Hello Bookworms. Happy Friday, I hope you get to spend your weekend reading. And, why not kick off that weekend reading with a short story? This week’s Fiction Friday is a piece I wrote this past fall “Time Bomb”. This story is about a woman who returns to her home town in seek of space from her deteriorating marriage. I spent part of the fall semester sending it to undergraduate publications to no avail. Maybe it will find a happier home here.
I decide to leave the apartment on Mifflin Street when the walls inch so close together that my two boxes are collapsing in on themselves. The wait for Lucas to call, I decide, can’t be weathered indoors for any longer. I know that if my phone rings while I’m inside, the house will explode. The entire street will burn in a fiery array of texts, anniversary photos, broken promises, and unsaid ‘I love yous’. I need that security deposit back when everything ends. They won’t refund the security deposit if I blow up the house, so if my life is going to explode I need it to explode where nothing can burn. Maybe, even I will blow far from the blast and come away unscathed.
I walk down my front steps. They’re cracked worse than the nail polish I haven’t fixed since I left Milwaukee. It’s light blue, now striped across my nails; Lucas always hated this color. Well he might have, he never saw my nails after college graduation. Or the bills. Or the trips to Target for more cleaning supplies. Or the letter of acceptance to join Madison’s MBA program. I shake my head. If I continue to focus on everything he didn’t do, then I won’t be doing what he asked of me, “To think everything over, objectively.” The walk will certainly clear my mind. After all, I haven’t lived in Madison since I married Lucas. I need a new tour.
I have two options, left or right on Mifflin Street. I begin to the right, walk a few blocks until I reach Johnson Street. Like the way Fifth and Broadway create the Flat Iron building and Madison Square Park, Johnson has its own tip pointing out into the road. I watch from the corner, it’s a grocery store now, it didn’t use to be.
Lucas and I fell apart at a grocery store. We picked up food from the aisle shelves, and I shied away when his arm grazed my shoulder to pick up a box of cheerios from my side of the aisle. I never spoke during my grocery runs, never forgot what end of the store the milk was on. I constructed a perfect map of Sentry in my mind so I would never forget anything.
“Let’s get some banana bread for a treat,” Lucas said, “It’s been a long week, we deserve a treat.” He didn’t understand when I broke down crying in the bakery section. I stared at the plastic package of bread in his hand. His eyes drooped and widened. His head swiveled, making sure no one was staring at the man and his crying wife.
“What did I say? What’s wrong?”
I couldn’t speak at first, the tears clogged my throat and filled my nose. The ocean welled up around me, and I almost drowned before I forced my heart to slow down. Calm down, I told myself.
“I told you two weeks ago,” I said and waited, hoping it would click together in his mind. It didn’t. “I had a doctor’s appointment,” I lead on again. He still stared at me with no recognition crossing his face. “They think I have Celiac,” I said finally.
“What?” He asked, “You didn’t tell me that. Oh my god, are you okay? No we don’t have to get the bread,” Lucas dropped the container on the table. I shook my head and kept crying, “Cathy if I had known, I wouldn’t have asked to buy the bread.”
“It’s not about the fucking bread,” I said, my teeth bared together so I wouldn’t scream.
I had told him at dinner, the one dinner we ate together that week, about what the doctors said. Not that I was surprised he forgot; because, while we ate he worked on his laptop and took two phone calls. I suppose I fooled myself into thinking he remembered, that he cared enough to remember.
I turn around from the Johnson Street grocery store, I can’t walk down this street. I will relieve the entire separation again. How Lucas didn’t understand why I was so upset. How I failed to explain to him that he didn’t know me anymore. How I almost demanded a divorce right away, but Lucas convinced me to take a few weeks to think about it. To let him think about it, to be more specific. I don’t want the time anymore, I want to get this call over with and move on to the dozens of calls to be made afterwards.
So I turn around, walk back down Mifflin to the other end that connects to the capitol square. I love Wisconsin’s capitol; because, it looks just like the capitol in DC. Maybe someone from DC would disagree with me. The tower looms overhead and I can already see the pretty gold woman stationed on top of the doom.
