Single for Three Days

I wrote this a long time ago, when I was part of my first writing group.  Some thought the main character should have had an affair.  It would have “spiced things up”.  But that wasn’t the point of the story.  Read it and let me know what you think.

It was like I was single for three days.

It was my first business trip.  Mike was still in Charlotte, stuck with the kids’ piano lessons, baseball lessons, homework and lunches.  I was a realistic woman.  I knew it would be Micky D’s for dinner every night, and probably cold Micky D’s for their lunches.

I settled back.  Never had a too-small, over-priced aisle seat felt so free.

Outside the small plane, I could see the roly-poly paisley of rural farms, the winding blue of meandering rivers and the gentle curves of roads following the slight summits of gently rolling hills.

Huntsville, Alabama was only an hour-and-a-half from Charlotte by air, but it felt like a lifetime.  A luxury hotel, hour-long bubble baths and a full night’s sleep.  Sounded like heaven to me.

Mike was not so sure about the trip.  He had been away on business for his company many times, but this was brand new to me.  I had written out the kids’ schedules and posted them on the fridge.  I had made sure my mother was available for backup.  I had even given the babysitter an advance to keep her schedule open – just in case.

Mike had been disapproving, right up to dropping me off at the airport; he pouted worse than Sheri and Taylor.  Of course, I knew they were looking forward to movies and pizzas and burgers.  It wouldn’t kill them – not in three days anyway.

Huntsville was smaller than Charlotte.  The airport was smaller.  It didn’t matter.  I was less interested in getting away to bright lights and more interested in proving to my company, and myself, that I could do this.  I admit, I was also looking forward to getting away, having time to myself and breaking away, if only temporarily.

This trip meant my job had purpose, meaning.  I was moving up in the world.  I knew that most of my male co-workers had turned it down.  It was only a small conference.  They were used to bigger jobs and bigger clients.  But to me, it was the start of the rest of my career.  After fifteen years of raising kids and working part-time, I was finally making a mark in the world.

The captain’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker – we were starting our descent.

Outside, the paisley was turning to color-block.  Square plots of green and brown and rust.  Straight highways crisscrossed at right angles.  I could see the number of houses increasing, like resistors and capacitors on a circuit board.  I could see tiny cars moving on black ribbons stretched taught over the landscape.

I was almost there.

Landing, I grabbed my carry-on and laptop, and rushed to the rental car area.  I didn’t want to stand in line.  I had a reservation waiting.  I couldn’t wait to check in.  Eat a fancy dinner alone.  I planned to order steak.

At the hotel, I called home, leaving a rushed message in the machine.  Mike must have taken Taylor along to Sheri’s piano lesson.  I left the hotel number, my room number and an abbreviated “I miss you.”

I was hungry.

A steak house down the road had a big, flashy sign.  It was a chain restaurant, but I did not care.  I did not want to get lost and spend the night trying to find my way back to the hotel.

It was strange eating alone.  I had no one to comment to on the limpness of the salad or that my steak was cooked exactly the way I wanted.

Dinner was over too soon.  Maybe I would just order in tomorrow.  Pizza and pay-per-view.  I was starting to feel like a teenager left at home while Mom and Dad was away.

I can remember the one time my parents did that.  Went away and left us kids alone.  They went to a Church retreat when I was 15 and my older sister 18.  I had more or less locked myself in my bedroom, hiding beneath my quilt, while my sister hosted the best senior party in local history.

My parents all but disowned her after that.  But Margie was a now successful CEO in DC.  She drives a BMW and lives in a luxury condo.  I envy her take-charge attitude.

Back at the hotel, I flipped through the channels.  Nothing much was on.  I checked out the pay-per-view listings.  Nothing I wanted to see there either – it was all sex, violence and sports.  I lay back on my pillows and pulled out the book I brought with me.  It was a best seller I had bought three months ago and never gotten the chance to read.

It was too quiet.  I turned the TV back on, setting the channel to CNN.  It was background noise.  I had trouble reading.  The book was boring.  I tossed it aside, deciding to buy something else tomorrow.  Maybe a raunchy romance – just for the heck of it.  I could leave it behind without worry that Sheri would find it and start reading it.

It was 8:30 – 9:30 at home.  Mike was probably putting the kids to bed.  I could call – but it might be better to wait.

I waited, watching the clock and a report on the history of Wall Street.

Finally, I decided to call.  The phone rang three times then Mike answered.

“Hey!  How was your flight?” The question was followed by a yawn.

“Not bad.  Rather quick.  And cramped.”

“Having fun?”

“I had steak and a glass of wine for dinner.  Now I’m back at the hotel, getting ready to settle down for the night.”

Mike laughed. “Sounds like you’re enjoying yourself.  I ferried the kids around and we had dinner.  Pretty quiet evening.”

There was a silent pause, the phone card swaying between me and the phone.

Mike yawned again.  “Well, get a good night’s sleep.  Don’t want to be yawning at your meeting tomorrow.”

“Okay.  Night.  Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

It was 9:15.  I decided to take a bath.

I gathered all the paraphernalia I brought with me and headed for the bathroom.  The tub was smallish, but I filled it with water.  I didn’t have bubble bath and it wasn’t included in the little bottles the hotel leaves for you..

I crawled in.  The side was hard against my neck, and my knees stuck out of the water.  I washed my hair and climbed out.  Bummer.

