Part II of IV
Mrs. Blume exhaled from her cigarette. “Man…”. Her coral lips parted.
The car was parked several miles out of town near the river. Mrs. Blume, Sandra, was a middle-aged, lovely woman. Dark. And she loved sneaking secret cigarettes.
Rick, her boyfriend, hated cigarette smoke but adored Sandra.
Mrs. Blume was Sarah’s mother. Mr. Blume (not Rick) was Sarah’s father. They were married, but not happily so. Not at all.
On Thursdays Sandra met Rick at the coffee shop near the train station at the edge of town and they dashed off in his Jeep to their special spot. When they found a perfect place to park they made-love. And then Sandra had her cigarettes while Rick stepped outside to get fresh air. Rick truly hated smoke.
Long, stick straight hair and a blunt fringe flies about her tanned olive skin and dark hazel eyes. Smoke flows upward and out of the cracked windows in the front seat.
She smiles slyly. Then, Rick opens the door to the passenger’s seat. He sits his slightly rotund frame in the front seat. His faintly balding blond hair is a bit wispy about his fair face. His crystalline blue eyes flow back to Sandra. The color of his camel cashmere coat soothes Sandra with its quiet lack of moodiness.
“So?” He smiles. He beams. Rick is in love with Sandra at the very least. He adores her. She giggles and kicks his seat in response.
Reading his expression she sulks, “You aren’t going to start with that again?” She pleads.
He throws himself back against the car door, stretches-out his legs and sighs. Toying with his fingers in disgruntled manliness, he continues.
“See.” He swallows hard. “You are exactly what I’ve been waiting for my entire life.” He fervently strains his neck to glance over at Sandra now. “You and your kids-” his voice trails off.
“Hmph.” Sandra blows her smoky breath into the hairs above her elegantly tweezed eyebrows. Her playfulness masks her profound anxiety in this moment.
“I just want to start over-” Sandra cuts him off. She had heard this all before.
“I know. I know… You want to have another try at a family.” Sandra sits up more distinctly and lightly touches the crisp collar of her white cotton blouse. She examines Rick’s semi-sullen face frankly but lovingly.
“Yes. I’m in love. You know that. But it’s even more than that…”. He rubs his fingers over his lips thoughtfully.
She looks flummoxed and ever so slightly captivated. Maybe he’s about to say something about the accident, she thinks.
It was a terrible crash. His wife and their two daughters were killed in an automobile accident with a semi on an icy bridge ten years ago. He had been struggling desperately ever since.
Five years of intensive therapy combined with years of crying, and restless mourning had left Rick changed. He claimed that in his youth, long before Sandra knew him, he was a devil-may-care, crazy child of a certain reckless world view.
Rick had married Elizabeth, his first wife, only after she was pregnant with their twins and then stayed faithful only because he was still in love with her. Elizabeth, apparently, was his exact opposite.
And, Rick never talked about any of it. Well, only once had he even said anything about it at all.
Actually, his inability to talk about it was one of reasons Sandra hesitated going further with him. He was a fling because she had labeled him emotionally defective after their first meeting at a bar two years ago… In her growing ambivalence after two decades of a dead marriage she was cut-throat like that – no warning. Just a quick judgement made. Usually sadly accurate…
“I crave the sort of intimacy that comes with marriage. The kind of heart-to-heart closeness Elizabeth and I had.” He almost hid himself in the collar of his coat at this. “I… dream of running away with you.” He paused and looked out the backseat window at nothing in particular, fervently. “We’d go some place warm. With beaches and sunshine. And then come back and take your kids and move to Boston.”
“I hate the city. You know that…” she ran her fingers through her hair. “But either way, I just…”
“I know. You want more time.” He laughed mirthfully.
“I do. You know?” She smiled sadly.
“But what about this?” He raised his arms to reference everything about them; the sunny blue sky on this crisp early spring day and the way the river had just started to unthaw and the way the snow was melting in the sunlight, creating dark puddles on the pavement.
“Well.” She responded. He often referenced nature when he was trying to describe the impermanence and vulnerability of all life and beauty.
“I just don’t think we should assume things. What we have is rare. It’s special. And I want to savor it.” He mused in quick retort.
She could only smile in response. Later, after he dropped her off at the train depot and she made her way back to her car she would start her “process” as she called it. She would unravel all the tightly wound, beautiful pieces of emotion that comprised her being after her meetings with him and then she would start to dull and distance herself from it all.
Sometimes in her “process” she would find an objective truth. Other times there was a lie. Either way she chilled. She compartmentalized it all. Beautifully.
Walking in on her daughter reading a Latin textbook in her room, she smiled. Sincerely. What a hard-worker Sarah was. She was an honors student. Sandra had always wanted to be an honors student in school growing up. But, learning things from books was never her thing. No, Sandra was a cheerleader in school… And a good one, actually.
