He rented the tux to make in convincing. Actually shelled out the cash, committed to his third of the limo, and everything. Then he got “sick,” on prom night, and told everyone he hated to miss it, but couldn’t get out of bed. Cory and Dawn came by his house for a photo, but he refused.
So there were two. For the best he said, though he found himself crying like some little girl.
It was always the three of them: Cory and Dawn and Ted. All the same age and living on Hyacinth Court. They used to take naps together. Three three-year-olds lying together on a queen sized bed while their mothers drank tea and played cards.
When they were 8, maybe 9, Cory showed him pages ripped from Playboys out of his father’s closet. Ted remembers most Cory’s comment: “This is what Dawn will become.”
In September she had some kind of boyfriend they both disliked. Some good-looking-but-boring-business type. She told Cory and Ted she was thinking about losing her virginity. They negotiated that delicate matter, dissuading her without appearing jealous. Ultimately nothing happened, she dumped him, and in October they pledged to go to prom as a threesome, just like when they were 3. More like siblings than anything.
Except Cory never saw it like that. He glowed on Prom night, Dawn on his arm. “It won’t be the same without you,” Dawn said. “No, it wouldn’t,” they all knew.
Category Archives: Martin Brick
Christine told Steve she didn’t feel comfortable in the house.
“We’re new to it. Takes time.”
“No, it’s different. I can’t say why.” It was summer, and warm, but she crawled under the covers.
Hank rang the bell, 6-pack in hand. “I’m the neighbor. Welcome.”
They sat on the porch and uncapped the beer. After three Steve felt comfortable with Hank. He asked, “The house was cheap. There something I don’t know?”
“It has a troubled history. In a small town like this, everyone knows.”
“The last owner spent 5 years in prison. Unintentional homicide. He wasn’t a drinker, but left a picnic with one too many. Pure bad luck. His wife kept the house, waited patiently, and finally he came back. But he told me the house never felt right after. Couldn’t sleep. Bumped into things. Like a stranger’s house.”
“And people think it’s cursed because…?”
From the upstairs window he saw Hank’s daughter. Twenty-two, bikini, tanning. It wasn’t sexual. Five years ago, there were twinges of that, and guilt over eyeing the girl he watched grow up.
But now he just kept seeing the girl he killed. Same age. She had friends, constantly on the phone. Pretty. Fun.
Sees her every day.
The closet pole was sturdy. His belt smooth. He left a note so his wife wouldn’t have to find him.
In the morning Christine got a dress from the closet. Felt cold. “I’m going to change in the bathroom. Just… I don’t know.”
“With that cold front moving in, expect temperatures in the 50’s all week. I’d keep a jacket handy. Allison, back to you.”
“Thanks, Bruce. Guess you have to expect that during spring in Wisconsin.”
“We had beautiful weather last week, while you were out.”
“Just my luck.”
Allison used every ounce of her Miss Winnebago County (and Miss Wisconsin second runner-up) experience to keep a smile on. A producer signaled wildly with his hand and she announced the break.
“Denver, right?” Bruce asked. “Bigger market.”
“I don’t think I got the spot, if that is what you want to know. I think they are going with some blonde idiot from Bismark.”
The producer and cameraman looked at each other awkwardly, like children around freshly divorced parents.
“I’ve got another interview next week. How are your prospects looking?”
Bruce knew she didn’t just mean career path. She meant has he started dating anyone yet? Was he still in the dingy divorced-guy apartment? Has he found anything to replace the excitement of their tawdry little fling? Has he reconsidered his stance on guilt, his desire to break it off? Has he patched the anger he felt toward Allison for telling the wife about everything?
“Allison,” he said, 30 seconds to air time. “You have to do something with your hair. The dye is obvious. If you want to get out of this market, take a look at yourself.”
It was true, and he wanted to help because he needed her gone.
August day, exactly 23 years after, and identical weather. Struck Lewis as the world saying, “Oh, we remember.”
Nadine’s mother remembered too. “I didn’t expect to see you.” He wondered if she knew, if that’d be something she’d even care about now.
“Too early,” Lewis mumbled. “Barely 40.”
He’d never spent many daylight hours in the cemetery, but after dusk it was where a young man with no car and a girlfriend within walking distance could find some space.
They joked about the dead, about hallowed grounds, about concepts like souls, until only a week of summer remained. So they committed, there on the grass. She laughed; her blush glowing through the dark. They’d been afraid all summer – of what? – of pain, consequences, getting caught, and probably somewhat legitimately, damnation. Why test it in a graveyard?
But they pledged to repeat every night for their last week.
He walked her out, keeping the pastor’s house distant. But they spotted someone on the back porch. The priest’s housekeeper, smoking a cigarette. She saw them, and Lewis knew her face was stern, turning love to shame.
So they never went back there. Never made love again. Lewis told Nadine at a reunion how silly that seemed, what they lost from fear. He had a few drinks in him. “6 amazing nights, gone.”
The funeral party left the cemetery, and he saw the housekeeper smoking again. Could she still be alive? She still looked stern, but smug, as if thinking, “we got you.”
…because a story has conflict. David Mamet asks, Who wants what from Whom?
Here our protagonist simply noticed a Facebook post. She commented on a friend’s status. An old mutual friend. One he never tried to find, because he knows it all. Distant city. Married. Kids. The mutual friend fills him in periodically.
Years ago they had a little thing. A thing that never blossomed. Back in college, where all things that make good memories come from.
If this were a story there would be conflict now. Her picture would lead him to dwell on some complicated drama that kept them apart. But in actuality, the story is dull. He was with a different girl for a while. And when they broke up, she was with someone. Kind of back and forth like that. The time was never right.
Or better, seeing her would lead him to dwell on the current state of his life. He’d be alone. Or with some shrew. The tiny profile picture would lead him to imagine another world, some immensely better parallel existence in which they lived like those sepia-toned couples who inhabit picture frames when you buy them.
But it didn’t. Our protagonist is fairly happy with his life. Sure he misses the girl. Sure he even pours a little whiskey after telling his own wife, I won’t be up too late. Lying. Sure, he does imagine the parallel world. He’s curious. A little melancholy. But not angry. Not really enough for a story.
“Mommy, shells!” the girl called with elation, bringing them forth for viewing.
“Those are pretty.”
“I want to take them home.”
The girl’s older brother moped several paces behind, still upset that they took lunch at some seaside crab joint instead of McDonald’s. Just because of Mom’s childhood memories of the place.
The father lagged still further behind, upset that the son didn’t even touch his lunch, just picked at bread. Upset at his wife, who refused the doggy bag. “Where will we put it? It’ll just stink up the car.”
The son threw stones, aiming for innocent seagulls.
“These shells are broken,” the mother told her daughter. “Let’s look around and find whole ones.”
“But I like these.”
“You’ll like the others too. Start looking.” She tossed the broken ones into the sand and the daughter all but dove for them.
“Just let her keep the broken shells,” the father interjected.
“But they’re not pretty. I want her to have nice keepsakes.”
