Sailing Sideways

Some kid shit in the pool so it was shut down for the afternoon.  There was only a week left to summer vacation and Tony and I were bored because we spent most days at the pool or at the park behind our cul-de-sac.   We were too old for the playground, but I liked to read and Tony liked to nap in the grass. It was too hot to be at the park so we were at Tony’s house trying to find something else to do.
Tony yawned in his bean bag as I searched the videogames for Tetris.  Just as I turned on the T. V., Tony’s brother Jeremy stormed into the room.
“Get out,” Jeremy said, “I have to get the room ready.”
“Ready for what?” Tony asked, annoyed and not moving.   
Jeremy was three years older than us and mostly a jerk.   He had just gotten his license and had a different girl over each week.   
“What do you think?” Jeremy said biting his lower lip and thrusting his hips at us.

Earlier that summer, Tony and I listened in on Jeremy and some girl.  We sat in the bathroom with our ears pressed to the wall.  I was on the counter, Tony in the bathtub.  The sounds coming from the other side of the wall sounded like slapping. I imagined hipbones crashing and thighs smacking against each other.  I imagined it was painful.  

“So get out,” Jeremy said holding the door open.  
Sighing, Tony grabbed something from the closet and I followed him downstairs.

Tony’s mother Clea was whisking batter in a ceramic bowl.  She still made cupcakes once a week for the convalescent home.  We decided to help her decorate the batch that was already cooled and sitting on the table.
“You kids haven’t done this in years,” Clea said.  
     “We were bored,” Tony said taking a spoonful of batter from his mother’s bowl.  
”And Jeremy kicked us out,” I said.
“That boy has made all my hair turn gray,” Clea said, setting the bowl on the counter and using her sleeve to wipe her forehead.
     Clea’s hair was piled on the top of her head in a bun.  She had several strands of gray that stood out against the rest of her black hair.  I wondered if my mother would have gray hair by now.

When my mother was alive, she and Clea would spend most afternoons together.  They’d spend hours cracking eggs and sifting flower in the kitchen.   They baked cupcakes for a convalescent home almost daily.  
     “We should open a cupcakery,” Clea said as my mother measured milk.
     “A cupcakery?” My mother asked.
     “You know, like a bakery, but we’d only sell cupcakes. ”
     Tony and I nodded vigorously imagining the endless supply of our mother’s cupcakes.
On the last day of summer before we started Kindergarten, our mothers let us drop confetti sprinkles on the frosted tops.  Tony managed to get batter in his hair and on his shirt and around his mouth.  He was oblivious as my mother scattered pink sugar crystals onto the sticky mess of his hair.  Clea and I giggled until my face turned red and Tony finally noticed.  That was the last time my mother made cupcakes in Clea’s kitchen.


     My mother was teaching me to tie my shoes the night before I started Kindergarten. We practiced using my first pair of laced shoes. They were white with highlighter pink laces.
     “Hold the bunny ears tight,” my mother said.   “So they don’t fall off. ”
     She held her laces in perfect loops while I struggled; making my own lopsided bunny ears.
     She got up to check on dinner, but leaned against the table catching herself; her hand turned white against the wood.  She stared at me or behind me for a moment.  Her other hand was on her chest.  She tried taking slow, deep breaths, but her eyes rolled into her head and she collapsed.  Her mouth was open, but I don’t think she was breathing.  I screamed for my father as her body shook and flopped against the floor.   
In only his underwear, my father ran into the kitchen.
     “Unbutton her blouse,” he said as he rolled her to one side.
     I cried while my mother gagged; spitting up her insides.   Blood trickled from her nose, leaving mud-colored stains on the linoleum.   She died a week later.


“It’s amazing how much you look like your mother,” Clea said looking right into my eyes.
All I can picture is my mother’s face.  Her face pressed against the linoleum.  Her pale face behind tubes and breathing masks.  Her face before the casket shut.  When I look into a mirror, I don’t remember my mother the way they saw her.
I swallowed a bite of devil’s food cupcake and half smiled at Clea.  She had looked away and was already prepping a pan for the batter.  I was relieved she dropped the subject of my mother.  I was glad when Tony suggested we go to the park.  

