Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"I Love You (Occasionally)"

Yesterday's posting discussed the works of John D MacDonald that were published in the long-gone weekly newspaper supplement This Week. As I mentioned, the very first story to be published there was something called "I Love You (Occasionally)," which appeared in the December 31, 1950 issue. One of the earliest works of "mainstream fiction" to be sold by MacDonald, it was printed in the magazine without an author credit. It's a brief little lesson of what happens when a husband suddenly tries to be a better partner. As the story's subtitle says, "It almost broke up his marriage!"

Harrison Coombs is a middle class stockbroker with a wife and two kids. He works in "the city" and lives in the suburbs, commuting back and forth via train like so many of the "gray flannel" men of the 50's. Riding home one evening he reads a quiz in a magazine titled "How Good a Husband Are You?" and, convinced he is a super spouse, proceeds to take it. The first question "jolted him a bit": "You take home flowers (often) (seldom) (only on anniversaries). The next question is "You tell her she looks lovely (once a day) (once a week) (once a month) (once a year) (never).

"'Hmmm,' said Harrison Coombs."

He does so poorly that he resolves to make amends that evening. When he gets into the waiting car at the train station, he gives his wife Laura an unexpectedly long kiss, much to the amusement of their two children in the back seat. "Your father was just trying to get warm," explains the startled Laura. The evening is filled with attempts by Harrison to do better and to be more attentive. As MacDonald writes, "Harrison Coombs was filled to the brim with the warm self-regard that comes of having decided to be a better husband."
As the night wears on, Laura becomes increasingly more unnerved, until he actually says the words: "I love you, darling." Then all hell breaks loose.

MacDonald's description of Laura, spoken through Harrison, is amusing, in that it is so typically MacDonald:

"Yes, it was about time he gave some serious thought to his relationship with Laura. Damn lucky in that department. Lovely girl. Figure was better than the day he married her. Whistle-bait, and that's the truth. Always get a tight feeling in the back of the neck when some joe starts paying her too much attention at a party. Time to give the girl a break. Make her feel wanted and appreciated."

Even without a byline, you can recognize the author's voice.

"I Love You (Occasionally)" was published in the New Year's Eve edition of This Week, but only a cursory mention of the date is made in the story. It runs a brief 2,400 words and was reprinted three years later in the Toronto Star's Saturday supplement, the Star Weekly. MacDonald wrote five original stories for the Star Weekly over the years, and six of his This Week stories were reprinted there.

It's a fairly inconsequential tale, nothing special, but recognizably MacDonald and fun to read. 

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