On a fourth grade field trip, they told us her coat was real, spray painted gold to match, and then attached. The woman searching for hope is visible from everywhere, except the threshold of the building, so I don’t walk up the steps to the grand wooden doors that make the place look like a castle.
Off Mifflin, down South Wash where Lucas and I liked to get coffee, to State Street, where the University of Wisconsin Badgers, get drunk off their asses. Where we used to get drunk off our asses. But I don’t walk all the way to Bascom hill. That Hill is a beast that takes five minutes to climb, and in the winter it is unclimbable. To think, as a child I would run up and down it for fun.
My phone still remains silent, so I veer from State Street, down Park Avenue where Lucas asked me to marry him. It happened impulsively, during a moment when “I love you” hung in the air unanswered. When he received one job offer in Milwaukee and I wanted to accept another in Chicago. The two of us took a silent walk to clear our heads, and returned to the apartment already talking about Milwaukee real estate.
From Park Avenue, I know, lies a small, residential street named Chandler. If you’re driving or not looking, you’ll miss it. I mosey down Chandler’s weed infested sidewalks to sneak a peek at the old colonial house where I went to my first college party. All because of a lingering high school crush.
He was three years older than me, maybe that should have been strike one like my friends figured back then. During High School, he sometimes gave me rides home from work. We met at work. I really thought he liked me back then, and so many times I regretted patting him on the back the first time we hugged.
A sign that reads, “For Rent” is staked in the front yard of the decrepit house. It’s summer, so the house is probably empty. Without fear of an anxious college student at home to stare out the window, I sit down on the curb with my legs stretched out in front of me. For all I can tell, it might as well be that warm September night that I first walked up this sidewalk. I remember I dressed in the half baby-doll, half street corner hooker way I used to think older girls dressed.
Little had I known that night, but my infatuation with the high school crush would lead me towards two and a half years of coffee dates, trips to AMC, early morning jogs by Lake Mendota, and the burned orange color the sun wore when it set over Chandler street every Fall. One year of cohabitation and a diamond ring, I never asked how much it was worth. Three years, after a ceremony where I wore a white dress that I didn’t like that much, were filled with dinners alone, doctors’ appointments, long calls to mom, and the dull hue of the rising sun over the Milwaukee skyline. No, I didn’t know any of that would happen when I sat down next to Lucas and watched a spider maneuver the legs of a wooden dining room table chair at the house on Chandler Street.
I can’t look at the house any longer, but I almost consider staying put. It might be satisfying, if my phone rings now, to watch this house go up in flames. The inciting incident of all this trouble ignited before me. Except, the younger version of myself probably wouldn’t understand. She would be disappointed, and I’ve disappointed her enough already, so I walk around the corner on Chandler street towards Regent Street. I notice that you can still see the top of the capitol dome from all the way on this side of town.
My phone rings. Nothing explodes.
“Hi Cathy,” Lucas says.
Neither of us speaks. I feel like the unsaid I love yous might cut off our connection.
“Cathy, I’m going to come to Madison this weekend.”
“Because we aren’t going to solve anything from this far apart. I don’t want to get a divorce. I know that. I want to put forth the effort. I hate not having you here.”
I don’t say anything. This conversation isn’t the one I expected to have. After all, I stopped wearing my wedding band a week ago. It seems like my finger has been denied blood circulation for the past three years, and is now coming back to life.
“I heard you,” I tell him. I turn around and look at the edges of the Chandler house; they’re just visible between the roof lines of its neighbors, “No,” I say, take a deep breath, “No I shouldn’t have to be disappointed anymore. You should have gotten it right the first time. I’m going to talk to a lawyer.”
He says okay, but he also says he loves me before we hang up.
I put the phone back in my pocket and walk up Regent Street, back to Park Avenue. I wander from Park to North Wash, around the capitol building. Not right up to the door. I find where Mifflin crosses the square and walk towards it. Back at the sub-leased house the golden woman is in view through my window.
I rub off my cracked nail polish. I make a craigslist ad for the ring, whose value I still don’t know, but $1,500 sounds reasonable. A reminder is set in my phone to call a lawyer later this week; because, tomorrow I will make all the other calls.
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Happy Reading xx