Darrell J. Wiens

Darrell J. Wiens is Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Northern Iowa, now living and writing short stories in Kansas City, Missouri.  A newcomer, he loves to create stories that involve believable characters involved in college life, long distance running, coming of age, travels in Spain, bicycle touring, biological research, and social issues.  An award-winning teacher, researcher, and mentor, he is author of 27 scientific papers and 53 research presentations, most co-authored with students from his laboratory.  He is a pacifist Mennonite who enjoys cooking, tinkering with hot rods, bicycling, choral singing and discussions of books and stories.

I Know a Place

I know a place where the music is fine and the lights are always low; I know a place where we can go…  The bright, buoyant voice of Petula Clark rang through Carrie’s despondent thinking like a cascade of cathedral bells as she sat at a corner table in a place named for the one in the song.  Well, it was a place that she had hoped might be like that.  But it wasn’t.  It fell short of its namesake. There was no fine music in this quiet bar, though the lights were low.  And it was empty now at mid-day.  She sipped her margarita, licking sideways for the salt, which suited her.  The salt and lime cut the bitterness of the tequila only a little—it was a very dry drink—perfectly matching the taste of her dilemma.

 As she sipped, she went over that last meeting in her mind.  She had lost her job as a marriage counselor because she would not serve an abuser—in this case an incorrigible wife who used her guile and verbal skill to belittle her compliant husband.  That poor man, a dignified and quietly articulate labor attorney, was blinded and captive in her relationship prison, and he habitually strove to please her.  Carrie had tried to take small therapeutic steps with the two, but this narcissistic witch of a woman couldn’t see how she could be at fault for his ineptitude.  Gabrielle was tall and graceful, a dark headed beauty, but she was the beast.  After trying for six meetings over two months Carrie couldn’t take it any longer.  She blew up in that meeting and almost came to profanities (she had a penchant for those at the ready).  But she stepped back from that brink and simply told her she was a selfish lost cause for therapy.  She had then stood up and left the room, telling the surprised looking husband, Mitchell, on the way out, that she was sorry she couldn’t help him.  Her supervisor at the agency was not sympathetic the next day.  Gabrielle had obviously served up a scathing review.  Carrie was told she was unprofessional and incompetent.  She could pack up her things and leave by the end of the week.  That last deposit in her bank account would be a small one.  New in her counselling career, her first job had lasted less than a year.  Now unemployed and still new here in Denver, she began to realize she needed a plan.  The I Know a Place was offering little of its promised solace.

Lost in her thoughts, and now increasingly adrift in her piquant, salty drink, she leaned back in the plush red chair and sighed.  Feeling sorry for herself, she eventually lifted her gaze from her Margarita, and noticed that a few new patrons had entered the place.  A couple of business types in suits and cowboy boots (odd, it seemed to her, but routine here in downtown Denver) sat at a table across the room to her left, earnestly conversing.  A group of women were quietly talking around a table near the steps up to the door.  And there was a couple at the bar.

She could see only their backs, but they were interesting because they looked like they were flirting provocatively.  The man, fortyish, balding, and dressed business-casual, had his hand on her bare knee—her skirt was quite short and riding up as she flexed her black high heeled foot planted on the rung of his barstool.  She was laughing at everything he said.  He was enjoying himself grandly as the woman laughed and intermittently primped her comely dark hair.  There was something about her laugh that sounded familiar.  Then she turned toward the man, and Carrie saw her face.  It was Gabrielle!  And the man she was with was not Mitchell!  Carrie sat appalled and bemused.  Well sit on the flag and fart for old glory, she mouthed!

She slowly reached into her purse and delicately pulled out her phone.  Gabrielle had turned back again.  Carrie touched the camera icon and waited, holding the phone in her lap.  This would have to be quick, but she wanted to telescope the screen before snapping a picture.  She looked around.  No one was watching.  She waited.  Then Gabrielle laughed out loud and put her hand on the man’s shoulder.  And next, the pair touched foreheads.  Carrie quickly jerked the phone up, zoomed in, and snapped a picture and a five second video.  Done.  And she slipped the phone back into her purse, not even checking it as she looked around again.  It seemed no one was looking.  She raised her margarita and gulped down a mouthful.  Holy giant clusterfluffup, she whispered to herself.  Then she slowly scooted onto the adjacent chair so that she was facing away from the bar and would not be recognized.  She had no quick plans for these images, but she had them.  Now what?

