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Friday, May 30, 2014

"Nancy" - Part II



It was almost two weeks gone past when he brought it up. There had been no conversation about it at all, just that night’s lovemaking. They hadn’t said anything about that either. But there seemed to be thinner air between them despite the silence. 
He reached a hand over to hers at the dinner table, while chewing spaghetti, and looked at her. Then finally, “You could go with me, you know. Lots of wives do. It’s good for…” The crinkle growing on her brow stopped him. He released his grip on her, but not completely. His eyes pleaded. She must have nodded slightly because a smile washed over his face and then he went back to eating.
He had promised her that they wouldn’t go on a crowded night, never a weekend or a holiday. She couldn’t handle the crush of strangers she worried aloud. What she didn’t say was the danger she felt even talking about the possibility of entering a strip club. She couldn’t get a handle on the exact fear. Gangs accidentally stabbing her, or being forced into some filthy back room to take a hallucinogenic drugs, seeing sex acts by strangers right before her very eyes? None of it was quite logical – he dissuaded her from the worst, assuring her that nothing bad would happen. But then she was no longer sure what his definition of bad was.
So, it was a peaceful Tuesday evening, around 8:30 pm when they walked through a wall of hanging beads. One heavy strand snagged on her hair, pulling a pin out. She clutched her purse tightly as a large black man, the bouncer/host, led them to a tiny table in a corner. She had a preternatural fear of being seen by someone she knew. Of course, in the many years they had lived in Southern California she had made few friends, the best of whom was Betsy, an 84 year old woman who lived catty-corner from her house and was most certainly asleep by now. She couldn’t think of anyone else she might care about, or might know her on sight. And then there was Britney. She’d be horrified if she knew her father visited such places. Nancy was sure she’d think they were both completely nuts if she knew about this.
She kept pressing her hair, trying to avoid a trip to the ladies room to fix it, but after Frank ordered himself a scotch and soda and her a white wine, she couldn’t take it any longer.  She grew hot around her neck and chest. Frank sat so close his knees touched hers and his teeth glowed eerily in black light. She excused herself to the ladies room.
The bathroom was brightly lit. She squinted as she stepped inside, it took a few moments to adjust, even though they had been in the club only some ten minutes. Sure enough a tuft of hair stuck up on the right side of her head. She blushed thinking that the cocktail waitress had seen her. Women were always so cruel about another’s looks. And this one was so young! What she must think, this ancient woman stepping into this place.
She decided to use the toilet first. Each second was a torture, so sure was she that someone would come into the bathroom at any moment. Minutes passed. More than was normal for her to take care of business. Washing her hands she suddenly realized no one was coming into the restroom, she was the only lady in the place. An involuntary deep suck of air entered her lungs and she brightened. Her hands dried she flattened her hair, repined it, and resolved to go back to the table more cheerfully. Remembering her husband sobbing into his hands so many weeks ago, patting his shoulder it seemed to make sense then. There was no fear, no judgments, just understanding of his need, and… acceptance. Nancy took a long deep breath and walked into the black lit club.
Frank was sitting facing the stage. A long legged girl was just finishing a pole dance and her silver mini-skirt dangled pleasantly around her rump Nancy noticed. Something tickled inside her. Frank stood when he saw her approach and pulled out her chair. She smiled at him and he smiled back. She released her grip on her purse and took a sip of wine. They began to chat.