“She’ll put them in a drawer and they’ll get broken anyhow.”
“No, I’ll put them in a shadowbox or something. You saw the ones I have from when I was a girl.”
A gull squawked and lifted angrily after suffering a direct hit.
“I guess I just thought you bought those, or they were gift.”
“No. Those are mine.”
The warden came, personally, and brought my meal. I asked him had he heard anything more. He shook his head no. “My sister, you mean?” She said weeks ago she would not come, but I thought she’d change her mind.
“No word,” he responded plainly.
“How about the family. Any of the Empson’s?”
“You really want them there, don’t you?”
“They have that right. They deserve to see it.”
“They do have that right. They know. They chose not to come.”
“So who’s it all going to be, then?”
The warden ticked them off on his fingers. “Me. Few other prison staff. The physician. Minister. District Attorney. Your counsel. A few members of the media.”
“How many people do you want to watch you die?”
“Lots. I want a crowd.”
“Even a crowd that hates you? To curse you? To relish the second the surgeon nods?”
“Yes. Especially that kind of crowd. I want a crowd with emotion. So this matters. These people that are gonna be here – the doctor and lawyers – makes it feel like the case is over and putting me down is like putting the last box of evidence onto a shelf somewhere. Tidying up.”
“You’re not a box of evidence. Trust me, the Empson’s hate you.” He added a little chuckle. He was telling the truth, but I couldn’t help but think that the Empson’s knew just exactly how I’d feel, and my sister knew just exactly how I’d feel. They all knew.
She came to him as he read. Always a book that smelled. “I liked them, but can you change a few words.”
“Change? Which ones? Why?” He didn’t put the book down. She knew from experience that he was in fact paying attention. He could converse and read at once, and honestly focus on each. Still, it bothered her.
“Like this one, the bit about your core.”
“You don’t like ‘core’? I think it’s well-chosen.”
“It sounds scientific. Love is in your heart, not your core. It makes me think of geology class.”
“See, that’s good. That’s a metaphor. If that’s what comes to mind, our love is like a planet then. Large. Solid. Life-supporting. Etc. ‘Heart’ is a dead metaphor. It is so used that there’s no room for ambiguity. You might as well say ‘I love you a lot’.”
“Also apple core. That’s trash.”
“Trash with seeds. One day our bodies will be consumed, but the love is there. Seeds also suggest children.”
“I still don’t like it. If you say ‘core’ I am going to quote Nicholas Sparks.”
“Then I will not love you and will not say ‘core’ because I won’t marry you.”
“What if the priest asks you first?”
He puts the book down. “Any right-thinking priest would declare such a union null and void.”
“Fine. You can keep core.” He put the book down. That’s all she really wanted.
Private Moore’s wounds bothered him, naturally. Even when the painkiller was administered his legs felt strange, bigger, heavier, not really his. So he appreciated when anyone talked to him. Anything to distract him from thinking about the feeling of his body.
The chaplain knew that was part of his job. Nothing heavy. Sure, the wounds and losses steer soldiers toward questions of an existential nature, but his job, as he saw it, was to postpone those thoughts. Keep them comforted, thankful, aware that people care.
And Moore appreciated the chaplain for this. They talked baseball. They talked small town burger joints. They talked open Kansas fields and capping jackrabbits with at .22.
“I’m glad to see you’re doing well,” the chaplain said, wrapping up.
“Father, something’s bothering me.”
“Alright. What is it?”
Moore leaned confessionally close. “When the nurse changes my bandages…. I, uh, my body reacts…”
“Oh,” the chaplain responded non-judgmentally. “That’s not something to be ashamed of.”
“But, it’s not intentional. I’m not trying.”
“There is a difference between what we do, and what we think, and how we act. I mean, sin is thought. Sin is intention.”
Moore looked unconvinced. Fell hushed. Even more close-lipped when a blue scrub-wearing young man approached and checked his chart.
“I’m just about done here, Doctor,” said the chaplain.
“You’re fine. And I’m not the doctor. Just here to change this soldier’s dressings.”
The chaplain looked back at Moore. “If I were you, I wouldn’t say anymore to anyone.”
Lizzie kicked my ass playing quarters at Bert’s party. I say damn she’s lucky and she says of course, she’s Irish. I’m Irish too, and after jokes about getting lucky she wants to prove her luck at the OTB because she’s amazing at picking ponies. Puts everything in my wallet on Murphy’s Law, the most Irish sounding horse, and when it wins at 50-1 we are flush. We take a room at the Crown Arms, and it feels like we can talk for hours, because we do. She loves dogs and I say I do too, and hear all about her dream of a dog day care. We’ll start one together. Then we break for sex that I thought only existed in movies, but maybe that was the pot. Anyhow, Room Service satiates our munchies. At 4 am we jump the fence to swim in the closed cool. No suits, but it’s pretty dark. Security catches on, so we hide, naked, in bushes for an hour. And this goes on until a day later I realize I missed work and I’m tiring of listening to her dreams, because I know she’s just a stoner who’ll never have it. Thankfully the money’s almost gone, so our holiday will end. I hoard the last of the bourbon, then pass out. Wake up to her jumping on the bed. Guess what, guess what? She went to the OTB and hit it again. Isn’t she just the luckiest? Aren’t we both just the luckiest?
“Why’s your apartment smell like incense?”
“I asked Rhea over.”
Don cranes his neck into the living room. Deeming it safe he whispers, “Crazy new age lady?”
“Yes, she… She wants to help with Mom.”
Rhea does indeed. Candles. Incense. Ouija board.
“Come on, Jen. I know you don’t believe that shit.”
She doesn’t. Or didn’t. But desperation leads to conviction, and as she explains to her brother, “If ever someone needed to talk to the living, it’s Mom, with the way she went.”
So the three of them gather around the table in a darkened room. Don didn’t understand why it had to be darkened. They put their fingers on the planchette.
“We’d like to speak to the spirit of Helen Bauman. Helen are you here?”
“Are you going to ring a bell with your toes,” Don taunts. “I’ve seen the Houdini documentaries.”
Jenny offers an icy glare, but then the piece moves. YES.
Jenny wants to know if it’s really her. “Ask her favorite food.”
A – R – T … Artichoke hearts. Jenny’s eyes go wide.
Don is still stone faced. “A man comes up to me, says you and dad are hurt. He’s a friend, and he’ll take us to the hospital. But I’m suspicious…”
Rhea looks puzzled. Jenny too. But the planchette moves. A – S – H…
Jenny gasps. Their password. Never trust a stranger unless he knows…
“Okay,” Don admits. “Now you can ask her about what happened.”
Neil answers anyway.
“Hey, you.” It takes a moment to register, though who else would it be? Jessie calls daily.
“I’m stuck at the airport. Thought of you.”
He actually spotted the sound of her connection first. Words emerge suddenly, the first fragment of sound shaved off. When she stops there’s a moment of buzz, then perfect silence. Little gates opening and closing on each side of her utterances. He listens to this, not to her tales of clueless students, of some pompous ass at faculty senate.
