This is an excerpt from one of my ‘in progress’ novels. I hope you enjoy it.
“and maybe I loved you in another life, and I promised you that I would find you, somewhere on the other side. Or maybe you’ve always been in my subconscious. Nudging me this way and pulling me that way until I found you. I don’t know. But I do know I’ve felt you more than one life should allow.” – jm storm, poet
She stands at her kitchen counter, willing the coffee to brew quicker. She’s often thought of purchasing a programmable coffee maker so she can set it the night before to produce the desired effect moments before she awoke. But then again, that would require her to wake up at an expected time so that the coffee was fresh. That’s a level of commitment I’m not ready for, she thinks as she pours the first half cup of the day.
She flips on the news. The hurricane has decided to go around them. Still, the clouds threaten another severe storm, even if the destruction of the more significant endeavor moves east toward Tallahassee. If it isn’t tornadoes in the southern Midwest, it’s hurricanes and tropical storms in the south. Disasters are everywhere, I suppose.
It’s Sunday. A day at the market, a trip to drop off Jack’s laundry at the school, a scone and tea at Betty’s, and maybe a book unless Netflix can make her a better offer. You’d meet someone if you actually fix your hair and go someplace where there are people. She shakes her head at the thought. Meeting someone is complicated, and it usually ends in disappointment, so she doesn’t bother. She flips off the television, grabs her journal and pen, and settles down with her half cup of coffee, which has already started growing cold.
She hears a car pull up, and she glances out the window. She doesn’t recognize it, but the plates set her back a minute. What the fuck? She takes a deep breath as she sees him get out of the car. What in the world is happening right now? This isn’t possible. Her heart starts to pound and her mouth goes a bit dry. She employs some quick breathing techniques she’s learned from her yoga class to slow down her heart rate.
She throws on a jacket to cover her torso. Sundays are not meant for bras, and the temperature is cold enough that she doesn’t want to inform him that her breasts are still perky at the age of forty-two. He’s rummaging around in his trunk when she opens her front door and walks down the entryway steps. He pauses for a moment, his back tensing, as if he feels her. He turns and looks at her. She cocks her head to the side and raises her eyebrows.
“I got your postcard,” he says as he holds up a weathered piece of mail. She isn’t sure what to say. She’s skeptical. It’s always been…complicated…with them.
“I mailed that three years ago,” she answers.
“I know. It takes me a while to get to the party.” He looks at her, up and down behind his sunglasses, and when his eyes rest on her face, he smiles.
She smiles back, slightly. “I have coffee. Come on in.”
He grabs a duffle bag and shuts the trunk. The horn sounds twice, and the front headlights blink as he locks the car. He follows her up the steps and into the cottage after her. Looking around, he notices small things that most would not: A picture at the fair of her and her son on the carousel. She in front of a green 1972 Ford 150. He sees an entire row of black and white composition books he knows holds years of scattered thoughts and emotion. He sits down on a barstool at the counter.
There is no dining table, which makes him think that maybe she doesn’t do much entertaining. The home is small, only about 900 square feet, but tidy. Everything in its place. It smells like lavender and rosemary.
She hands him a cup of coffee, the carton of half and half, and a jar of individually packaged Splendas. She stands, facing him, with her back against the counter, sipping her coffee, black, from her Wonder Woman coffee mug. He knows she doesn’t drink coffee with Splenda, so for a moment, he wonders who does.
“Still got the mug I see”, he smiles at her. She smiles softly back and shrugs. “I like your house. It reminds me of the one on Elm.” He’s speaking of the house they found one day, walking into an open house and putting an offer on it within minutes.
“I never liked big houses. Too much room for unnecessary clutter and things that require dusting”, she says back. “It’s enough for me.”
“Oh? Where’s Jack?”
“He’s at a boarding school about twenty minutes away. They started back last week”, she turns to fill her cup with more liquid energy. When she turns back around, she notices he is looking at her quizzically. He looks tired, maybe from the drive. His hair is grayer than it was the last time she saw him. He’s thinner, and the wrinkles around his eyes are more prominent than she remembers.
She continues. “They have an excellent program for kids like him. Plus, I thought it would give him a sense of independence. You know I’m always thinking of the future.” Her son was nearly fourteen now, and her constant hovering wasn’t helping him learn any independence. As a late-in-life mother, she realizes the day will come when her son is without her, and she wanted him to be prepared for the future ‘new normal’.
“And what about David?” he asks, referring to her ex-husband, Jack’s father. A one-sound laugh comes from the back of her throat, and she smiles at him. “He just let you up and move?”
“David is David. I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.”