Nancy saw the legs before she realized what was happening.
“Hey, Daddy! Where you been. I’ve missed you,” Nancy heard the girl say as the legs flung over her husband’s lap. Frank’s face flushed and he shifted slightly but enough so that the girl looked back at Nancy. “Oh, sorry baby, didn’t realize you were with a date. How’re you tonight, sweetie? Sorry, didn’t mean to encroach, but he’s so delicious, isn’t he?”
The ease Nancy had conjured was frozen right out of her body when she heard the girl laugh. Frank, not looking Nancy in the eye, motioned to her and introduced her.
“Hon, this is Ginger. Ginger, this is my wife, Nancy.”
She was beautiful, that was true Nancy had to admit. She couldn’t stop looking at her face. She caught a swift glimmer of shock when Ginger heard the word ‘wife’, but she reached out a cold moist hand to Nancy and shook it limply as she dislodged herself from his lap and took a chair. Nancy couldn’t remember the last time she had felt a woman’s hand, years? Decades? It was one of her great and infrequent joys to hold her mother’s hand as a little girl. The touch of Ginger’s lithe fingers prompted this memory. She couldn’t reconcile this girl with her mother’s memory, except, she thought the only common denominator was herself, and the pleasure in touch. Nancy pulled her hand away, though to a small degree she didn’t wish to.
Frank was saying something in his justifying bluster. Nancy made herself stop looking at Ginger and listen to her husband. But the DJ put on a loud rap-ish kind of song, she didn’t know what they called it, all she knew was that the song seemed to be yelling at her, admonishing her. Frank kept talking, “friendship”, “sweet girl”, “boy trouble”, on and on. Nancy gathered he was talking about Ginger, but she didn’t care. Another girl got up on the stage and Frank stopped talking to watch her and clap. Then excused himself to the restroom.
Nancy looked back at the stage behind her for a moment and when her head turned round Ginger was sitting in the chair next to her, looking her right in the face. Nancy forced-smiled at her and looked down at her hands in her lap. She started to giggle, they looked like her mother’s hands. She tried to stop herself and then realized she was giggling out loud and Ginger had joined in.
“What’s got you tickled?”
“Nothing,” she choked out, took a sip of wine, but she couldn’t stop. Ginger waved to someone across the room and in an unreasonably quick time another glass of wine appeared and her empty disappeared. She was still giggling.
“I’m just thinking, if my mother could see me…”
Ginger joined in and nodded with a “mine too”. They laughed for a moment and Ginger asked Nancy what kind of woman her mother was, was she still around, where did she live. Nancy took a bigger gulp of wine than she meant to as the questions made her titter all over again.
“Oh, she was a bitch,” popped out of her mouth and she screamed with laughter. Ginger’s forehead crinkled a bit, no doubt wondering if this woman was crazy. “I’ve never said that! I don’t think I ever let myself even think that. She’s dead, thank god, the bitch.” And she howled again, hugging her sides. She had possibly never laughed so hard in her life.
“What’s going on here?” Frank’s expression was confusion and delight and fear all at once.
“Catharsis,” Ginger said before Nancy could respond. She was right.
Frank looked at Ginger and nodded to her as if conspiring. Ginger grabbed both of Nancy’s hands. Her purse dropped to the floor and Frank swept it up. She caught his face and he looked so hopeful. She didn’t understand, but Ginger was pulling her up and asking her to go with her. She had never felt so loose. She felt at that moment that whatever Ginger asked her to do she would.
They weaved between chairs towards a little platform. More bead strings surrounded it, like the front entrance. Ginger pulled the curtain of beads apart for her, shielding her hairdo. “Watch your step” she said softly and placed Nancy in a chair. A little giggle came out as she sat down, as if it got dislodged from her belly with the motion.
“I’m just going to dance for you. Just let me know if it feels too close,” Ginger said. Before Nancy could speak Ginger was writhing and twisting before her. Nancy thought, I wonder how she does that? It didn’t register until several moments later that she was being given a lap dance. A hot poker shot through her belly and chest, but was gone in an instant. My mother, thought Nancy, and laughed again. Ginger smiled and Nancy settled in to watching her. She was warming up, heat spreading from her loins through her legs, up into her face. She wanted to touch her. She wanted to touch Frank. Where was he? Watching? A rush of fury caught her and took hold. Then panic. Sharp, rancid panic swept over her body and lodged in her head. He wants a threesome. He’s slept with this girl. She started to feel a grip on her chest, she couldn’t breathe. Ginger stopped suddenly. Nancy almost knocked her down as she stood up and furiously scampered out of the club.
The night was crisp but couldn’t break through the heat that had engulfed her. The heat, she realized, that had smothered her from the moment she set foot in this place. A greasy, thick heat, like hot cream soup sticking to your skin, burning. Why was she here?
It took her minutes to find their car. She tried the door and then realized she hadn’t driven, Frank had. She didn’t even have her purse. Suddenly Frank was behind her. In the near distance behind him she saw Ginger, the deep concern on her face clashing with her hot pink outfit. She looked out of place in the parking lot. Frank was opening the back seat and laying Nancy down. She could hear words from him but couldn’t make out what they were. He put a hand on her forehead.
“You feel cold.”
“I’m hot. I’ve been so hot. I want a coat. I want to wear a coat. To be cold and protected.”
“You almost passed out Ginger said.”
She didn’t remember. She couldn’t remember anything.

The light was so bright.  She wondered why he brought her back into the strip club. And why they had turned on all the lights. She knew, because there was Ginger in the hallway and Frank, and a string of light between them.

When she woke, Britney was near her. She was talking but Nancy wasn’t hearing. There was other noise she had to take in first, a beep, traffic, sound of scuffling feet, honk of horn way off somewhere in the distance passed a few buildings, through glass and concrete, a constant, irritable honk honk honk honk honk. She knew just what it meant.

“Stoke,” Britney said and Nancy finally heard. Stroke.
There was Frank in the hallway again. There was Ginger next to him. She didn’t wonder why, so fascinated was she by that silver string that was strung up between them. It hummed with light and vibration, she could see it. And it said “comfort” as it travelled back and forth between them. She wondered if anyone else could see it, hear its word.
Britney slid her hand into Nancy’s. There it was again, that pleasure. Nancy felt herself spread out wide into the universe at the soft warm hand of her child. Peace.

