Short Story: Itinerary

willowsnowshoe-26Callum Frost is better than you. He knows it, and you know it. He has more hair than you at 56 years old, his teeth are whiter, and his wife is hotter. Introduce him to a new game and he will beat you at it. Entitled and narcissistic, Callum is the man you want to be and, at the same time, the man you want to ruin. But he knows these things, so you become giddy when he arrives at your party because it means you are important. By the end of the night he will remind you that you are not.

You are fit enough, interesting enough, and wealthy enough to be in Callum’s inner circle. He probably slept with your wife because he once labeled her as a ‘fuckable plain Jane.’ If you remain submissive, you will be noticed and revered by others. If you fight the natural order, you will be ousted. You choose your words carefully and your next move even more so, and it’s driving you mad. To top it off, the annual couples trip is in three months, which means the planning is about to begin. This year: Banff, Canada.

Callum and Betsy Frost, Fred and Marnie Jacobs, and you and Deborah pretend to enjoy the overcooked quail and undercooked fingerling potatoes that Marnie whipped up in her oversized kitchen. You sit in her plush chairs around a mahogany table and trade stories about fly fishing and parasailing. After dinner, everyone spreads out in the vast living room in a sea of faux-fur pillows on couches too expensive for comfort. Maps of Canada marked with red ink blanket the oriental rug; felt-tip lines span from multiple Destination A’s to Destination B’s. Callum will boastfully present his grandiose plans for this year in Banff, from snowshoeing to hiking to activities disguised as downtime between other activities. Everyone will dote over Callum’s extravagant plans and brilliant mind. But you won’t. You’ve seen this song and dance over and over, and it’s shallow. It’s made of particle board and it’s going to fall apart.

“We will snowshoe along the shores of Lake Louise Day 1. No sleeping in for you, Fred,” Callum ribbed.

“Callum,” inquired Marnie, “I am not a great snow-shoer and my legs get sore easily. Can we be sure to slow the pace a bit and let us old folks catch up?”

“The experienced, nimble explorers will team up and drive the pack. Betsy and I will be out in front with Nicholas, and Fred will hang back with Marnie and Deborah. Then we meet at each checkpoint. Agreed? Settled. Two packs.” Callum finished.

 “By the time we catch up to you, you are ready to be off again,” Deborah said.

Callum struck a statesman pose in the middle of the living room, with a finger raised to the ceiling like provocation of a won battle.

“Well then you may want to practice from now until then because there’s not a minute to waste, friends. This itinerary is solid.”

You hate it when he calls you Nicholas. It’s Nick, for fuck’s sake. He does it to get under your skin. It makes you want to rip your skin clean off and start over with a stronger coat of armor. You have come to grips that you are a pussy that will never stand up to him and he will continue to conquer you.

“Day 2 is a jaunt in the city,” Callum continues, “where we will achieve maximum indulgence of shopping therapy and foodie delights. We cap off the day with a gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain to spy on the hiking terrain we will surmount on Day 3.”

Everyone looks excited and exhausted at the same time. No one objects. Nothing slows down. This is the itinerary.

Say something. You are Nick, not Nicholas. Brave warrior, not pussy.

“Callum, may I remind you that last year in St. Barth’s we had a broken leg, a bout of intestinal issues, and an asthma attack? Don’t you think we should take it a little easier this year, like schedule some time not to schedule something?”

“I forget, Nicholas, that you are the sensitive one in the group, and I am glad you spoke up. My little flower, we have Day 4, which is a full spa day. Satisfied, now? I booked you a mani-pedi.”

“Fuck off, Callum,” you say back, and everyone roars with laughter. You laugh along, but you are admitting defeat yet again. In case you forgot, this is not your show. Hush up, buttercup.

The flight to Banff is littered with Grand Marnier nips and subtle jabs. Your wife calls it “good friends ribbing each other,” but it makes you sick. Callum remarks that you have a sensitive stomach and don’t like to fly. He embellishes another story. He won’t shut up.

The alcohol sets in and you feel a bout of liquid courage electrify through you. “Callum, you are so full of shit it’s coming out your ears,” you say. “When are you going to just shut the fuck up and take notes?”

“I think my friend here has had one too many daiquiris,” Callum says to an attractive flight attendant in earshot.

Your wife Deborah is passed out with noise-cancelling headphones on; otherwise she would usher you to the back of the plane to collect yourself. Instead, it is Callum’s wife Betsy who figuratively grabs you by the ear and pulls you to the principal’s office.

Once you and Betsy are behind the itchy curtains of the rear of the plane, she plants a ferocious kiss on you and adds a tongue trick that catapults you back to high school.

“You think you can control yourself just a little bit, cowboy?” she says to you, grabbing your crotch. “It’s sexy when you stand up to him, but we gotta get through this trip if we’re going to pull this thing off.”