Sandra was also voted, “Most attractive” her senior year. All the boys loved her, including Dale Blume. But Dale Blume was the smartest, funniest and kindest senior of 1975. When Dale Blume decided Sandra was going to be his wife, six years post graduation, she said, “yes.” Of course.
As a lawyer, Dale did well and all was nice and fairly lovely enough until Dale lost himself. Lost himself, you might ask? Why yes.
You see, Dale was actually sort of brilliant but all the heat and intensity that ran almost amok in his fast mind never left it. He was an exceedingly temperate man. But he was a sensitive man, none-the-less, and sometimes a scorching set of feelings might attack what had become a rather icy exterior and leave him nearly exposed. All the musings in his deep recesses threatened to pour out and that… well that… was terrifying to him. How do you reason through it all satisfactorily? You can’t.
Several years ago, when his legal mentor, Mr. Fallcroft, died of a sudden heart-attack one summer night while Dale was in the middle of a conversation with him – the two men had been finishing martinis – and he had to call 911 and comfort a nearly hysteric Marjorie Fallcroft until her kids arrived, Dale was left a bit unhinged. And then, when their dog, Mutsy, was killed three weeks later by a freak accident involving a train, he started cracking. Although, it was nothing truly life-changing until he found out about a casual flirtation that had developed between Sandra and his partner at the firm, Matt.
Sandra had been neglected for years, he reasoned. He was busy with his career and she was bored… She hated the long hours alone at home with only the smattering of noise that came from the two kids’ rooms occasionally.
Matt was younger. He was the youngest partner at the firm. He was… cute, or he must have been? He had two dimples and a sort of Sicilian broad shouldered beauty.
Dale had noticed Sandra and Matt chatting at a dinner party two years earlier but not until the family dog died and he found Sandra crying into the bedroom phone to Matt did he realize his wife had… crossed a certain line. And perhaps, gone a bit too far.
The fling ended shortly thereafter at Dale’s insistence, but the marriage was never the same after that. And while Sandra swore she was faithful, he secretly guessed she wasn’t. Maybe she was? But… he knew better. And sadly, he so craved a sort of peace more than… Sandra… that he didn’t bother finding out about her doings for certain.
Had they ever loved each other? No. If we’re going to be honest the answer is no.
But they thought they did.
And, often, they were so at ease with each other, so beguiled by the mystery of the other, and attracted to the other’s charms that the arrangement worked. It worked well enough to keep them glued together; enough to conceive two children and form some semblance of a perfect American, suburban, late 20th Century family, in fact.
Still, Dale had lost himself that summer while Sandra had escaped into the arms of several seductive, if dead-end romances. Where Dale was exactly, nobody knew… Maybe his heart was locked away in a cabinet somewhere in his office. Maybe his soul was half frozen in the basement refrigerator where he stored his expensive gin.
But Dale had lost it. He was beyond quiet. Beyond sedate. And the tragedy was that he didn’t seem to see it in himself. He didn’t seem to recognize that he was… in fact… a zombie.
Sandra silkily slinked into the basement where she found Dale sitting, reading a book about the Civil War. His usual…
He didn’t move an inch.
When she approached him and caressed his hair and he could smell her musky perfume – something from high school she still wore by Jovan – he didn’t even blink. Sandra slightly groaned, as she always did to show something. He was never sure what she was trying to tell him with her sighs and general noise making…
“Hello!” She coyly and happily bent over him and kissed his cheek. He, of course, mostly ignored her. As always. “I won’t keep bothering you, but I just wanted to touch my man.” She flirted.
“Oh yes. Thank you, dearest.” He roused a bit and just barely caressed her head a little with his left hand. A faint smile formed on his face but dissolved amazingly quickly. His book then absorbed whatever part of him had momentarily surfaced.
Scott, Sarah’s younger brother sat upstairs watching t.v.. A can of just opened beer was in his right hand.
He quickly glanced around the room. Nobody was there. He drank quickly but methodically. Then he stopped and stared at the can, grimacing. A look of pure disgust contorted the features of his handsome, blue, rose and jonquil face. He got up from the over-sized leather easy chair and moved into the kitchen where he dumped out the remainder of the beer in the can. He turned the sink on and tried to wash it all down the drain as fast as possible.
Scott took the offending can and threw it in the recycling bin. Nobody would guess it was his, he thought. Then he opened the liquor cabinet and poured a little rum in a glass. Somewhere he had heard that rum mixed with soda was tasty. He wanted to try that next.
With a can of root beer added to the rum he found the taste palatable. He moved to the floral sofa by the bay window in the living-room and slowly sipped. He felt very “grown-up” indeed. Then Sarah walked in.
Scott’s eyes opened exceedingly wide and a look of half terror spread across his face. Sarah would not approve of her little brother getting tipsy in the living-room.
