By Vince Kadlubek
By Cullen Curtis
When Clare pulled David into the bathroom, he'd been kneeling on the floor of their bedroom following the instructions on how to set the VCR clock for more than an hour.
Through the pregnancy test's plastic window, they watch the baby blue stripe bleed. She tells him to hold the instructions up beside the tester, to compare the stripes. Using her digital sports' watch, she keeps an eye on the numbers, forgetting and then remembering the time it all started as if her mind is blinking open and closed. They don't speak, but she can hear David thinking-not about what this might mean, but about how to react.
The growing stripe is soundless but very loud behind Clare's eyes and in her chest-the same shocky reverberation she feels when she is up too high, on a ladder or a chair lift, or when a confrontation is imminent. A door slams in their apartment building, and she takes a quick breath. Then a dog barks once, and her head throbs.
Holding the instructions, David's hand is tentative and twitching. Like a squirrel, she thinks. How unattractive.
The stripe stops growing. The minute is up. Probably at the same time they both realize it is foolish to keep staring at the results, but they keep staring, much the way she's seen people do at the pump as they watch gas prices rise unabated. It cannot be true. This isn't fair. Someone should fix this.
Clare thinks about how close she is to exploding, how close she is to destroying the stillness by throwing up her arms and coming into contact with every single object in the room-the test, and then the incense holder and leopard-print soap dish in one swipe. She stands up. He follows.
Clare is doubtful that she'll get what she wants, but feels she has reason to expect something from David right here, at this moment. A hug perhaps, and a particular kind. Not a dismissive, charitable, or pitying one, not one that involved patting or petting. Nor a deep and smothering one, accompanied by the drama of tears.
And certainly not this. His shoulders in his ears; his palms open and unsure. His twisted mouth, his skittish eyes.
When her mother killed herself a year ago, he skulked for days. He obsessed about quieting the noisy things in their new apartment: the drip of the kitchen faucet, the front door hinges, a rattle in the ring of the phone. If only he could have rubbed her back or asked if she wanted to sleep alone, instead of assuming that she did. Only recently had she forgiven him for being unprepared to act, for not treating her the way she wanted-for being David.
But now he is holding his breath, waiting, as if he is nine and has broken a special mantelpiece dish. As if her pregnancy is entirely his fault, and he is saying, "I'll never do it again as long as I live, I swear," and also as if he is completely innocent: "It wasn't me. I didn't do it. He did it."
If only he would do something with his hands, say something with his head, with his heart. Declare something. Anything.
"Whatever you want to do, Clare, I'll do," he could say. He could put his hands on some part of her body, some place no one else would touch her, like on her butt or her neck.
She would accept that-it might not be as much as she needed, but it would be enough. She'd much rather slap him for being wrong than for being a coward.
She begins counting. She's seen parents do it to their kids with great effect. Of course, children understand the rules. She knows it is slightly unfair. She should tell him what she's thinking, but there's just too much. And only barely can she remember the stuff at the beginning-when he bought her a plane ticket to introduce her to the farm where he grew up. He showed her how to milk a cow and made pancakes for her with berries from the property. By twenty, she promises herself she'll walk.
One, twoâ€¦ David sighs and stuffs his hands in his pockets, making fists. This habit is only acceptable when he can't decide which movie to see, or whether to take Stella to the dog park or on a hike. And then, even, perhaps it's not because she has to make the decision and then be responsible for it going bad.
Five, sixâ€¦David embarrasses her. Drinking in social situations, he is first obsequious, then boastful, and then more boastful, while everyone else is just normal. He namedrops. Authors he's met, celebrities who have his name in their Blackberrys. As the lead Democratic Party organizer for the 2008 elections, he does know more people than most, but why does it have to matter so much? People seem impressed, but she knows that they're just being polite because they always excuse themselves. But it's worse when he isn't drinking. He either broods all night, one inch from her, as she circuits the party or he claws at her, claims her to the point where it's sweaty and red where his hands have been. She thinks she should want this kind of attention, but it feels desperate and people look at her like they are sorry. She doesn't tell him about all of the parties she goes to anymore.
Nine, tenâ€¦her best friend outlawed discussing David a year ago. Until Clare has new insight, her sisters also don't want to hear it. Recently, even Clare has omitted the fact of him in her life on occasion. Even when he is jerking inside of her, dripping sweat in her eyes, she has mastered taking herself away. She has memorized the swipes in the plaster walls of their bedroom, devising secret landscapes of city and country. She provides her body, sequesters the rest, and is amazed he doesn't notice. It occurs to her that it's a miracle-that a life could be born under such conditions. Maybe it was meant to be? Part of some master plan? But to teach her a lesson or because she really did love him?
Thirteen, fourteenâ€¦people have suggested a therapist, but she knows she would have to explain why she's been David's girlfriend for the past two-and-a-half years. Convenient, always there. But isn't that something?
Seventeen, eighteenâ€¦the truth is there were men before David, men during David, men she imagines will be in her future after David, but none of them are sticky like he is. They say what they think, but what they think is hard to hear, and then they don't stick around. It has always been like this.
