Meg Tuite

 

 

(USA)

 

 

 

Sometimes there are too many words

 

 

I’m just picking up a pack of Marlboros and a six-pack of Twinkies. It’s midnight at the Allsups. The only time I shop. One of the few times I leave my house.

 

The teenager behind the counter lifts a black-lined, blue-lidded lazy eye toward me, snaps her gum. “How ya doing?”

 

How am I doing? I stare at her through sunglasses that shade me from my reflection. My hands tremor and I cry all the time. Twinkies have become my best friend. How many goddamn kids do I have? They’ve all moved on and the youngest is living on the streets, last I heard, picked up hitchhiking by some forty-something psychopath who has a meth lab. She can’t live without him. What a surprise. I haven’t paid my mortgage in almost a year on the piece of crap bungalow I bought at least 20 years ago when I was young, married and nothing could damage me. I’m waiting for someone to show up from the bank with the cops to kick my ass out, and my ass has crept its way into the size of a Wal-Mart parking lot.

 

The girl behind the counter stares at me, pops her gum, waiting.

 

“I’m doing great,” I widen my face so it resembles a smile. “Need three packs of Marlboro Red’s, as well. I slide my Twinkies forward so she won’t forget them. How’s it going for you?”

 

She turns away to grab the packs on the shelf behind her and when she turns toward me again, her eyes are drizzling black droplets. Her bottom lip quivers. “I’m fucking pregnant,” she says. “Not so good.”

 

Both our hands are trembling as I give her the money. She takes a deep breath as she pushes some keys on the register until it ‘ka-chinks’.

 

She lifts her blackened eyes to meet my shaded ones as she counts out the change and layers it into my palm. She puts all the items into a plastic bag as I open my mouth to stammer out something. Tell her it will be okay or it won’t, but it will be her’s whatever it is. Shaking, I just nod my head and say, ‘Thanks.”

 

The door jingles between us as she goes back to work and I stagger back home.

 

 

 

Submerge

 

 

Nelson lies in bed at night and wonders what has confused his damn kids. He has never hidden anything. Did he kill someone? Never. There is no evidence of anything. He adjusts his sleeping apparatus. They told him he hasn’t been breathing for years in the research lab. Now, that is something to hear. Blasts of oxygen are flushed in through his nostrils while he sleeps. He has had a few good years without nightmares.

 

Carol lies in bed at night and wonders what gray, old men look like when they’re dead. Nelson is already faded and sagging, but doesn’t die. What color will he be when the space between them is forever? She is one of an army of women who swallowed their words in front of that asshole like a fucking train that picks up new one’s at this stop and dumps the rest of them at the next. Interesting that her mother, Nelson’s wife, was a bus driver. Nelson never looks behind to see what might be washed up in his wake.

 

Alison lies in bed at night and blasts through a few bottles of wine. She has been married three times. George-psychiatrist was a man walking a dog, a man nosing her into a bar, a man shuddering on top of her, a man at the altar, a man walking a woman, a man with a leash. One day they stuffed wedding cake into mouths and one day he pushed her down a flight of wooden stairs. Tom-electrician installed Alison’s new appliances. Run, Tom, run. He changed all her light bulbs, got rid of a hornet’s nest on the porch, put up her new drapes, fixed her cracked windows, changed the locks on the doors. Stay, Tom, stay, until Alison finds him face down on her best friend, Rita, rerouting Rita’s withered wind. Then there is Horace. He came with the name. They lasted a few years until he blurted a few things out in couple’s therapy, took off with her hormone pills and the name Hortensia.

 

Nelson wakes up to another holiday. His children are meeting him at a Greek restaurant. He thinks of memory as shattered pots glued together in museums. He spent a few weeks in Athens when he was younger. The coliseum unhinged him. Whisper something at the bottom and someone a thousand steps above can hear you as though you are standing next to them. It is the first time he realizes that molecules are migrating and shadows bend over themselves until every secret is an echo of itself. He keeps hearing the name Jacob.