“Look what I stole from Jeremy,” Tony said pulling a joint out of his front pocket.
I was sitting next to him in the mouth of the yellow tunnel slide.  The streetlights had just buzzed and flickered to life.  The sun was just setting and the sky was changing into a dirty orange glow.  
The joint was smaller than I expected and it reminded me of a Q-tip.  Rolling it back and forth between his fingers, Tony held it beneath his nose, breathing in, imitating his brother.   
“Here goes nothing” Tony said lighting the end with a nervous hand and putting it to his mouth.  The paper pulled the fire in.  I smiled nervously as he inhaled and then coughed.
“Here you go,” he whispered.  He handed me the rolled white paper; I looked at it and shrugged and put it to my mouth trying to suck in the fire. I didn’t feel anything but I pretended to cough and handed it back to him.
“You didn’t get any,” he said.
“I did too,” I said, but I was lying.
    But then I laughed and he laughed and Tony inhaled again this time blowing smoke in my direction.  This time the smoke made me cough for real and I grabbed the joint from him, careful not to touch the lit end.  I breathed in slowly. I felt the burning down my throat, but didn’t stop until my lungs were screaming. I coughed and wheezed and laughed and he laughed.  
When the joint was too small to hold, I threw it on the ground because I was afraid to burn my fingers.  Tony watched as it fell to the ground.  Then we looked at each other and nodded.  We slid down the yellow tunnel to the playground sand.  When we landed, Tony headed towards the teeter-totter, but I was wearing shorts and didn’t want to sit on splinters so I said,
“How about the merry-go-round?”
Tony smiled and started running and I followed, stretching my arms wide enough to hug the wind; my fingers sailing sideways.  
     When we reached the merry-go-round, on opposite sides, we each grabbed a red handle.  We started pushing against the metal and it creaked, moving slowly at first. But steadily we started running, pushing harder and with more effort.  Then we sprinted in circles until my feet just grazed the ground.
“Jump on,” Tony said.  
And I did. I watched as the park swirled around me.  We were moving so fast and everything was spinning.  The world was moving in blurs and circles. 
But then my hands began to slip and I slid toward the edge. 
At first, it felt like flying, but then it felt like falling.  
And when I hit the ground, I was dizzy. The world was slowly steadying and soon it all stopped moving.
From the grass, I watched the merry-go-round.  It spun around and around. I watched Tony, listened to his laugh, circling.
I thought about his world. I imagined his laugh never slowing, never stopping.  

The Smallest Things

Beth’s husband Charlie snores softly, and she thinks that this is when he’s least annoying.  It’s when he’s asleep, that she sort of likes him—the only time she can actually stand his presence.
    "If I were going to leave you, I'd do it like this," Beth whispers as she moves Charlie’s heavy arm from her stomach. 
He rolls away towards his side of the bed and Beth thinks she smells piña coladas.  She holds her arm to his back—comparing the difference in their skin color.  Charlie’s normally light skin is a rich golden color.  She remembers his skin being the same shade after their honeymoon in Hawaii.  She traces her fingers along his newly defined shoulder muscles.
“Check out my trapezius” he said last week while flexing his back muscles in front of the bedroom mirror.
“Traps, Charlie. Nobody uses the full name.”
“I saw a flyer at the gym today, there’s a body building competition this coming January in Hawaii.  I was thinking we could make it a trip for our three year anniversary.”
Beth had ignored her husband’s idea about the body building contest and vacationing in Hawaii because she was annoyed with him.  He had never been the type to worry about his appearance, but lately, he’s been working out six days a week and sometimes when he comes home, Beth thinks she smells tanning lotion. 
She imagines Charlie in a hot pink Speedo—his muscles bulging, his skin hairless and brown and covered in baby oil.  She does not like the idea of him flexing his gluteus maximus on stage. She does not like the idea of his muscles growing and hardening. She knows that Charlie is different, she knows that  she does not like it. 