He remembers old long distance, the kind with constant static, like snow underfoot. It cost 25¢ a minute. That was the long distance Dixie used 25 years ago.
Jessie describes an article she’s writing. She’s young, really energetic about scholarship. Smart, bold, applying for tenure early. She’s beautiful. The article is boring – theory driven – while Neil’s an old-time reader-response guy. They met at a conference. Amazing sex. Should she keep something or other in a footnote…? They’ve got a semi-casual long-distance relationship going.
Dixie only rarely called. Said, “I love you, I miss you, it’s cold, I’m wearing your shirt.” Three expensive minutes.
“Marry me,” he told her once through that snow-static.
“I need to do the Peace Corps.”
“I’ll wait,” he said, and tried, but the distance killed them.
“I might not have cell coverage where I’m going,” Jessie explains.
“Okay. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.”
Dixie would say, “Isn’t it ‘absence’.” But Jessie moved on, talking about currency exchange.
“Kids,” my aunt shouted from the back of the house. “Time to come in.”
“Aw nuts. Already?” I complained but started back.
My cousin Lefty didn’t move. “Come on, we’d better…” I began, but paused, looking to him for guidance.
He was right-handed, so his nickname was just the beginning of things that didn’t quite make sense. Another was that he was younger than me, but clearly in change. But since I moved from the city to rural Indiana he helped acclimate me to wide-open playgrounds of cornfields and woods.
“First,” he instructed, “don’t say ‘aw nuts.’ Who are you, Charlie Brown? Say ‘shit.’ Say ‘damn.’”
“Second. When were we told to go in?”
“When it’s dark.”
“Right. And is it dark?”
“I don’t think it’s dark.” I believed this. It didn’t seem dark. That was the other thing that was hard to get used to. We were right on the border of the time zone, so it got dark late. Mom would say, “It’s bedtime,” when just five miles to the west it was an hour until bedtime. Didn’t make sense.
“This is adult dark. When you’re inside drinking coffee, talking about sick people from church, sure it looks dark.”
“It’s not dark if you’re in it,” I told him.
“Exactly. You’re learning.”
“Boys. Come in.” This time it was my mother. “It’s dark.”
We both giggled. We’re far enough into the corn that she couldn’t see us.
“You going in?” Lefty asked.
“Shit no,” I told him.
She asks with what animal he most associates. The wording of her IM trips him up. That’s different from your favorite animal. That’s different from what animal you think you’d be.
First to come to mind are the obvious cool choices. Tiger. Panther. Bear. The carnivores. Hunters. But those are all cliches, the things un-inventive tough guys request in a tattoo parlor. Then he eyes her profile photo, contemplates her tight, suggestive but still classy clothing, imagines that she might well be the type to wear leopard-print undergarments.
But she also wears glasses, and lists “books” as an interest, so he thinks in the opposite direction, of “thoughtful” animals. There’s a chance she likes dolphins, but hell if he’d associate with a dolphin, no matte how sexy the woman. Owl might work. Connotes wisdom, but is still a raptor. A creature of the night. Mysterious. Seems kinda old though.
Maybe something simple like dog. Not pretentious at all. Suggests loyalty. He’d like her to imagine him as loyal. But how many guys would say dog? It lacks originality. Better than wolf though. Cliché again.
Funny thing about wolves, people think “lone wolf,” but they mate for life. Not that he wanted to bring up mating for life – needy. But for kicks, he considers penguin, with that whole sticking with the egg thing. Or vultures. You discount vultures, but they’re loyal lovers. He saw this special on Animal Planet…
A message appears: “I take that as “turtle” ;)”
Tabitha tried her key again and again, but the car wouldn’t start. The library had closed, her co-workers gone, but a vaguely familiar looking man tapped her window.
“It won’t start.”
“Pop the hood. I’ll look”
“That’s okay. I can call a truck.”
“It’s probably distributor wires. I used to have one of these old Cavaliers. Happened all the time.”
He went to work and after a bit Tabitha said, “You look familiar,” to fill the silence.
“I come into the library a lot.”
“That’s probably it.” She peered around the hood to study his face. This made him nervous.
“Try it now.” He avoided eye contact.
It started naturally.
“Thanks. Let me give you something,” as she handled her purse.
She looked at him. He examined the ground. He told himself he’d watch her eyes, but it was harder than he thought. And he couldn’t bring himself to say his rehearsed line: “I’d better go, it’s a long walk for me.”
“I suppose that was an easy fix.” Her voice was now slow and searching.
“I better go.” He wanted to say the rest so she’d offer him a ride.
“Did you go to school around here?”
He did. Just like Tabitha. Sat behind her in Spanish. Maybe if he responded, “Si” she’d remember. 90% of the words he’d ever exchanged with her were in Spanish.
“Well, thanks,” she said getting in her car.
“De nada,” he responded after she’d driven off. “De nada.”
The idea was to party with Angela, but she got angry because I spent Sunday watching football with my dad. But she burned a whole day shopping with her sister. It snowballed from there: I don’t call enough, doesn’t like my college friends… Next thing you know it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m single.
Mom and Dad invite me to the Wolski’s with them, but I’d be the only person without an AARP card.
Home alone with beers, until midnight approaches and I consider champagne. I go to the wine cellar, but get sidetracked among my old stuff in the basement. There’s my old runner-sled. Way too inviting. I suit up and hit the hill out back. The snow is compacted, so I fly. And laugh like I haven’t in years; pure elation.
At the bottom of the hill I spy the river. It’s quiet. The center is slow-moving water, the edges, thick ice. The river doesn’t know arbitrary markers like New Year’s, that say you’re supposed to be with a crowd, people to affirm your happiness, someone to kiss at midnight. The river is kid-me, throwing sticks just to watch them float, oblivious to the politics of pleasing others.
Which is probably why I walk to the edge of the ice and hammer with my sled until a chunk breaks off. Large enough to ride raft-like, slow down the silent river, me and the cold and the winter constellations and the silence and the approximate feeling of being ten.
“Hello. Imperial Insurance.”
“Hello. This is Daniel Yardley. I’m calling about a recent claim.”
“Of course, Mr. Yardley…. A fire in your bedroom.”
“Correct. But the claim was denied.”
“Yes. Negligence. There were individuals present who could’ve prevented the incident.”
“And Mr. Edwards.”
“My business partner.”
“The fire inspector’s report suggests they were ‘distracted’.”
“No need for euphemisms. They were screwing. Hence my argument: My policy covers ‘acts of god’ including tornado, lightning, yada-yada, and spontaneous combustion.”
“A general definition taken from the very reputable Oxford English Dictionary reads, ‘the act of burning away through conditions produced within the substance itself’.”
“Conditions within the candle? The bed-linens?”
“No. My wife and Mr. Edwards.”
“The conditions for destruction were developing in the substance of those people.”
“That sounds metaphorical. We don’t cover metaphors.”
“The question is the cause. The fire was caused not by negligence, but by internal conditions. Something uncontrollable, innate. An act of God.”
