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Writing Fiction - Chapter 31
Here's where Chapter 30 left you.
Jay replied harshly. “Ex. Ex-wife. How did she take it? She didn’t take it too well,” and then he went on to explain.
“Before I left to pick her up, I put one of my son’s t-shirts on the couch and let Spot lay on it. It seemed to calm him down a little bit. And then I left to pick up my wife. As soon as I drove up to her office, she came out the front door. I think she was standing there watching for me. She got in the car. I started to tell her, but she stopped me, ‘Don’t! Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!’ I took her hand and she pulled away. It was weird, Pearl. She was MAD! At me! Like it had been my fault. I tried taking her hand again, but she looked at me and said, ‘Don’t touch me. Don’t! I need to think.’ We drove home in silence.
“One of the military guys had given me an envelope. I’d thrown it on the little table by the door. When we walked inside, she saw the letter right away. Spot came running and she screamed at him, “Get out! Get away from me! I hate you!” She grabbed the letter and ran upstairs. I should have followed her. I know it. I was a rotten husband. I heard her screaming in our bedroom, but I couldn’t go up there. I just sat down on the bottom step and held Spot. I started to cry. I swear Spot started to cry, too. I sat on that stair and cried until I felt sick. Spot wriggled in as close to me as he could. He kept trying to lick my tears. He kept trying to lick my hand. He was trying to comfort me. I could still hear my wife crying upstairs. I didn’t try to comfort her. I couldn’t. I don’t know why. I had Spot comforting me and she didn’t have anybody.”
AND WE CONTINUE WITH CHAPTER 31
While Jay and I had been talking, or maybe I should say, while Jay had been talking, the sun had climbed higher in the sky. Now Jay was almost backlit by the bright light and I had a hard time seeing his face clearly. I was afraid if I tried to move, it would break the spell and he would quit talking. I'm a little ashamed to say I was being extremely nosy about what happened next with his wife…I mean, ahem, his EX-wife.
The other problem was that my calf muscle was thinking quite seriously about torturing me. I decided to distract Jay for a moment so I could change positions on my damp, grassy seat. At first, I thought about pretending to see a rare animal over by one of the mausoleums (Look, Jay! Is that a sparkly unicorn behind that monument), an idea I quickly discarded when I recognized it might be a bit over the top. Instead, I pointed and said, "Look, Jay! I wonder how that guy got so many flags on his grave!"
When Jay turned his head to look, I quickly wiggled around and stretched my legs out. I fretted again about how I was going to get up from the grass when our conversation was over.
With a quizzical look, Jay turned back to me and said, "Ummm... yeah, Pearl, that's only two flags. Is that what you were pointing at?"
I pretended to be ditzy for a moment and murmured something about not having my reading glasses. Jay look perplexed and I feared that I might have derailed his train of thought. My mother, God rest her soul, had always told me I could confuse Confucius with my random observations. My mother, God rest her soul, had always been able to make me feel like an idiot in 1.2 seconds and...
Jay interrupted MY train of thought, thank heavens, and started talking quietly again.
"Yeah, where was I...ummm... okay, so Spot and I were sitting on the step listening to her cry. I figured it was a good time to tell Spot what had happened, so I got his leash and a plastic grocery bag...you know? Just in case. He wasn't in a walking mood and I had a pretty good idea he already knew what had happened, but I urged him outside anyway. One of my neighbors was standing in their driveway, looking at me. I think he said something to me, but there was this buzzing noise in my ears and I couldn't make out what he was saying, so I just ignored him. So, yeah, then Spot and I walked a few blocks up to the little park on the corner. I picked him up. You know he's just a little guy, right? And I just held him on my lap for a little bit, patting his fur. Did you notice when you had him how wiry is fur is, Pearl? I swear that dog could collect half the back yard in it. My wife used to get so ticked off when he would carry little bits of leaves and sticks into the house. After the third or fourth time, she told me that if I wanted to keep Spot in the house, I’d have to take over vacuuming and sweeping the floors.
"I figured, big deal, a little bit of housework was a small price to pay for finally having a dog in the house, so I kept the floors clean. I didn't really care that I was the peck-ee and she was the hen, you know? So, when I got Spot into my lap, he let out a big sigh and leaned against me. We sat for a long time on that bench before I could get up the nerve to tell him.
"Wait. Now that I think about it, where did you find Spot? Was it on the corner of Elmwood and Harris?
I had to think for a moment. I had a little difficulty sometimes remembering all things geographical. Before my husband ‘followed his heavenly GPS’, he used to kid me that my memory for places was like a steel trap, rusted shut. I never understood exactly what he meant, but I suspect it wasn’t complimentary. After I thought about the street names a little more, though, I think I remembered Elmwood as one of the names. “I’m pretty sure Elmwood was one of the streets,” I told Jay.
I thought back to sitting on that bench and crying my eyes out. I started to get angry again when I remember how mangy, scroungy, dirty, ugly, and smelly Edgar was when I found him. I opened my mouth to yell at Jay, right as he started talking again. Lucky for him I was polite and rarely interrupted another person when they were talking.
“Anyway, so, I just sat there with Spot for awhile, getting up the nerve to say the words out loud. I finally had to whisper in Spots ear, ‘He’s gone, Spot. I’m sorry, boy but he’s not coming back. I guess you’re stuck with me now’.
