Monday, June 6, 2011

On the Road Again -- Section 05 (Still very out of order)

[I only have a vague idea where this part goes in the story. It's after the chase on the mountain, but before lots of other stuff.

[I'm trying to write whatever section seems most exciting to me next, so that's what I wrote. For all three of you still following this, I hope you enjoy.]

    “You look thoughtful,” said Gretchen.
    I realized I’d been staring at the sink. “I guess I just admire your fixtures.”
    “Thanks. I try to keep in shape, but no matter how much you compliment my body, we’re not getting back together.”
    I grinned at her. “Who says I’d take you? We’re much better friends now that we’re divorced.”
    She smiled, but it was a smile with clipped wings. “I suppose that’s true, isn’t it.”
    She didn’t say all the other things she could have said, like how she’d tried for years to make our marriage something special, then how she’d hung on for years after in the hope it might become something at least tolerable, then how she’d hung on longer as my own personal rehab worker.
    I picked up my dishes and walked over to the sink. I plugged one side and started running the water in, as hot as I could manage. “I did bring some good things to the marriage, didn’t I?”
    Gretchen slid her dishes and glass onto the counter next to me and pulled a dish towel off a little magnetic bar stuck to the refrigerator. “Want a real answer, or do I get to make a joke?”
    “You’ve earned a thousand jokes. Ten-thousand.”
    “That’s sweet of you. But now I can’t think of anything funny. I’ll have to make do with a real answer.”
    I shrugged and drizzled in soap. Gretchen thought for a long moment. I wondered why I had asked her that, after so long. I realized I really did want to know the answer. I wanted to believe that I’d brought something more than misery to our marriage. I know I’d thrown in my half of the genetics for our children, but that part of being a father is the easiest part. What had I ever done for Gretchen? Anything worth looking back on? A gravedigger makes holes and fills them, but in the end he’s helped put something to rest. Had I given Gretchen any rest?
    I started washing the dishes as she thought. The water was slightly too hot on my hands, but it felt good. I rinsed the first plate, handed it to Gretchen, and stole a look at her face. There were wrinkles there that I’m sure hadn’t been there twenty years ago, but I couldn’t remember that young face anymore. Gretchen had become this in my mind, mistress of a small piece of tranquility, smooth water in rough seas.
    “You love our daughter,” she said finally. “Both our daughters. You loved them both in a deeper way than I ever could.”
    I stopped washing. “That’s not true.”
    “Yes it is.”
    I felt mad. “You’re doing it again. You did this while we were married, too. You’re making yourself less than you are. If you were the Venus de Milo you’d break your own arms off.”
    “It’s true, Lance. You loved our daughters more than I ever could.” She wasn’t looking at me. She was holding the plate, half dry. “I saw it in you from the moment Bonnie was born, from the time you held Samantha. You loved them with everything from your toenails to your earwax.”
    “That’s kind of disturbing.”
    “Shut up, Lance. I’m giving you a real answer, and if you don’t shut up I’m not saying it. Not now, not ever again.” She still wasn’t looking at me, which was strange for Gretchen. She’s one of those people who makes eye contact, even when, as a guy who’s not known for his emotional openness, I find it completely unnecessary. That got my attention more than her telling me to shut up. Being cut off by my wife was something I’d grown used to, and usually appreciated after the fact. Sometimes well after the fact. She went on. “You held our daughters and your heart was naked. You looked at them like a drowning man looks at land. You were--you were in love, Lance. You were never in love with me that way, and I hated it. I was jealous. An ugly, ugly jealousy, and I hated myself for it, and I hated you for making me that way, and so sometimes, when I should have held you close, I let you walk away, because your daughters loved you back the exact same way. They loved being your land. I told myself that they would love me, too, and they did, but there was a difference. There still is. Bonnie came with me, but only because she knew you were coming, too.”
    “That’s not true,” I said again.
    “Believe what you want,” said Gretchen, wiping the towel over spots of water already dry. “I know what I saw, I know what I felt, and I need to apologize. You brought real love to our family. It was a bit of heaven, and I couldn’t love you for it.”
    I opened my mouth, closed it, and started washing a glass. “I brought a bit of hell, too.”
    She nodded. “There was that.”
    “I did love our daughters. Do. I do love them.”