I put on my cotton PJs and went to bed.

I woke up at 4:21.  The alarm went off at 5:30.  I turned off the TV and the clock and got up.  I guess my body was used to getting only 6 hours of sleep.  It didn’t know how to sleep any longer than that.

At least I had time to do my hair properly.  I pulled out my curling iron and hair spray, blew the dust off my makeup kit and set to work.  The curling iron set the curls too tight and they didn’t want to brush out into the soft waves I wanted.  I put my make-up on too heavy.  I scrubbed it all off, slapped on a little lipstick and swept my hair up into a quick bun.  Oh, well.  This is how I usually look for work.

My suit looked good – no wrinkles – and I had time to put on my hose without snaring them.  I was ready to go.  It was only 7:00.  I ate breakfast at the hotel – a coffee and a bagel – and set out to make my mark.

The convention center was not too far away.  In Huntsville, nothing is too far away.  I had lots of time to set up and get ready.  Of course, I also had lots of time to get nervous.  By the time it was my turn to speak, I had a knot the size of a highway cloverleaf in my stomach.  That didn’t lave much room for that bagel and coffee, which were threatening to abandon me at any moment.

I could feel my face flushing and stammered my way through my intro.  Turning to the projection screen, I concentrated on my presentation and settled into my speech.  I think I did a pretty good job.  Several in the audience nodded at the points I made, and a couple even spoke to me after, asking questions and offering me their own observations.

I felt like a success.

I listened and made notes the rest of the day.  I think I learned a lot and made some good contacts.  I felt great walking through the smudge-fee double glass doors of the hotel.  The day had gone well and I didn’t have a stack of dirty laundry waiting for me to wash it.  I had an entire evening free to do whatever I wanted.

I called home.  Sheri answered.

“Hi, sweetie.  How was your day?”

“Hi Mom.  It went okay.  Can you call back later?  Susie and I are watching a movie.”

“Um, sure.  Is Taylor there?”

“Nope.  He went to play at Bobby’s”

“Okay.  Let Daddy know I called.  I’ll call again later.”

“Yup.  Bye.  Love you.”

I didn’t get a chance to say “I love you” back.  Sheri hung up the phone.

I stared at the phone, my fingers toying with the coiled cord.  I decided to go out for dinner.  Not to the steakhouse – someplace really fancy.  I wanted to celebrate.

I shrugged into my suit jacket, let down my hair and brushed it out.  The clerk at the desk suggested a seafood restaurant and gave me directions.  I set out in the rental, ready to feast on my favorite food – lobster.

I only made three wrong turns, so I don’t think I did too badly.  The parking lot was full, and it took me twice around the lot to find a space.  The line was pretty long too, but I put my name on the list and waited.

And waited.

My growling stomach finally held sway and I took my name off the waiting list.  Most of the other restaurants I passed were also full.  A few even had lines out the door.  I guess Friday night is busy in Huntsville.

I stopped at a fast food place for a burger and fries, then stopped at a convenience store to fill the car’s tank and grab a Pepsi.

I used my swipe-card to enter the hotel from the side entrance and used the stairs to the second floor.  The hotel was quiet.

Once again, there was nothing on TV so I once again checked out the pay-per-view, which was still just sex, violence and sports.  I put the TV on PBS.  There was a show on “entity attacks” – ghostly persons who attacked people when they slept.  I wondered briefly if a person could be haunted, rather than the place, but I spilled ketchup and lettuce down the front of my suit and lost the thought rushing to the sink to stem the damage.

At 8:00, I called home.  Taylor answered.

“Hi, Mom.  I got an “A” on my Science test, a “B” on my Math and almost hit Jimmy Smith with the bat during gym class.  I have a field trip next week – can you drive?  It’s on Wednesday.  I also need something for a bake sale, I forget when that it.  I have a note about it I gave to Dad.  Well, gotta go, here’s Sheri.”

I took a deep breath, struggling to dig my day-planner out of my briefcase so I could write a note to myself to call Taylor’s teacher about the bake sale.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hi, Sheri.  Did you like the movie you watched with Susie?”

“It was pretty lame at the end.”

There was a long pause.

“How was school?”

“Huh?  What did you say?  Felicity’s on.  I’m trying to watch it.  TAYLOR GET OUT OF THE WAY!  WHAT ARE YOU? A DOOR?!  Sorry about that Mom.  Here’s Dad.”

“Hey, Hon.”

“Hey.”

“You’re calling early.”

“I called when I got out of the conference, but Sheri was busy.  I said I would call again later.  I didn’t want you to call here and find me out.”

“Oh.  She didn’t mention it.”

“How are you managing?”

“We’re doing fine.  Haven’t missed anything on the schedule yet.”

“That’s good.  I think I did well at the conference.  Talked to quite a few people.  Got a lot of business cards.”

“That’s good.”

I heard a wail in the background.  “Taylor!  What the-  Damn it!  Honey, I’ll see you at the airport tomorrow.  The plane comes in a little after ten in the morning, right?”

“Yes.  I’ll call if I’m delayed.”

“Okay…TAYLOR I TOLD YOU…” The line went dead.

I stared around the empty hotel room, the few fries left growing cold on the burger wrapper.  At home, they would have been a treat for the dog.

