After Simmons had been married two years he began to feel as though he needed a night off. But he hesitated to mention the fact, for he knew his wife would feel hurt to think that he could dream of an evening spent elsewhere than in their cosy sitting room. However, there were no two ways about it: the old unregenerate male in Simmons yearned for something more exciting than the fireside armchair, the slippers and smoking jacket, and the quiet game of cards. Visions of the old riotous evenings with the boys ran through his mind; a billiard table and the click of balls; the jolly conversation at the club, and glass after glass of that cold amber beer. The large freedom of the city streets at night, the warm saloons on every corner, the barrooms with their pyramids of bottles flashing in the gaslight–these were the things that made a man’s life amusing. And here he was cooped up in a little cage in the suburbs like a tame cat!
Thoughts of this kind had agitated Simmons for a long time, and at last he said something to Ethel. He had keyed himself up to meet a sharp retort, some sarcastic comment about his preferring a beer garden to his own home, even an outburst of tears. But to his amazement Ethel took it quite calmly.
“Why, yes, of course, dear,” she said. “It’ll do you good to have an evening with your friends.”
A little taken aback, he asked whether she would rather he didn’t go.
“Why, no,” she answered. “I shall have a lovely time. I won’t be lonely.”
This was on Monday. Simmons planned to go out on Friday night, meeting the boys for dinner at the club, and after that they would spend the evening at Boelke’s bowling alley. All the week he went about in a glow of anticipation. At the office he spoke in an offhand way of the pleasant evenings a man can have in town, and pitied the prosaic beggars who never stir from the house at night.
On Friday evening he came home hurriedly, staying just long enough to shave and change his collar. Ethel had on a pretty dress and seemed very cheerful. A strange sinking came over him as he saw the familiar room shining with firelight and the shabby armchair.
“Would you rather I stayed at home?” he asked.
“Not a bit,” she said, quite as though she meant it. “Diana has a steak in the oven, and I’ve got a new book to read. I won’t wait up for you.”
He kissed her and went off.
When he got on the trolley a sudden revulsion struck him. He was tired and wanted to go home. Why on earth spend the evening with a lot of drunken rowdies when he might be at his own hearth watching Ethel’s face bent over her sewing? He saw little enough of her anyway.
At the door of the club he halted. Inside, the crowd was laughing, shouting jests, dicing for cocktails. Suddenly he turned and ran.
He cursed himself for a fool, but none the less an irresistible force seemed to draw him home. On the car he sat glum and silent, wondering how all the other men could read their papers so contentedly.
At last he reached the modest little suburb. He hurried along the street and had almost entered his gate when he paused.
Through the half-drawn curtains he could see Ethel sitting comfortably by the lamp. She was reading, and the cat was in her lap. His heart leaped with a great throb. But how could he go in now? It was barely eight o’clock. After all his talk about a man’s need of relaxation and masculine comradeship–why, she would never stop laughing! He turned and tiptoed away.
That evening was a nightmare for Simmons. Opposite his house was a little suburban park, and thither he took himself. For a long while he sat on a bench cursing. Twice he started for the trolley, and again returned. It was a damp autumn night; little by little the chill pierced his light coat and he sneezed. Up and down the little park he tramped, biting a dead cigar. Once he went as far as the drugstore and bought a box of crackers.
At last–it seemed years–the church chimes struck ten and he saw the lights go out in his house. He forced himself to make twenty-five more trips around the gravel walk and then he could wait no longer. Shivering with weariness and cold, he went home.
He let himself in with his latch key and tiptoed upstairs. He leaned over the bed and Ethel stirred sleepily.
“What time is it, dear?” she murmured. “You’re early, aren’t you?”
“One o’clock,” he lied bravely–and just then the dining-room clock struck half-past ten and supported him.
“Did you have a good time?”
“Bully–perfectly bully,” he said. “There’s nothing like a night with the boys now and then.”