“So it’s not a metaphorical problem, but theological.”
“No. Listen. This tragedy needs purpose, requires rebuilding.”
“Mr. Yardley, I understand. But the rebuilding you need isn’t financial. Be thankful nobody was hurt.”
“Exactly the problem. It doesn’t seem right.”
“So maybe you need to pray for another fire.”
“Maybe, but no harm in praying. If it happens, I guess it was justified.”
It came to him while hunting. Deep in the woods, he sat on a log listening for deer. And in that calm windless valley, the snow produced a peculiar silence. A silence so complete it spoke.
It was a sound akin to static but less… there. Still, he felt it gave precise instructions.
So he took his vacation time. He built walls out there in the woods. He built a spiral staircase, towers, gargoyles. He built an ice castle.
The silence was louder inside the walls. It told him to make a table and two chairs.
And it told him to bring Melinda. He had her wear her warmest clothes and walk into the forest at night. The castle glowed with candles. There were caterers with an elaborate meal. She sat in her throne draped with the skin of a deer he’d killed. They traversed five courses of food and drink. She smiled, glowed to rival the candle-dabbled ice.
Then he requested, “listen.”
“Listen?” She expected something. The caterers, in fact, waited in an anteroom with a sorbet dessert, with a diamond ring on the dish.
“Yes. The snow told me it’d tell you what you want to hear.”
She smiled coyly. Indulged him.
Her face went from glow to mysterious spiral of smoke.
“You hear something?” he cautiously asked.
“It says go to pharmacy school?”
He closed his eyes to listen. She was right.
“Don’t miss the bus,” the man growled. Stephen just walked past, but the man followed. “Talking to you.”
Stephen looked back, wavering between threatening and dismissive. Usually he ignored the homeless, but this guy taunted for weeks.
“There’s a bus for you. Be on it.”
Hours later he stepped onto the balcony. Too cold really, but he admired the December air. The lights. The half-silence of height.
His grandfather owned 40 acres in Ohio and was a humble, poor man. Stephen owned a fraction of that, but in Manhattan, and was decadently rich.
His grandfather had disputes over stray cows. Stephen – insider trading. The feds were interested.
“Thinking of jumping?” Helen pulled on the fur as she stepped out. Nothing on underneath but black lace, looking like his Jack Vettriano painting. She said he lived a Vettriano-painted life.
He bought the coat to distract her from the federal investigation and from his secretary.
“Not that bad. I’ll pull through.”
She looked out. “You think jumpers ever hurt others? Hit a person? Hit a cab?”
The man came to mind. “Hit a bus?” Even transients wanted him to take a flying leap.
“My grandpa… with a shotgun,” he told Helen. “Because he lost the farm.”
The next morning, again: “Don’t miss the bus.”
Stephen snapped, grabbed the man’s coat. “Stop harassing me! You want a bus?” And pushed him into the street.
He had time to reconsider. As the bus approached he leapt, pushed the man back. Saved his life.
Paste story IN HTML hereThey were just kids, old enough to know better, young enough to be susceptible to dares.
Bryan moved from the “wilds of Montana” and always talked about adventure – swinging from ropes in the haymow, canoe trips, even caves. Cody and Nick got sick of hearing about it, said the city had plenty to offer. But they said such while throwing pennies at the grate of Cody’s air conditioner on a pointless August day.
They had to move fast. The city workers left the cones up, and the little barricades, but essentially abandoned the manhole during lunch. All they needed were flashlights and a piece of chalk to mark their path.
Nick was the most scared. He kept talking about animals.
Bryan urged them on, saying there couldn’t be anything in the sewers worse than Montana. He’s talking bears, mountain lions, wolves.
Cody said there were alligators and giant python. People flushed their pets. You know where those end up. They eat the rats, grow huge, and treat the sewers like concrete everglades.
They walked for over an hour without seeing one hint of an urban reptile. But when they returned, the manhole was closed.
“This isn’t the right one,” Cody claimed.
“Yes, it is.” Bryan pointed to the chalk mark.
“Did you hear something?”
“Where are you,” Jane asks.
“I just passed Tomah.”
“I know nothing about Wisconsin. Where’s that?”
“Hold out your right hand. Palm up. Do you see Wisconsin?”
“It’s a little tall.”
“Work with me. Tomah is near the middle of the palm. A little to the left.”
“And you’re cutting across diagonally?”
No, I’m zig-zagging, he thinks, but says, “Minneapolis is near the pinky and Chicago is where you take a pulse. The line connecting is I-94.” He contemplates transferring to a college even further away.
“I don’t have a line between there.”
Christ on a crutch, she’s literal. “Theoretical line.”
“There’s a line slashing the opposite way. My loveline. You just crossed it. How sweet.”
He senses the perfect moment. She just said crossed. Point that out to her. They are running perpendicular, not parallel. Point that out. And then, “We’re different. Still friends?”
But who breaks up on Thanksgiving? Heartless. Especially over the phone.
But Christmas is next. Worse then. After that, Valentine’s Day. He’s on the hook until spring unless he acts now. And he won’t be able to keep Bridget and Jane oblivious of each other forever.
“All this time apart has me thinking…” Her voice turns awkward, hesitant.
Thank you. “Me too.”
“I think my loveline intersects… intersects my lust line. Do you understand? I think I’m finally ready.”
He tells himself, I’m not shallow. This is for her. It’d be extra cruel to break up now. And he tells her, “Maybe another two hours.”
Kyle Morton, D.D.S., sorts through his postcards, the ones sent as reminders of upcoming appointments. There are cartoon smiles, kittens, and beach scenes. Usually his receptionist takes care of this, but he wants to be sure that Karen Blau, wife, mother of two, part-time florist, gets the proper card. She’s always been nervous. When she first came to him it’d been seven years without dental work. Her mouth was a mess. Dr. Morton spoke just above a whisper: “we can fix this.”
When she receives the card, a New England autumn, she interprets it as their destination, and wears a tight but tasteful wool sweater. She’s fidgeting with her wedding band when he enters the room, but his voice defuses the nerves. He places his hand on her shoulder (never does for other patients). Asks about the kids.
She hates the novocaine the most. It takes an unreasonable amount of time. The needle’s in for a full minute. Why? Her eyes are closed and Dr. Morton notices the tensed muscles. He places his hand on her knee, maybe a little higher, but nothing blatant. He asks, “I love apple picking in the fall, don’t you?”
She can’t answer of course, the needle in her jaw, but she thinks of the postcard, a B&B, the smell of woodsmoke, all those clichés. The muscles on the working-side of her face produce a lopsided smile. Reaching for the drill, he pauses to examine his hands. People dread those hands, but not Karen.
When the pirates boarded ship, the gun of the little one, some inexperienced kid with glitchy nerves, went off, caught me in the leg. My crew dressed the wound, then pumped me with all the painkillers we had. I haven’t seem them since, but I like to think they’re safe, at least adrift on a lifeboat somewhere.