I hadn’t bought a book and I decided it wasn’t worth going out for now.  I finished watching the entity show and went to bed, but didn’t fall asleep.  I checked out the pay-per-view listings one more time.  I considered the listings, an idea forming slowly.  I was away from home, alone – anonymous in a large hotel.  I could watch something I had never dared watch before.  I piled the pillows up behind me, and dug my credit card out of my purse.

Ten minutes later I was watching “Spicy Girls Cooking Out of the Kitchen.”

I was surprised at the opening scene.  It was two girls, making out with each other.  I thought this movie was for men?  Their skin was shiny from the start too, and they were loud.  As soon as one started sucking on the boob of the other, they both started panting and moaning and tossing their long blond hair around.

I shifted on the bed, rearranging the blankets and sheets.

The two girls went off to work – at a restaurant.  Ah. The title started making a little sense.  They then proceeded to have sex with the vegetable delivery guys, the head chef, and a couple that had an early reservation.  That made four times in one day.  I wondered how they got any work done.  The finale included a whipped cream dessert that ended up all over their naked bodies and required a lot of licking from each other and the boyfriends that showed up to take them home after work.

It was hard getting to sleep.  My PJs felt tight and hot.  I couldn’t wait to get home to Mike.

I was awake again at four uncomfortable after having a couple of dreams that included whipped cream and Mike.  I packed up and headed for the airport early.  Extra security meant longer waits and I figured I might as well wait after the security check.  I could always buy a magazine.

I was too early for the continental breakfast.

Picking up my ticket at the booth, the clerk mentioned an earlier flight.  “There’s space if you want to catch it.”

Why not?  I thought.  I could just take a cab home from the airport.

I agreed and rushed off to the security check and the terminal.  I had lots of time.  I t seems that very few people fly at 6 am on Saturdays.

I landed in Charlotte a little before nine, once again married with kids.  I lost an hour coming back – I was back in the Eastern Time zone.

If I hurried, I could get home before Sheri left for dance class and Mr. Gentry picked up Taylor for his baseball game.

I almost missed them, running through the terminal to catch a taxi.  I saw the balloons out of the corner of my eye.

It was Sheri and Taylor, fighting about who should be holding the balloons, that stopped me up.  From behind one of those huge palm fronds in a bucket, I spied on my family.  Mike was nervously smoothing his shirt.  Sheri had the balloons, and since she was taller, holding them out of Taylor’s reach.

“Can’t you two not fight?” Mike looked tired. “Why don’t you each hold half?”

“There’s only five balloons, Dad.”  Taylor had his hands on his hips.

“Only because you busted one in the car.”  Sheri continued to hold the balloons out of his reach.

“That wasn’t my fault!”

Mike closed his eyes.  When he opened them, he was looking right at me.  Neither of the kids noticed his expression.  I thought the open mouth look was adorable on him.

I winked and held one finger to my lips.  He smiled and nodded.  He didn’t look quite so tired any more.

I walked cautiously up behind the kids, silently put my bags on the floor and said, “BOO!”

Sheri jumped and let go of the balloons.  Taylor yelped.

“Mom!”  It was nice to hear my name at high volume.

We all hugged and laughed.

Mom,” Taylor whispered in my ear, “I missed you.  Don’t forget about the field trip and the bake sale.  I don’t think Dad can handle them.”

I laughed some more and hugged him close.  Thank God it had only been three days!

