Originally published on Thumpcity.com

Fingernail Moon

Under a fingernail moon and a freckled sky, Sue Grafton meandered the road home one Spring evening reflecting on the misery that was her life. It had been one of those busy-work, phone-permanently-to-ear days where the hours blur and you forget to breathe. She allowed herself the luxury of a windy sigh as she lit up a cigarette watching the orange tip catch flame. Inhaling the tar, nicotine and other assorted deadly chemicals she almost began to feel human again as her decompression button subtly clicked into the "on" position. This was her favorite part of the day. Time alone in her car had the ability to soothe her most frazzled nerve and help her switch gears before little people attached themselves to her legs begging for stories, just one more dessert, a sympathetic ear over a playground scuffle. The "Mommy I needů" machines that were flesh of her flesh yet altogether foreign. Sometimes she'd look at them as though puzzled thinking, "Where did you come from?" Even though, unlike many women - she was not blessed with the afterbirth amnesia. She remembered the pain - that pain had teeth and had left its mark on her forever.

She knew exactly where each of them came from. They came from careless moments of lust - OK, love. She had loved the bastard, once. Now she just wished he'd disappear behind his paper and never return. And despite her moodiness, she loved the rugrats, too. A yearning, aching, fear-filled love that kept her awake nights straining to hear their sleep rhythms assuring her that they were safe--for the moment anyway. She had to stop watching the eleven o'clock news. It was giving her horrendous nightmares. Couldn't be the headlines, "Bag of body parts found, more after these messages." Nice world. There was some odd quality about the newscasters' eyes. They gleamed just a little too brightly reminding her of vampire barbies and ken dolls getting off on the bloodshed and torment of others. Shaking it off she pulled into her driveway steeling herself for the wave of sound that would soon crash over her fragile sense of nicotine induced peace.

But it was uncharacteristically quiet and dark. She flicked on the kitchen overhead light and saw the neon pink post-it on the miraculously clean counter. "Took the kids to McDonalds - be back around 8." Enjoy! Love, Steve." Well, well - he wasn't totally useless after all. She poured herself a glass of chardonnay and headed upstairs to run a bath. For Steve, the McDonalds ploy was his idea of foreplay but she didn't mind. If he took them for ice cream after she'd even slather on some cold cream and perform like the geisha he'd always fantasized about. The sexual attraction was still strong even though more and more often she could barely stomach the sight of him. Go figure that one, Oprah. Guess the libido's the last to know, and last to go like a party guest who overstays his welcome. She added a few drops of Jasmine Rose to the water and stepped in, scorching her ankles, "Shit, shit, shit!" Every single time. Patience was not a virtue Sue had ever mastered. She always burned the roof of her mouth on coffee, too. Always. She yanked the spigot to cold and tried swishing the water around with a facecloth to cool it down to a non-scalding temperature. She glazed out watching the whirlpool of bubbles her arm hot from the wrist up and her fingers rapidly turning to popsicles. "Calgon take me away" she chuckled. As pissy as she was, she could usually laugh at her own absentmindedness.

Her screaming lobster ankles calmed to a less alarming pink and she eased in, more slowly this time. She sipped her wine cherishing the silence, the suds and the momentary freedom from having to think. Bliss came in small packages and stolen minutes these days. Dunking her head under water she let her hair fan out and remembered the Mermaid game she'd played when she was little. She imagined peacock-colored shimmering scales covering her as human legs fused into a strong, forked tail. Her treasure trove awaited in her coral castle beyond. She'd taken her eldest, Jenny to see the bastardized Disney version and left disgusted at the bikini-clad redheaded bimbo that didn't have one ounce of common sense. She left in a rage that paled the witch's boiling sea scene. Goddamn idiots had ruined her childhood fantasy. At least in this version the merwoman didn't end up walking on broken glass. Except she'd learned that love could be like that sometimes. Bitter, nah. Jaded a little maybe, and tired a lot. In need of a vacation, from her life mostly. Someplace tropical with drinks served in coconut husks by cabana boys with veined, tautly tanned forearms.

Maybe she should have an affair. She was almost sure Steve was putting it to that slimy account exec Alyson, with a "Y." It was so cliched it was pathetic. She had huge silicone-enhanced tits, dragon-lady press-on nails and wore Donna Karan suits and Mac makeup. Until some magazine dictated that the latest style was some other fashion or warpaint designer. She was a trendy walking joke and the Steve Sue'd married would've thought so, too. He'd changed, but so had she, and not for the better she had to admit secretly. Their marriage was in a ditch and she had watched it slowly derail from the moment they'd beamed their "I do's" all dewy-eyed and green. She toweled off and reached for the cold cream. Tomorrow's another day, Scarlett. Her bad mood drained out of the tub with the dirty bathwater swirling and being sucked into the pipes, and down deep into the loamy earth where it could be transformed into food for centipedes or some other underground shadow creature. She liked thinking of things in that sort of circle-of-life way. It had a nice symmetry to it. It was probably some leftover last shudder of her flower power days.

An affair wouldn't help her feel again. Nor would any vacation be in reality nearly as good as it was in her rich imagination. The truth was, she was low on spirit fuel and she needed something more than the self-help aisle, a few therapy sessions or sex with a stranger could give her. Even a divorce wouldn't solve all of her problems and it would create more at least initially. Nope, she was trapped. And some days the cage was stifling and her wings became bruised as they beat against it and at other times she was a peacock arrayed in azure, green and golden splendor, singing under a fingernail moon. But most days, she lived somewhere in between.

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