The night was dark though it seemed like all the lights were still on. Dark night of the soul. Is this that? She couldn’t muster up any feeling, any indignation, or worry, or even any judgment. She just lay there. Britney was somewhere off in a corner beside her. She could sense her there even though, for some reason she hadn’t quite worked out, she couldn’t turn to look at her. But she was there, breathing. She would know that breathing anywhere.

One night when Britney was 6 or 7 Nancy woke in the middle of the night in a panic. There was a police car flashing lights down the block and the hubbub and blue and red light leaked in through her bedroom window. He first thought was “Britney’s gone” and she leapt out of the bed like a crazed woman and was in her daughter’s room in less than a second. It was early in the morning and the adrenaline rush kept her alert, so she sat on the little Winnie the Pooh step stool by Britney’s bed and listened to her breath. She wished she had told her about that.

Now she was home, but not home. There were plans being made, about what she couldn’t make out. She heard her daughter and her husband in the kitchen talking. She didn’t know where she was. But one word jumped into her consciousness, “Sonoma”. Then Britney was yelling and Nancy was thinning out, disappearing. Her last thought before she travelled away was, “Britney has taken up the mantle”.  Of bitterness and judgment, but oh well, there was nothing Nancy could do now. She knew this but she wasn’t sure why. Maybe she ought to try harder to get Britney’s attention, but she didn’t seem to have a voice. Where had it gone?

And then it was as if she was being split into a thousand tiny little pieces, being thrown into the wind. There was the breeze and she knew she was flying off a cliff into the air, some of her into the ocean, some of her in the wind. Sand and salt and water and wind and me, she thought, all together.
“Love you, mom” she heard Britney say and in that phrase was love and hate – and she knew her daughter would never forgive her father, just as her mother had never forgiven her sister, not really – and Nancy knew everything it seemed.  It would all be awful and lovely and wonderful and weird and here she would be, on the coast of Sonoma, in the sand and in the wind.



Monday, May 26, 2014

"Nancy" a Short Story by Daniela Ryan - Part I

NANCY
By Daniela Ryan


It had been years since she’d looked deeply into this closet. But at the onset of winter, and the first real rainy day, something moved her to tackle the avalanche of clothes and boxes full of trinkets shoved into the crevice behind the tails of long ignored wool coats. They had moved to Southern California nearly 15 years earlier from Sonoma County. A position at a prominent trucking company pulled them down. Frank loved it here. There was no way he’d move back to the cold, windy, rainy weather up north. She knew that, because though he never said it to her face, he’d said it time and again within earshot of her; on the phone, handing the attendant at the car wash the ticket, talking to a bagger at the grocery store.  Anywhere practically he would get into a conversation about “what a lovely day” and “never live anywhere else myself”.
Keeping her own wool coat was a way of harboring her fantasy of returning to that home.
It’s not that she knew anyone there anymore. She wouldn’t have a job there, or some other particular reason that could explain her desire to go back, she just did. Years of Frank poo-pooing her longing had set a deep seam of resentment on her spine. He didn’t care what she thought. Sometimes, in moments of dark insecurity, she’d allow herself to complain out loud of missing home.  He’d come back way too fast and furious with “Well, we bought this house in the middle of bumb-fuck nowhere for you didn’t we?” Then she’d sob a little and he’d try to placate her with the idea that Britney lived near by anyway and didn’t she only want to be close to her daughter? It worked, mostly. So, she’d tuck away the longing and the coat of resentment, shoving them into a crevice inside herself and stop complaining.