Legacy

Legacy
© Tara Moeller, 2013

He’d only been gone a month when I saw it on the side of the road, a big “for sell” sign besideit, vintage evident in its lines and road-hugging profile: a Harley; black and orange and bad. Grandad would have loved it.
He’d shown me how to change oil and spark plugs and rubber belts; helped me replace head lamps and blinker switches and tire stems. Went with me to the shop for the bigger stuff, making sure they did it right and didn’t charge me too much.
As a child, I’d been the one handing him the tools. At sixteen, when I’d bought the Omega, things had flipped around. He’d been the one standing by, handing me the tools. It felt good, making the decisions. When he thought I was wrong, he’d take his time and I’d ask for something else. He’d smile then, and shove the right tool into my hands.
Eight years later, I still have the Omega. It runs rough sometimes, the body sports bondo patches and grey primer, but it’s mine. One day, it will run perfect, wear a single color of gleaming paint.
The bike pulled at me and I drove onto the side of the road, staring through the dust and grime on the back window of my clunker Omega.
The bike’s black seat was cracked, the orange paint on the tank faded and peeling. Looking at it through the mess that was the rear window made my stomach hurt; that tense ball that had lived in my stomach for a month spun around, throwing the contents of my stomach into a whirl.
“Don’t be stupid; it’s just a bike.” I spoke out loud, shook my head,banged it once against the head rest. “Girl, you do not need another project.”
I had the car in drive when I saw the old man coming down the dirt drive. He was a farmer, the way he wore a pair of ratty patched denim overalls with no shirt on under and a shabby straw hat on his head.He shuffled slowly, dragging his left foot a bit, his armsall bone and brown wrinkles.
I put the car in park and cut the engine, got out, smiling at the man. He smiled back, his grin broad, thinning his lips and showing a hole on one side of his teeth.
“Mornin’.” He stood back, his hands in his bib pocket, pulling the front of his overalls forward and down, showing the paler skin of his chest. “Checkin’ out the bike?”
“Yes.”
“Fer a boyfriend?” He rocked and squinted.
“No. For me.” I stared hard at the bike.
“Belonged to m’ son.He died a few years back in the service.”He looked off into the cornfields, his bottom lip pushed like he had set his teeth forward.“Wife wouldn’t let me sell ‘er. Now she’s gone too.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat. It was smaller than whatever had taken residence in my stomach, but it was made of the same stuff.
“My grandfather passed away last month.”
The man looked startled, like he had forgotten I was there. “Sorry t’ hear that.”
“We were close.” I looked at the bike. I was close enough to touch it but didn’t dare. Something held me back, made my arms feel like lead weights hanging off my shoulders.
“My son loved to ride. Kept ‘er in good shape. Rode ‘er every day. Once he was gone, I just let ’er sit in the barn. Don’t even know if she runs. Jus’ pushed ‘er out here.”
“How much?” I still hadn’t touched it.
The man shrugged. “Couple hunnerd.”
I blinked and stared at the man. I think my mouth was open; I could taste the dust.
“Too much?” He took his hands from his pockets and rubbed the palms on the front of his overalls.
I touched the bike, running my fingers up the metal of the handlebars, rubbing my thumb into the hardened rubber of the handles. I had over a thousand saved up after two summers with a job. I’d been planning to do more work on the Omega.“It’s vintage. Built in 1974. Probably worth a lot if it runs.” My hand gripped the handle, the rough, dried edges cut into my flesh.
The man nodded, his head jerky. He was staring at the bike. “He bought it used and fixed ‘er up. Don’t think ‘e spent that much fer it.”
I didn’t say anything, looking at the fluffy white clouds behind his head.
“He loved that bike.”
I smiled then. “Grandad used to ride, before he got sick. All us grandkids had helmets and jackets so we could ride with him. I raced a dirt bike when I was little. He didn’t have a problem with it until he saw me pop a wheelie. Learned a few new words that day.”
The man chuckled.
I laughed and trailed my hand over the tank to the seat, leaving a finger trail in the dirt. “Will you take a check to hold it until I can get back tomorrow with cash?”
The man smiled. “Shyure.”
“Want me to push it back?”
He nodded. “Took me most of an afternoon to git it out here.” He shuffled in the dirt. He wore plaid slippers with the soles nearly worn off.Granddadhad a pair just like that. Someone always bought him a new pair for Christmas, but he wouldn’t change them out, just stuff the new ones in his closet.When we’d cleaned out the house, there was a dozen pairs still there, still in the boxes.
I got pulled out my checkbook, staring at the carbon on top of the next check. The last check I’d written was to the florist for funeral flowers.
The ball in my stomach shrunk. It didn’t go away, but it shrunk. I carefully pulled the carbon off and tucked it behind the register with the rest, grabbed a pen and tucked them in my back pocket.
I could see the bike in my head with new paint and wheels, the seat black, the leather uncracked.
Yup, Grandad would have loved it.

Bays

[I wrote this a couple years ago, for an anthology that I missed the submission date for.]

The water is piss warm and thick, clinging to my ankles.  I can wade for what seems like forever, out into the Chesapeake Bay, and never go over my head.  I know I would, eventually; the carriers from the Naval base pass by without running aground, and their draft is more than my height.

But here, where the river meets the bay, ironically called Ocean View though it is not the ocean I look at, it feels like it.

“You okay?”  He takes my hand and squeezes.  “I thought you liked the water?”

“I do.”  But this is not water.  I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t water.  Water is cold, cold enough to bite your skin pink, even in summer; thin and clear, steel blue under the sun.

“Come on.”  He pulls at my hand and I follow.  I always follow.  I followed him here.

If I hadn’t, where would I be?  Probably standing at a northern shore, barren with pebbles and periwinkles left behind by the ebb of a thirty-foot tide.

We’d met in Florida on a summer vacation from university – though not spring break.  There were no parties or drinking when we met, just a quiet conversation in the bleak of a Christmas without.  I’d left home for a vacation, unable to bear the thought of putting up a tree and decorating it, couldn’t bear the thought of snow and skidoos and skating.

I’d just lost Michael, mine since high school, to a bitter stormy sea, and I’d wanted nothing to do with that northern bay.  Didn’t want to watch the tides at Fundy, smell the salt-seaweed concoction of air that heralded low tide.  Couldn’t’ bear the thought of family attempts at cheer.  Afraid that I’d get drunk and stupid – really stupid.

It had hurt.

Children rush by, splashing and diving, throwing salt water into the air.  Seagulls wheel on the wind, begging for French fries from the patrons of the burger joint across the street.  The combined cacophony triggers a headache.

“We can leave.”  He is so sweet, so careful, like he knows I’m cracked and the least little tap will shatter me.

But he only means the beach, and I don’t think that is enough.

#

He takes me to a restaurant:  seafood.  “Your favorite.”  He grins, his elbow a gentle prod in my side.  He wants me to laugh with him, to show my teeth and prod him back.  But somehow, my laughter is missing in action, lost somewhere in a battle between my anger and depression.

The waitress smiles and bats long, mascaraed lashes in his direction.  He smiles back at her, polite and cool, but his fingers find mine and twine into them, curling around my hand, hot.

My fingers fit there, between the crooks of his, aligning with the knuckles on the back of his hands, like grooves worn after centuries.

