Saturday, November 04, 2006

Next Installment

This snippet will go after the first piece, Thursday's post. My love to you all.

I arranged my bags at my feet and shifted in the blue plastic chair. I’d been looking forward to John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, but just couldn’t get into it. Too much adrenalin left over from the mad dash through the airport. The people around me were much more interesting at the moment.

Take the lady directly across from me: a middle-aged woman wearing a black cotton cardigan over a crisp white t-shirt and a denim skirt. Her sturdy black sandals looked like they’d logged some miles and the colorful bag at her feet promised the essentials of a seasoned traveler: a book, water, and a change of underwear, just in case. Her salt-and-pepper hair was cut in a short bob, the kind of comb-and-go style that didn’t require a blow dryer or a drawer full of hair goo.

The matte silver cross hanging around her neck caught my eye. I like that. No flashy rhinestones shouting for attention, no faux turquoise making a fashion statement as fake as its stones. Just a simple cross that probably rested inside her shirt, next to her heart, as often as out front for the world to see.

As always, I began making up a story to go with the details I observed. She’s an artist and former nun married to an ex-priest and writer. They’re the loves of one another’s lives and travel the world together. I’ll bet she and her husband create inspirational books and calendars. He takes photographs and they collaborate on the text. They’ve been to Ireland and India and all over western America.

Paris is their favorite city, the place where they met soon after they’d both left The Church. She was living in a little pension through the winter, working in a bakery and painting in her spare time. He was living with a group of former priests, teaching music and writing his memoir. They met in a coffee shop and fell in love over espresso and brioche. Now they live only for each other.

A commotion brought me back to real life with a start. What the heck?

A red-faced man pushed in front of two women who had just stepped up to the ticket counter. “I was first. I was in this line 30 minutes ago, and you’re not helping anyone until you’ve taken care of me first,” he shouted. The man waggled his right index finger in the gate agent’s face and pounded his left fist on the counter in a rhythm that emphasized his words. “I’m.” Pfluuump. “First.” Pfluuump. “First.” Pfluuump.

He must have learned the art of intimidation from the same guy who taught Bob. His technique had all the hallmarks of a practiced bully: volume, implied threats, sound effects—all provided at close range. Bob got right in my face to scream at me. When he really got carried away, I distracted myself by trying to identify what he been eating or drinking: Wendy’s chili was a favorite. So were Reuben sandwiches and LeAnn Chin’s Peking chicken. Those were the daytime favorites. On a winter’s night, it was the acrid smell of Scotch mixed with the strange, honeyed sweetness of Drambuie. In the summer, the pine-needles-and-citrus smell of gin and tonic forced itself into my nostrils. Or, sometimes spiced rum mingled with the racid, chemical smell that came only from Diet Coke belches.

The bewildered women stepped back in confusion. “We didn’t know you were first,” one said. “No one was standing here when we walked up.”

“That’s because I got tired of waiting for these idiots to get their act together and went for coffee.”

The women looked at each other and shook their heads. Clearly, they had no intention of tangling with the guy over so small a matter. For a moment, the gate agent looked like she might challenge him, but backed off when he puffed out his chest and leaned over the counter toward her again.

And so he wins. He’s loud and rude and too mean to fight with, so he always gets his way. It’s not fair.

I glanced back at the woman across the aisle and realized she’d been taking in the scene, too. She looked straight at me and grimaced as if to say, “What can you do with people like that?”

I smiled and said, “Well he’s sure a glass-half-full kind of guy, isn’t he?”

“Yah, Sure. You bet cha,” she answered with a smile. After the movie “Fargo,” lots of Minnesotan’s mocked themselves with this phrase. Funny thing was, they didn’t say it much more now than they had before the movie came out, only now they recognized they were saying it and intended for it to be a joke.

We each retreated back into our own reveries, the brief spark of connection between strangers flaring out, short-lived as a cardboard match on a windy day.

Not wanting to stare, I turned back to my book. Before I’d finished the first page, Red-Faced-Guy was creating another commotion over in the corner. Boarding pass in hand, he turned to walk away but couldn’t resist cursing at the offending women as he passed.

“Pushy damned people. I told you I was first. Who the hell do you think you are?” he stormed as he stomped toward the seating area. When he reached a prime spot, he threw down each item he carried, making as much noise as possible with each. Suitcase. Briefcase. Newspaper. Tickets.

“The thing is…” I realized the woman across the aisle was speaking to me again. “The thing is, he must be as miserable as he makes other people. Don’t you think?”

“Maybe,” I answered. “But it seems like he enjoys making other people uncomfortable,” I said, not sure whether I was talking about Red-Faced Guy or Bob, my freshly-exed husband.