The rain stopped abruptly sometime after lunch, which she’d missed sitting on the floor in front of the open closet, going through a box of her mom’s things. She’d shoved it in the back with other miscellaneous boxes of tchotchke she couldn’t part with. Letters between her mother and her aunt kept her spellbound for over an hour. When a beam of light came through the window – open so she could feel and hear the rain since it never stayed long enough for her – she looked up and wiped a tear from her cheek.  Aunt Judy had been estranged from her husband, Bruce, an uncle Nancy had been very fond of as a child, and her mother hadn’t approved. Stand by your man meant about the same thing to Nancy’s mother as stand by your church, your children, your country. It meant one had character, loyalty. She couldn’t fathom a lack of loyalty in anyone, and herself struggled mightily with the desire to abandon her sister to her own devices. Actual estrangement was, of course, not an option as it could have been mistaken as a lack of fealty. But Uncle Bruce had cheated on Aunt Judy, or so was said in one of the letters in so many words.  Nancy’s mother finally relented in one of the last exchanges between them and gave Aunt Judy her royal acceptance of the dissolution of their bond, some twenty years after the actual events took place. Had her mother been so stubborn? She couldn’t remember.  But then Nancy never crossed her. Nancy never crossed anyone really, too terrified of being tromped on, emotionally squashed, disapproved of, worse still, thought to be disloyal.
The hot beam of light hit Nancy’s back at the same time this revelation struck inside. She was her mother, through and through.  She never meant to be. She was just trying to stay out of trouble, but in the end she was a more mousy clone of her open-mouthed mother who’d been too prideful to quite be bitter, but was absolutely certain of everything she believed regardless of any evidence that might point to the contrary.
It had taken her mother twenty years to accept that her sister had a bad marriage and was better off without a man who hadn’t wanted her. Oh sure, Nancy didn’t go around spouting who was right and who was wrong openly, but she thought it quietly inside her head. Nancy had never felt close to her mother because she was always afraid of her disapproval. She’d adopted a strategy of staying quiet, and thus, largely unnoticed by her mother. It spilled over into her demeanor with other people too by accident and now she was what feminists call ‘a doormat’. She knew it. She didn’t want to be that. But she was.
The irony of how she could be so detrimentally judgmental, adopting the same attitudes as her mother, and yet so utterly different in style flummoxed her.  Suddenly, a moment in her daughter’s life popped into her head and it was as if a memory faucet had been turned on inside her and it wouldn’t let up. Great wracking sobs flattened her to the floor where she remained, to cry and then drift into sleep, for the next hour.

Britney had been just sixteen and was wild about a boy, named Jeremy. She hadn’t brought him home yet but had talked him up so that Nancy was practically planning the wedding. She’d even had a congenial conversation on the phone with his mother about “our two lovebirds” to coordinate colors for their Homecoming Dance outfits. But the night before Jeremy was to come for dinner, Britney declared she didn’t like him anymore. Nancy was mortified that Britney had uninvited him to dinner at their house knowing full well that his mother would think it utterly rude, that she’d forced Frank to coerce Britney to relent. He was a very attractive young man, but dinner was awkward because Britney adopted an aloof attitude. Nancy tried desperately to make up for it by being extremely hospitable, even allowing them to go to Britney’s room alone after dinner. It lasted all of twenty open door minutes wherein Nancy and Frank uncomfortably watched TV in the living room but really listened to the screams and sobs of their daughter floating down the stairs.
It might have all blown over Nancy realized only now. Except that Britney… well, the truth was, Nancy had not let it. She was chagrined and upset by dinner, and by Britney’s rejection of Jeremy, her foregoing of the dance, and wasting $80 on a dress she now would never wear. Nancy felt that her daughter was wrong to reject such an attractive young man, with such potential, and such a nice mother. She pushed and pressed Britney – not for an answer as to why, certain that it was something frivolous and childish – but to take him back, until Britney had finally blurt out “He hit me Mom! There, are you happy?”
And Nancy had said without pause, “Oh honey, I’m sure he didn’t mean it”.
Because that is what her mother would have said. Britney never confided in her again. Not that they were bosom buddies or anything to begin with. But Nancy always felt that they would grow closer as Britney matured and understood more of the realities of the world just as she and her own moth… It was a lie. Nancy’s eyes popped open. She was even being judgmental of the memory. She’d been lying on the floor for how long? Was she dreaming and remembering, crying, all at the same time? She had never, ever, in her fifty plus years felt this horribly wrong, she’d always converted her mistakes to ‘right’. Yes, she’d always made herself right, which by default makes everyone else wrong. Just as her mother had done. How had this gone unnoticed?
She lay a little longer on the dusty floor, completely out of character for Nancy. She glanced over at the clock, 2:13 pm, and decided to call her.
Britney was usually available for office hours the last period of the day. A high school counselor, she had the maturity of someone twice her age. Nancy had never acknowledged this out-loud, though she was proud of her daughter for it, but she was reluctant to give up this piece of  what she thought of as necessary leverage. She winced as she sat up. Her back stiff, but mostly at the thought that she was as stingy with approval as her mother had been. She would have to tell her daughter this. But not now, not today. Later. First things first.