She leads us to a two-seater table, the top not big enough for the menus.  Our knees bump under the table, my feet settle atop his, tapping his ankles.

There is fish on the menu, but nothing I recognize.  I look at the choices, filled with spices and sauces, and wonder where the fish is.  I opt for something benign, grilled, with vegetables and a baked potato.  He asks for the fish stew and a bottle of white wine.

“Tired?”

“No.”

“Headache?”

“No.”  Heartache.  But I won’t tell him.  No sense in two of us hurting.

#

We cross the Chesapeake Bay bridge tunnel, traveling north for a working vacation.  He’s giving a lecture somewhere in Massachusetts on Friday, so we’re spending the weekend before driving back.

I’d gotten flak about taking the time off.  I didn’t care.  I would have quit if I’d needed to.  No way was I letting him leave me here, alone, missing him, thinking about everything.

It is thirteen miles to drive across the bay.  The radio is off; it goes out when we enter the tunnels, traveling a mile below the piss-water surface.  In the tunnels, traffic is two-way; on the bridges, it is divided.

Even though it is not even light out yet – he thought to leave early to beat most of the traffic – there are several cars crossing with us, passing by us.  He lets them speed by, not worried about being the first across, the leader out of the dark.

I stare out the side window, at the tiles glistening on the tunnel wall.

Outside, the roadside lights illuminate the road but not much else.  Out there, beyond the lit circles, is water, waves, small fishing boats.

We were stuck last summer, here on the bridge.  An accident had stopped all traffic.  We weren’t allowed out of our cars – the police had VDOT workers patrolling – and he’d had to turn off the engine so we wouldn’t run out of gas.  We hadn’t planned for a stop.

Hot, even with the windows down and cooler air from the water blowing in.  I’d finished my paltry bottled water quickly, and then his.  “I don’t need it.”  He’d smiled, brushing light fingers through the damp hair at my left temple.  “We’ll be started again soon.”

But we hadn’t, and I’d had to crawl into the back seat, lie down and stare at the headliner.  The car was older, a bit worn, and the foam had been coming loose in blister-spots.

We’d finally made it across and he’d stopped first thing on the peninsula so I could get out and walk around, breathe deep to fill my lungs with cooler air.

This time, there is no need to stop on the other side.  I can’t even tell when we’ve finished crossing except the toll booth is there, a glowing fluorescent box in the middle of the road.

#

We take turns driving, napping, looking for a rest area.  We don’t travel fast; we gave ourselves plenty of time – an extra day – to get there.  We have no agenda, no itinerary; it’s like we are wandering to a final destination, nomads on a seasonal trek, knowing where we are going, but not exactly how we will get there.

He is asleep when I take a side road, tired of the semis and horns, speeders and chicken-shit scaredy cats that go 50 in the far left lane.  It’s a winding road, trees on both sides.  I check the GPS; our nose is heading north, more or less.

He snorts and shifts in his seat.  He’s too tall for the car.  But this one is new, bought after the old one conked out and he’d gotten a promotion to full-time professor at ODU.  He blinks, looking right and left.

“Where are we?”

He isn’t angry, just curious, leaning forward in the seat.

“Not sure.  I just got tired of the highway.”

“Okay.”  He settles back, stretching his left arm over and behind my seat, propping one foot against the door.

It’s just the noise of the tires on the road.  It is not loud; the car has insulation to muffle the road, struts to keep it riding smooth, and heated leather seats.

“Do you want the radio on?”  I ask.  I like the quiet, but I know he sometimes finds it uncomfortable.

“No.  I’m good.”

He’s watching out the window, the tint shading a slanted line across his face.  The trees have thinned to fields and there are horses and cows and the occasional llama.

“I was offered a job in Colorado.”

“Colorado?”  Mountains.  No ocean for miles – thousands of miles.  “Is it a promotion?”

“Yeah.”

I grip the wheel, fingers squeezing.  I can’t do mountains.  I need the ocean, even the imposter-ocean where we live now.

“I turned it down.  Don’t worry.  I know you.”

I stretch my fingers, keeping my thumbs hooked to the wheel to steer.  “It’s not fair to you.”

“It’s not fair to you if we move.  We met half-way already.”

Half-way.  Norfolk.  The almost-middle point between his home and family – the old gray-haired woman that doesn’t like me and the sullen sister that sneered through the wedding even though I made her my first bridesmaid – in Florida and mine in maine, with all my cousins and aunts and uncles and more cousins that still haven’t visited though they all promised they would.

I blink water out of my eyes, warm salty water, rather like the stuff in the Chesapeake.  It even makes my nose run.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Homesick?”

“Yeah.  A little.”  He knows which home I mean.

“Hungry?”

I nod.  He’s always hungry and running to burn it off.  He’s fit and trim and women look at him with want in their eyes and I wonder what he sees in me.

“Let’s stop at the next place we find.”

“Sure.”

#

It’s a little place, a box on the side of the road with a ten-foot fake pizza rising off the roof.  It’s nearly empty, only a trucker that probably belongs to the purple semi outside sitting at one of the dozen red-checked tables.  There’s an alcove by the rest rooms with pac man and space invaders blinking and beeping.

He searches his pockets for quarters and I dig through my purse to give him the ones I have.

“Pepperoni?”

He nods, not really paying attention.  He’s counting quarters in sets of two; he has enough for three games.

