Originally published on Thumpcity.com
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,
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
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.