The words choked her in the back of her throat and for a moment, she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to say it. Britney, as always, was distracted and busy on the phone, and accused her mother of setting herself up for neglect by insisting on calling during school hours. Nancy dismissed the accusation. But in the back of her mind she knew it was true. She was afraid of a Britney at peace, which she seemed to be at home in her tiny condo overlooking the ocean. A peek-a-boo terrace was what the realtor had called it and Britney was a different person on it, or on the beach, just as she had been as a child. Frank always thought she would have become a marine biologist just to be near the ocean, but she was lousy at math. Nevertheless, Frank would tell her with a big hug and a smile she’d be the best marine biologist on the planet.
Nancy rarely disrupted Britney in her home. It felt like too much responsibility to be the one to break her calm there.
“I’m sorry,” finally slipped from her lips but Britney missed it.
“Wha? I’m sorry, Mom. What did you say? What were we talking about?”
“The boy, Jeremy. The one who…” Nancy couldn’t say the other bit. That would be too much, maybe for another day. “Your junior year, I think. You didn’t go to the dance. And I… I’m… I didn’t understand, and I was awful about it. So. I’m sorry.”
The kinetic energy that was always palpable on the other end of Britney’s work phone  suddenly silenced. It remained for so long that Nancy parted her lips to speak but finally Britney interjected.
“Oh, yeah. That’s right.” Then another moment of silence. “Well, OK. Is there anything else. The bell is just about to ring.”
“No, I… well, I just wanted to say that. I suddenly remembered it today. I was going through some things, some of my mother’s things, and it seemed like it just struck me that I’d been wrong.”
“Wow.” Now Britney’s energy was back but she paused for another long moment. “I don’t think I have ever heard you say that.”
Nancy bristled and could feel defensiveness well up inside her. Her brain kicked into high gear and spun rapidly over all the reasons why she hadn’t been wrong, after all it is a mother’s duty to try and identify a suitable mate, and if they’d met him earlier her father could have… but she bit her tongue, not letting any of it come out.
“Thanks, Mom. No, really, it is amazing to hear you say that. That really hurt my feelings for a long time. I guess I kinda squashed that one.”
And just as rapidly as her brain had spun up, Britney’s calm voice seemed to placate it back to slow speed. A fine feeling wash over her, just as it had the day her daughter moved in to her condo and they had shared a bottle of wine in plastic chairs on her peek-a-boo terrace and watched the sun set, and she had driven home tipsy and alive and seduced her husband for the first time in years. It felt like a new beginning.
Of course, Nancy had not sustained that new beginning because her headache in the morning told her immediately that it was Britney’s fault for pouring the second glass, and why did Frank have to keep her up so late, didn’t they have any concern for her well-being? But this time was different. This time Nancy saw it. No, they weren’t perfect, but for the first time she was willing to entertain the idea that she wasn’t either.
After she hung up the phone the closet called her back and she was just about ready to shove boxes back inside. But her long wool jacket caught her eye, and Frank’s seldom worn – even in Sonoma – trench coat. Yes, she would throw them away, not even give them away – too easy to fish them out again and change her mind –  yes, she’d toss them into the trash and dump the breakfast refuse on top. That would teach her. No more longing. A new commitment to where she was, right now, geologically and emotionally, was in order. She grabbed the coats, hangers and all, and marched herself and them straight outdoors. But even as she did a strange bulk in the pockets of Frank’s trench coat bothered her, pushed at her gut. A wallet? No, she’d let it go, all of it. Uncertainty, reluctance, all of it. She yanked the plastic lid off the trash bin and tossed both in. And just according to plan she forcibly marched herself to the kitchen, to under the sink and ripped the bag, not nearly full of coffee grounds, cantaloupe peels, a small scrunched up carton of used up creamer, paper towels, all of it, going right on top of those coats that had held her back for so long.

Back in the kitchen activity kept her mind off the itch of that pocket bulk. She’d spilled a small amount of coffee grounds on the floor that had to be picked up, a new trash bag had to be secured back into the can, it was almost 4:00 so why not a cup of coffee and a swipe of the counter with a sponge as it brewed, open the freezer and defrost some chicken for dinner.
But still, that bulk. What was it? It couldn’t be an old wallet. She searched her memory to see if Frank had lost one at some point, maybe when they’d moved? Nothing. She sat, warming her hands on the coffee cup, until it ate at her enough that she sprung from her chair.
It was disgusting. She had purposefully not tied off the plastic kitchen bag knowing her tendency to change her mind in such stressful situations. Disposing of a good jacket, even if no longer appropriate, was not easy for her, let alone disposing of two. But she dug anyway and pulled it halfway out. She was almost ready to give it up for a mistake, maybe it was the belt buckle? Feeling silly after trying both side pockets she remembering this coat had a good sized breast pocket. Reaching in, she felt a wad. He wasn’t hiding money from her was he? Her mind began to swim with fury even as her fingers sensed it was wrong. Not money. Paper. But then she realized it was receipts, just receipts, she could kicked herself. So stupid she’d been. But as she lifted her hand to fling the wad angrily back into the can a heat stamped single word caught her eye: Nude.
It seemed minutes that her hand hovered in mid-air before she willed it down. Suddenly aware that she was outside within eyesight of many neighbors and clearly acting crazy, stomping around, going through the trash, she faked an intentionally audible “Ahh!” as cheerfully as she could muster, replaced the lid and went back in, wad of receipts clutched in hand at her side. At the kitchen table she had to tell herself to set them down, not put them back in the trash. Her miraculous powers of denial were rearing their hind legs, readying for action, but the conversation with her daughter earlier had changed the tenor of the day somehow. A new beginning. She dropped the wad and went over to the sink to wash her hands. As she toweled them off she told herself, whatever is in there I will accept, I will not judge.

