“I don’t think I like being married.” Lucy held her breath as she stared at the red light. Ethan sat beside her in silence in the driver’s seat of their pea-green station wagon. Lucy waited for his response. It was as if she were standing on the edge of a cliff staring at the water below, waiting for the words that would send her over. A fly buzzed monotonously, swerving drunkenly until it landed on Ethan’s hand. He gave a quick flick of his wrist, and the fly took flight.
“I don’t think I like being married either.”
Lucy released her breath, and when she did, she jumped off the cliff. As her body fell in seemingly slow motion, the pressure Lucy had been carrying on her shoulders for the past fifteen years began to slip off. All her futile attempts to create the picture perfect family, to meet Ethan’s expectations, and to live up to the image he had desperately wanted to fabricate – all of the pressure was slipping away. The sun’s warmth on her skin and the cool air blowing past were such an exquisite combination of sensations that her body tingled with delight. She could see for miles into the vast, blue openness where the sky met water, and there was no end in sight. Limitless possibility.
But when Lucy’s body sliced through the surface of the water and she plunged with such force below, she was met with a strange feeling. It was a sort of panic she always felt when submerged in water — a deep, oppressive fear of the dark, of the depth, of the unknown that surrounded her. And the pressure that had been slipping from her shoulders now rested in a small crevice somewhere deep inside her chest. Only the pressure was not from the stress of futilely trying to gain her husband’s attention but was pressure from the pain of finally realizing that she never would.
“Well then, I guess we should get a divorce.” The light turned green. Ethan pressed the accelerator slowly, not wanting to disturb Vivi, who was sleeping in the back, tucked securely in her car seat and blissfully unaware her parents were having a conversation that would alter the course of her life. When he had asked Lucy what was wrong, he was not expecting the answer she gave. But even more surprising was his own response.
He could remember making a cardboard mask when he was a child. His teacher, Mrs. Wells, had cut two big holes for the eyes, and then the children had painted them a creamy beige. Mrs. Wells explained what emotions were and how everyone had them. People feel their feelings on the inside and show them on the outside. Now the children were going to think of anything and express it on their masks. Mrs. Wells showed them different ways to draw eyebrows to show emotions because the eyes were the biggest stage for feelings. Some children painted slanted eyebrows to give their masks angry expressions, while others painted slashed lines in the opposite direction to create a sad appearance. Then there were the children who painted curved lines to give a happy look. Ethan did not paint eyebrows on his mask. It seemed to bother Mrs. Wells, and Ethan could not understand why. When she tried to coax him into creating some sort of expression on his mask, he simply sat and stared at his hands folded into his lap silently until she finally gave up. Thirty years later, Ethan felt as if he were sitting in that same wooden chair with Mrs. Wells looking at him expectantly with a mixture of confusion and concern. Only now, it was beside his wife. It was beside Lucy. And just as Mrs. Wells had done, Lucy was giving up. And Ethan was relieved.
Vivi stirred to the quiet sounds of her parents’ voices. A slight smile crept upon her two-year-old face as she began to surface from the dark and peaceful slumber. Her eyelids fluttered open. Vivi squinted as she rocked her head from side to side, trying to shake away the bright light. She wanted to stretch her body like Peeps, but the straps were too tight. Peeps was kitty and kitty was soft. Vivi liked Peeps. Especially his tail. She liked to pull it because Peeps made the funniest sound when she did. Vivi did not like the straps. She began to cry, and when she did, her mommy turned around and smiled. Vivi could hear her mommy’s voice, and the softness of it interrupted Vivi’s cries for a moment. But the mesmerizing tone could only console Vivi momentarily. Vivi wanted free from the black straps and began to cry again. Her mommy gave her a binky, and Vivi grabbed it. As she sucked hungrily on her binky, she thought about Peeps and began to doze off again.
When the pea-green station wagon pulled into the garage, Phil noticed the woman first. She caught his attention because the look in her eyes was subtly intense. She looked like an animal with its leg caught in a steel trap. Wounded and ready to chew its leg off to get free. He knew that look. All he had to do was look at the man driving and the detached expression on his face to confirm it. The man must have set the trap and covered it with confessions of love and promises of forever. Phil wondered how many years it took before the man stopped hiding that detached look and the steel trigger snapped. This was precisely the kind of woman Phil liked. These women were so desperate to get free from the trap that they would gladly welcome a swift downward swing of an axe. Yes, he had an axe waiting for her. And he knew just how to swing it. Phil chuckled to himself, and then he noticed the child sleeping in the backseat. The image silenced the lewd internal dialogue Phil was having as a distant memory surfaced.
It was the summer after his tenth birthday. He had been riding his bike all afternoon in between playing dodgeball and freeze tag. It was so hot he could still remember how his t-shirt clung to his body and how the sweat made tracks down the side of his face showing just how much dirt he’d been into. As he peddled up to his house, tired-happy, and ready for dinner, he watched his mom back out of the drive. Before she turned the wheel, she glanced his way. She didn’t smile, and she didn’t wave. She just stared at him for a split second, then turned the wheel and drove away. He never saw her again.
“What will it be, folks?”
Ethan gave Phil a friendly nod, “Will have the premium.”
Phil wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve and nodded back, “Sure thing.”
Lucy gazed out the window, sinking farther down into the water and farther away from the vast, blue sky. And in the backseat, Vivi dreamed of Peeps.
Categories: Literary Lounge