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Staying Married Secret #12 – It pays to sit on your Smart Ass commentary when they’re frustrated.

The Professor, sometimes known affectionately as Mrs. Magoo, doesn’t like to wear her glasses. Which is another discussion, women over forty and their glasses that they put on and take off thirty or forty times an hour. Anyway, she must have gotten reading-glasses elbow and ordered the wrong thing off a menu she couldn’t read one too many times, because she opted for contacts and a new morning ritual a few weeks ago.

“I’m not sure I’m going to like this whole contacts idea. They take forever to go in and now one of the progressives tore in half. I was just trying to put the stupid thing in my eye.” The frustration oozing out of the cracked open bathroom door was tangible.

“Do you have another one?”

“No, they were the test ones. She gave me these mono-visons when I started, to get used to having them in my eyes until she got my test prescription in. I didn’t like them at all. I feel like I’m walking around blinking to see what’s close and then what’s far. My eyes never do it right like they’re supposed to.”

I knew she was making big, theatrical winks in the mirror while she said that. “Mono-vision is why I finally gave up on contacts.” I’d told her that probably a thousand times, with variations. It was my only support line for contacts, so I had to use it even if it was tired. I turned off the talking heads news readers and could hear water running on her side of the bathroom, along with some low-key, mumbled profanity.

“I guess I’m going to have to wear these mono-vison things then, and be the winking lady trying to decide which eye looks where. I get to spend all day today with a confused brain.”

I let it sit. So did she, for a minute or two.

“I said I’m going to have to spend the day with a confused brain.” She said it a little louder that time.

I bit my tongue. Hard. A few minutes later I heard her heels going across the living room into the kitchen and caught a glimpse of color. “Is that one of your new dresses?”

“Yes. It’s not too tight, is it? I get so self-conscious.”

She looked great and it wasn’t too tight and by now I was talking to her back. “No, you look great. It is a pretty dress and you’re the perfect girl for it.”

“Stop. I’m not a girl, I’m an old lady and I feel like one today.” She rounded up professor paraphernalia while the K-cup finished spitting. “I don’t have all day to wait for it, Mister Man.” I could see her twisting the lid on her to-go coffee cup. “Okay, I’ve gotta go, I’ll do it for you. ‘What do you mean confused brain today, dear? I thought that was your natural state.’ Feel better?”

“It really is a pretty dress. Kiss?”

“Yes. Thank you. Have a nice day at work. Do I have everything?”

“Phone?”

“Mmm…Yes. Four-thirty, probably. Thanks for making me a sandwich and being sweet when I went off about my contacts. Bye. Love you!”

Aftertaste

This is the stripped Flash version of “The Cure” in Short Story Fiction

She rolled to a stop on the grass and gravel, walked the ten yards, watched a moment.

He stood in the center of the bridge over the creek, dropped bits of paper the size of dimes. She knew as they fluttered out of sight they would find the water for him, float away.

When he squinted, the morning sun that forced its way though the oak canopy wove a blanket of diamonds over the creek. He thought of the refracting sunglasses someone had given him as a gift. How they would have made the creek diamonds explode into color, made him lose his balance. He rolled the dead roach between his thumb and finger, set the paper free.

He turned to greet her, received a big, warm, cheerful kiss for his effort. She was wearing sunglasses, squeezed his butt with both hands, pulled him to her, kissed him again, let him go.

“What was that, babe?”

He gazed at the creek where the paper bits had landed, floated away. “Arrogance?”

She raised the sunglasses, her eyes a question mark.

“Nice to see you but not really. Beat it, don’t ever call, come by, ever again. Get lost, stay that way.”

“Yeah?” Beside him now she stuck her hand in his back pocket, squeezed his butt again. “Anyone I know?”

“No. Grown up sorority girl a long time gone. Getting married sometime.” He sent a Marlboro menthol spinning toward the creek in pursuit of the shredded arrogance.

“You’ll never be anything but a long, hard weekend for a sorority girl, buddy. You should know that by now.” She turned him, draped her arms on top of his shoulders, kissed him again. She’d been to the lake early this spring, had the dusting of freckles to prove it.

“It was way before Kama Sutra Judy and her waterbed.”