Charlie takes a deep breath as he shifts his body again, kicking the comforter off his feet. Beth holds her breath until he’s snoring again. The thrill of him almost waking excites Beth more than it actually makes her nervous. 
Beth read somewhere that even the sleeping have a sort of waking subconscious.  That her husband hears her every night explaining how she’ll leave him. Beth does this so when she actually does leave, it isn't as big of a shock.  She always talks gently to Charlie, like a mother reciting a lullaby to her child.     
     "I'd roll out of bed, slip on my sandals, and walk out the door,” Beth says into Charlie’s ear before climbing out of bed.

   Usually when she leaves, it's only for a little less than an hour. Enough time for Charlie to worry, if he ever woke up. Enough time for her side of the bed to cool off. Enough time to eat a bowl of Cheerios and watch a single I Love Lucy episode.
Their television is in the kitchen because the living room is being remodeled.  There is plastic everywhere, covering everything.  It has been under construction for almost six months.  Charlie and Beth never planned to remodel, but these sort of things just happen sometimes. It has been so long that Beth doesn’t even remember what the room used to look like. 
The new wall was finished a few days ago, but the painters are waiting for Beth to pick a color.  She decided that she hates both of the swatches that are painted on the wall in squares, side by side. ‘Canary yellow’ and ‘Lemon zest yellow’. 
Yellow, she thinks, is exactly the wrong color for her new living room.

  "I'm leaving you now. Good-bye Charlie," Beth says before closing the bedroom door. 
    This is her favorite part because it feels so final. She never really knows if she’ll return to her sleeping husband until after the credits, until after the infomercials come on. Deciding to return—which she always does—is her least favorite part about leaving.
Tonight she is more anxious than excited. Beth knows if she woke Charlie, he would say “it's probably from all the caffeine you drink, just close your eyes and relax.” These are the nights when Beth is most annoyed with her husband.  If she could relax, she would.  Charlie used to rub her back and tell her stories of his childhood in New Jersey. 
Now Charlie will roll onto his stomach, mumbling, “Just relax, Beth.  Try to sleep.”   
To help calm her nerves she sometimes practices yoga. The downward dog is still her favorite position because it doesn't agitate her hip. Six months ago, she could do almost twenty different yoga moves.  Now, most of the positions she remembers make her cramp up. Beth finds that lately she gets more dizzy than relaxed.

In the kitchen, Beth keeps opening the cupboards—cursing Charlie’s name.  She hates when he rearranges the kitchen without telling her.  She never can find the cereal bowls.  Finally, Beth settles for a bag of half-eaten potato chips and turns on the television.  Tonight, there is no I Love Lucy episode.  Beth sighs and flips through the stations.  After a few minutes, Beth stops on the travel channel.  They are doing a countdown for the best honeymoon locations in the world. 
Jamaica would have been more exciting than Hawaii, Beth thinks as a couple walks along the water of a white-sanded beach.  She tries to remember her honeymoon—the name of the hotel, even just the island they stayed on—but her mind is blank.  She walks into the office to find the wedding album.  Beth almost drops the photos when she reads a caption beneath a picture of her and Charlie.  It is written in her handwriting “Our first night in Fiji.”    

    It is almost three in the morning.  It is just as Beth had planned.  She grabs the already packed suitcase from the closet and walks quietly to her car.  She opens the driver’s side door and places the bag on the passenger seat as she climbs in. Beth puts the keys in the ignition but doesn’t start the engine. Instead, she puts the car in neutral—keeping one foot on the brake and one foot on the ground. It is more difficult to back out of the driveway in neutral than Beth had anticipated, but there are no cars parked in the street so she manages not to hit anything.
    Once the car is started, Beth knows exactly where she is headed, without exactly knowing why.  She drives past her mother's house.  Past the hospital she visits regularly.  Past the supermarket.  Beth drives fast, past her favorite coffee shop even though it’s open.  She drives without hesitation, without thought.                         
    It takes her two hours to get to the cemetery.  The sky is almost purple.  Dawn is lurking, slowly making the world glow between the shadows of the night and the gentle dew of the morning.  It is almost 5:00 AM, Charlie will be waking up soon for his morning workout.  Beth thinks about him worrying, she thinks about her side of the bed being empty, her pillow being cold and vacant. 
     Six months ago, Beth woke up on the couch to a muted television and an empty house.  It was almost midnight and Charlie wasn’t home from work yet.  Her dinner was cold on the coffee table.  It had been three nights in a row she had eaten dinner alone and fallen asleep on the couch.  She called Charlie at his office and he said he would be home in less than an hour.  Beth stayed on the couch because she hated being alone in their bed. 