“Now I see how people get killed over this stuff, Mer—rrrie,” Bob growled as he backed me into the corner beside the front hall closet. I hated the way he dragged out my name and emphasized the second syllable to make it sound like a curse word.

Bob put one hand on the taupe wall on each side of me and leaned forward. His face was level with mine and only fractions of an inch away. I could smell the chili and beer he’d had for lunch—aromas not improved by time. In the bright light of the two-story front hall, I could see gray glinting in his hair. More gray than I remembered, but we’d already been fighting this fight for nearly a year, and my hair probably had more gray now, too. Or, it would have without the ministrations of John Charles, my new colorist.

“You can’t make me sign that agreement. I won’t do it,” he continued.

“Fine. Don’t sign it. But please, leave now. Talk to my lawyer about it tomorrow,” I said. While he took in my words, I ducked beneath his left arm and stepped out of the corner, out into the late afternoon sun beaming into the center of the white tile floor.

“No one can make me sign that thing,” he said as he stepped in front of me again.

“Okay, Bob. I’ve said that’s fine. It’s time to leave now,” I repeated. My voice was getting higher and tighter with each repetition.

The open foyer led up to a gallery-style second floor, where white balusters stood sentry in front of the four upstairs bedrooms and the children’s bathroom. Figuring disengagement was the only rational option, I turned and walked up the six stairs to the big landing in the middle of the staircase. At the turn, I’d be able to see whether he was leaving without obviously looking.

He was still standing in the foyer, so I continued up the stairs toward the double doors of my bedroom, two feet beyond the top of the stairs. By the time I reached the top step, I could hear him stomping up. Not good.

I stepped into my room and closed the doors, then walked into the adjoining bathroom and closed that door, too. Slow down, Meredith. Take a deep breath. Another. I was still leaning against the sliding pocket door when he shoved it open so hard it bounced off the rubber bumpers at the end of the track, rattling both the metal frame hidden inside the wall and my bones. I caught myself on the doorframe, barely managing to keep from falling straight into his arms, and stepped away from the bathroom door, out into my newly painted bedroom.

Once again, his face was so close to mine that I could smell his lunch and feel the burn of his anger. “I told you, I’m not going to sign that Temporary Settlement Agreement. It’s absurd. It's ridiculous. It's as….”

“Yes, you told me. Now get out of my house,” I said. Anger and fear were running through my veins, racing each other up my neck and down my shoulders.

“It’s my house. You might live here, but I still pay for it and it’s mine. I’ll do whatever I want with it. I could bulldoze it, burn it down if I wanted, and there wouldn’t be a damn thing you could do.” Bob was really getting cranked up now. He stepped forward with each sentence, and I stepped back. The fear was up in my throat now, choking me with its icy hands.

Before I knew it, I was up against a wall again. This time it was one of the scrumtious pale, pale pink walls of my room. Really not good.

“There’s no reason to get ugly. You wanted a divorce. You’re getting it. Please leave now,” I said again, stepping a couple of feet sideways.

“I haven’t even begun to get ugly. You’re gonna find out what ugly really is if you try to make me sign that thing.”

Before he could get back in front of me, I walked straight past him, toward the stairs and escape. I’d made it down five steps when the front door burst open and the kids came in from school. Bob must have been on my heels, because they both came to screeching halts, their backpacks skidding across the slick tile floor.

“What’s going on?” John called.

Without missing a beat, Bob responded. “Your mother’s going to call the police on me.”

Call the police? Who said anything about the police? And how in the living hell did our lives turn into this?

“I’m not going to call the police,” I said as calmly as I could. “Your father shouldn’t be here and he won’t leave, so I’m going to. That’s all. Anybody want ice cream?”

John and Gracie kicked their backpacks to the wall and followed me out the front door to the van, where they immediately started the usual argument about who got shotgun. I guess it’s true—the more things change, the more they remain the same.

My cell phone rang before we got to the end of our street. It was my attorney calling to tell me Bob had signed the Temporary Settlement Agreement three hours earlier. I could pick up my copies whenever I had time.

Three. Hours. Earlier.

Welcome to the Funhouse.


Suzy said...

Extraordinary post. Courageous post.
Funhouse..mind games..intimidation.
Nothing is what it seems to be. Thank God you're out of there.

~NanCourt~ said...

Jeez, that was so good, I am ready to whup his sorry rear.

I'm loving this and you are doing such a fine job!

Keep up the great work!!!

Go Mama said...

Jerri, this would've been a page turner if there were pages to turn. Really great! Love it. You're on a roll now...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, gutsy story-telling.

LIke Go Mama says, you're most definitely on a roll.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

You ARE on a roll. Your roll is inspiring to everyone! Thank you!