Friday, October 30, 2009
Everything was almost ready.
She could hear the others talking and laughing as they walked up the street to her door. They’re here. Celeste looked at her wet hands. There was no time to wash so she rubbed her face and her tattered clothing with her palms, and raked her fingertips through frizzy blonde hair.
She counted to five and opened the door, and laughed when she heard the cacophony of screams and shrieks.
“Trick or Treat!”
The Grim Reaper, otherwise known as her neighbor Freddie, was the first to enter. He gasped as he looked around the room at all of its gory décor.
“You outdid yourself this year! And, wow, couldn’t figure out why you wanted that old mannequin from the dumpster. But, man, it’s freaky.”
The others agreed that they were frightened witless though they laughed and walked to the tables shrouded in misty white vapor trails from the dry ice, and helped themselves to the food and drinks.
At the end of the evening, vampires, witches, French maids, gargoyles and all the other costumed people from Weeping Willow Lane raised their glasses and toasted Celeste on being the scariest person in the neighborhood on this night of all nights.
* * * * * *
Celeste didn’t feel like cleaning up after everyone left, though she did have them take the mannequin and set it by the curb for the garbage collection tomorrow. She went to her bedroom and locked the door behind her.
He was there.
He was lying on plastic sheeting under her window.
All trussed up.
Celeste would never forgive him for telling her that morning that he wanted nothing more to do with her or their relationship – that she was a freak.
What I am, she thought, is a do it yourself type of woman.
She drew the blinds. She picked up the hacksaw.
Friday, October 23, 2009
I loved her very much, once. But I fell crazier in lust with drugs and alcohol, and they became more important to me than anything, even my family. I used an awful lot, you know, and I can’t take that back. It was fun at first. Now, drugs are the only things that keep my darkness away.
We have two children – both of them boys. At the beginning, when they were new and soft and I was clean, I would tell proud tales about them to all my friends. The kids really are chips off the old block, I’d say. Then, later, when I forgot to pick them up from school too many times to count, and when I didn’t pretend to be looking for work no more, their mother asked me to leave. I did. I never contacted her – them – again.
Oh, I knew about their illnesses, their schooling, their sports, their happiness at growing up with a great mom, as well as their questions about having a dad who couldn’t be bothered. I turned to a few friends who kept me up to date. My ex never asked about me, and I guess I’m okay about it since I did throw that life away. You want the cross my heart and hope to … well … the truth? I wouldn’t change a thing. I have everything I want, everything I need. Yeah. I know.
So one cold rainy autumn evening, I’m standing across the street smoking and looking at them through the kitchen window. I catch a glimpse of my oldest boy. He’s carrying dishes to the sink and laughing at something his brother said. Their mother’s dancing around the room while she turns off lights.
It’s time for me to go. I flick the smokes to the curb and its little flame goes out as soon as it hits the oily puddle on the ground. I won’t come back to this corner any more, I decide. As I turn to leave, I’m startled by the sound of the front door opening. I don’t want them to see me so I quickly walk to my car. When I reach for the handle, I can hear the kids saying bye to their mom. She waves and calls out, “Make sure you take care of your brother. Have fun at the game.”
The youngest shouts back. “Mom, come on! Don’t worry. We always do.” He runs ahead to catch up with his brother.
I sit in the car and take one last look through the rearview mirror.
My boys. They are nothing like me.
You know what? That makes me proud.
Friday, October 16, 2009
A disheveled young man came up to Valerie and shouted. “Hey. Wadda ya mean standing here lookin’ like that! I wanna know why ya in my way? I wanna take a picture here.”
He was holding a radio with a missing battery cover. Valerie, not turning her head to him said, “You have no film in the camera.”
He looked at his hands. “Well. Then, ya have any spare change?”
The bus was ten minutes late and Valerie’s eyes kept scanning south, as if through directed strength of gaze, the bus would be pulled along, unable to stay Local and become an Express.
She had to get away from this crazy guy. A cab driver obeyed the come-rescue-me pull of Valerie’s finger and without waiting for the door to be fully closed took off. He tried to make small talk with his passenger but she did not have the look of someone who wanted to hear his words. He turned on the radio and did not say anything until he dropped her off at a house.
“Have a good day.”
Valerie turned to him. “It’s seven o’clock in the evening. I had my day and it wasn’t good.”
The women at the house were already seated in the den and drinking. Mimi, the oldest, opened the door. “You’re very late but The Affirmation Society Meeting can now begin.”
The other four stood up and formed a circle with Valerie and Mimi. They began chanting as they did every week.
“I’m valid. You’re valid. We’re valid.”
Mimi motioned for everyone to sit. “Ladies, here is the plan for tonight. First, we will hear a very nice little story from Lucy about her neighbor’s mother who was in the shower when her uterus dropped.”
She sat down and nodded at the frail woman seated across from her who stood up and cleared her throat for a few seconds.
“For our Design and Conquer portion of the evening, we have underwear, fabric glue, sparkles, beads and, oh I can’t remember. Well, nothing else. Wait! There’s also a prize for the best one.” She sat down quickly. The other women, except for Valerie, clapped.
Mimi took over again. She smiled at Valerie. “Dear, for our Open Up and Let your Heart Show segment, you will tell us about your problems with that horrible man? The others nodded vigorously and applauded some more.
The women were waiting for her to begin so Valerie sat and took out five yellow files from her briefcase. As a caseworker, it was her job to make weekly visits to this group home and to make sure that the residents were well. She would not call them crazy, just –
diminished. They had already forgotten their plans for the evening. They always did.