The wheels in her counseling trained brain began to turn, lubricated by the hot anger she felt at losing her job because of this two-timing glamboozler.  She had Mitchell’s e-mail address, so blackmail was an option.  But she didn’t know if this loyal husband would entertain that—he’d be so hurt.  And he didn’t seem like the vindictive type.

She could confront her supervisor with this evidence of infidelity on the part of Gabrielle, who was supposed to be sincerely seeking marriage counseling.  A flush of enticing, vengeful glee warmed her glands thinking about this.  And it would address her immediate career problem.  She thought about it as she drained her margarita, caught the attention of a waiter, and ordered another one.  It would be backhanded and undignified, wouldn’t it?  She had never been like that.  But then she had never had anyone ruin her career before.

Option three:  she could walk up to the bar, sit down next to Gabrielle, or maybe next to her captivated comedian tease-pot, and say something clever.  Hmm…  Even an innocent hello would have stun power.  Oh hell, she could ask her to introduce her associate, and watch her squirm and scramble for words.  She could ask her if she had found another marriage counselor…if not, would she like some advice on that?  And then, there was the possibility of showing her the picture or the flash video.  Straightforward, honest confrontation.  Wouldn’t that be more her style?  But what would happen then?  Gabrielle was quick-witted and might volley back a clever insult…and Carrie knew her own temper.  She was aware there was some alcohol in her system now, so that wire might trip quickly.  Better to be more cautious.  She had a hand to play now and there was no hurry.

She took a sip from her fresh margarita and slouched down a little, staring vacantly at a large, framed Colorado Rockies poster on the wall.  Seeing her reflection, she pulled the hair band out of her light brown hair and shook it out over her shoulders, noting frizzed ends in the reflection of the baseball flying over the mountain peaks.

Suddenly, she felt a presence behind her.  She waited to see if it was just her buzzed imagination.

‘Hello Carrie,’ came a husky, provocative voice from behind. She turned.  Ohmygosh!  It was Gabrielle right behind her.  ‘Buy you a drink?’  And she pulled out a chair and sat down across the table.  She was alone, the jokester companion gone.  She looked well composed as she put down her glass of chardonnay, sat back in the chair, and crossed her long willowy legs.  Carrie hid her surprise and stirred the ice in her margarita with the short plastic swizzle stick.  ‘Ah, you’ve already got one.  Good.  You taking the day off?’

‘Well Gabrielle, I lost my job.  I thought you probably knew.  I was fired the day after our last meeting.’  Gabrielle’s expression didn’t change.  Carrie wondered what was going through her head.  During their counseling meetings, Carrie had given her, along with Mitchell, many opportunities to express her understandings and feelings about their relationship.  She was invariably the one with complaints:  he was too reserved, too traditional, too unaware of her needs.  He always said he could change and be the partner she needed, but she didn’t think he was capable of understanding her.  And Carrie had tried to get her to see that she needed to give more, to mindfully contribute to the relationship.  But she didn’t.  She would always see only his failures.  Even when Carrie gave her specific tasks to carry out, it was clear at the next meeting that she hadn’t attended to them.  And Mitchell was always willing to take the blame.  It usually became tense and frustrating for Carrie toward the end of the meetings.  And now, here this woman was, sitting across from her and starting a conversation over drinks.  What did she want?

As Carrie considered what to say next, Gabrielle broke the heavy silence.  She reached out her hand and caressed Carrie’s hand curled around her glass, looked soulfully into her eyes, and said, ‘I’m so sorry.  That was my fault.  When you told me I was a selfish lost cause, I was angry.  So I complained to your supervisor on my way out.  I didn’t think he would fire you.  And Mitchell tried to smooth things over, but he mumbles, and I don’t think he was listening to him.’  Then Gabrielle glanced away, but quickly back into Carrie’s eyes with her best imitation of a contrite remorseful face.  ‘Can you forgive me?’