They dated back years… and years. Not so many in a month or a year but even still she felt  betrayed, embarrassed, abandoned (what was the feeling?), shocked perhaps. Smacked in the face with a reality she’d known all along, she’d just, what? Put it aside. She’d tucked it away secretly just as Frank had secretly tucked away the evidence in his unused trenchcoat pocket. She knew it was there, that he’d gone out and hadn’t said where he was going or where he had been when he got back. But he seemed cheerful enough and she would always be in bed by the time he got home so she’d pretend to asleep. Then he’d go off into the bathroom for a long time. Every once in a while she’d let him touch and rouse her from her pretend sleep. They might even make love then.
But here it was. Proof. On her kitchen table.
Part of her wanted to stomp and yell and cry just as Britney had at sixteen. To scream “It is unconscionable!” But that new part of her that had begun to spring up inside her this afternoon told her, no, be calm. Find out. She felt… guilt.
When Frank finally walked through the kitchen door at 6-something she saw his face shift from its normally congenial greeting to one that was confused, then scared, then pained as soon as he saw the table covered with the evidence of his transgretions.
“I finally threw out that old trench coat.”
She tried to smile at him but the reality of being “caught” was washing over him so he didn’t hear her. “You never even wore it up north.”
He was suddenly in a chair, face in hands sobbing, waiting for her flail of judgments to scorch him. He seemed to be hiding from her. She reached out a hand and placed it on his back. The touch made his sobbing intensify and she knew why without admitting it to herself. Because this was unlike her, to comfort.
“I was so lonely,” was all he said as he raised his head. He did not look at her but stood, grabbed a kitchen towel and pressed it to his face as he walked out of the room.
She got dinner on the table like she was supposed to and they each picked and shoved at chicken pieces and boxed rice mix for the appropriate amount of time until it was acceptable to excuse oneself from the table.  She thought she’d keep feeling that awful pick axe of guilt inside her gut forever. But once he’d left the table for the TV room it disappeared. As she cleaned the rice pot in the sink she allowed herself to ponder whether this was the end of her marriage. A relief washed over her and she almost smiled. Oh, it wasn’t that she didn’t love her husband. They had, after all, raised a child together and she had loved seeing him gush over their daughter. Frank was what kept Britney sane she suddenly realized, and without thinking pressed a sudsy hand against her forehead with a startled “Oh”. It wasn’t exactly the realization that she hadn’t been a very good parent… she wiped her forehead with a towel. It was that she felt suddenly free of judgment. Not his, her own. She had messed up with Britney, now he had this. The field was finally level.

He came to bed past midnight. She tried to be asleep by then but was unsuccessful. She wanted to spare him a scene so she quickly shut her eyes as she had done many times before, on those nights. But his hot pulse throbbed next to her and she suddenly wanted him, a feeling that was distantly familiar.
“I was lonely too,” she whispered, almost not loud enough for him to hear. He leaned over and looked her straight in the eye. Intensely, like he used to do many years ago when they dated. Then he pressed his mouth to hers. And it almost hurt.

Monday, May 19, 2014

21 Hours

This past Saturday my son had a choir festival to attend in Fullerton in the morning which would culminate in an awards ceremony at Disneyland in the evening - which meant several hours at Disneyland!!!  I easily could have sent him off and wished him "break a leg" but he keenly wanted me to go, so I agreed to be a driving mom.

We woke at 6am to be to school by 7am to pick up our other charges and transport them to the Festival by 9am.  Thinking it was silly to load a whole pot of coffee I set up my French press instead. And while shoving breakfast into my face the whistle blew on the kettle and I turned off the burner, not realizing until seconds before we left I neglected to actually pour any of the boiling water over the coffee.  Three minutes already late I notice my error and tried to make 'instant' coffee (forgetting that I actually HAVE instant coffee in my cupboard!) by pouring in some water and plunging madly for a few seconds, pour in travel mug and go.  It wasn't until we were well on the road that I tried it.  It was like someone gave me a cup of McDonald's coffee that'd been watered down.  The worst cup of coffee ever.

Surely, I thought, I would find some place nearby the Festival to get a decent cup of coffee - nope.  Surely, once we get to Disneyland I'll sneak away and get a nap - nope.  Or a Starbucks - nope.  As things go with days like this it was a whirlwind of warm up and prep and performance and then quick lunch, get to Disney, park, find friends, run, laugh, stand in line, rush to next ride.... It wasn't until 8pm that night that my son and I realized we were desperately hungry, tired, feet hurt, sleepy, and while we started off with two kids then at the park acquired two more, then lost three, then gained three more plus a parent to hang around with, then another couple of parents, then lost them all... that we finally decided to slow down and eat something and regroup before the awards ceremony.  By that time we were both cranky from hunger and snapping at each other. But finally I got my coffee!