“Still…”

She was a take charge girl who left the feeling of a thrown party in her wake, would initiate sex often and enthusiastically, anything deeper than the surface was too deep, she wished no emotional investment only mutual gratification. She smiled, kept her eyes on his face. “Just like that, beat it?”

“She dressed it up. Wrote it by hand.”

“Nice stationary?”

“Yeah. Lipstick on a pig. Only one of those I’ve ever gotten.” He liked the freckles. Not usually but on her they worked. “Have you ever been the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to someone?”

Her eyes got wide, filled quickly with humor. Her voice dropped to a theatric “Noooo-ooo.”

Of course she hadn’t. Attractive, sexually predatory women in their mid twenties who had been married, divorced, walked like they owned the pavement and were born to wear clothes embarrassed no one. Him? Probably.

“I think I have.”

“That’s hard to believe. Were you a butt-ugly baby?”

“A lot of stupid high school guy shit I think. Virginity thief maybe.”

“You all do that. So what? Next. That’s the arrogance? I’m different now, beat it. If you vanish she’s a slightly used, unembarrassed virgin?”

“In that pocket. Like after all this time I’m the love sick puppy peeing on her door. Again. I thought about sending her an ‘I’m not an idiot’ note. ‘Excuse me, your highness. I’m on my way the hell out of Dodge with a long legged sex machine. I made you and your trip years ago.’ The last word game sucks. So it slides.”

She held the trunk open, make up case in the other hand. “Long legged I liked. Machine might grow on me. This stays on top, drop yours in, I’ll drop mine and we’ll blow this high rent cab stand.”

“Drop yours, drop mine in, blow I liked.” He checked the U-Haul chain. Checked her with a look.

“Done is done, babe.”

“You’re right. Six years done.”

“Six years? Okay. For a won’t face you ‘beat it’ letter after six years I’ll give you the arrogance call. Didn’t want to.” She set the makeup case down, smiled. “Guys are assholes sometimes when they get the word, but six years late and a stamp? Some sisters…” She didn’t light the cigarette in her hand, tried to suck his tongue out instead. Eye to eye. “Done is done. Now is now. Okay?”

“Yeah. Like licking a penny. It’s the aftertaste.”

She was in his face with a handful of shirt, pulled him closer.”I have a cure for that.”

 

 

 

A Farewell to Gatsby’s Bride

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Early May, 1977

The shade was a relief. This had always been a shady driveway, and there were always leaves of some kind scattered on and around it. The Crepe Myrtle barricade down the right side. Yeah, the shade was a good thing, spring was hot early this year. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, wondered why the hell he was there, what he expected to find.

He’d dropped by his mother’s before driving to this shade covered memory. He’d been homeless by choice, in that band guy way, since Christmas Day, but she’d gotten word though a network of his friends that he had some important mail waiting.

His divorce was final, that was what the mail was about. The Judge had asked him a month ago if he was sure, his ex hadn’t bothered to show up for court or contest anything, so he’d said “yes.” Bang. So granted, so decreed, and now final. Not that the girl who belonged to the leaf-covered driveway would care.

They hadn’t spoken in three years, but here he was sitting in the driveway where’d they’d gotten up to more shit as teenagers, Jesus. Last-minute gropes before curfew, arguments, make-ups, make-outs, getting their stories straight about why she was late. All the tire chirping in the driveway that she’d had to clean with a bucket and brush, and more in the street that netted him a ticket from a waiting cop. Probably her mom. Maybe her dad or her smirking brother. Maybe a pissed off neighbor. Somebody had set him up. He saw his own absurd testosterone driven stupidity and grinned. Too much sex and not enough dinners. The world’s worst high school boyfriend.

That was one of the reasons he was here. There had never been a clear cut end, just a fade out. Her mother had broken up with him at least twice for her. “Get out, shut up, don’t talk like that in my house.” But her? She’d called him, said they should see other people, no more “just us.” She’d played him, let him make ‘love ya miss ya’ long-distance phone calls when she could have cared less. Let him hang around to make several of the stupidest, most embarrassing young guy mistakes on his record. At the end were the embarrassments, the arguments, the car wrecks, all the things she let him get up to with her while she shagged her way through her senior class. The grand finale being where she’d said “help out, see you tomorrow” knowing full well she’d have a minion or two to do her dirty work in this very driveway “tomorrow.” Behaviors as predictable as the themes of a three-minute pop song. What a lousy way it had been to start his nineteenth summer.