I smile and shuffle to the counter to order a large to share, and two soft drinks.  At home, I would have ordered a medium (it would have been the same size) and two pops.

“Damn!”  He stands before the video machine, hands on hips, shaking his head.  “I’ve lost it.”

“Lost what?”  I sit at the table nearest the alcove, and set down two Styrofoam cups full of crushed ice and little drink.  There are crumbs on the table, so I take a napkin and brush them to the floor.

“My touch.”  He wiggles his fingers in the air, wagging his brows for emphasis.  He looks so young.  Too young.

I sit and lean forward, winking slow so he understands my words.  “Trust me.  No you haven’t.”

He leaves the game and sits at the table, tossing the rest of the quarters on the table.  He rests his elbows on the surface and smiles.  “I’m glad you think so.”

“I know so.”  It’s not a brilliant conversation; which is too bad for a man with a PhD in Medieval Literature.  But then, I’m leading it, and I have yet to go back and finish.  So it’s my fault, not his.

His head dips low and I see his lips up close, full and pink-brown.  My eyes drift shut when he gets too close for me to focus and let those lips touch my own.  It is sweet and quick and over in a heartbeat.

“Here you go.”  The waitress sets the pizza on the table in a to-go box and pivots back to the counter.  She didn’t bring plates, so we eat over the box, picking up the stringing cheese that falls and placing it in our mouths.  It is hot and spicy, crispy and gooey, smooth and salty.  Perfect.

We can’t eat it all, so the box will go in the back seat with the little cooler of bottled water we brought from home.

“My turn.”  He pulls his keys from his pocket and jingles them, dangling them from his fingers.  There are only three keys on the chain: the car, the house, and his office.

My chain has the second key to the car, the second key to the house, the key to the security box at the bank that holds my grandmother’s sapphire ring and our marriage certificate, the key to the store room at the insurance office where I work, which matches the key to the office’s front door, the old key to the old car, and the key to a briefcase buried in the back of my closet.  It also has a hockey player charm given to me by my brother, a pen light so I can see to unlock the car at night, and a little can of mace that doesn’t work.

#

In New Jersey, we can see the remnants of the hurricane that blew north last summer, pummeling the coast and its unprepared inhabitants.  Everyone in Norfolk had prepared; we prepared in April, at the beginning of the season, buying water and canned food and batteries and placing it all in a big plastic bin.

He always prepares.  I had scoffed our first year together.  But when that first storm hit and the house shook and we had no power and water pushed in under the door, I was happy he did.

#

We drive around New York, heading for Pennsylvania.  It is a long detour but he hates driving through New York; it’s too fast, too erratic.  He’s scared we’ll get a flat and be killed by thugs who want our hubcaps.

Western New York State is beautiful, slower.

We decide we’re close enough to stop for the night, stopping at a small motel nestled into the side of a hill.  There is only the office and six other doors.  The exterior is stone trimmed with rustic wood.  A rocking chair sits outside each door on its own little porch.  It looks like someone cutout the mountain to put it all there.

The girl behind the counter has black hair, purple lipstick and thick black eye-liner.  She pushes a registration card at me and I fill it out.  He hands her a credit card and she runs it through the machine, ripping off the receipt and handing it over without speaking.

He signs the slip and I push the paper back.  She checks them over while reaching for a key lined up on hooks behind her.

“You can have number 6.”  She scribbles on the card and turns away.  “Checkout is at 10.”

#

The room is small, filled with bed and a dresser with a flat screen TV on top.  There are two doors: one for a small closet that smells of old socks and a small bathroom that smells like lemon bleach.  The walls are wood paneled, and I’m surprised it’s not from the 1970s.

“Not bad.”  He sets our one piece of luggage on the bed and turns within the room.  His hair brushes the ceiling fan and he runs his fingers through to resettle it.

“Don’t do any jumping jacks.”

He lunges at me, tickling to make me laugh, and it works.  We fall on the bed, a little out of breath, faces close.  He strokes a finger down my cheek, my neck, under my shirt.  I arch up, moaning.  Lips touch and linger.

All is good.

#

My stomach rumbles in the morning.  We skipped dinner, having better things to do than eat.  He’s playful, telling jokes and laughing at nothing.  I feel light for a change, open.

It is an older woman at the desk now, dark hair with white-gray roots and cigarette lines around her mouth.  She smells of stale tobacco.  She prints our statement and holds it out, her fingers weighted by too-gold rings.

He drops the suitcase in the trunk and resumes the driver’s seat.  The sun is out and we have to be in Worcester by 6 pm; he gives his lecture tomorrow at 10.

But we still have a whole day to go three hours.

#

We eat breakfast in the car.  It’s just 7-11 breakfast sandwiches and orange juice, bought while we topped up the gas tank.

The road is narrow, but striped and the houses are old and set back.  Deep green lawns touch the ditch, crossed by black-asphalt drives.  There are no toys in the yard, no dogs at play.

They look lonely.

“Do you want kids?”  I blurt out the question without thinking.  We’d never discussed it before.  Hadn’t needed to.

“Yes.”  His eyes remain fixed ahead, but his fingers are tight on the wheel.

“When?”

He shrugs, but it’s tight.  Not so much casual as unwilling.