Like to think I’ll be safe too, as the pirates argue in a foreign tongue. Hard to read emotion through the beard, but I believe the little one lobbies for my release to someone who’ll provide proper medical care. Argument ends, and my shooter wraps the sheet from the bed around me. Tight. I’m feeling hopeful, until they slip a 24” pipe wrench into the sheet. They’re weighing me down, which can only mean…
Underwater, warmish, getting colder. Darker.
I never knew enough to take a good last breath. Weak as I am, I couldn’t have. I struggle, kick at the dark as best I can, hoping it might bleed light.
There’s a bump. I think fish, but then it cradles me. Honest to God arms. Must be angels, I think as things become warmer, lighter. Female hands part the sheet and I see her. Radiant. Hair floats majestically, ribboning like the aurora borealis. She’s naked. Angels aren’t naked? Her mouth opens, but I don’t understand. Underwater, dolphin talk. Her lips push to mine and fill my lungs. Again, she makes distorted words. Indecipherable, but I know perfectly well I’ll be okay.
She knew I liked long hair. Which convinces me it wasn’t a true breakup cut. She planned to come back, and to make me feel bad, the growing hair a reminder of my gradual forgiveness.
Everyone knew those long chestnut locks. So everyone would ask, “what’s the deal?” if they saw her lying in her casket with that spiky cut. Especially her mother who said it made her look like a lesbian. Her mother who knew we were on the rocks, who had a very bad impression of me, looked at her daughter and said, “You’ve driven her away from men altogether, haven’t you?”
I think she blamed me for the death. The police simply said she had alcohol in her system, never explicitly said it was a “factor.” There was light snow. Maybe, even sober, she would have slipped. Or maybe the drinks slowed her reflexes. Or maybe they made her melancholy enough that a concrete pillar looked inviting. One thing I know for certain is that I was the reason she was drinking.
Another thing I know with certainty is that if you search very hard, with a photograph, you can find a wig that matches reasonably well.
And a last thing I know, is that if you ask the funeral director he will let you keep the wig, and provided you don’t tell her the back story, a woman you hookup with months later will wear it and when you say “forgive me” she’ll grant it.
My projections pointed toward Stephanie. She was younger, but females develop sooner. Some of the class had already made the leap. When summer ended girls returned full heads taller than the boys, and with discernible breasts.
Some of the boys developed too. Taller, with specters of deeper voices. These were the boys who took an interest in, or at least fared best with, the developing girls.
So Stephanie seemed feasible. I imagined us hitting puberty together. She was popular enough to warrant attention, yet not so popular as to utterly dismiss me. Academic enough that we might actually talk.
But she went and had a freak growth spurt. Over Thanksgiving she grew three inches and a figure. I honed my diet according to our Know Your Body textbook, but to no avail. Puberty still lingered on the distant horizon, while Kenny scooped Stephanie.
Then I developed The Master Plan: Miss Mandible.
Fact: I was already the “teacher’s pet.” Leverage that favoritism.
Fact: I was already the class pariah. No risk in falling further out of favor.
Fact: According to classmates, Miss Mandible was attractive (with “sweet tits”). Miss = single. No pictures of boyfriends on her desk.
Fact: I did not anticipate puberty until April. By June, as I passed into the next grade, any conflict of interest would disappear.
Fact: She told me, repeatedly, I was too mature for the class. Seemed like a veiled message. And with no one to compete against… Clearly reasonable. It was all there.
Once, a man built a machine that could answer any question. A glass booth housed an animatronic figure. People came from miles around to ask if they should get married or what career path to follow.
Of course, such a machine became quite popular, and the line to use it grew profoundly long. People came with chairs, with blankets, with food.
Peter came one June, burdened with everything he needed. The woman in front of him asked what about his question, but he would not tell her. It was too personal. That night it rained, and she shared her umbrella with him. And she showed him pictures of her children. She told him her question, which was also very personal. On the third day he said, “My mother is old and suffering. She wants me to give her something so she slips away in her sleep, but I don’t know…”
The woman said, “We went through that with my father,” and they talked about it for hours.
When Peter’s turn came he dropped his quarter and the machine lit up. “What do you wish to ask?”
“You know, I had a question, but I don’t really need to ask any more.”
“I see,” droned the machine. “Much shadow surrounds this.”
“Might as well ask where to get a good reuben.”
“The spirits are speaking to me now…”
“Does anyone ever need to ask you what they intended?”
“The spirits say the beginning of wisdom is to desire it.”
Not prettier, smarter, or richer. Not wiser. Cruel, un-nerving. Without the messy burden of guilt.
We got along great at first. She said, use any of my things, so I said use mine. She said eat any of my food, so I said eat mine. Difference is, she went for it. She wore my clothes, because she hated doing laundry. She ate the cookies grandma sent.
On the seven thousandth fire alarm (false of course) I still called her friend. Used that word first, rather than roommate. I hopped out of the top bunk just as she left the lower. Came down hard and broke her collarbone.
The boyfriend really got to me. Because I had a crush on him first. But she asked him out. And brought him back to our room. And expected me to disappear.
She told me if I needed the room, she’d happily clear out. Part of the reason I can’t hate her is because she meant it. It wasn’t said with the assumption I’d never collect. She imagined me capable of a one-night stand.
I heard the bone snap. My immediate reaction was elation. She writhed on the floor, in the nightgown she thought was sexy but not slutty, perfect for being seen in during firedrills
After they carted her off, I opened her vodka. She always said, help yourself. I imagined what I’d do if her boyfriend came by, with this liquid courage. Won’t happen, but still, I dream of being cruel.
You and your husband are invited to a masquerade ball, but that night you suffer a migraine. You insist your husband go alone, while you take some medicine and fall asleep. A few hours later you awake, much relived. Do you:
~ Stay home and relax?
You decide to go. Arriving, you find your husband having too good of a time. He’s on the dance floor, flirting with, kissing, and fondling every woman in sight. Do you:
~ Charge out and put him in his place?
Test it is. You move out and dance suggestively. He abandons the others and directs all attention toward you. There’s some dancing, some stray hands. Soon he nods his head toward a hallway, showing you to a storage room. Do you:
~ Reveal yourself and berate him?
You go for the lesson with more sting. In the dark he has his way with you. Then you slip off, to beat him home. You change into your pj’s and wait patiently. “How was your night?” you ask nonchalantly.
“Pretty boring,” he says.
“No? No dancing?”
“Nah. I saw some of the guys. We went into a side room to play cards. But I’ll tell you, this guy I loaned my costume to sure had a great time.”
~ You’re on your own…
“Your friend Cody is nice,” mom said, making obligatory communication. I rolled my eyes.
“Well, we had a nice conversation.”
“You and Cody?”
“He’s the kid with the chess kit?”
“We talked at the park. While I waited for your soccer game to end.”
“He’s not really my friend. He’s … kinda annoying.”
“Don’t you guys go to chess club together? You’ve been to his house.”
“We hang out, but he annoys me. He thinks he is SO good at chess. That’s all he talks about.”