When Valerie walked to a taxi an hour later, she heard her name and looked up to see the elderly Affirmation Society waving and smiling at the door. Mimi blew her a kiss. Valerie knew that after the women closed the door, they would turn to the orderly waiting for them with their last cups of juice. They would sleep very well, the drugs would see to it.
As the car moved away from the curb, the driver spoke. “How are you tonight?”
Valerie looked at his weary face, and smiled.
“Well, actually, I’m valid.”
He laughed. “Aren’t we all.”
Thursday, October 08, 2009
It’s not like I killed anybody. Or cheated with my neighbor, for God’s sake! I’m here because it’s the end of the week. You know that.
So, what should I tell you? Oh! I’ve managed not to go camping with my friends this year. It’s not easy because everybody I know loves to pitch tents and hang out with Nature. Me? I don’t like crowded living spaces or the lack of privacy or the stupid bugs or that burying of human waste. Yeah. Not good.
Once there, there’s so much work to do! It’s not relaxing. First, you have to find the perfect spot. This takes us all morning, and then we have to set up the tents. Directions claim it’s easy: just put a into b, then twist into c, then – several hours later – point to q. Then scream and throw into the stream.
Well, that’s how I do it.
At this point it’s dusk, and it’s now that people figure out something’s missing. Hot dogs? Marshmallows? Scary stories? Vodka? Hope not. After all, Grandma is with us. Oh, please, not…toilet paper?
It’s matches. Apparently no one smokes anymore.
Of course my friends want to fish for dinner. You would know all about fish, right? Anyway, this part sounded like fun that first time. I thought, how hard is it to stand on the rocks of the rushing water and catch the fish as they jump into your arms? I’ve seen the nature shows, and the bears do it all the time. I was sure my friends were smarter than the average bear. But that’s not how they do it. They prefer the hard way.
Once, I was forced to read a ‘How To’ dig a latrine. It said the hole should be six to eight inches deep. Ugh. I mean, unless I had a ruler, how would I know when to stop? Though I guess I could walk around and look at the guys at the next camp and figure out which one might measure up to … um… never mind.
Oh, sorry Father Thomas. No, I didn’t forget or suffer a stroke of stupidity, why do you ask?
Of course I know I’m supposed to be confessing my sins! But I’ve been really good since that last time, and don’t have anything to update in the evil department. So my thinking was that…
What? Surely not!
Sorry. I’ll go start on all those penances right away.
I mean, Amen.
Friday, October 02, 2009
A few minutes before, he found his phone under the bed and listened to the message asking him to come over to the house right away. He guessed that everything was out in the open now, and they could begin to make real plans. He thought about stopping at their favorite bakery to pick up…something…but this would not be the place or time for celebration. This was going to be hard, not happy.
But he smiled as he walked the short blocks to the other house. They had returned several weeks ago from the most wonderful trip to Italy. It was unexpected luck that they were able to stay at a friend’s house in Umbria for a week. They spent the time there relaxing, and eating all their meals outside under a pergola covered in Virginia creeper just off the kitchen. An ancient elm tree provided shade during the day, and the climbing roses colored everything romantic.
They made promises.
When they came back, they agreed not to see each other for a while. But this morning Adam’s first thought when he woke up was that he did not want to wait anymore, so he was very relieved to get the call. He also felt guilt for the anguish it would cause, but he pushed it away.
The door was not locked so Adam just walked into the living room, and was puzzled when he saw about a dozen people standing around talking. Laughing, too. Then he saw her. Angela. She was seated on the blue couch he knew so well. She looked ill, and he felt guilty again.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Of course I am!”
Her husband was leaning over her but straightened quickly when he saw Adam. He looked shocked. The flush creeping up his neck showed that he was also angry. “What are you doing here?” Evan asked. Angela touched her husband’s arm. “Adam is our oldest friend. I needed him to be here.”
Her mother came into the room carrying champagne. Adam could not understand what was going on. Champagne? For the dissolution of a marriage? He accepted a glass and drank it quickly. He accepted another.
“Oh, isn’t it wonderful, Adam!” This from Angela’s aunt.
“Wonderful? I really don’t know what’s happened.” Several people spoke at once, shouting the news – Angela was finally pregnant. She flashed him the happiest smile he has seen in a long time. “We’re over the moon about this! We’ve been trying and hoping for so long. You know that. I'm sorry I didn't say anything sooner, but I wanted to be…”
She stopped, unsure. Adam’s grip on the champagne flute helped it stay in his hand, though he really wanted to fling it. The surprise on his face, his ashen pallor and unblinking stare made her uncomfortable, and she frowned. But it quickly turned into a small smile. “I’m hoping you’re happy for us?”
Adam nodded and turned away, then placed the glass on the fireplace mantle. He needed a few moments to himself. So. There wasn’t going to be a divorce. A baby! A little bump in the road, so to speak, has stopped everything and there wasn’t anything he could do.
“Adam?” Angela called. “Aren’t you going to say anything, for God’s sake?”
He turned, and gazed at his love, whose flush now reached higher on his face.
“You promised. We promised.”
Evan looked at him with tear-glazed eyes. “I can’t now, Adam. I can’t.”
Everyone stopped drinking, except for a cousin who took the bottle and swigged the liquid. He wanted to drink away what he hoped he was misunderstanding. Angela stood and stared at her husband. She walked over to Adam and put out her hand, then let it drop to the side, wringing and wrinkling the hem of her blouse.
“What…what are you two saying?”
Adam turned to the door and opened it.
He walked out.