“You’re right,” you say, straightening up and gaining your composure.

“You have to hate him enough publicly that everything seems normal, but any more than that will cause suspicion later. You think you can keep your ego in check for a few more days?”

You mouth the word “okay” and smile. She smiles back.

“Good. Now act like I just gave you a talking to and get back to your seat. And for chrissakes can you show a little more love to Deborah? She’s starting to ask questions.”

“What type of questions?” you ask.

“The ‘Do you think he’s…’ questions. Get your shit together. Don’t blow this.”

You leave first, sulking down the aisle and refusing to meet Callum’s gaze. Betsy follows soon after, sliding next to Callum and grabbing his hand.

“What did you say, honey? He looks like he killed the family dog.”

“I told him that he’s jealous of you, and reminded him how much he loves you and looks up to you. And not to screw that up.”

“It all stems back from childhood rivalries,” Callum replies. “He’s harmless; he just doesn’t have the tenacity that you and I do. He’s not wired that way. But he’s a good friend. Mouthy, but loyal.”

“If you say so,” Betsy replied, putting her head on his broad shoulder and pretending to sleep.

You look at Callum. He looks at you. He nods. You nod back. All is well again in Callum’s egotistical world that only he creates. You are sorry, and he forgives you. The ruse is back to equanimity.

Banff is gorgeous. From the snowshoe rental hut, a 270-degree view of the Canadian Rockies is overwhelming. You question whether the rest of the flock can even see past their insecurities to take any of it in. Your wife Deborah is clueless. You see her struggling with her snowshoes and you pretend to help. Your marriage has been over for many years, but she just hasn’t been privy to it. She will be devastated when you go. You applaud her inquisitive nature with Betsy, surprised at her gossip of a supposed affair. She is a sweet woman, and she loves you. Why have you become so emotionally depleted and indifferent?

You and Betsy have been sleeping with each other on and off for about a year now. You feign amorous when you rendezvous with her at a lonely, boutique hotel outside of the city. You listen to her woes and commiserate with her, telling her you love her and that Callum is a fool. Lying next to her in the hotel bed is the only time that you feel triumphant over Callum. And it was during these get-togethers where complaining turned to planning, and planning turned sinister.

“Hurry up, Nicholas! Move those jelly legs and use those arms!” Callum shouts as he gallivants up the hill, Marnie following close behind.

“Am I doing it right, Callum? The long, broad strokes?” Marnie asks him as she laps Betsy.

“Yes, my dear, you are improving! Now fall back and make sure that husband of yours is still breathing. Remember the itinerary: Pack 1 out in front, Pack 2 we will meet you slowpokes at the first checkpoint on the map. Everyone have their maps?”

“Got the map!” your wife replies. What a contributor.

You, Callum, and Betsy reach the first stop and put your packs down. You can see Marnie, Fred, and Deborah struggling about a half mile back. Deborah seems to have twisted her ankle, perhaps. You pretend to be concerned by pointing it out to the others in Pack 1, but you won’t do anything. You’ll eat your trail mix and drink your Gatorade, and Callum will stand in front of you with his hands on his hips and his pelvis pushed forward. Betsy shoots you a glance and you ignore it, but peripherally you notice that she may be falling in love with you.

Pack 2 catches up and Callum is already gearing back up for the second trek.

“I think I twisted something, you all go ahead,” Deborah says as she collapses on a nearby rock.

“I’ll stay back with her,” you say. “We will see you at the next meet. Or back at the rental hut if we are lagging too far behind.”

“You’re a good man, Charlie Brown,” Callum snorts. “Hold on to this one, will ya, Deb? He’s not so bad after all. A little sensitive, but ladies dig that. Am I right, Deb?”

“Right, C!” Deborah replies emphatically in between winces. You sit down next to her and tend to her foot with an utter lack of bedside manner. To Deborah, you look like a concerned husband and nothing is wrong with your marriage. The rest of the pack shoe on.

On Day 2, Deborah decides to stay back and rest at the B&B with “ice and a good book.” Callum decides we should take both rental cars because five to a car becomes chaotic. You seize the opportunity to ride with Callum to mend, butter up, and manipulate the relationship. Betsy, Marnie, and Fred take the SUV, but not before Callum calls it “the girl bus.” Fred smirks. You wonder if he despises Callum, or simply loathes himself.

You allow Callum to have a couple minutes to drive in entitled silence before you begin. “Cal, let me start by saying I have been out of line lately. I undermined you at the planning session back in July, and I made an ass out of myself on the plane. I want you to know I appreciate you as a friend, and all the effort you put forth to make these trips such a roaring success.”

“Says the man with the disabled wife,” he jokes. “In earnestness, Nicky boy, I was hurt by your words but I know they come from a place of love. We have been friends since seventh grade, and the competitive nature we share is a brotherly dynamic. I appreciate and accept your apology, dear friend.”