“It happened without reason, these sort of things just happen,” the nurse told Beth when she finally woke up.  The nurse retold the story with her hands, accenting and pausing on the dramatic parts.  Beth felt like she was being updated on the latest plot to a soap opera.  She wondered why Charlie wasn’t there telling her about the accident. 
“There was only a half a second warning before the car crashed through your bay window.  You fell asleep on the couch waiting for your husband to come home.  A neighbor fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into your house.  The car moved slowly but it still crushed your insides.  Your neighbor died because his head hit the windshield. You lived because God wanted you to live.”
The nurse said Beth was lucky.  The Doctor said she’d be able to walk without pain eventually.  Living, for Beth, didn't feel very lucky when her husband was always away.  Charlie was still working late every night.  He could barely look at Beth in the eyes when he visited on his lunch break.  He bought his gym membership while Beth was still recovering.  
“Mom, why doesn’t Charlie look at me?” Beth would ask her mother at the hospital.
 “When it’s time, you’ll remember the little things you’ve forgotten.  When God thinks it’s time, you’ll remember,” she would say to Beth.
Beth used to think her mother and the nurse could have been sisters.  Not because they looked alike, but because they said the same things to Beth when Charlie wasn’t around.

The cemetery begins to wake with the sunrise.  Beth watches the sunlight erupting through the grass and the graves and the trees.  There are churches and chapels and temples on each of the major hills.  For Beth, the buildings stand together in unity—the different lives, the range of ages, the different religions.  Eventually, all those differences will end up the same.
Beth parks her car on top of one of the hills.  The view is of the young children's plot. The still born babies.  The kids who died of heart failure before they could walk.  The graves are surrounded by stuffed elephants and flamingos, balloons and an assortment of daisies clutter the ground. 
Beth begins to cry just as the sun fully rises, the warmth radiates through her windshield onto her skin.  Suddenly, she feels like she has lost everything.  A sense of familiarity pulls Beth out of her car and points her in a particular direction.  She stops just beneath a willow tree.  Beth stops inches away from an engraved marble headstone.  There are no flowers, no stuffed animals, no windmills.  There is nothing but grass.  Beth realizes what her mother has been praying for.  The small things, her mother never said children or little girls.
“Sometimes, these sort of things happen without warning,”  Beth remembers her mother saying.
“God chooses who will live and who will die, and none of us will ever understand, none of us are supposed to understand.  Sometimes, there is no justification for these sort of things.”
Beth puts her hand on her stomach.  She remembers the doctor saying “twins” to her and Charlie the day of her first ultrasound.  She remembers painting the office yellow.  Beth remembers throwing up cheerios for months.  She remembers her growing belly, the soft kicks inside her.  She remembers Charlie painting her toes pink. 
She thinks of Charlie now, thinks about him lifting weights— watching his biceps contract in the gym mirrors.  She thinks about Charlie, naked in a tanning bed, covered in coconut lotion.  She thinks of how he doesn’t look at her, doesn’t make love to her anymore.  How he’s consumed with his growing muscles, how he’s trying to forget about her once growing stomach.   
 Beth stands over the gravestone, her tears falling onto the marble.  It is at this moment that Beth realizes this is exactly the right place to visit.  That this is exactly the right time to leave her husband.  That this is exactly the right moment to remember the small things she had forgotten. 
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