“Spot didn’t react at first and then, suddenly, he jumped off my lap and crawled under the bench. He just laid there. I gave him a little space and he gave me a little space. We grieved together until it started getting late in the afternoon, and then we went home.
“I never went back to that bench again. Spot and I always walked the other way. Damn, Pearl. That’s why I never looked for Spot there. It was almost a year after … after… okay. Almost a year had gone by, so when Spot ran away I never, ever thought to look there. That’s why I couldn’t find him. God, oh God! How could I have been so stupid? How could I…”
Jay’s voice trailed off again. He leaned back onto his elbows and closed his eyes.
I took advantage of the moment to quickly try stretching my legs again. I kind of rolled my hips around a little bit and the cramp started easing off a bit. Jay continued talking, without opening his eyes.
“Pearl? Is this too much? Am I boring you?”
“Not at all, Jay,” I reassured him, “I’m glad I can be here to listen to your son’s story. I know it seems so clichéd to say this, but I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
“Thanks, Pearl. I’ve heard that from almost everyone. Everyone except…well, his Mom. You know how I told you she seemed angry at me? It got worse. I always thought grief was supposed to bring people together…yeah, well, that certainly didn’t happen with us. As the days passed and we planned all the nightmare stuff, things got worse. We did the calling hours…I think half of the town came. We did the funeral. I think I was numb. She said I didn’t care. She said I was an ass and a selfish jerk and I didn’t care about her misery. But every time I tried to comfort her, she said I wasn’t any help. She was mad I didn’t cry. I did. I thought my eyes would fall out from crying. She was mad when I did cry. She was mad when Spot barked. I tried. I swear to God I tried, but it was like he was only her son and she was the only one allowed to suffer. I kept telling myself… ‘for better or worse, better or worse’ but all it was every single second of every single day was worse! I tried telling myself, ‘Suck it up, Jay, put your feelings on hold, it’s harder on mothers, but it was relentless. She said I’d made him enlist, that I’d encouraged him with stories of his grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s military careers. And then…and then…
Darn! Darn, darn, darn! I was riveted to Jay’s story, but my calf muscle was really, really close to cramping. I didn’t know what to do. I tried bending my knees up and discretely massaging the offending muscle. Has that ever happened to you? At a totally inappropriate time your body decides to show you who’s the boss? I was just thanking my lucky stars that I hadn’t had a gas attack while I was listening. That would have been hard to explain. “Ummm…what do you mean ‘What was that noise’, Jay? Obviously it was a black-winged fartbird.” See what I mean? Totally inappropriate times.
Jay continued his silence, until I gently prompted him, “And then what, Jay?”
He seemed startled and confused for a moment. I think he was so immersed in his memories, he might have forgotten I was even there. “Then? Oh. Then things got even worse. We’d come here on his birthday together. She’d brought flowers; I’d brought his favorite beat-up metal backhoe he’d played constantly with as a child. For some reason that made her mad. Really mad! It’s not like I was digging around in the dirt by his grave, you know? But, yeah, she was just royally pissed off about the backhoe. ‘Oh, great father you are! Can’t even bring flowers to your DEAD son! What’s wrong with you? Are you just a moron? A stupid idiot?’ God! That was just it. I was sick of it, Pearl! I was sick of being the brunt of her anger. I’d lost a child, too! I’m…okay, I’m just ashamed to tell you that I got really ticked off. I started shouting back. There was a really old man standing over by that grave…
Jay motioned toward the grave I’d pointed out earlier with two flags on it…
“Yeah, I was just done. Done with all the crap she kept heaping on me. All the criticism. All the bullshit…” Jay’s voice grew softer. “I went over to the flowers she’d placed on the grave and grabbed them. Oh yeah, I told her. Yeah. Flowers. Because HE LOVED FLOWERS, didn’t he? I’m not the one who bitched every single minute of every single day because he left his dog with us. In fact, maybe it’s your FUCKING FAULT HE’S DEAD! Maybe he was so fucking worried about his dog he wasn’t paying attention and…”
At that exact moment, my Charlie horse won! It grabbed me by the calf and wouldn’t let go. I let out a scream. I rolled onto my back on the grass and tried to straighten my leg. I screamed again, “Oh my God, oh my God! OH NO, OH NO, OH NO!”
Jay looked at me in shock. His eyes widened. He jumped to his feet.
I put my hand over my mouth to hold back another scream.
“Great,” he gritted out, “Just fucking great. You women always side together, don’t you? All the absolute, total and complete bullshit I put up with from her every day and I get mad one frickin’ time and I’m the evil one? Well you know what, Pearl? Fuck you! Fuck you and your little ‘oh, let me help you and listen to you attitude’! You are a big, fat, FAKE nice person!”
And then he stomped off.
That darned cramp had me so hard that I couldn’t even get up to chase after him. I kept bending my toes back toward my shin while I watched him slam into his SUV. I kept trying to flex the cramp out of the muscle while I watched him peel out on the gravel of the narrow driveway.
By the time the cramp finally dissipated, Jay was long gone, and I was left sitting on the damp grass wondering how in the world I was going to get to my feet.
To be continued, Tuesday, April 19.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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