“You don’t know how much that means to me,” you say, holding back a visceral nausea that runs through your moral fabric. “Whatever you need, Cal.”

“Ditto,” he replies.

Some type of festival is happening in downtown Banff. Callum has that mischievous look about him as he exits the vehicle and rounds everyone up in front of a large banner announcing the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

“Friends,” Callum announces, “I have a surprise for you. Now I know I can be a bit controlling and protective when I schedule these trips, but I wanted to keep this part of it a special secret. Every year Banff holds a Film and Book Festival, and yours truly submitted a short film that was accepted by the guild. The screening is in two hours, so get your shopping in and meet back at the Center for Arts and Creativity at 10.”

After a long, drawn-out receiving line of congratulatory fodder, the team splits off and you find solace in a candle store. You watch a display candle wick out and wonder where the time went. When reunited with the group at a tea shop, Betsy desperately tries to find time to sneak away with you, but the opportunity thankfully does not present itself.

“It’s show time!” Callum boasts, using his hands to gesture a movie camera like in a game of Charades. Even his dorkiness is charming to the sheep you call friends.

The short movie is twelve minutes long and is riddled with broken metaphors about life colliding with people, or perhaps the other way around. It’s shot by a hollow man behind an expensive camera, and post-editing is sepia tones and foggy frame edges to give it a dreamlike quality. The sheep discuss it over lunch like fine art, as if each brush stroke spoke to them personally. To you, it’s just old paint splashed on canvas by an imposter. Marnie gushes about the originality of it, while Fred chimes in about what the movie says about modern American culture. Callum basks in the attention, agreeing and disagreeing, until the conversation is so trite that you fake a phone call to escape the heaviness of it all.

You slide into a neighboring tobacco shop and buy a cigarillo that smells like pine straw and honey. You slip around the back of the lunch place and lean against uneven bricks. Betsy finds you.

“Tomorrow,” Betsy says quietly to you.

“Day 3,” you reply.

Day 2 finishes with a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain. All you want to do is take in the beauty and zone out, but you have work to do. You lay it on thick with Callum: lots of elbow nudges, half hugs and barreled-over laughter. You reminisce about the old days, feeding into Callum’s ego with stories like him as Batman and you as Robin at Halloween. To the others, Callum and Nick are the best of friends. Never better. C and Nick, back together again like brothers. The eyes of the sheep are warm and accepting when they look at you, without a tinge of suspicion.

Day 3’s itinerary is hiking. It is going to get steep, so once again Deborah opts out of the day’s activity. You offer to stay with her, but she says she is enjoying her solitude at the Bed and Breakfast and you should go.

The plan is to fake a back spasm a quarter mile from the push spot. Callum will go to work diagnosing the issue because he spent eight years at a spinal devices company. He will tell the flock to go on and we will catch up. Betsy will hang back and tell Marnie and Fred to move on at a romantic pace. The spasm needs to last long enough for them to disappear over the next ridge. 

The plan works. You are writhing in artificial pain. Callum uses big words like ‘radiculopathy,’ ‘hyper-lordosis,’ and ‘interbody fusion’ while he puts hands on you. Betsy will be concerned enough to stay and convincing enough for Fred and Marnie to move on without them. The stage is set.

Once Betsy gives you the sign, you sit up. “Ok, I think it stopped,” you bluff. “The thing you did with my neck and then the pinpoint in the lower back with the thumb?”

“I thought that would stop it. Myofascial release on the neck and a little pressure on L5-S1. Old trick.”

“C, I owe you my life.”

“Well, let’s not go too far. You owe me a scotch.”

“Deal,” you say, coming to your feet, stretching, unable to see Fred and Marnie in the distance. “Onward.”

 Betsy follows close behind you, her eyes burning a hole in the back of your head. You begin to perspire uncontrollably. Callum’s one-way conversation with you is stifled by your increasing anxiety. The push spot is 50 feet in front of you, give or take, and you’ve angled yourself in a way that puts Callum on the edge side. Your palms are sweaty and you wonder if they will slip right off him when you do it.

The push spot is ten feet in front of you now. It looks just as it did when you visited it only two months earlier. Deborah thought you were on a business trip.

You reach the push spot. You pause, stopping Callum’s stride like a mother protecting her child in the passenger seat from hard braking. He will ask you what’s wrong, is it your back again. He’ll turn to face you. Behind him will be blank sky.

“I’m fucking your wife,” you’ll whisper.

He’ll look at you, vanquished. He’ll accept his fate as you put your hands on him. He’ll nod. You’ll nod back. You are sorry, and he forgives you.

 

4 thoughts on “Short Story: Itinerary

  1. lisa Halpin says:

    Great story David!! Hated Callum in the beginning but felt sorry for him at the end! By the way, I think I have been to parties like you described before!!! LOL!

    Like

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