 

Carol wakes up to another nightmare. She is in a foreign city waiting for a train at night. No one understands what she says and everyone gives her directions that compromise all before them. She is a tangled garden of anxiety and misunderstood moments. Today is a day with sister and dad. She paces the rooms of her apartment, aware of deadlines that betray each minute, tick by, without any consideration for her brain lobes unconnected like puzzle pieces in a box. Nelson told her more than a few times that she was inconsequential. No one gave a shit about what she had to say. Carol has signed up for speech classes and dropped them within the first week. She shakes and cries at the thought of standing in front of an audience.

 

Alison wakes up to three cats and a tubercular Dachshund plastering her in. Their warm bodies create lack of need. She talks to them every morning with no reason to correspond with humans. Anything memorable said by her species can fit easily into a cosmetic bag. Today is a day with sister and dad. From her bedroom window, Alison watches the geometry of bodies outside stiff as two-dimensional arrows, barreling into a tunnel of wind that slams against them. She will be one of those arrows in a couple of hours shooting blanks into relentless edges of awkward family.

 

Nelson is always late. Things simply happen and multiply in his head when no one is around. He wanders from room to room fumed with multiple conversations that may or may not have transpired, fluttering like gashed birds on the sides of roads.   He drinks shots of Jameson and waits for the uglier side of himself to get back into bed. Why did his wife have to die?

 

Carol and Alison share tiny tidbits of nothing while they wait for Dad.

 

You look amazing. Where did you get that haircut?

 

Oh my god, you are skinnier than you were in high school? Are you doing Yoga again, you goddess?

 

I’ll have a cosmos, one says to the waiter. Make that two, says the other.

 

They laugh as the compliments get drunk on each other. Carol will never let Alison know that she is taking anti-anxiety meds every day to keep her on this planet. Alison will never let Carol know that she hooks up with men on chat lines and pretends to be single. They connect over favorite sitcoms and talk about their kids.

 

Teenagers? Are you kidding me, there’s no hope, says one.

 

The other shakes her head. Only a few more years and I won’t have to hide the liquor. They laugh, study each other, wonder who looks younger than the other.

 

That L’Oreal rinse can’t even cover the gray weeds sprouting up everywhere, thinks the one.

 

She looks like a decaying sandwich with that Covergirl powder plastered over her face, thinks the other. Her pores are screaming.

 

Nelson follows the waiter to their table. The girls jump up and swallow Nelson. They fawn and lean into him with every acre of a want that they don’t even get. Once that moment is over they all sit, smile, stare into menus, order a few bottles of wine.

 

They ask him about his lower back.

 

How has your blood pressure been? asks one. Your cholesterol level?

 

Are you taking your pills? asks the other.

 

Nelson had a heart attack. His wife used to hiss “Jacob” when she got drunk. They never slept in the same bed after that. Nelson considers everything another scar from his lack of wife, who confused Nelson with the bleeding in her brain. She had an aneurism while driving the last shift one night, blasted over the curb and well-kept lawn into a suburban home crashing through the front door while a family ate their supper.

 

Carol had a lump on her breast, told Alison she was having oral surgery and had a lumpectomy.

 

Alison gained ten pounds she couldn’t account for. Her doctor said a glass of red wine at night was the way to live a healthy life and Alison agreed. He didn’t know about the two and a half other bottles she pounded through as well. Everything sits inside her like a balloon ready to pop. She doesn’t tell Carol that she hasn’t returned to the doctor after he told her that her white blood cell count was extremely elevated.

 

Nelson lifts his glass and toasts his incredible children. These are girls? What happened to Jacob? He looks at each of them, but can’t recall their names. Down’s Syndrome was what the doctor called it. Nelson didn’t need a name for it. He knew there was something wrong when he looked at the kid. Everything on the baby was too large, too small, not of this species. He remembers coming back from the lake one night with an empty baby’s blanket, while his wife burned photos of Jacob.

 

The daughters smile and ask the waitress to take pictures. They pick up their iphones and make sure to document the occasion. They lean in on either side of Nelson and smile. Later they will post the photos and speak of their deep love for each other on Facebook.

 

 

 

« Submerge » was a finalist at « Glimmer Train » and is forthcoming from « Unlikely Stories. » 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books and Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, and three chapbooks, the latest titled, Her Skin is a Costume (2013) Red Bird Chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale and is currently working on a mixed genre collection to be published in late 2014. She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College, lives in Santa Fe with her husband and menagerie of pets.
Her blog: http://megtuite.com

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