What Courage Looks Like

by Ray Morrison

I had known Richie Logan since high school and as I sat at the bar at Finnegan’s Wake finishing off my second beer I was convinced he wasn’t going to show up. It had been a good nine or ten years since I’d seen Richie but we exchange emails regularly and razz each other often enough on Facebook, although not so much lately. Still I was surprised when he called me to say he was headed down to Boca Raton from his home in Massachusetts and planned on passing through Winston-Salem and hoped we could get together for a couple hours. I was about to signal the bartender to close out my tab when Richie tapped me on the shoulder, causing me to jump.

When I swiveled to face Richie I could tell easily enough it was him, but I was still stunned by how much he’d changed. He’d always been husky, if not fat, and I was struck by how much weight he’d lost since I last saw him. But most striking, the Richie that was fixed in my memory was always smiling. Everything, it seemed, would amuse him, not matter how stupid or dull the rest of us thought it was. But looking up at his face from my stool at Finnegan’s that hot July evening, there was no smile, despite his obvious effort at one.

“Hey, Jacko,” he said, using a nickname for me he’d been using since our freshman year at Reynolds High.

I stood and we hugged and he plopped onto the stool next to mine. It was a Wednesday and the bar was sparsely populated with regulars. I ordered another Guinness and asked Richie if he wanted one too. We had shared many pints back in college. He shook his head and asked the bartender to bring him a double martini, no garnish. I couldn’t remember Richie ever drinking anything other than beer. Over the next hour we drank and talked about jobs and kids (we both had two in college) and reminisced about all the stuff we had done so long ago, the memories of good times we carried with us through our lives. I was careful to avoid asking about Leanne, having heard from a mutual friend their marriage had been going through a rough patch in the past year even if I didn’t know any details. But after Richie’s second martini he seemed to relax a bit and I decided it would be okay to ask how Leanne was doing. Richie looked up at me with what seemed a mixture of expectation and relief. Then he nodded and excused himself and headed for the men’s room. While he was gone I ordered us another round. When Richie returned he pulled out his cell phone and navigated to a photograph of Leanne standing in their backyard, facing away from the camera.

“This is the last photograph I took of her, Jack,” he said, dropping the nickname.

I looked at the picture a long time, considered the emphasis he’d put on the word “last,” and assumed that things in their marriage had gone bad enough for them to separate. I handed the phone back to Richie and waited for him to tell his story. But he sat there silently for a long time staring at Leanne’s picture. Off in the corner of the pub, near the dartboards, a girl squealed as she hit the bull’s-eye. As I waited for Richie to speak I tried to remember when I had seen Richie’s wife last. I figured it was six years ago at our twentieth college reunion.


The night that Richie met Leanne we were all at a party at the off-campus house of some guys Richie knew. We were both juniors at Carolina. The party was nothing special, the usual crowd of students walking around with cups of beer, or huddled in small groups shouting over Duran Duran blasting from stereo speakers in the corner. I was on my fourth or fifth beer just shooting the shit with Richie and some other friends when I notice Richie’s attention lock on something behind me. I turned to see a girl filling her cup at the keg parked by the front door. Her back was to us, but her blonde hair was tied in a long ponytail that poked from the back of what turned out to be an Atlanta Braves ballcap. She had on tight jeans and a white t-shirt that she’d cut off at the midriff. When she turned, I thought she was pretty enough, but for the next twenty minutes Richie could not take his eyes off her, watching her as she circulated the party. Finally, I urged him to go speak to her, something Richie normally had no trouble doing. But there was something different about Leanne for him and eventually I had to physically push him at her before he’d approach her. I won’t say it was love at first sight for Leanne, like it was for Richie, but they hit it off and dated steadily over the next two years. After graduation, Richie proposed and he’d agreed to move to Boston, near her parents. We’d all visit each other a few times a year at first, but then I met Barbara, we all started having families and our get-togethers dwindled to occasionally and then to rarely. But in all the ensuing years since college, I’d always thought Richie and Leanne had a solid marriage.


Richie seemed reluctant to stop looking at Leanne’s photograph on his phone.

“You don’t have to talk about it if you’d rather not,” I said in an attempt to break the awkward silence that had stretched between us.

Richie looked up then and I could tell he was struggling not to cry. I regretted ordering another round of drinks.

“The thing is, Jack,” he said at last, “Leanne is dead.”

“Oh, shit, Richie. I am so sorry.” I felt a weird, trembling coldness in my chest.

He looked around and pointed to an empty booth near the front door. We carried our drinks over and again I waited for Richie to speak first.

The trouble began about eighteen months before, he said, when his real estate agency hired a new broker, named April. She was real green, just out of college and had only acquired her realtor’s license the week prior to starting with them. At the time April started, there were no problems with his marriage to Leanne. The housing market had yet to drop off the cliff, he was selling well and they were just learning to enjoy their recently empty nest. But Richie found himself instantly attracted to April, much as he had with Leanne. April wasn’t the polar opposite of Leanne, but to Richie’s mind she possessed those nebulous qualities he desired in a woman and that he’d secretly thought his wife had always lacked. April wore her dark brown hair either up in a bun or down loose around her shoulders. She was always dressed in business suits that looked expensive to Richie, but more importantly, which showed off her long legs and great ass. Richie found himself hanging around the office, making himself available to help April get the swing of things. After a few weeks they’d meet regularly for lunch and by the time she’d worked at his firm for six months, and despite an eighteen year age difference, Richie told me, they’d fallen in love.

