Mad for Love: A Short Story

Blanche lost her husband Skinner to the war, once telling a perfect stranger while picking through carrots and celery in the produce aisle at the supermarket that her husband didn’t die in vain.

“No, he did not, dear,” the older woman said, leaning in for a hug.

“He lived in vain,” Blanche said.

Then she pivoted and walked away with tears blurring her vision.

Coming home from work at the restaurant seven nights-a-week, the 39-year-old aspiring cosmetologist dreaded laying eyes on Skinner as soon as she unlocked and opened the door, him sitting in the duct-taped fake leather recliner eating canned beef stew, drinking endless beers and watching the game show channel.

VA doctors said he was sick. Blanche said she didn’t have to go to medical school to figure that out as 40-year-old Skinner repeatedly told a psychiatrist how he thought he and Blanche would do on Family Feud if her sisters and his cousins would agree to go on the TV show with them, which they wouldn’t, because they wouldn’t even come over to the house to grill venison steaks anymore.

But Blanche stuck with Skinner ever since the 11th grade when he pulled her out of the middle of a group of varsity football players drinking from a warm quarter keg in the woods who couldn’t be trusted to treat a girl with respect when she was sober let alone drunk.

She and Skinner married at the magistrate’s office a week after graduation and drove to Atlantic City for the weekend. Skinner borrowed money to pay for their room at a motel and dinner at a seafood buffet. When they got home Skinner took a job at the can company and joined the National Guard. When America’s war in Afghanistan kicked off the governor activated his unit and sent Skinner to fight. He got shot within a month.

Blanche took two Valiums her mother gave her when she first visited him in the hospital. Three surgeries, ongoing physical therapy, dozens of doctor’s visits and depression defined their lives. She worked various low wage jobs. He mourned his life. She worked more dead-end jobs. He drank. She worked even more. He died a little each day. They both did.

After all this time if you asked Skinner what year he served in combat, he couldn’t tell you. Maybe he forgot. Maybe he refused to remember. Maybe he didn’t care anymore. Skinner declined to attend any of the local veterans’ commemorations or memorials. He refused to go on a VFW bus trip to Arlington National Cemetery.

One Thursday night Blanche got off work at the restaurant at midnight and arrived home in about 20 minutes.

“Hi, honey,” she said.

Skinner slid closer to the edge of his seat and put his elbows on his knees.

“You see that? You see what she did?”

On a new TV game show called Space Race a woman wearing a purple jumpsuit and red spike heels bounced around the stage like a living bobble head doll. Her husband, a young man who reminded Skinner of an Italian hot sausage in a tight dinner jacket, jumped up and down. They both wore space helmets. The host looked pleased as he raced around the stage in a moon buggy-type vehicle.

“They went for the money universe,” Skinner said.

“I hope they get it,” Blanche said.

Now the host stopped the buggy, stepped out and pulled a red flashing device from a shining green drone that looked like a UFO and hovered above the contestants’ heads. The couple jumped higher and higher. The host read the screen on the device and put on an unhappy face.

“I am so sorry,” he said. “Your extraterrestrial alien pod came up empty.”

The man and woman smiled that smile you put on when you lose.

“They lost,” Skinner said.

“Everybody loses sometimes, honey,” Blanche said.

“Tell me about it,” Skinner said.

 “Honey, please, you’ll start coughing,” Blanche said.

Skinner spun around and jabbed at Blanche.

“You see that? You see that?”

“Skinner, please,” Blanche said.

Blanche touched Skinner lightly on the shoulder.

“Did you take your pills tonight, honey?”

Skinner stood unsteadily in his dirty bare feet, black Levis and a black leather vest with no shirt. His hair looked like a corn whiskbroom missing most of the straw. His eyes looked glassy.

“I only took the red ones,” he said. “The white ones are too big and make me gag.”

Blanche went upstairs to change. Pulling on a bathrobe she looked in the mirror. Skinner came to bed when The Dating Game was over about three in the morning. When the mail came the next morning, Blanche woke Skinner who usually slept past noon. Holding up a white business envelope she pointed to the return address.

“What’s Memory Lane in Hollywood?”

“The TV game show I watch on Saturday night when you’re at the restaurant working,” he said.

Blanche handed the envelope to Skinner who turned his head away like a bad dog.

“You open it,” he said.

“It’s addressed to you,” Blanche said

“I’m afraid,” Skinner said.

The letter read as follows: “Congratulations. You and your wife have been chosen as contestants on Memory Lane, America’s funniest nostalgia game show. See you at the studio.”

Details included when, where and a check for airfare and a cheap Sunset Strip hotel. All they had to do was get to LA for the show. Blanche said it seemed like a half-assed way of doing business with no tryouts at the local mall, no interview, no nothing except Skinner’s letter requesting to be on the show. But she figured producers must have randomly pulled Skinner’s letter from a barrel, and she wanted to go because she had never been to California and wanted to see the ocean.

“I can’t believe you sent the letter,” she said.

“Me, neither,” he said.


