I...you know what, just read the gosh-dang title. I have an awful cold and I've been in a daze all day. I'm not explaining things to people!
(Uh, except that this is the beginning excerpt from another story I started on Wednesday or Thursday.)
(Also worth a mention: the universe apologized today, I think. What are the odds of thinking, "I wonder if x will be on the train I'm about to board?" and then having the doors open up to reveal that person? Very bad odds, very good situation.)
But he’s here, isn’t he?
But he was just gone, wasn’t he?
Well, yes. And the water outside glanced meanly at the sun, which stared into the tall eyes of the woman answering in two words. He was gone, again, and she (his wife) didn’t particularly enjoy nosy people probing her about it. There was the expectation of an explanation, a spreading of palms and a laugh. Maybe a roll of the old green eyes, and a shake of the head, hair growing spitefully white in streaks following. She gave neither of these, instead letting her face fall closed. It was easier to shut these annoyances off than to let the interaction flow the way they’d been learning since they all’d emerged, beating their hearts and wailing loudly, from their mothers’ contracting wombs.
Jess, you’re alone too much up here.
Oh? She wasn’t too concerned about that, but her name provoked a response. She clenched her jaws closed, to retract the small admission of participation.
What if you were attacked or got hurt?
By what, Mama?
The older woman shrugged, her hair long ago whitened like the valley sun unmoving above her shoulders. They weren’t in the valley. Mother was visiting.
Anything might attack a woman alone.
Jess grew tired of these insistences: a woman alone was more susceptible than a man alone, a woman alone might fall down and then she’d have to lie there and die but a man might pick himself up, or heroically crawl for help. Mother wouldn’t have said such things about Bill being home alone. She sighed and stood up, lifting her sweating glass of lemonade off the table.
Mama, I’m going inside.
I’ll stay out here. Lake’s nice today. There’s a good—
Come inside later. It’s hot out here. And keep drinking that glass, alright? The door swung shut behind her, rattling indecisively to usher the taller woman inside. Mother, left outside, put her sunglasses back on and resumed her passive study of the lake.
Behind the door (and a slight left down a short hallway), Jess pushed the glass of ice across a smooth countertop and pressed her palms into its cool trail. Bill used to make her lemonade, on summer days when she was younger and working outside—never constrained to womanly work, gardening or lazily manicuring the juniper bushes that rimmed their front yard, but pitching the gaps in the small rowboat Bill built, trimming large arms from the trees and hauling the broken branches on her own scratched and sweating back. The light would play across her strawberry blonde hair then, she imagined, dusty and mangled by the breeze off of the lake. Bill wasn’t home now, and as a manner of habit hardly ever was. Jess bit her lip and supposed that the days of working for small treats were over.
She walked past herself in the hall mirror and sat on their bed, feeling weighted. The days that had passed since he’d left this time—Just going Somewhere, darlin’—were without number or consequence to his wife. Thirty-three years was too long to count on. Her palms against her forehead still had the moisture from the glass; she expected more coolness from the clinging water. The obnoxious tepidness stirred her to get up, suddenly—away from the bed and its hot heavy sheets and untraceable memories. With her hands cradling each other, Jess swept her way back into the kitchen. The blue jeans she wore as a remnant mannerism from her more labored days slid unevenly over her legs in the thinness of the foothill heat.
Jess, there’s a few of those turkey vultures circling out here.
Her daughter ignored her; turkey vultures were always circling in the hills. It was certainly nothing new to the older woman, either, having lived her long life in the valley between (by very definition) two sets of foothills. And so she only knocked on the wooden frame of the screen door as she slid past. Her mother turned her head, just slightly, eyes ripe with cataracts sweltering in the afternoon heat.