“No more child support if you just sign here on the dotted line?”
“Something very close to that. He and number six took the offer and ran with it. I hear they’re in Arkansas.”
“Six? What happened to five?” he said, referring to the plethora of wives as numbers instead of names. She had been David’s number four. As a joke, and a way to keep from feeling slighted, she had stopped learning their names, merely referring to them by their respective marital number.
“Five wised up after about a year and took off. Six is half his age, doesn’t question the crazy, and works two jobs to support him.” She smiled and shook her head. The pain of that union was gone, replaced by the apathy she had prayed for over and over. She could finally see the gift of the end everyone had told her would come. “He’s a mess.”
“What do women see in that guy?” he asked, as they settle into the conversation as though it was just yesterday they had spoken. This was a question she had asked herself a million times, even while looking in the mirror.
“Beats the shit out of me,” she says as she walks to the refrigerator. She pulls out some cream cheese and apple butter. Then she grabs a loaf of cinnamon raisin bagels from the pantry. She simply lifts the bagels up and looks at him, eyebrows raised.
“Sure.” He says. Cooking was never her thing, and he’s even surprised she has bagels to offer. He had always been the one to bring her groceries and cook her meals. Cooking requires cleaning and I don’t have time for either, she would always say.
He looks at her again. She hasn’t aged at all since the last time he saw her, in fact, she looks younger. Her hair is longer than he’d ever seen it, tucked behind her ears. She’s wearing flowy yoga pants and a tank top with a jacket. He’s guessing, because it is Sunday, that there is no bra under her shirt. He smiles to himself as he thinks Sundays are not meant for bras. He had always loved spending Sundays with her for that very reason. She looks like she’s lost some weight and her face seemed relaxed and soft. He watches her, glancing at her rear end as she turns to put the bagels in the toaster oven.
As if reading his mind, she says, “I’d make you some breakfast if there was anything here to throw together.” Then, as if she had eyes in the back of her head, she adds, “Please stop looking at my ass.”
But it’s such a nice ass, he thinks. He stands up, inhales loudly. “Bathroom?”
“Around the corner,” she motions past the kitchen. Most of the time, the bathroom is clean now that she isn’t sharing it with a teenage boy every day. “There’s extra TP under the sink.”
He walks in the direction she had pointed. He takes an extra few minutes in the bathroom to catch his breath. His heart feels like it is going to explode in his chest. He’s been up all night, driving, hoping and praying she wouldn’t turn him away when he arrived. She’s never turned you away, you ass. You’re the one who was always slamming the door on this.
The toaster buzzer sounds, and he smells the bagels as she places them on the plate. He takes note of the pictures on the walls as he walks back into the kitchen.
“How’s your mom?” he asks.
“She died last year.” She’s surprised he didn’t know. He had always kept tabs on her through social media and mutual friends. “There wasn’t a funeral, just a quick graveside thing. It’s what she wanted.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” He spreads cream cheese on a bagel half and adds a dollop of the apple butter. He takes a bite, and his eyes widen.
She raises her eyebrows with a look of pride and gives him a grin. “I know, right? I made it myself.”
“Nicely done.” He says, his mouth still full. She was always good in the kitchen, but never took the time to make a big deal about meal preparation. She preferred the simple life, often opting for crackers and cheese for dinner instead of a full meal. Sometimes weeks would go by without the oven even being turned on. Now, with Jack gone, the toaster oven and a griddle do the trick.
She busies herself with the cleaning of crumbs, a little nervous to sit down and enjoy the moment. She’s still confused about why he’s even here, although she had invited him. Once.
She takes a deep breath and looks at him. They’d know each other now for thirty years. There was no reason to beat around the bush. She stops what she’s doing and decides to just ask him.
“So,” he says.
“What are you doing here?”
“I told you. You invited me,”, he reaches back into his front pocket and pulls out the postcard. She catches a glimpse of her handwriting. With its torn edges, the postcard appears to have been used as a drink coaster a time or two.
“You’re always welcome. This is my new address: 1050 Invicta Lane. Perdido Keys, FL. There’s no need to call first, although my number will be always be the same in case you need it for anything.”
“Joe,” she starts. “I mailed that card right before the U-Haul pulled out of my driveway. I haven’t heard from you in three years. I knew you weren’t dead – I still talk to John. But come on,” she sighs. “What’s up?”
He sighs. “There’s a lot to tell.”
She inhales. There’s always a story with him. She lets out her breath slowly.
“Yeah?” She looks at him and then motions to the door. “Then grab your coffee. The weather is perfect this time of year, and I need the fresh air. Let’s go outside near the cove.”