Memory Lane is my favorite show,” he said.

Blanche took off work the following Saturday. She had never seen the game show before and got a kick out of the goofy format. Three couples who had been married at least 20 years individually answered questions about their relationships and then compared answers with their spouse at the end of the show – like The Newlywed Game for oldie-weds. If you made the bonus round you had to choose between playing for a new RV or a million dollars. If you lost the bonus round you got a booby prize.

When the host asked the questions, Blanche and Skinner played along at home. They went back and forth, testing each other with the most inane questions anyone could imagine. Neither missed a correct answer.

Blanche picked up the envelope from Memory Lane.

“Be honest, Skinner,” she said, “Why did you really send the letter?”

Skinner looked at the floor, his face going burnt as apple skin on a baked Macintosh.

 “It’s something I think I’d be good at,” he said.

The flight into LAX landed so smoothly Blanche called it elegant because she didn’t know what other word to use. Skinner held her hand until they collected their suitcase at the baggage carousel and Blanche took a selfie of them outside the airport before hailing a cab. Polished fake granite table tops in their hotel room shined so brightly the strong smell of lemon scent made Blanche cry with joy. Skinner didn’t say anything but successfully fought back a desire to open the mini bar.

Getting their faces made up in director’s chairs at noon made them both feel like stars. And when the show’s theme song kicked in at full volume from hidden speakers and the live studio audience broke into applause, Blanche and Skinner waved from side-by-side seats on stage. The two other couples flashed capped teeth and Botox at the crowd. Blanche and Skinner kissed shyly.

The crowd went wild.

“We’re winners,” Blanche whispered.

Host Bob Burnum ran onto the stage and did a little dance.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “It’s time to take a walk down memory lane.”

Couple number one squinted as the spotlight lit them up like inmates trying to escape across a state prison yard.

“Tell me the first car you went parking in,” Bob Burnum said.

Writing feverishly, the husband and wife finished in the 10 seconds allotted them to answer. While the woman sweated visibly under the hot lights, the man actually dripped sweat.

“Camaro,” she said.

“Mustang,” he said.

The loser buzzer signaled failure.

“OK, couple number two,” Bob Burnum said.

“What kind of cologne did the mister wear to your wedding?”

Biting her lip the woman finished scribbling in five seconds. Hubby finished writing and closed his eyes.

“Lay it on me, lovebirds,” Bob Burnum said.

“English Leather lime,” he said.

“Copenhagen,” she said.

Again the loser buzzer rang.

Spinning like a Michael Jackson top, Bob Burnum pointed at Blanche and Skinner.

“Let’s hope you two are more in love than those four,” he said.

The crowd went mad for love.

“Where did you go on your second date?”

Blanche and Skinner quickly started writing and finished at the same time. Holding up her card, Blanche felt lightheaded.

“Deer hunting,” she said.

All eyes on Skinner, he felt like the whole world was watching.

“Deer hunting,” Skinner said.

Blanche giggled, looked at Skinner and spoke in a voice smooth as a cat’s eye marble.

“That’s when I started calling you Skinner, remember? You gutted my deer and yours then skinned them both on the meat pole when we got back to your camp skinning shed. Any man who would do that for a woman was worth keeping”

Skinner blushed.

The rest of the show went like that all the way until the end with Blanche and Skinner never missing a detail about their lives together. When they made it to the bonus round the audience poured from their seats and danced in the aisles, gyrating the way the warm up staff taught them before the show. Sirens blared, almost triggering a flashback that caused Skinner to flee. Blanche held his hand. Bob Burnum looked psychotic the way he always does before each bonus round.

The crowd started to howl, bark and chant.

“Go for the million, go for the million,” they screamed.

Blanche looked at Skinner.

“What do you think, hon? The RV or the million?”

“I want to go for the million,” he said.

“Me, too,” she said.

Bob Burnum explained how the trick bonus question would have nothing to do with their relationship, instead focusing on world history, sports or politics, none of which ever interested Skinner or Blanche, for that matter.

Of course they blew the answer.

Bob Burnum did his dance. Blanche squeezed Skinner’s hand. Skinner looked pale. Bob Burnum’s tone turned sarcastic.

“Time for your booby prize,” he said.

When the curtain opened the crowd howled laughing at the parked, dented, rusted metallic green 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix with dirty, fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror and an eight-ball gear shift knob. Skinner flew off his chair, running to the car with Blanche trailing close behind.

Everybody expected Skinner to punch out a window.

Skinner turned to Blanche.

“My dream car,” he said.

Now Blanche stood beside her true love.

She said, “I remember you telling me how much you wanted a ’68 Grand Prix before you went to the war. So you could work on it, fix it up when you got home and get it ready so we could go cruising, listening to the radio and stopping for milkshakes like people did in the old days.”

Skinner spun around and faced Bob Burnum.

No, he did not strangle the game show host.

“Me and Blanche are going to the drive-in,” Skinner said. “Maybe Elvis is playing in a double feature somewhere.”