According to Richie, being a realtor made arranging trysts with April easy. On those nights he’d planned on seeing April, he’d simply tell Leanne it was the only time a client could meet him to view a house. Plus, there were always empty properties to which he had access for them to meet. In the beginning, Richie said, he and April would have sex as many as five or six days a week, often on the floor of empty houses. There was never a thought that he no longer loved Leanne, Richie added. He’d just found someone else who seemed to appreciate him in a different way, a way that made him feel young again. He was the happiest he had been in a very long time. And it seemed, if he continued to be careful, he could have the best of both worlds.

Richie shook his head. “Like so many other guys I believed what I wanted to believe,” he said. “I am an idiot.”

I nodded and told him I understood exactly how he felt, even though I didn’t. He looked at me and I could tell he knew I was lying.

“Well, I guess I should tell you the bad part now,” he said.

Despite all of April’s assurances that she would never tell anyone about their affair, she did precisely that. One night April and some of the other women in the office went for a girls’ night out. After several Cosmopolitans April confided she had slept with Richie. It was not long after this that Leanne received an anonymous phone call one afternoon telling her that her husband was sleeping with a young agent in his firm. Richie believes he knows who made the call, a partner who he had clashed with on several occasions, but it didn’t matter in the long run. Leanne confronted him, Richie denied it and claimed the phone call was from a rival agent who claimed he’d sold a house out from under her, but it wasn’t long before Richie was forced to confess the truth. For his part, he said, he sincerely intended to end the affair. He loved Leanne as much as ever and wanted to save the marriage. He would quit the real estate firm, he told her, and find another company to work for. He even offered to see a marriage counselor.

But Leanne was devastated by the betrayal. She stopped leaving the house and for two weeks she didn’t shower or bathe. Richie could not convince her to eat. Occasionally she would venture out to the backyard and just stand in one place for an hour or more. That’s when Richie had taken her picture, he said. Then one Monday at noon, he came home after interviewing for a position with another firm in town but he couldn’t find Leanne. He searched every room in the house while repeatedly dialing her cell phone, yet got no answer. Her car was in the driveway, so he wondered if maybe she’d decided to go next door to their friends’ house. Just as Richie was walking toward the front door, he said, he passed the door to the basement and realized he’d not looked down there. He was on the bottom step when he saw Leanne hanging from a water pipe, her face purple and bulging, the green wire of an extension cord cutting into the flesh of her neck. He told me he knew she was already dead, but he explained how he rushed over to her, tripping on the kitchen chair that was flipped over on the floor, and struggled to lift her weight so he could unknot the cord. He had to leave her body swinging from the pipe to run back upstairs and get a knife from the kitchen in order to cut her down. He called 911 and sat on the floor with Leanne’s head on his lap until the paramedics came and pronounced her dead.

“There was no note,” Richie said. “Of course, none was needed.”

I was too shocked to even nod.

We finished our drinks and Richie told me he had to get back on the road. He thanked me for coming out and listening to his horror story. It helped to talk about it, he said. He was heading to Florida to stay with his brother and sister-in-law since he found it too uncomfortable living in Massachusetts. I tried to convince him to spend the night with Barbara and me, that he’d had too much to drink and he could leave early the next morning. But he insisted he wanted to get down the road a ways before stopping for the night. Part of me understood this.

I settled the bar tab and walked Richie to his car which was parked around the block. The air was still muggy as we shuffled along the sidewalk and I felt a heaviness settle on me that I suspected had nothing to do with the weather. We hugged and Richie got into his car and powered down the window.

“I killed her,” he said. “I know it and I just wanted someone else to know it. You’ve always been one of my best friends, Jacko. Thanks again for meeting me and for listening.”

“I’ll be right here anytime you need me. But do me a favor, will you? Call me when you get to Florida, okay?”

Richie said he would and then pulled the car out of the spot and drove away down 7th Street. I watched until he turned at the corner, onto Cherry, headed for the interstate. I stood there a while and wondered about what kind of courage it must take to live with that kind of burden and still get out of bed each day.

As I made my way back toward Finnegan’s where my own car was parked I surprisingly didn’t think about Richie. And I didn’t think about April, either. Hell, I didn’t even think about poor Leanne. By the time I slid behind the wheel of my car, all I could think about was Barbara. And how I knew in many ways over the years I had disappointed her as a husband, but that I had kept at it, our marriage, and now had found in my good friend Richie’s tragic story a small bit of untapped strength that would keep me fighting for us and the life I now realized I’d taken for granted.

RAY MORRISON spent most of his childhood in Brooklyn, NY, and Washington, D.C., but headed south after college to earn his degree in veterinary medicine and he hasn’t looked north since. He has happily settled in Winston-Salem, NC, with his wife and three children where, when he is not writing short stories, he ministers to the needs of dogs, cats, and rodents. His fiction has appeared in Fiction Southeast, Ecotone, Aethlon, Carve Magazine, Word Riot, Night Train, and others. His stories also appear in a number of anthologies, including What Doesn’t Kill You…, Press 53 Spotlight, and The Mix Tape: A Flash Fiction Anthology (Fast Forward Press).