed away in repulsion. Spit up? Doesn’t she own a mirror?

“But his cuddles and kisses are all worth it,” she’d said as she took out a phone to show Gloria her family photos. Gloria moved her Birkin bag out of the way, not wanting to get any kid germs on it and glanced at the cracked screen. As she skeptically watched her old friend scan through the photos, she started to really look at them. Mora and Mike taking a selfie under a weeping willow tree. Their daughter, Rory, holding baby Jack at the hospital. Mike holding Rory on his shoulders at Disney. Mike kissing Mora. Mora kissing Mike. Mike looking happy. Mora looking happy.

Gloria turned and fluffed the pillow under her head. She couldn’t get comfortable. You’d think a seven-thousand-dollar couch would be comfortable. She wondered if Mora had a comfortable couch. It was probably covered with Cheerio crumbs and baby spit up. But Mora and Mike probably cuddled on it. Cuddled with their kids while they watched Peppa Pig. Cuddled with each other while they watched Game of Thrones after putting the kids to bed. Gloria and Harvey didn’t cuddle. Gloria did her due diligence as a wife though. She had sex with Harvey three to four times a week to make him happy. But they didn’t cuddle. They didn’t take selfies. They didn’t joke. They didn’t smile at one another as they passed in the kitchen.

Sometimes Gloria wondered if it was all worth it. She had it all didn’t she? She could buy whatever she wanted. Go wherever she wanted. Do whatever she wanted. Mora couldn’t. Most people couldn’t. Most people would never have what Gloria had. Most people dreamed of her life, just like she had five years before. But sometimes…sometimes…like tonight when Gloria couldn’t sleep, she’d lay awake and wonder what her life would be like if she’d chosen love instead of money. Someone who told her she was beautiful. Someone who told her he loved the way she looked at the world. Someone who brushed the hair away from her face and stared her in the eyes and smiled. Pancakes for breakfast with whipped cream in an uncomfortable IKEA bed…A good night’s sleep. 

August 03, 2022 00:29

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25 comments

L.M. Lydon
20:00 Aug 09, 2022

I enjoyed how you built a Harvey-shaped pinata with this story and pummeled it mercilessly ("released gases from his nether regions" and "a seal basking in the sun"). His lack of redeeming features makes us more understanding of Gloria's naked greed. I didn't actually like anyone populating this story until the very end (including the messed up kids). But you manage to make us feel a hint of sympathy for Gloria. Just a little. Because they deserve each other. So well-written and sharp.

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Kathleen Fine
15:11 Aug 12, 2022

Thank you so much LM!

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Tommy Goround
21:03 Aug 08, 2022

:::clapping. I love the posture. Attack posture (or is it defense?)...the tone of narrator, the exploration of why / how /can it change? Like an anti-thesis to Pearl Buck's Good Earth. Thank you.

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Kathleen Fine
14:19 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you Tommy!

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Seán Mc Nicholl
22:25 Aug 05, 2022

Beautiful story Kathleen, great take on the prompt! Lovely message through it that money isn’t everything. The story was engaging from start to finish, really enjoyed it!! And a beautiful end to tie back to the ex and the IKEA bed!

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Kathleen Fine
14:18 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you Sean!

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Larry Keeton
14:13 Aug 05, 2022

Good story and the writing is engaging. Agree with Michal, good use of the prompt. This is my first time commenting on Reedsy, so hopefully they will be helpful. Gloria plays well on the elderly male (being one myself) vanity. And, it's certain Harvey's no catch as a companion. Really liked this line: So, Gloria gave him what he needed. No nagging. Lust. Desire. (Consider changing out "needed" for "wanted." Regardless great line.) What didn't work well for me was being invested in Gloria as the victim. Granted, she can't get a good night...

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Kathleen Fine
14:18 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you for your thorough feedback Larry. I didn't want Gloria to be the victim and I didn't want the reader to like her. She is a "gold digger", but is second guessing her choices in life. She was once a good person and is striving to get that back. What she thought she wanted, she is realizing isn't bringing her happiness.

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L. E. Scott
14:53 Aug 04, 2022

Your story is sad, but I have to believe it's not too late for her. She can still give up the luxury if she wants. Probably be hard to give up though.

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Kathleen Fine
14:16 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you LE!

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Michał Przywara
04:43 Aug 03, 2022

Great use of the prompt. That's what life is, isn't it? We can't have it all, so the best we can do is choose one thing and miss out on another. I wonder if Mora had any similar sleepless nights after that meeting, wondering if she'd messed her life up, if a bit of financial freedom might not take the pressure off everything. Like any social media, the photos she'd show to others would only be the good ones. Nobody takes photos of the crap days where everything is falling apart. I like the use of sleeplessness here. It's literally true, bu...

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Kathleen Fine
14:16 Aug 09, 2022

Thanks for your feedback as always Michal! :)

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Graham Kinross
01:09 Aug 14, 2022

“Game of Thrones after putting the kids to bed” you hope. I know a kid who was watching The Walking Dead with his parents, not the best idea. If all she wanted was an uncomfortable IKEA bed and hugs on a messy couch Gloria wasn’t exactly asking for much. I know the pain of having baby sick on your clothes when you go out. I had a day at work with a white stain of my daughter’s puke on my shirt because it was too late to change when I saw it. Worth it for the smiles. Gloria just needs to move on and find a relationship of mutual appreciatio...

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Kathleen Fine
21:18 Sep 11, 2022

Thanks for the feedback Graham!

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Graham Kinross
21:22 Sep 11, 2022

You’re welcome.

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Renee Gant
22:01 Aug 10, 2022

Kathleen, I'm also a first time commenter so I guess you should take this with a grain of salt? Your story engages the reader with a touch of humor although it's under the "sad" category. Especially the part about not being able to sleep in a wealthy home. For this reason, I enjoyed the read.

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Kathleen Fine
15:11 Aug 12, 2022

Thank you Renee!

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Isa C
21:16 Aug 09, 2022

This was a great read! I loved how relatable and down to earth your descriptions were, it really gave Gloria a unique voice. I really liked the last paragraph about how she views love almost as an object you receive that should make you happy, even though that may not necessarily be true. It makes me think that one day she might return to pursuing love instead of money and realize she's equally unhappy as she was with Harvey. I'm not sure if that was your intention at all, but I think the perception of love brought up was really interestin...

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Kathleen Fine
15:12 Aug 12, 2022

Thanks Isa. I think Gloria still has a lot of life lessons to learn! Maybe one day in the long future she will be happy...but she still has to learn from her mistakes!

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16:21 Aug 09, 2022

Even at a gaze I wouldn't have left a tour through this magnificent piece. A great story indeed.

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Kathleen Fine
15:12 Aug 12, 2022

Thank you so much Girasiya!

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Beth Jackson
09:29 Aug 09, 2022

I really enjoyed this, Kathleen! I loved the opening paragraph - such a great description of Harvey and Gloria’s contempt for him. Her journey from getting what she wanted to being extremely dissatisfied with life was engaging and vividly portrayed. Beautifully written, and thought provoking. Thank you for sharing. :-)

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Kathleen Fine
14:15 Aug 09, 2022

Thanks Beth!

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Betty Gilgoff
01:15 Aug 09, 2022

Really well done. You so beautifully work in the descriptions to set the scene. I could almost feel myself softly padding through the huge house in the middle of the night with the stepkids rooms and pictures haunting each step. Gloria and Harvey are completely believable as is their situation and Gloria’s dissatisfaction and growing awareness of what she has given up, all which you build to so skilfully. This was a pleasure to read.

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Kathleen Fine
14:15 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you Betty!

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