Mom paused. “He thinks he’s good?”
“Like Bobby Fischer’s second coming.”
“Is he really good just thinks he is?”
Pre-teen’s worst dilemma – admitting your rival’s aptitude. “He usually beats me,” I said sheepishly. “Sometimes he attempts a strategy he read about in a book. Then I might win.”
“We played in the park. And I won. He didn’t seem that good.”
Occasionally mom indulges me with a game. She’s never won. Although sometimes I lighten up, give her a fighting chance.
“What was his opening move?”
“He jumped over the pawns and brought out a horse.”
“A knight? Aggressive move.”
“Maybe that was his problem. Trying too hard.”
I looked over her way to stage my disbelief face. Then I noticed her summer top. A lacy edge of bra showed through. Her face looked really clean, smoother than the faces of most other moms.
The next day I said, “Hey Cody, knight to king’s bishop three,” and punched his face.
|1 c. buttermilk||=||1 c. milk + 1 T. lemon juice|
|3 buttermilk pancakes||=||1 Sunday morning|
|1 Sunday morning in bed making love to wife||=||10,000 buttermilk pancakes|
|infidelity||=||0 Sunday mornings in bed + many nights on couch|
|1 very tall woman||=||fantasy shared with George Constanza|
|1 redhead||=||any man’s fantasy|
|1 very tall redhead flirting with you for weeks||=||fate’s cruel trick, especially after diagnosis of “terminal”|
|lost chance to sow wild oats while young||=||comfort of knowing only her body in a perfect compact|
|confession to wife||=||clear conscience before death + angry wife + couch|
|last time made love to wife||=||can’t remember, I think missionary, that Tuesday before the diagnosis|
|desire to be able to determine the actual last time and to make it special||=||greatest desire + marker of forgiveness|
|being cheated on by dying husband||=||catch 22: how can you not forgive him but then, how can you love someone who uses a “get out of jail free” card on your heart?|
|3 buttermilk pancakes||=||each morning’s peace offering|
|1 month w/o sex||=||lifetime in cancerland w/o love|
|1 night she comes to the couch, sheds nightgown||=||acknowledgement that you are slipping away|
His dad said two was the ideal number, for martinis and breasts. One, something’s missing. Three, gluttonous. Good rule, so developed the progressive martini. Keep refreshing while you drink. Glass never goes dry – only counts as one.
But he’s thinking about sevens on his seventh wedding anniversary. Seven-year itch. He thinks that has something to do with divorce. Seven’s the hump. Make it over, you’re okay.
Divorce sounded inviting that morning, with Sweetie nagging about the gutters. But by mid-afternoon he’s shiny from the first martini and gutters sound reasonable.
The ladder rises. He swigs, then climbs.
Seven-Year Itch is also a Marilyn Monroe film. The gin facilitates a blending of Sweetie and Monroe.
Gutter clear. Back down. Swig. Move the ladder. Swig. Up.
Back to thinking about twos because next door a bikini top does yard work . She sees him, waves. Makes him wonder… if given the chance? That morning he would have said “cheat.” Now, into martini one, no.
Down. Swig. Move. Swig.
He passes the bathroom window. Sweetie’s showering. Taps the glass. Eventually she answers.
“What are you doing?”
“Gutters! Happy Anniversary.”
“The sitter will be here in an hour.” Her tone is sharp, like the morning. He was hoping for playful. And a peek. But she wears a towel.
Down. Swig. Move. Big swig. Up faster.
The next thing he remembers is the paramedic. “How many fingers?”
“Good.” Sweetie emerges over the paramedic’s shoulder. “You feel alright?”
“Yes,” he answers. “Yes.”
Warm summer evening, the kind that radio loves. Tv’s on the fritz. Lou (regular), curses Obama as bartender Marty futzes with a radio. It crackles to analog life. Old-school country, and Brady (semi-regular) applauds. “Different station,” says Marty. DJ mentions “Abilene” and Lou slurs, “shit, it’s coming from Kansas?” Beautiful anomaly, Brady thinks. Thank you, atmosphere.
Jess strolls in. 22 and wearing shirts with feminist slogans, she doesn’t belong. But she amuses the old-timers. Mostly likes to mingle with her old History teacher. “Evening, Brady.”
Jess pontificates something she read online. Lou echoes or argues, hard to say, as Brady’s attention tightens on the radio. ♫ summer dress…lazy days…. ♫
“…why the hand-basket, I ask:” Lou.
“You gotta agree,” Jess beckons.
“Don’t care,” Brady mutters and exits. They chased off the radio, and he hopes, by miracle of summer, it’ll hum in the long grass out back.
Seconds later Jess says, “Something wrong?”
“You taught me to care about those things.”
“I did?” Shrugs. “You ever really look at stars?”
“We won’t be able to… greenhouse gases…”
Brady isn’t listening. The stars free-associate into snowflakes, falling in Cleveland. He’s young and writing poetry in an apartment shared with a woman like Jess. He’s killing inspiration to celebrate grief. He’s socially-conscious, but was he awake?
How’d he teach Jess to mimic that? Didn’t mean to.
“Let it go,” he croons, hoping to change her, to absolve him.
You might think the hardest part would be getting the ideas. But Marshall went outside to smoke, leaving his sketch pad. Like performing a sleight-of-hand trick on a stoner.
They were half mine anyhow. We brainstormed together. His execution just elicited a more favorable response.
The real tricky part was the work. Frantic. Much harder than Marshall every worked. I had to find materials, scout locations, then dig, set, up, wait for the right light, and then get photos. And then make the prints right. That was the hardest. Up all night, dueling with Photoshop. Find a gallery to host, hoping all along that Marshall hadn’t already pitched his idea there.
At the opening reception he appears, naturally. He wears a sneer. “You stole my idea.”
“No I didn’t. We talked, together, about the idea of an installation piece that juxtaposed indoors and outdoors.”
“Right. And that’s it. Something that involved bringing dirt inside the gallery. You had some pedestrian idea about creating an indoor Garden of Eden. The square of dirt with the weeds in the center of the room. The photo behind it of a field with a square of hardwood in the middle of it, like the two squares were swapped. That’s mine and I never told you.”
“Guess we think alike.”
“I’d punch you, but that would be as cliché as your art usually is.”
You’d think the hardest part would be this insult. But it wasn’t. I’ll still say it was the busy work.
People say you’ll appreciate every second they sleep, but that’s not true. They sleep too soundly. Motionless. It deceives you. Janet had woken up too many times, looked over with a conscious mind that said this was ridiculous, a stomach full of dread when she touches… He was always warm, no matter how cold he looked.
“I don’t like him in the bed with us,” she told Alex.
“But he doesn’t stay asleep when we move him.”
“I’m afraid of smothering him,” was something she couldn’t bring herself to verbalize.
So she took to sleeping on the couch. Then she took to walking, at night while the rest of the world dozed.
One house always had a light on. Janet found comfort in this. A comrade. A fellow sleepless soul. She made sure her route passed that house each night.