“The small bedroom would make a lovely nursery, don’t you think?”  The bedroom is tucked away in the corner of the second story of the Victorian we’d bought near the university.  Our room is next to it, our private bath converted from the identical small room on the other side.

“Pink or blue?”

“What?”

“Do you want pink or blue walls?”

“How about yellow?”

“Yellow?”

“Yeah.  It’s a happy color.  But neutral, you know?”

He nods and glances at me.

I meet his gaze, keeping my eyes fixed.

“You’re serious?”

“Yes.”

His grin is slow coming, like the slow-motion eruption of a rose bud into a bloom on the Discovery Channel.  When it is done, it lights his whole face, spreading to his eyes and even his ears.  Yes, he had happy ears.

I dig through my purse, looking for the little pink plastic case I keep my pills in.  It is at the bottom.  I open it and look at the little silver flap where I took one this morning.  I glance over at my husband; he’s trying to watch me and the road at the same time.

There is nothing behind us on the road nor anything ahead.  I press the button and my window edges down.  I toss the case out the window, turning to watch it bounce along the side of the road before disappearing into the water-filled ditch.

“Putting the tadpoles on birth control?”

“They might need it.”

We’re quiet.  He’s still grinning.  I’m wondering what I’ve done.  Am I ready to have a baby?  What about my job?  School?

“Will I stay home?”

“If you want.”  He glances at me, his lips straight.  “You could go back to school.  If you want.”

He turns back to the widening road.  It’s up to four lanes; two each direction.  And there are more cars, trucks, even a semi barreling along in the left lane.  The car shudders when it passes.

“We’re getting closer.  Do you want to check into the hotel or do something else?  I’m sure there a museum or bookstore we can wander around in.”

My hand is on my stomach and it feels empty; stomach and hand.  “The hotel I think.”

“Tired?”

I drift my fingers over the flatness of my belly.  “No.  I want to make a baby.”

The car speeds up and he starts passing others on the road.

I laugh.

He blushes.

But we make it to the hotel by noon.

#

The crowd stands to clap after his presentation.  I stand, too, clapping harder than anyone else.  I want to whistle and howl, but I know it would be inappropriate.  One does not scream like a fan girl at a conference about Political Representation in Medieval European Manuscripts.

But I wanted to.

He meets me after, ducking quick to kiss me before the next person grabbed him to pump his hand and slap him on his back.  I stand next to him, tucked under his shoulder, arms wrapped around his middle.  He smells like hotel shampoo and Old Spice.

I slip a hand under his jacket, rubbing his back over his shirt.  He’s tense, the attention stiffening his spine.

When the next presentation starts, we sit in the back, in a corner, me against the wall.  I lean into him, resting on his shoulder.  He kisses my temple and snuffles my hair.

“You smell good.”

“So do you.”

“Let’s sneak back up to our room.”  He tugs on my hand.

“We can’t.”  I nod to the end of the row.  Men and women fill the seats, sitting straight in their chairs, heads trained ahead, unsmiling.

He sighs and settles back.

“Hey, it’s your conference.”

“I know.”

#

After the last speech, with everyone outside the meeting room, happy hour drinks in hand, I whisper that I have a headache.  He kisses my cheek and tugs me along.  I keep my eyes closed, a wince etched into the skin of my face.  He makes our apologies, leading me, blind, away from the crowd.

The elevator is empty.

“You okay?”  He whispers, his lips sending ripples down my neck.

“I’m fine.”  I whisper back, letting my own lips and tongue tell him the whole story.

He grips me, pulling me close, pushing me against the wall of the elevator.  His kiss is rough, draining.

We barely make it to the room before the clothes start coming off.

#

That evening, we eat in our room, feeding each other bit with our fingers and drinking wine from a shared goblet.

#

I call work in the morning while he’s checking us out of the hotel to resign.

“What the f*&^?”

“I giving you my resignation.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Virginia is a right to work state.  I don’t even have to do this, I just need to not show up.”

“I don’t have anyone to replace you.”

“Not my problem.”

#

We are really slow driving home.  I no longer have a job to worry about and there is plenty of time for me to register for a few classes to get used to going back to school.  Maybe I’ll just audit at first, make sure of what I want to do.

“I don’t want to work in insurance anymore.”

“Whatever you want.  Take classes in something you like.”  He’s licking a melting chocolate ice cream cone sitting on a park bench under an elm tree that dapples his skin.  We stopped for lunch and decided to just have dessert, buying from a vendor cart.  My ice cream is melting too, but neatly in a bowl.

“I like art.”

“Then take art.”

“I can’t make money in art.”

“So?”  He lets the dripping chocolate run down his hand.  “You can always decide to teach.”

So says the teacher.

I stick out my tongue, covered in chocolate sprinkles.

He kisses me, stealing the candy from my mouth.

“Hey!”  But I don’t mind.  He can have anything of me he wants.

#

We come home through Hampton, across a different (shorter) bridge tunnel.  It’s afternoon in the middle of Saturday, so there isn’t the usual backup of cars.  I can see the Naval Base, with the carriers at the end piers, from the passenger window.

My stomach lurches and rights itself.

I can’t wait to get home.

Desire

Written when I was first married (I think.)

desire
is a subconscious grope
of delicious fingers
traipsing the spine
looking for nerves
never before touched by the frission
of electricity
that catapults from one
to the other
in that
timeless torture
of want and need
dream and fantasy
floating
flotsam in the ripple
of eternal tide.

