New Stories for June 15, 2020
I’m alone in the house, which is a blessing of sorts. I’m sick and it’s hard to be sick with kids. To put them in front of a screen to watch god knows what on YouTube so that I can snatch a bit of rest and be ready to go tomorrow, or as ready to go as I can be before the onslaught of dressing, feeding and moving a stubborn and unruly army, none of whom can tie their own boots.
But this loneliness is hard in its own way too. The alone-ness is hard. I think of Demeter and wonder how she spent the days when her daughter was not with her. How each fall her sadness breaks the world, stops the sun from shining and brings quiet and cold to the world around her, and I feel a certain sympathy with her as the days shorten, the air turns cold and the northwest rains return.
Her story, her daughter’s story has been on my mind a lot lately. Originally it was a story of a mother losing her daughter to abduction and marriage, but since the separation I can only see it as a story of shared custody, a family split apart and a daughter torn between two households, two angry, unhappy parents sharing their most beloved possession half a year at a time.
It is a fitting theme for this time of year, as summer dies away, gold fills the gutters and is washed away by the rain. Persephone has returned to her father’s home in the underworld, where she will stew for six cold months before returning home to Demeter. The world dies away as the goddess’ mourning takes hold; slowly at first, and then with the full force of winter’s withering grip. Only when the return of her daughter seems imminent does the world begin to thaw, and the joy of their reunion brings the world back into bloom.
My own world now has two weeks of winter sewn into every month. My ex and are splitting custody 50/50, trading the children and all the responsibility they entail every Friday afternoon. Life is simpler without the kids. There are fewer deadlines, less hassle, less hustle, less laundry, fewer arguments and much more free time for reading, writing, socializing and sleeping. It is simpler, but it is not easier or better.
I love being a father. My children give my life meaning. I write that and I see the danger in the statement. In this world of self-empowerment, depending on others for meaning is a dangerous thing, a lesson my marriage has already taught me, all caps and italics. But that is my experience, the experience of Demeter whose world withers and dies without the presence of her daughter. I do not wither, I do not die, but I lose my center, my family. My family is taken away from me twice a month and I’m a left alone to stew and ponder. I am transformed into my pre-family, pre-marriage state, a self I’d sought to shed through accumulation, but one it turns out I could not outrun or escape.
I can’t remember what was on those cups. Some sort of floral pattern maybe. I ended up using ones with chrysanthemums. I got them from the thrift store on Pearl Street. It took some doing, but I found that wine too. The one with the frogs on it.
“I can’t remember which cup is mine.” I say out loud as if you’re here, like we were years ago. I pretend to hear your response from back then.
“It doesn’t matter. We’ll be swapping more than spit before the night’s over.” And you grabbed a cup and swigged the wine like it was lager.
It took me years of smelling incense, essential oils, perfumes, and colognes to find that lavender you wore. In truth I never really found it. The closest I ever came was a bar of soap I discovered at one of those craft booths at the Fair one year. My girlfriend at the time handed it to me and said, “Don’t you love the smell of lavender?” No. I loved a woman who smelled like lavender. I take out the bar of soap and inhale. You’re almost here.
I sip the wine and close my eyes. The wine on my tongue, the smell of lavender in my nose, and Toad The Wet Sprocket in my ears. I can almost see you stepping out of the shower.
I didn’t know I was going to do this. It started with an innocent search for an Airbnb. I just wanted a place to stay that wasn’t home. I needed space to work on the novel. I clicked on the photo of the house because it looked familiar. I didn’t realize it was your father’s old place until I saw the interior photos.
I told myself it was a nice place and that it would be good to work in a familiar setting, but as soon as I reserved it I knew tonight was happening. How could it not?
I tap through photos of you on my phone. I finish the wine. I say your name. I say it again louder. I say it as if you’re still somewhere in this house, as if we’re still in our twenties, as if your father didn’t sell this house, divorce your mother, and move to Toronto. I say your name as if you can hear me.
Rocky had just worked a double shift and was having trouble keeping his eyes open. He had been to the laundromat before his first shift started, so he had been going for over 18 hours. He was beat! Ten more minutes of driving and he would be home. He cheered himself up with the thoughts of all that tomato-season overtime. The cannery would pay him for twenty-two hours even though he had only worked sixteen. He was saving every penny that he could. He had big plans for his future and wasn’t going to squander this opportunity to make his fortune.
Nothing was going to derail him from making a lot of money and becoming somebody! He started to nod off to sleep when he was jerked awake by his ancient Volkswagen humping and bumping off the road and onto the shoulder. He braked to a stop.
“Jeez, I thought you were going to run me over! Anyway, thanks for stopping.” A young woman wearing a bicycle helmet was cradling something in what appeared to be a shirt of some kind. It must have been her shirt, he thought, since she was wearing a bra, but no shirt. Despite the adrenaline coursing through his veins, little of it had reached his over-tired brain and he was still in somewhat of a dream state.
“I was out for a ride and like I got a flat and when I was sitting down kinda looking at my tire I heard like a mewing sound and it was coming from a big paper sugar bag but when I opened the bag I found like a bunch of eggshells and snails and this little kitten inside. And she was like moving and mewing and then she stopped doing anything and so I kinda wrapped her in my shirt and figured I didn’t have time to fix the flat. And so I started waving at the cars and you stopped and we need to, like, take her to the animal hospital or something!”
Rocky tried to keep up with all the words she machine-gunned at him, but could only get out, “I don’t know where a people hospital is, let alone an animal hospital.” He didn’t add that he had no time for hysterical girls and that all he really wanted to do was go home and sleep.
“I got it on my phone. Can we take my bike too? I don’t want to leave it here.”
His VW bug came with a roof rack when he bought it, so he swung the bicycle up and secured it to the rack with a couple of bungee cords she had in her bicycle’s basket. She was in his field of vision when he was securing the bicycle and he was having difficulty concentrating on the task at hand. He had seen much more skin on the tourists who came into his parents’ souvenir shop back home, but on this morning, he was definitely distracted by her flawless pale skin. “I have some clean t-shirts in the baskets in the back. Perhaps you would care to put one on.”
“Oh yeah, sorry. Thanks! That’s so sweet. Hey, you have kind of an accent. I’m Emily. What’s your name? Where are you from? Just go straight on this road for a mile and a half.”
“Everyone calls me Rocky. I’m from Trinidad.”
“I’m not very good with geology…that’s kinda between Hawaii and New Zealand. Right?”
He was having trouble gauging her seriousness and keeping up with her speech delivery, so responded with a weak, “I suppose one could say that.”
“So what brought you here? Turn left at the light.”
“My sister married an executive at Intel in Folsom. He sponsored my immigration. I don’t have much computer acumen, so I got a job in the label room at the cannery.”
“D’you like it here? I don’t. I’m thinking about moving to France or Cleveland. Take the next right.”