Rent A Husband

By: Sally Mason


“Rent-A-Husband is a handyman, Eric. A chubby guy in his fifties, with a combover and bad breath.”

“Sounds delightful.”

“He was very sweet and he sorted out my backed up drain.”

Eric stirs his coffee, looking out at the street, lost in thought.

Darcy says, “Am I boring you?”

‘No, Darce, you’re not. I think I have a teeny weensy little idea.”

“Mnnnn?”

“What you need is to arrive at the Ball tomorrow night on the arm of a handsome, successful man.”

“Stop talking yourself up, Eric.”

“Not me, silly. A real man, or at least what you girls would consider to be one.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know, Eric.”

“And I think there’s a way to make it happen.”

“This is my life, Eric, not one of your damned soaps.”

Eric is a successful creator of television shows, managing them by remote from Santa Sofia, two hours up the coast from smoggy LA.

“That Rent-A-Husband thing has got me thinking,” he says.

“I’m not going to the Spring Ball with the plumber.”

“Darcy, there’s someone I know down in LA who would be perfect.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s the tall, terribly handsome scion of one of those ancient East Coast families.”

“And why would he want to attend a dance in this hick town with a divorcée on his arm?”

“A beautiful divorcée.”

“Cut the nonsense, Eric.”

“Would you be interested in renting a husband, Darce?” She stares at him. “He’s a failed actor. He’s broke. He’d do it for the money.”

“Ow, Eric, I think that’s my self esteem you just stood in.”

“Darcy, it’s for one night. It’s a bit of play acting and it’ll give you a real boost. And think of how much easier it’ll be to stomach those two,” Eric says, nodding at the window.

Darcy’s eyes are drawn to Porter and his new wife crossing the road from the wine store, arm in arm, laughing as they approach the Mercedes.

“What the hell,” Darcy says, “I’m in.”





2





“Not the face,” Forrest Forbes says, curling into a ball, trying to cover his head. “Please, not the face.”

The first kick had been to his groin, which had felled him, leaving him lying amongst the garbage in the alley.

The second kick takes him in the side, beneath the ribs, and as air leaks from him Forrest waits for the third kick, which doesn’t come.

He peers through his fingers at the shaven-headed giant in the baggy pants, tattoos coiling down his arms.

Something is said in Spanish, and Forrest looks across at dapper Raymond Gomez, dressed in a polo shirt, chinos and slip-on moccasins.

The new face of LA bookmakers.

Raymond waves a hand at the giant who takes a step back, then he tugs at his chinos and squats down, careful not to dirty himself.

“Forrest,” he says, in a voice light years from the barrio.

“Raymond.”

“The money. You have been delinquent.”

Forrest drops his hands and smiles, and if it weren’t for the insalubrious surroundings of the downtown LA alleyway, he could be in a smoking room in an Upper East Side club, with his fine bones and his patrician accent.

“A cash flow issue. I’ll have it resolved by the end of the weekend.”

Forrest is trying to get up, but the bookmaker places a hand on his shoulder.

“Stay down, Forrest. So you won’t have to fall again.”

“You’re not done?”

“No, I think my message needs to be underscored.”

“Raymond, be a sport. We’ve known each other a very long while.”

The bookmaker pats his shoulder.

“Exactly, Forrest, which is why I’ll tell Edmundo to keep his size twelves out of your pretty face.” He stands. “You have until Monday.”

There’s a rattle of Spanish and Forrest covers up again as the giant steps in and delivers a series of kicks that leave him stunned, lying alone and miserable in this stinking alley, bemoaning fate and life.

No, not quite alone: he sees a rat peering at him from behind a trash can.

It seems to shake its head, as if recognizing a kindred spirit, before it darts away, its pink tail snaking after it.





The day gets no better when Forrest Forbes arrives back at his Hollywood walk-up, after a long and painful trek from downtown—no money for a bus, let alone a cab—and finds his few pitiful belongings dumped out in the corridor, the apartment padlocked.

Forrest sits down on the stairs and leans his throbbing head against the railing. He finds his hand under his shirt, toying with the ring he wears on a chain around his neck.

His mother’s ring.

The mother who died giving birth to him.

He knew her only from photographs and the glimpses of her beauty in his own face.

But her imagined love sustained him through years of arid relationships with aloof stepmothers.

The ring, a cluster of diamonds and sapphires, is worth a fortune and Forrest, disgusted at himself for even allowing this thought into his mind, can’t stop the awful realization that all that stands between him and the ER are these stones.