Baby Doll

Written soon after my daughter was born.

A red screaming ball
with thrusting hands and feet,
wailing to meet
the bright light of this other world.

Hungry,
hard sucking,
pulling life into empty lungs and stomach.

Fighting for her place.

She is not from a box –
so don’t put her in one.
She is not made of plastic –
so don’t expect her to look like it.

Her pee is real.
Her cry is real.
She cannot be turned off –
batteries are not included.

She is not temporary; she will not go away –
so don’t smother her.

Sunshine will give her a spotlight.
Food will give her health.
Love will make her whole.

Winter Magic – A Memory

This was written for a composition class at ODU, at least a dozen years ago. One of my few attempts at nonfiction.  Reading it again, when my daughter is preparing to graduate from high school this year, makes me long for her toddler self.  

We just got “blasted” with a dose of snow here, too, and this reminds of when I first arrived, and was still acclimated to the north.  Now, though I love getting snow, and walking and playing in it, I’m not sure my driving skills are what they used to be.  🙂

I had forgotten how quiet snow is. How silent the world becomes when the light, fluffy flakes flutter to earth from a gray-cloud sky. They insulate, even isolate you, from the rest of the world. It is easy to feel alone when it snows. Solid in the air, it blurs objects and covers the ground – a fragile, flowing wall. Its whiteness spreads over everything – a thick downy blanket to keep in the cold.

Here in the South, snow shuts everything down. On those rare days, the unexpectedness of it seems to push a hidden panic button. Suddenly, half the people are timid about driving, and the other half just want to get home as fast as they can to get out of it. I don’t understand it; but then I’m from the North, where a little dusting of snow is barely noticed. There, it is just another part of daily winter life.

I sigh, shaking my head. My husband will be late coming home from work. There will be accidents and delays, caused by people who don’t understand the nature of snow, who don’t know how to drive on it, over it, through it.

The TV and radio issue the cancellations, the list growing as snow begins to accumulate outside. It won’t last; it never does. As soon as it stops falling, it will melt away. The ground will look like it has only been rained upon.

I love snow. I miss it, wishing for a good foot or so to feel right at home. But I hate it today. I want my husband home on time. I don’t want to listen about accident pile-ups or listen for my class to be cancelled. I’d probably miss it anyway and show up at an empty classroom – right on time for a change with no one to witness it.

My daughter, Caty, wakens from her nap and spies the flakes drifting past the window. Blue eyes wide, she asks, “Mama, wha zat?” At two-and-a-half, she has never seen snow. Has no concept of its coldness, of its melting away in your palm, of that first burst of freeze on your tongue when you catch it.

She knows rain, and the harsh lashing it can give the house at night, the wind whipping against the old, loose windowpanes. She has seen the hard pellets of ice and the dents in the hoods of our car from hailstorms. But she has never, ever seen this quiet invasion.

“Iss booful, Mama.” She speaks in a reverent whisper, standing on the sofa, nose pressed hard against cool glass. The silence descends. Her eyes trace the wistful path of a single flake.

I cannot help the faint twist of smile; a memory stirs. I join her, pressing my own nose against the glass. Our breaths intertwine, fogging the pane. In and out, the mass of gray grows and shrinks with each inhale and exhale.

Caty doesn’t notice. The snow holds her complete attention.

Nor does she notice when I turn off the TV and the radio – to heck with class tonight. I grab my daughter’s hand, tugging her gently. “Leggo, Mama.” She still whispers, pulling away to watch the snow some more, tiny palms on the glass barrier.

“Come on Caty, let’s go play with the snow.” Her eyes grow wide, their blue depths sparkling with excitement.

Giggling, we don jackets, boots and hats. Caty’s mittens no longer fit, so she wears a pair of mine – those stretchy type that look small until you put them on. She waves her hands at me and the fingertips flap. We laugh, running out the back door into our own little white garden, escaping to dance with the fairy flakes I had forgotten were my friends.

Skin on a Skeleton

I have a lot of issues with the way media plays with our body image – always have, even when I was succumbing to those messages as a teen.  The messages have only gotten more subversive.  I believe this poem was written while battling the baby bulge (I lost).  

Part 1

Onto the runway,

wispy fabric hanging

from the angles of her wares,

honed hips, sharpened

shoulder blades,

projectile-pointed elbows.

Long lengths of languid hair,

an unnatural

shade;

blue, green and purple

war paint on the face

of a pallid squaw.

Defiance in the walk

long and loose and limp,

hands on hips

pushed forward

but none in the eyes,

shuttered, staring

out into the crowd, only

holes

in a walking mannequin

made of skin

slack, hanging

on a white-washed frame

of a skeleton.

Part 2

Young girls,

in control,

of a long, drawn-out

spiraling death.

Trying to attain,

trying to sustain,

growth on a starvation plan.

dieting

exercising

starving

exercising

their right to frailty

uncertainty

death by perfection

The model life,

a hungry life,

of water and pills,

stardom and pain.

Striving,

thriving,

living,

but not giving

themselves a chance,

to be healthy and strong.

Trading a beautiful youth,

for an old age

as a slumped over woman,

afraid of dying

from a styrofoam bone

breaking in a fall

from grace.

Trying to attain,

trying to sustain,

the dream of death

as skin on a skeleton.