At the awards ceremony his 6th grade choir placed first in their category and his school got a few other awards as well.  We were all excited, exhausted, and ready to go home when on the walk out of the auditorium we heard the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - working!  It had long lines all day, then closed, then opened again, then when we got in line closed not five minutes later.  So, even though it was already 11pm, and the three sets of parents of the kids I was transporting (I acquired another kid to drive home, in case you're counting) expected us back in Palm Desert somewhere around 12:30 am, we HAD to ride it.  And it was worth it.  And it was worth it to make sure each kid had a treat before we left, and mama/driver had a Starbucks (the one in Downtown Disney stays open an hour after the park closes - they know their audience!), and we got a picture of them in front of the lit up castle looking happy and proud, as they should be, even though by the time we were all loaded in the car and heading down the road it was already 12:30 am...

As I drove down the not nearly as deserted as I had expected highway towards home - pushing 20 hours awake by that time (with not nearly enough coffee, do I need to add that?), with four sleeping middle school kids in my charge, the thought came to me that I was once a kid just like them.  And some parent took me on field trips and excursions so that I could have great, long, exciting day like this one, and then sleep in the car on the way back, knowing that I would be magically transported home safely.  A wash of gratitude came over me that I could be that person for these four lovely little human beings, so they could rest, so they could dream about their day, and on Monday share how tired they had been arriving home at 2:30 in the morning on Sunday!  It was an attitude that I have been chasing for years, that everything is enough, that finally caught up with me.  It is the little things that matter the most. The very small big deals like getting a bunch of happy kids home in the middle of the night, and tired as you are, being glad to do it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Makeover" Part 2