Carrie sat up, pulled her hand with her glass away from Gabrielle’s hand, and took a sip.  Then she locked her own soulful stare into Gabrielle’s wide-open, brown puppy eyes, her cool blue irises and arched brows conveying a carefully blended mixture of mystery and challenge, and asked, ‘Do you love Mitchell?’

‘You saw me at the bar with Tom, didn’t you?’  Her voice tone had gone edgy.  She blinked and looked away.  Her expression transformed into stone-cold spite. ‘Tom and I are none of your business.  And Mitchell is now none of your business either.’

‘You and Mitchell were my business,’ she said calmly, solemnly.  ‘You came to me, and I tried hard to help.  You didn’t make it easy, but I kept trying.  Mitchell is a good man.  I’m sticking with what I said:  you are a selfish lost cause in your relationship—unless you can change.  And I’m out of a job that I was good at.’

Carrie expected Gabrielle to walk out at that point.  But she didn’t.  The two women sat at the table in silence, quietly tending to their drinks, and as these slowly disappeared, replacements appeared.  Their moods gradually changed with time, and with the temporary mellowness that is the deceptive medicine of alcohol.  Eventually Gabrielle spoke.

‘Have you ever loved a man?’ she asked.

‘No, not really,’ said Carrie.  She looked off into space for a long moment.  ‘Well, there was one I thought I loved,’ she said wistfully.  ‘I could have loved him.’  She investigated Gabrielle’s face again and it was softer.  She went on.  ‘He was a great guy, really kind and tendful…I mean tender.  But I was never sure I loved him.  I wanted to, you know, but I always sensed my own ambitchalence.  Damnit, I mean ambivalence.  This is my fourth margarita and it’s slaying me.’  Then she laughed out loud, sputtering droplets of spit on her black T-shirt.  Gabrielle burst out in a not not-so-elegant-now laugh, joining her.  ‘Of course, it ended eventually.  And he’s married now.  I just wish him the breast.  I mean I wish him the BEST!’ she shouted.  The two women then laughed hard enough to turn heads across the entire bar. ‘Oh my God, I’m getting wasted,’ screeched Carrie. 

‘You’re a great gal, Carrie!  And I think you’re a damned fine marriage counselor too.’  Carrie discreetly pushed her phone deep into her purse and smiled at Gabrielle.  ‘I really am a lost cause.  Gabrielle’s face was now a sloppy shade of penitent.  Mitchell’s too good for me, and he’s a sweet, sweet man.’  She leaned toward Carrie and stage-whispered, ‘Let’s have just one more round and then we should go tell your grumpy old ex-supervisor that you are a great gal, and a damned marriage counselor too!  Wait, that didn’t come out right… What’d I just say?’

At that moment Mitchell walked into the bar, saw the two tipsy women, and strode over to their table.  He looked strikingly handsome in his suit, but his tie was loosened, and his face expressed concern.  ‘Gabrielle!  I thought we were going to meet at The Other Place for a drink at three…that’s an hour ago.  And then I thought, oh, there must be another place with a similar name.  So I googled it and figured that’s where you went.  And so here you are in I Know a Place.’  He turned to Carrie.  ‘But I am a little surprised to see you here Carrie…’  He turned back to Gabrielle.  ‘Is there a message I didn’t get?  And, well, I thought you were done with Carrie.’  He looked over at Carrie apologetically.

‘Oh Mitchell,’ blurted Gabrielle.  ‘Sit down and have your cocktail here with us.  We have a long story to tell.  And strap yourself in for a bumpy ride, honey!’

And then the barkeep, quietly watching over the bar and the tables all afternoon, turned the sound system up, and Petula Clark’s voice rang out,

…Just get away where your worries won’t find you.
If you like, well, I’ll tell you more.

Don’t let the day get the better of you.
When the evening comes, there’s so much to do!
You’d better put on your best and wear a smile.
Come along with me a while.
‘Cause I tell you I know a place
Where the music is fine and the lights are always low.
I know a place where we can go!


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