“Dearest! Finally!” Mr. Bilge’s voice shook with delight. He wrenched open the door and saw the moon was full and sky was bursting with brilliant pinpoints of light.
“Yes, honey pie! It’s me!”
But it wasn’t the ‘me’ Mr. Bilge most wanted. Not the ‘me’ he only wanted. Not at all. Mr. Bilge felt the twinkling stars in the sky go out, one by one. Something wasn’t right. It wasn’t Babette. It was Romulus Cardigan, his best friend. He held a bottle of champagne in one arm and wrapped Mr. Bilge in a disorderly hug in the other. Romulus pushed Mr. Bilge inside the house and slammed the door behind him. He shoved a dumbstruck Mr. Bilge onto the couch.
“Romulus? I thought you were – ”
“In the islands? Yes, I know. Sorry to disappoint, but I do come bearing good news. So congratulate me.” Romulus perched the bottle of champagne on mantelpiece and stood in front of Mr. Bilge, arms extended awaiting his congratulations.
Mr. Bilge stood up, removing the champagne from its resting place, tossing it on the sofa. He wandered towards the window, yearning for Babette. He scanned the darkness that met his eyes, seeking her silhouette tramping up his driveway, her wide and fleshy back illuminated by a splash of moonlight. He sought in futility for the briefest of seconds when Romulus slapped him on the back, knocking the wind out of him. He doubled over, wheezing.
Romulus leaned over and grabbed one Mr. Bilge’s gasping jowls: “I’m getting married, you old fool!”
“To whom?” Mr. Bilge fell to his knees. Romulus did the same.
“To Babette Nickels!” Romulus shot his arms skywards and then clutched his face in ecstasy. Mr. Bilge fell prostrate on the floor, the wind knocked out of him again. Everything seemed to go dark. Then he opened his eyes.
“Not Babette Nickels – that...Not that prostitute,” Mr. Bilge could barely whisper the words. If he didn’t say them loud enough to be heard they couldn’t be true.
“Don’t you call her that prostitute – ”
“I didn’t I said that prostitute. I meant to say I can’t think you mean Babette in particular. Not that one. The one with the broad and – ”
“Fleshy back? Precisely! It’s all mine! From now on she’s my prostitute! My little prostitute. She’s outside waiting in the car.”
Mr. Bilge wildly looked around the room. He spotted a gleaming pair of silver scissors on the mantelpiece. He silently grabbed the scissors as Romulus waved out the window. A car honked. Mr. Bilge was poised to stab Romulus. He was about to raise and lower the blow that would murder when Romulus spun to face him. At the same time, Mr. Bilge recoiled his hand, hiding it behind his back.
“We’re on our way to the country, but I insisted on stopping in to see you since you’re to be my best man!”
Mr. Bilge dropped the scissors. They landed with a pointy, small thump. Romulus bent over and picked them up, handing them back to Mr. Bilge.
Mr. Bilge cleared his throat but couldn’t speak, so Romulus did.
“I think you dropped these, old bean,” Romulus said as he sat languidly on the couch. Mr. Bilge stared only at the scissors as tears pooled in his eyes.
“That’s great, Romulus. I guess,” Mr. Bilge murmured, sitting next to him on the couch. Romulus had picked up the champagne and rose from the couch, searching for a way to open it.
“It sure is, old friend. Sure is! We were thinking of eloping, but now I think I want a big ceremony…the works. You know?”
Romulus puttered around the room making grand gestures to punctuate his words. Mr. Bilge put down the scissors.
“Babette’s said we should go very flowery with the floral arrangements. I think it’ll be fine. Just fine!”
Romulus swung the champagne bottle as though it were a baseball bat and mimed hitting one out of the park. He shielded his eyes from the imaginary sun and smiled as the ball he had hit disappeared into the atmosphere. Mr. Bilge sighed dejectedly and bent forward, feeling he might faint. He started sweating and the beads ran together with the tear drops swimming down his cheeks.
“And maybe a barbershop quartet for the reception. Wouldn’t that be just swell?”
Romulus blew a kiss out the window. Mr. Bilge glanced up, eyeing the scissors and then his wrists. He wiped his face off with the back of his hairy hand, which was helpfully and astonishingly absorbent. Romulus looked over at him, the grin falling from his face as a look of concern came over him.
“What’s wrong, old bean?”
Mr. Bilge had the scissors hovering above his wrists, ready to slit.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Why do you ask?”
Romulus took the scissors from him and wandered over to a bookshelf where there was a stack of Mr. Bilge’s writing pages. He lazily leaned against the shelf, picked up a blank sheet and busily started snipping.
“I just thought you’d be a little happier for me, that’s all.”
Romulus held up his work to examine: an enormous paper heart.
“I am happy for you. The boys and me will have to plan a stag party for you. It’ll be…fun.”
Mr. Bilge swallowed hard. He felt the tears erupting again and stood up, turning away from Romulus. His whole body stiffened in anguish, making it difficult to breathe. He emitted a high-pitched whistle with each inhale because his throat was so constricted.
“Come now. You can’t fool me. What’s putting the chip in your tea cup?”
Romulus pulled a pen from his jacket pocket and wrote ‘Romsy + Babs’ on the heart. He tapped Mr. Bilge on the shoulder, shoving it in his face. Mr. Bilge moaned in anguish.
“Just tell me!”
Romulus grabbed either side of Mr. Bilge’s sweaty face. His hands slid off each slippery cheek and he wiped his hands on his pants in disgust. Mr. Bilge’s eye nervously began to tic. He felt himself losing control.
to be continued...