Later she’d even shown up on his twentieth birthday with an offer he couldn’t refuse, but he had, mostly. And been an asshole about it in the bargain. Arrogance. That’s why he’d gotten angry that night, why he’d been angry. That was the other thing he was looking for. The girl he’d known before the arrogance. If he could see that one more time he could close the door on everything. He was three gigs and less than two weeks from beating it out for good and he wanted to see her, the real her, one last time. Not the arrogance, not the girl who turned and ran the other way when she saw him. He thought he might be the only one who knew her before all that set in. Before she started believing the smoke that got blown up a pretty girl’s dress. He laughed to himself, sure that she hiked that dress up a little now and then to help some of that smoke find its way.

It was too damn hot to sit in his aircraft carrier without the air conditioner running, and he knew he was stalling. He hoped what was wrong with the transmission hadn’t leaked. That was a lie, sure he wished it had leaked, just a little. He knew she wouldn’t be out there in a tank top and shorts to clean it like the tire marks he’d left in her driveway years ago, but it was worth the memory. He’d stopped by the day after leaving a serious set of those marks, seen her working, told her she was cute when she was sweaty.

“Girls don’t sweat,” she’d told him. “Cows sweat, men perspire and women glow.” That was the tell, right there. Who she was, where she was headed. And he’d missed it.

***

The spring sun stumbled through the southern windows of her mother’s kitchen, casting awkward, partial shadows about the room. A metaphor for the two of them. She’d let him in, hesitantly, and walked herself into the corner, behind a chair, behind the table. Away and barricaded from the wrong man. Fully grown now, wearing a conservative woman’s suit, he saw in her face for the first time in years a flash of the schoolgirl he’d known. Her tension palpable, her gaze wavering, defensive, vulnerable.

He told her he’d stopped to take her temperature, that was all. How was she? She sidestepped. Him? His lost years spiritually and legally behind him. Telling an old friend his baggage was light before setting off on an uncharted life. It didn’t matter now if she had never cared for him, he was on his way. He wanted her to know, that was all. Wanted to wave goodbye, to say things that didn’t matter anymore. He saw the universal side of their old friendship. She did not.

His short tale told, their small talk came like an unwanted tooth extraction. Difficult. Forced. Painful. Good for you. That’s nice. Really? Congratulations. The wrong man still standing in her mother’s kitchen, his wrong shadow thrown against the wall beside her. She sparked them out of it, smiled, exposed an instant of her old self again, relaxing slightly to rest her hands on the back of a chair, engagement ring teasing the sun.

“What would you…I dropped an ice cream cone…a white couch on display… how would you…Never mind, it doesn’t matter.” The wrong man, the wrong questions incompletely asked, the wrong almost sharing. Something old and now unnecessary had opened slightly and slammed quickly shut.

Almost questions posed to the wrong man truly irrelevant. Her own life, unlike his, mapped and before her, staring her down. Enveloping her. Owning her. “I’m getting…we’re going to be…I’m not sure if I can do this.” Her eyes took her face away. Tangible uncertainty replacing postured composure.

He walked the table’s barricade until her face and cast down eyes were in front of him. He hadn’t touched her in years yet his first two fingers appeared, lifted her chin. “Hey…” Spoken as though he’d breathed it. His eyes found hers. Soft, moist, frightened, guarded against the wrong man. They were the color of the spring sky, and were momentarily filled with clouds of lost. His eyes studied hers, her right first, across the bridge of her nose to her left. Neither of them blinked. They might not have breathed.

“You can do whatever you need to do.” He searched her eyes again, they dropped their guard, opened. “You can do anything. You know that.”

Silence danced with the sun on the dust motes that floated in the wrongness between them. The angle of the sun, the wrong man’s shadow. His fingers, his touch, his eyes. The strong, frightened, unsure, determined little girl in the guise of a woman.

“No one ever talks to me the way you do.” she said, barely audible. “No one.” He held her eyes a moment longer, turned away.

“Of course they don’t,” he said silently through a shallow exhale that might have been a sigh before he thumbed the once familiar latch, closed the door on a long yesterday, rejoined the rest of the leaves that drifted across her driveway.