I’m almost clear of it; the project is nearly done, all that’s left is the death spiral of closing it out, offering sacrifices to the great god First Party…there’s a clarity dawning, shapes protruding through the fog.
Work has begun again on something new, picking up the tools and materials and dusting them off, trying to remember where I was, what I was aiming for, when I set them down such a short while ago.
In the meantime, here’s another treat from the pre-drought days…I can’t pretend that I got it right, but my mom did read it, back in the day, and said she liked it, so I must’ve hit somewhere close to the mark.
Saturday, June 6
She figures it’s way beyond habit, much more than conditioning. The day to day after day after week after month after…Christ, it’s been years. How many? From the top: twelve of elementary and prep school, two of eight AM survey courses, five times a week, three years of getting to the office early enough to have the coffee ready when everyone else arrived, four years married (but with the same responsibilities), then the last fourteen with the kids. Plus the last four months. Just the three of them. Even consciously trying, she can’t remember the last time she’s slept past six o’clock in the morning. Slept in. All week she’s been trying to convince herself to look forward to this. As a reward, maybe, for making it to the weekend. But here it is, the first Saturday in June, and it’s six-oh-three in the morning and it’s taking such a deliberate effort to keep her eyes shut that sleep’s already gone.
She tries to enjoy it anyway, but automated alarms start going off inside of her. The kids’ll be up soon, and they’ll need breakfast and someone to break up the fights over the television. Except they won’t. Or, rather, will, but not here, not in her home, not today or any day until the end of the summer, when their father will pack them up (probably putting all of the expensive things he bought for them on top, where she can see them), and drive them back. Then every other weekend with him, until the holidays, which is already looking like it’s going to get messy. So they’re at his place, and probably already awake, and alone, and trying to fight quietly ‘cause they know better than to wake up their father before he does it himself.
But still, she can almost hear them, thumping lightly down the carpeted stairs, hitting the eighth and ninth square in the middle, thankfully (to her mothering heart) not yet knowing how to step on the edge of them to silence the creaks and gunshot pops.
Before she’s fully aware she’s doing it, she stands, grabs her robe from the chair in the corner, and follows their memory down the hallway and stairs.
There’s something wrong in the kitchen. She doesn’t know what it is, if something’s missing or severely out of place or a different color—like the fridge, for instance. She gets out the pan, the bacon first, then two eggs fried in the bacon grease. Some orange juice and a couple of chocolate donuts for a chaser. She gets the paper, finding it where she should, and sits down in the silence for her breakfast and Dear Abby, like she does every morning. Except that’s what’s wrong. It’s never this quiet.
She allows no time for thought, just lets the impulse take over. By the time she’s on her feet she’s already made a mental note to call Anne and tell her to clear her couch all next week. This is definitely getting certifiable. But she won’t think about that now. Just pick up the remote, change to channel nine, another super-hero battling another super-villain. She turns the volume up to the earsplitting level where the kids would have it, and goes back to her food. She eats in peace, enjoying reading about another bridal shower snafu, blessed for a bit, living without having to think about it.
There isn’t much she needs; she could, in fact, probably hold off until Monday and swing by the store near her office on the way home. But nobody bothered asking her. It’s Saturday morning, a little after seven-thirty: it’s time to go to the store. Q.E.D. No question mark in sight. And as such, it’s easy to tune out and let her autopilot take over. She drives past the 7-11 two blocks down, gets onto the freeway, and drives for ten minutes, all the way to Playa Del Rey. To the only supermarket in Southern California that carries a certain kind of chocolate toaster pastry which the kids are addicted to. There’s no need to drive all the way out here for milk and wine and tampons, but again, no one’s asking.
She wanders the aisles slowly, leaning on her unneeded cart, following the regular route. Occasionally her arm starts to rise as she reaches for one or another of the items she’d usually buy. If the kids had been around to have used the old up. It hadn’t been so noticeable during the week. Work had been particularly hectic, and she’d only barely been aware that all of the little artifacts that the kids would leave behind in the course of their after-school lives weren’t popping up anymore. The quiet had actually been nice, particularly after half a bottle of white wine. What she is feeling now is subtle, almost devious. It hits her like a bullet shattering her spine: no pain, just a slowly dawning awareness that something significant has already happened to her.
She comes to aisle six, her autopilot steering a true course, and doesn’t notice the other shopper in the aisle until her cart runs into his. She looks up, and even under the blanket of numbness she’s been knitting herself all morning, she can feel shapes moving, shock and surprise overwhelming the last parts of her worth taking.
Her ex-husband looks, she’s sure, as bad as she does, if not worse. He hasn’t shaved yet, and clumps of gray-speckled hair poke out from beneath an old baseball cap. His T-shirt and sweatpants were probably slept in. He’s staring feverishly at the shelf with the toaster pastries on it, the grinding gears of his memory nearly sending smoke out of his ears. He hadn’t even noticed when she’d bumped his cart, but when she says his name he turns to her, the same compressed astonishment bringing his eyes briefly to life.
They look at each other for a moment, a long one. This is no time for improvisation. And then inspiration comes. She motions with her head towards a section of the shelf he’d been staring at.
He follows her gaze and finds what he’d been looking for. He takes one, then thinks better of it and grabs another two boxes, dumping them into his jumbled cart. A small smile hangs briefly from the side of his mouth, and for a bit they’re blessed.
“It’s hard. To tell them no.”
The burning insults and threats that should follow dissolve on her lips. They don’t mean anything right now. She offers him a sad, wry smile, and continues on her way, trying hard not to look back and see if he’s watching her go.