She noticed things. Toys in the yard. Infant swing hanging from a tree. Exer-saucer on the side porch.
And she notice the figure inside. A man. He sat in the same place every night. With a bottle next to him.
She noticed only one car. And the toys never moved.
One night she rang the bell, and when he wordlessly answered, she said, “I understand. I understand what happened. I know why you drink and why you live alone.”
He said, “You can’t understand.”
“I do. We’re the same.”
“I seriously doubt that.” His face showed doubt, curiosity, hope, and something like hunger.
His hip made a soft, wet, popping noise, like a boot struggling free of mud. Hurt like hell too. So he decided to stay right on his back.
Even if he couldn’t roll over, his couldn’t wait any longer. Drinking coffee since dawn. Only option left was to wet himself where he lay. Least of his problems, really.
His pants weren’t wet from blood, which meant it wasn’t a compound fracture. He imagined he could still die from internal bleeding. But he wasn’t lightheaded at all, a good hour after the fall. Arteries probably intact.
He had a clear view of the treestand. Too old to be twenty feet up. Too old to be hunting at all. But since Mona died, not too much else to do with his time.
The house was empty, and he didn’t tell anyone else where he was going.
Too early in the fall to die of exposure. He’d survive the night.
Few others hunted those woods, especially on a weekday. It could be days before anyone found…
How long does starvation take? He’d dropped a few pounds without Mona’s cooking. A head start?
Bears, he thought. Or coyotes. Wolves weren’t unheard of.
His rifle was next to him. He’d fired two shots trying to attract attention. No avail. Still had three shells in it. And five in his pocket.
How many coyotes might there be?
He thought about Mona. Felt the rifle. Thought, no, I’d better wait.
This is Space Camp, Charles thinks. My zero G tank, referring to Guy’s pool and the floating chair suspending him in the just below the surface.
Being lit on Guy’s scotch helps feign weightlessness, too. Good stuff. Glenlivet. 18 year.
Space Camp, what’s got to run? Maybe two grand? Charles’s kids are in soccer camp. $130 and he griped. No lodging or food; just high schoolers showing 8 year-olds how to kick. Where’s the money going?
He should really have brought his kids over to swim. They deserve at least that. Charles empties his scotch and admits why he didn’t bring them. He’d basically be saying that his supervisor’s kid is gonna play with rockets, but you can sneak into his pool while they drive down to Huntsville.
Deck. Drink. Refreshed. Bottles’s empty now. He told himself just one or two; Guy would notice any more. Screw Guy. Charles shoulda had Guy’s position if Guy hadn’t ratted him out for keeping a bottle in his desk. Had to be Guy, back when they shared an office.
In the pool, Charles jettison’s his trunks. Now that’s zero G. Coulda sent the kids to grandma’s. Invited Shelia. Make her reconsider this “trial” separation. But that’s not Shelia. Such a damn wet-blanket, she’d never abuse the house-sitting role. Can’t understand vice, that woman.
So that’s why Charles is all alone, buck naked and in full orbit when the police show up, responding to a call from a concerned neighbor.
“Damn,” he utters and swats the fleshy part of his arm. An examination of his palm reveals a bee’s broken body. His date spends rest of the reception examining the welt on his skin. It didn’t hurt much but did feel hot and numb. She speculates about an allergy, and during their drive to urgent care, her tiny young body handling his oversized SUV, he has the time to stare out the window and contemplate the possibilities. To the best of his knowledge he has no allergies, but used them as a bottomless excuse reservoir. At ten he feigned heyfever well enough to be relieved of lawn mowing duties. At seventeen he told a sweetheart’s mother he was allergic to mushrooms to avoid insulting her cooking. The big one was the doctor’s letter confirming severe reactions to nearly every mold and spore, keeping him out of Vietnam. Some were a little less noble, like when he cited pet dander as an excuse to avoid trips to the in-laws and spent time alone with his on-and-off mistress. It occurs to him that a perfectly ironic death would one involving an allergic reaction. At any rate, the bee sting doesn’t slant that way. Doctor says it’s nothing, but he’s scared. So scared in fact that later that evening, when his date insists on a condom, something he hasn’t donned in god-knows-how-many years, all he can do is mumble, “Isn’t latex one of those things people are allergic to?”
This is the scent of smoke lingering in the car,
which came from the cigarette,
held in the long elegant fingers of the redhead,
who would not have gotten into a 97 Civic,
but would get into a new BMW z4,
which is exactly why Victor took the BMW,
though his father was out of town on business and hid the keys.
This is the scent of smoke that was easily detected,
because the car smelled of air-freshener,
which Victor simply took from the bathroom and sprayed the shit out of the interior,
to hide the fact that an elegant redhead lit a cigarette in his father’s car,
which he was using on the sly.
A simpler scenario would be that Victor himself was smoking,
which he might try,
or one of his knuckle-headed friends might try,
but certainly not in the BMW,
because he would be too afraid,
and so it must have been something so amazing,
which could override all mechanisms of fear,
which would offer rewards possibly justifying any punishment.
And Victor’s father remembered the scent of cigarette smoke,
and remembered the redheaded girls at the bars of his youth,
who would never get into his Plymouth Volare,
because there were boys with Chargers and Mustangs,
and if Victor had a chance to be one of those boys for a night,
to feel that rush,
who was he to deny it.
Angie smelled alcohol when she entered. Odd because it didn’t mix with Byron’s meds, but also, he never seemed like the drinking sort. He didn’t answer when she called. The placed looked like the secret police went looking for microfiche.
Byron sat by the window, not really looking out or at the dust in the light. Somewhere in-between.
“Are you okay?” No answer. Photographs and papers littered the bed. And the big plastic magnifying glass that made him believe he could still see things.
“What are you looking for?”
“Who. From the war.”
Angie knew about his time in the Army. When she volunteered through church to read to the blind, he said his preferences were artists’ biographies and histories of WWII. Often they stopped reading and he told long tales of the liberation. But never mentioned a woman. Something too private, Angie gathered, but the alcohol coaxed it out.
“I had a photograph of her, but threw it out when I got married so Irene wouldn’t be jealous. So I drew her picture again and again, from memory, so my vision would never wane.
“This morning I couldn’t remember. And I can’t find a drawing.”
When Byron finally passed out, Angie went to the café where the artists hung out. $5 for my portrait. She came back and let him see it through his magnifier.
“Yes,” he smiled. “You found one.”
“I did,” she said.
He hears their feet on the pavement. Collectively they add up to the sound of one horse at a gallop. His vision is altered, sideways, as his lies on the ground, greasy-window blurred from the rising heat. Asphalt’s skillet-hot on his cheek.
“Did you see him hit that?” Kenny exclaims. He’s just some kid who likes movies, but when the whole crew is a dozen, you get an assistant director credit by hanging around the director.
Then things get red. Blood draining into his eyes. The camera hit him – or he hit it – smack in the forehead. Damn jerry-rigged boom out a carwindow on this jokingly-funded film.