But Sarah was in another world. She looked dazed. He was almost worried but she didn’t seem unhappy. He tried to quickly chug his drink down before she left her state and noticed him and his offending beverage.
But Sarah had an exceptionally keen sense of smell. She started sniffing the air until she turned to face Scott and noticed him sitting there with a look she had never seen him wear.
“Scott.” She looked scared as she severely but half floated toward him. First she propped open his left eyeball and examined his pupil. Then she pried his mouth apart and stuck her small nose inside. All her senses were like that. Uncanny.
“Oh my gosh. You’ve been drinking.”
Scott was used to his sister. He shrugged.
He sighed in response. “Umm…” But his usual pretenses weren’t there to protect him. He found himself feeling rather… careless. He chuckled. “I was dared by a couple of guys at school to drink a beer and I told them I would.”
“Because…”. He shrugged. “I dunno. I guess it’s cool?” He thought out loud.
“Oh my gosh! That’s so cliché Scott. Seriously?!”
He looked confused and maybe a little hurt. He got up and moved toward the direction of his bedroom.
“Scott! Come back here!” Sarah ordered.
At times like this Scott knew who his “real mother” was. It bothered him because he knew it wasn’t fair to Sarah, but she always knew things. She always cared.
“Scott! You need to explain to me why you’re doing this. Truly. Because you can’t drink. You just can’t. I can’t let you.” Sarah decided.
“I dunno.” He sat down again. “I guess I really did just think it seemed… fun?”
“Fun because it looks fun? And actually, it does feel kind of… fun.” He stared off into space.
“Yeah. Until you get hurt or hurt someone else. Or you do it too often and then die a miserable slow death.” Sarah glared at him now.
He knew he couldn’t argue. He had read about it.
“Are you going to tell Mom and Dad?” Scott finally had to ask.
“Yes. But I’ll argue for leniency if you promise me not to tell those guys at school you drank. I want you to tell them it was a bad idea and leave it at that.” She bit her bottom lip.
He looked puzzled and churned his brow. “What?!”
“Yeah. I know you’re just trying to fit in but the sort of guys who do crap like this aren’t worth it.” She angrily mused.
“Ok. So you want me to be an outcast on principal?”
“Something like that. Yes.” Her face slightly turned to stone.
“Hmm. Interesting idea. Ok. Whatever.” He shrugged.
“Well, ok, so just to clarify: I’m not saying that these guys are worthless people.” She quickly added. “I just think… They’re often troubled. Some might be… cruel. Some might be… just confused, but they’re not worth trying to fit in with.”
He nodded a little but didn’t respond. Then he asked, “Why are you so angry?”
“What?!” She seemed both baffled and impressed by his intuition.
“You just seem… mad?” All the sensitivity of both parents and a sort of mellow sweetness comprised the basic makeup of Scott.
“I am, I guess.” She threw herself back on the sofa.
“Why?” He was still tipsy and waiting for something monumental to happen.
“Greg ripped me apart today. He basically verbally assaulted me as we were walking out to his car after school. He called me a fat toad… And then he told me to go home and weep.”
Both siblings sat silent for a moment; peaceful in each other’s company. Scott scratched his chin and blinked quickly.
“So he’s an asshole after all.” Scott eventually said, quietly.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve always wondered which side of things he’d be on. You know, like would he be a jerk when he got older or would he be one of the good guys.”
“One of the good guys?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah. Would he be the sort of guy who uses his brilliance for good or evil.”
“I’ve never thought of him that way, but I guess he is brilliant.” Sarah mused.
“That’s because you’re so smart too. We all are. Mom and Dad gave us good good genes that way.” Scott placed his hands behind his head. “At least, I think so.”
“He is brilliant. And now he’s evil I guess…”
Scott nodded his head in agreement. “You know, there are other guys though Sarah.”
“I know. I met one.”
“His name is Patrick. He drove me home today and we have a math class together.” Sarah wasn’t sure how much to share with her 13 year old brother.
“Are you going to marry him Sarah?” Scott joked suddenly.
“What?!” She smiled.
“I saw you kissing him.” He giggled.
“What?!” Sarah was half horrified and half amazed at how cool he had played it. He might not have even brought it up if she hadn’t… Or would he have brought it up?
“I was waiting across the street at the playground for you to come home because I wanted to see if you’d drink beer with me.” He was embarrassed. “I was scared to do it myself I guess.” He smiled. “But then I saw you and… him.” He moved his eyebrows up and down in a silly way, teasing her.
“Oh my gosh. That’s so gross that you had to see that.” She apologized.
“No. It’s cool. I didn’t watch that much.”
“That was my first kiss today.” Sarah gushed a little.
“I had guessed that.”
They were quiet. Then Sarah said what they both were thinking:
“We need to be careful, Scott. Seriously.”
He breathed deeply, nodded, smiled and together they sat pondering. More sober and somewhat melancholy now they both pondered.