When he got home the house was empty.  The guys had taken him out to dinner.  One more quick lesson from Ramos on camera about how to behave in public and the cameraman had left them to the rest of their dinner.  Ramos never did have any advice about how to deal with his wife but he did tell him to hang in and admitted to working for barely more than minimum wage just a year ago.  “And look at me, I’m almost 50!”  It did make him feel somewhat better.
But the Jack buzz had long since been replaced by a paler wine-at-dinner buzz and he was lonely in the house after a week of too many people around.  Cath and the kids were put up in a nearby hotel, forbidden from seeing him till tomorrow night when he’d have cocktails and appetizers in his new studio – which had been re-keyed so even he couldn’t get in to see what they had done – and then off to the bar where he and the band would play a set for the cameras.  He couldn’t get to his guitars, couldn’t talk to his wife.  No comfort left but more booze.  He decided to go to the bar and have a drink even though it would ruin the surprise for Randy, the manager.
When he got there it was almost empty.  Randy poured him a shot and drew him a beer as he walked in.  Am I that predictable, he wondered.  He sat down and took the first sip of his beer before Randy really noticed his hair.  When he did all Randy said was “Wow”.  Keith wanted to ask if he thought it would affect the way people perceived his playing in the band but then it occurred to him that that was a pathetic question to ask.
He looked around and Lila was seated in a booth almost in the back.  He was about to look away, avoid her, when she looked up.  She didn’t recognize him at first, unless she’d done this so many times she’d gotten good at fake surprise.  He nodded when she wide eyed pointed to her head and mouthed ‘hair’.  She gathered up her papers and came over to him.
“My god. That’s good, really great haircut. Can I?” and she touched his now slightly wavy hair atop his head.  “I barely recognized you”.
“What are you doing here?”
“Just having a drink. Going over some stuff. We’re put up in the hotel next door”
“Oh. I didn’t know”.
“Yeah, right. Why would you?” she said without irony. “What are you doing here?”
“Drink. This is where I play. This is where the…”
“Right. Duh.” She ordered another drink and offered to buy him one and though he didn’t often turn down a free drink he turned down this one.  Age had taught him at least one useful thing and that was his limit on alcohol.
“Why weren’t you there today?” he asked after her drink arrived.
“What? The haircut? It’s sort of the guys’ thing. I don’t like to hover too much. Plus I had a phone interview this afternoon. I’m looking for a new job”.
“You don’t like this one?”
“Oh, it’s fine. I like it. It’s actually my first producing gig. It’s just, I’m 36. If I’m going to do anything with my life I need to get a move on.”
“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“Features.” Not quite sure what she meant he nodded anyway.  “I love your wife. She is so cool.” He wondered if she was trying to get the message across that she was not trying to hit on him.  Her eyes had that dreamy look that most guys mistake for amorous but is really just drunkenness. 
“Yeah. I pretty much haven’t accomplished anything I set out to do. I was supposed to have at least one Emmy by now. An Oscar would be fine, but I like television better. And be married, two kids. But I have a great dog, so… I guess I’m not a total loser.”
Keith couldn’t help but laugh.  It seemed ironic that she called herself a loser.  It occurred to him that Joe was right, his wife and kids were the one thing that would always have been the gage to who he was, even if he was the leader of some mega band.
“What would the difference be if you got this new job?” he asked.  Probably good to focus on someone else for a while.
“Uh, I’d work more probably… but it’s not reality TV so that’s good. I dunno. I guess I just feel like I have to keep scratching at it. Keep climbing or something. Like, that’s why they call people in Hollywood sharks. You have to keep moving otherwise you die.”
They talked a little more about Hollywood and Lila’s life there and how she wished she could find a chick as cool as Cathy to settle down with but that it was especially difficult in LA.  No one in the business really approved of lesbians even though technically they didn’t disapprove.  She asked him about his music and was impressed by his rock ballad that had ended up being a country hit.  She thought he ought to just go with it and write country songs.  He thought about the piles of finished and partially finished songs sitting on a bar stool in his studio.  And how, in his current band configuration was uninterested in practicing more than a couple hours a week, so his songs they never got tried out, arranged and played at a gig.  Why didn’t he just record them acoustic and sell them, Lila asked, and hinting at the new recording studio that they put into his studio.  She had tons of friends who were songwriters in LA who’d never had a song on the radio let alone a hit and who always seemed to have writer’s block.  She could introduce him to some managers who she knew were always looking for songs for their clients, she said.
He went home that night feeling filled up.  Not because of the conversation with Lila at the bar so much as the whole thing.  How impressed everyone had been with his kids, his wife, his life and the small successes in the business that he had always thought of as sure signs of what a pathetic, old wannabe rock star he was.  Maybe he should try to need less reassurance from everyone else.  Maybe he spent way too much time worrying about himself and what he didn’t have.  It seemed so stupid that he should have such a revelation after a weeklong makeover reality show shoot and not before in the stillness of some Fall night like this one, standing alone on his gazebo.
The next morning, the crew was late in arriving, well after ten.  The day went like all the others, both long and short.  It seemed like a week and an instant both getting to 10 pm that night when he was supposed to start his ‘gig’.  When they finally arrived at the bar there the crew were lighting and his family were waiting in the lobby.  Of course, the kids couldn’t actually come into the bar but they could listen from the lobby.  Randy thought they might make an exception for the actual shooting though, technically, it wasn’t legal.  Keith was not sure what to expect or what he would say.  He’d been up late playing – Nathan’s small, kid sized guitar, the only one not in his studio – and had written a sort of dedication as a surprise for his wife and kids.  He wasn’t even sure he was going to play it until the cameras started to roll.  His band was a little miffed, he could see out of the corner of his eye, but ten seconds into the song he, finally, for the first time in a long time, didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought and he didn’t need anyone to reassure him. 
When the song was done even his band were a little misty, though they tried to hide it with macho pats on the back and “Great song, man”.  He could see Lila in the back of the room and when he caught her eye she gave him a thumbs up.
He wouldn’t say that week changed his life.  Change takes a lot longer than a week when it’s self inflicted.  He’d gotten some contacts from Lila that had actually panned out. He flew to LA for several days, took meetings and was commissioned to write a couple of ballads for some new pop sensation whose name he couldn’t remember, only that she’d already been on commercials and his kids thought she was ‘pretty good’.  And a new young rock band was recording the song he’d written for his family for their new album… whether it actually ended up on the album, well…  He wasn’t sure if he cared much about that anymore.  In a funny way, doing the whole makeover for the show had made him recapture his youth.  Not the ambition part, but that part of music that had totally absorbed him, where he would disappear into the sensation of just playing and writing and time would pass without needing to eat or rest or even go take a leak.  He could play for 3, 4 hours in a row now and he hadn’t been able to do that in a long time.
Part of it was Joe and Lila and just meeting people outside of his world, and even Ramon a little bit.  And knowing that life is random mostly and ordered sometimes, and there is fate and there is hard work and really none of it matters one way or the other.  It was experiencing his own world just the way it was, he finally realized, that meant something to him.  And when Lila left a message on their machine telling them the show would air that weekend, and she’d gotten the job she had wanted and they should keep in touch, though he knew they wouldn’t, Cath had  wanted to throw a big party for the airing.  But nope, he decided that all he really wanted was a bowl of popcorn, Cath, Nathan and Tilda next to him.  It’d been almost six months since the taping.  He’d forgotten a lot of what happened and a lot of what he had said.  There was some embarrassing stuff.  But the thing that he had missed then, and the thing that made him know now that rabid ambition would never take over and control his happiness again, was when the camera caught his son at the bar, looking at his sister and saying “Dad is so cool” and she nodding her head in agreement.  What more was there really.