“Doesn’t look good,” Peter tells Kenny.
The cut doesn’t hurt, more itchy than anything. He hopes this doesn’t affect his face. What will stitches do to the continuity of the film?
Peter looks worried. “God, how are we going to pay for that?”
It occurs to him, shit, they probably aren’t insured. And he sure isn’t. Back in the day, on his series, the network took care of anything. This rinky-dink film doesn’t even cater. But it’s a step. Back into the spotlight. Script is good. It should be a Travolta moment. His Pulp Fiction. This little accident, the cut, will make a nice anecdote for Letterman.
“It is bad…” Kenny sullenly.
“It’s broken.” Peter.
“Nah. Just a cut,” he tells them, then wipes the blood to find the pair huddled, backs to him, around the camera.
He always smells her. Great plains dust and sweat. When she dismounts off the rope, into his arms, it is most prevalent. Not like Renée who smells of some kind of lotion. Something French. Both nice.
Come see the amazing Flying Zambrotta Brothers. Seven Brothers all defy gravity with their seven beautiful wives. They twist and turn high above the crowd, led by the eldest, Giuseppe and his lovely bride Sophia.
When she falls into his arms it’s a matter of trust. She’s seen his eyes on Renée. Knows that her presence challenges this part of the act. He could easily miss a catch, break her neck, claim accident. He won’t, but every time she imagines it.
Gentlemen! You won’t want to miss the fabulous, the sensuous, the sultry burlesque dancing of Lady Renée St. Croix. She’s traveled to India, to Persia, and to Paris, performed before Sultans and Princes, and now she’s come to the great state of Oklahoma. This is a show you won’t want to miss.
Renée knows Giuseppe will catch Sopia every time. His act depends on her. But more, he loves her, as a craftsman loves his most trusted tools. There is an absolute rightness of her in his hands. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate holding something else. But she knows men always fall back on what they know best – their craft – his craft – balance. They all balance.
He says just get up, insisting the place is right around the corner.
She says, from her spot on the curb in dirty parking lot, that’s the third time he’s said that
He says the service station guy didn’t draw the map to scale, but now he’s got it figured out.
She says they should call a cab.
He says you’re kidding, for two blocks?
She says no, to take them out of this armpit where his car broke down and go somewhere nice for lunch.
He says don’t criticize the car. She wanted the used Lexus off his lot, even though the Honda was more dependable.
She says you’re one who says a car tells people who you want to be.
He says a used Lexus tells people you want to be a person with a new Lexus. But you’re not. So really you’re a person who risks costly breakdowns.
She says going to a pub the mechanic recommends risks heartburn or ptomaine.
He says they’re stranded; might as well enjoy themselves.
She says, then, cab.
He says walk two blocks.
She says you walk in these shoes.
He says the shoes are never a problem at the beech house her father owns. Only a problem somewhere she doesn’t want to be.
She says you can’t read anything right.
He thinks ain’t that the truth – not the map, not the hoses of a ’96 Lexus, not the look she gave him back when they met…
Lorraine felt excited, like a teenager again, lying in bed, remaining silent. Instead of hiding from a lover’s parents, she hid from his son.
Her mission tainted the giddiness. The front door clicked. Her feet hit the floor before his car started, into the closet before they even left the driveway.
“A person’s home tells you who they are, but their car says who they want to be,” Lorraine’s carsalesman uncle always said. Reverse the axiom. She’d seen his car, so in essence she only knew who he wanted to be.
His closet was too neat for a man. Dress shirts here, casual there, all arranged by color.
Most people wouldn’t understand. She wasn’t snooping. A snoop looks for secrets – forbidden things. There was no possession she sought , whether love letters, drug stash, embarrassing medication… Rather it was a matter of patterns. Where was stuff kept? How neatly? Case in point: she found a selection of college textbooks – not in a box in the attic, but together on a shelf. This suggested he considered all of the past relevant, something that might be needed at a moment’s notice. Dangerous proposition in a widower.
In twenty minutes he’d be back and they’d make love again, shower, have breakfast.
In his dresser she found a cigarette case – antique, silver. Family heirloom? Or a secret smoker? She opened it and found a folded paper. Interesting, she thought.
Of course she read it: I know you better than you know me.
“I don’t like that one either,” pronounces the boy, as his father holds a plain, crewneck sweater.
“Are you going to like anything?” He’d vetoed twenty.
“Sweaters are for fancy boys.”
“Okay, I understand with the argyle ones, but this is hunter green. Hunter. Nothing fancy-boy about that.”
“Why can’t I just wear my hoodie?”
“Because sometimes in life you have to be fancy. Meeting daddy’s friend Lorraine is one of those times. She’s taking us to a fancy restaurant. Isn’t that cool?”
“I’d rather go to a place we like.”
“Lorraine wants it to be special. She wants you to like her.”
“Well, I don’t like Lorraine.”
“Now, how do you know that without meeting her?”
He plays at the carpeting with the toe of his sneaker.
“Daniel. What makes you think you won’t like Lorraine?”
He looks at everything around him except his dad, even checks out a sweater. Finally, “Does she make you eat things you don’t wanna eat?”
“Huh? No. Why?”
“She likes to eat smelly cheese.”
“How do you know what kind of cheese she likes?”
“I find wrappers in the trash, and little scraps. Always after I have a sitter. So I know you see Lorraine and then bring her back after I’m asleep and she makes you eat fancy cheese, not the orange stuff we like.”
Now the father is quiet.
“She changes you, makes you fancy. Mom liked our kind of cheese. I don’t want to change. Or you.”
Blind Date by Martin Brick
Art museum. Traditional Garden of Eden. Adam. Eve. Strategic leaves.
“I read an article about how it couldn’t have been an apple. The author suggested it most likely was a fig, geography-wise.”
“For real or just arguing horticulture for curiosity’s sake?”
“Don’t remember. But it makes you wonder, why apple?”
“Apple in Latin is “malus” which is also Latin for evil.”
“Like malevolent.” SAT practice!
“Red works well for the art. Complimentary to all that green.” Then, “What would you use?”
“Not an apple. They ripen in the fall. Ever been apple picking?” Didn’t wait for her answer. Probably should have. “A brisk day, right? That doesn’t mesh with walking around naked.” Best word to use? Nude? Unclothed? “I don’t mean to cliché the Bible, with nudity, temptation, paradise…, but we have a default for tropical lushness. So I’d go with something vaguely exotic. Mango?”
She doesn’t comment or even show judgment.
“I like breadfruit.”
“Breadfruit?,” with implied “what the fuck is a…”
“Polynesian. Rather pale with a rough surface. But that’s not important. I like it for the metaphor. In the Bible salvation comes through the Bread of life, right? So if the fall begins with bread, then bread has a chance to redeem itself. There’s more consistency, more wholeness. By extension, humans are more responsible for their salvation, less a gift from God.”
Thoughtful theory. He’s thinking, this date is not ending in my bed, is it? She thinks, Exactly, but do you know why not?