    “I know that. Look what you gave up for them.”
    That drove a small screwdriver of guilt into my intestines, but I kept it off my face, I think. “It wasn’t much.”
    “You’re right,” she agreed. “Just everything.”
    I half laughed, a puff of old despair and new craving. “Yeah. Just that.” And in spite of giving it up, here I was, back into that old addiction again. But it was different this time, I told myself. Not riding the souls I was holding bound to my soul--not even the dark one that I kept to tightly tied. They were my unlikely bedfellows, a disturbing image, especially when I thought about Annabel laying next to me behind the bushes on the mountain. Four to a bed is too many by two. Not that I would be sleeping with Annabel. Same age as my daughter, I reminded myself.
    “I didn’t mean for it to be that way,” I said. “I wasn’t trying to come between you and our daughters.”
    She shook her head and took the glass from me. “You didn’t. Looking back, I think there was room for me there, too, but I was frightened. You were so hungry for them, I was almost afraid you might turn that hunger toward me, too.” It was her turn to laugh without meaning the smallest part of it. “Jealous of the same thing that frightened me. My own fault. You deserved better.”
    I started to disagree but stopped myself, knowing she didn’t want that from me. “We probably all deserve better,” I said instead.
    “But you stuck with me.”
    “Of course. I’d promised I would.”
    I let my hands sit in the hot water and looked at her. “That promise cost you a lot, though.”
    “Real promises always do.”
    “Sure, but when do you stop? When does a promise become too much? What if another promise comes up? A promise to care for someone else, maybe.”
    Gretchen blinked at me. “Those are contradicting questions.”
    “Sure they are.”
    “Where are you going with this?”
    I didn’t know where I was going. I wanted to apologize for breaking my promise to her, for taking up necromancy again, even if it were different this time. I suppose I wanted her to understand that I wasn’t really breaking my promise to her--there was just something even more important: taking care of a friends’ daughter. She knew how much I loved our daughters. If I explained, I’m sure she’d--never mind. I was starting to sound trite in my own head.
    “It doesn’t matter. I was just thinking. It wasn’t a bad kind of love, was it? The way I loved our daughters?”
    Gretchen reached up and put her hand on the side of my hair. It was a new gesture. She’d only started doing it since we’d moved back to Colorado, and I liked it. “No, it was a good kind of love. Hungry, but generous at the same time. The kind of love only a person as crazy as you could manage.”
    I wrinkled my nose. “Thanks for that. Speaking of daughters, where’s Bonnie?”
    Gretchen went back to drying. “A boy.”
    “Oh. Of course, those are out there, aren’t they.”
    “A few.”
    “Why hasn’t Bonnie told me about this? Did I do something?”
    “No, silly. This is a very recent thing.”
    “How recent?”
    “Last two days.”
    “That’s okay, then. Maybe. Am I old enough to be calm about this yet? It’s not like it’s the first time she’s been on a date.”
    “Won’t be the last, either.”
    “Is this boy a keeper?”
    Gretchen shrugged. “Too early to tell. I’m not sure I’m a good judge of that, anyway.”
    “Right.” She had picked me, after all. “You think about dating?”
    “Me? No. As I said, I’m not such a good judge on these things.”
    I scrubbed the last of the dinner off the last of the plates. “Sure you are. I turned out all right after a while. You saw something in me and I came around. Eventually.”
    She grimaced. “I’m not sure I can handle the ‘eventually’ again.”
    I drained the water and she finished drying. “You’re smarter now than you were. For example, you didn’t stay married to me. You should find someone. You deserve someone. Bonnie won’t think you’re trying to replace me, if that matters to you.”
    “It does,” agreed Gretchen, “and I think you’re right. In fact, to hear her tell it, I know you’re right. She tried to set me up with her math teacher.”
    “Mr. Jackson?”
    “Well. He’s...skinny.”
    “Very. I politely declined. It didn’t seem appropriate to go out with him before she had finished his class.”
    “That’s a convenient excuse.”
    Gretchen made a noncommittal noise. She hung up the towel and I dried my hands on it.
    “Thank you for dinner,” I said.
    “Thank you for paying child support,” said my ex-wife.
    “It’s a good excuse to come by.”
    She nodded. “Yes, it is.”


  1. You have some intriguing points to fill in. Can you develop what hungry love is? Your storytelling is getting even better. Lance's noticing all the details about the house he'd sold to Bela was great--very believable.

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