She looks at David with a stare that she gives no one else, least of all herself. There is a large dose of resignation in it, making her mouth curl and her forehead divide into lines, but it doesn't feel awful or boring. Her eyes give her away. They are not narrowed. If they could just start anew, she thinks.
By the count of twenty, his eyes are blinking. The light begins to buzz and dim as it does when it's been on too long. He shifts the weight on his feet.
"Clare?" He pinches clumps of hair in his beard.
"What, David! What?!" She shouts in his face, grabbing his arms.
He backs away. "I'm justâ€¦ just..."
"You're just unbelievable!" Clare pushes him against the glass door of the shower stall. "Damn you!"
She runs into their bedroom and grabs her keys, her coat, and her bag. Turning, she sees David in the doorway of the bathroom and he is fingering a button on his shirt. She can't think of a time he's looked more ridiculous and she wants to say something flip like "Ciao" or "Sayonara," wants to kick him in the balls, butcher his beard, or tell him she has just never been a happy person, and that she needs his help. But she can't find any words. The going is all she has. It would mean everything if she could just do it. So, she does it.
You can't leave," David demands, as if he is trying out for the part of a general in a play.
Hearing this, Clare turns in the doorway and sees, not David at first, but the VCR clock. It is still blinking 12:00. Midnight or noon, she wonders. The beginning of a new day or a continuation of the same?
"I can't leave?" Her head throbs again and the adrenalin makes her hands ache.
"I don't want you to leave."
"Now?" Her voice feels like it's coming out of her ears.
"But." She stamps her foot. Isn't it all too impossible?
And before she can think it, he is stripping her body of her coat, keys, and bag. She wants him to keep going, to take everything off of her. She wants to grieve in heavy hot tears for the disrespect, and the waste.
"David, will youâ€¦" she begins, but he is already pulling on her shirt and pushing his mouth into her neck. She lets herself breathe deeply and drops her body into his arms.
By Jill Battson
I started my truck at dawn on a cold Santa Fe morning and shook my head to get the sleep out of my eyes because I had stayed up most of the night looking at a pistol in the middle of my kitchen table.
I didn't plan on using it, I guess. With a finger, I spun it gently by the barrel as if it were a compass and could tell me a direction. I remember thinking Bob Dylan. No Direction Home. The refrigerator ticked mechanically and there was an occasional tumble of ice plopping into the freezer bucket. I was alone and the sounds were familiar. I didn't sleep any more.
I left the pistol at the center of the table, the barrel facing away from me and toward the other side. It seemed as good a place as any for it to be.
My truck idled and I fiddled with the heat. Cold. The sky was barely awake with streaks of pink and thin pale clouds that would melt away when the sun finally got its strength up. I had no place to go and could only think of going where the pistol pointed-nowhere.
Do you know the feeling when you are driving and the vehicle seems to know the way? This happens when you are lost in yourself and deep in some mystery about life or why things happen the way they do. My truck found its way despite me and went on a road-this road.
I finally heard the music playing while I drove and I focused-Lucinda Williams singing "Ventura"-and I'm thinking: can I throw up a confession? Don't know. What is there to confess?
I turned somewhere.
OK, there is this: I loved my ex-wife to a point. I loved her until something changed in her eyes and her food no longer tasted so good to me. She was a great cook. But things changed and the dinners became lonely events every eveningâ€¦Keith Olberman blabbing on the TV about the 2008 presidential elections. Gas prices.
So love can turn in an instant intoâ€¦something else. Not hate. Not yet. Love just turns and you can never prepare for it. I imagine a person walking down a street, through a city, a suburb, a park, a beautiful beach boardwalk and then something comes to them in a flash: a plaque on a bench remembering someone dead and their vision of the ocean or flowers or the sky or the trees lining the sidewalk that stretches on and finally ends on a corner where another turn comes and things are left, right, straight. Finally, a thought that just says: there it is. I never thought it would come to this. I'm amazed. I'm horrified. I'm alive.
The truck drifted onto the freeway, out of Santa Fe.
There was a guy named Howard I met in a Holiday Inn bar who told me Santa Fe is a place of redemption.
"People come here who make mistakes somewhere else that are so bad only Santa Fe offers them a second or third chance," he said, looking at nothing in particular and slowly turning a glass of neat whiskey. He had a close-cropped beard and a wry tone. "Santa Fe is very forgiving. Hell, you could commit murder and come here and fit in."
Santa Fe kicked my ass. The plan was to come, like so many who head west do, and make a new start under blue sky days and nights black and salty with stars.
Except I ignored Richard Ford's admonition I had read so long ago to avoid (at all cost) searing regret. Regret that burns deep into you like a tattoo you wish you had never gotten, but there it is and it won't go away and it is a reminder of a thing that should never have happened. You could have helped it. You could have stopped it. But the tattoo of regret flashes in the mirror and washes to a shine in the shower and you know it is there under the shirt and the coat and your skin.
The end began with a kiss, which is funny because a kiss is normally the start of something wonderful. I met a woman through an acquaintance over lunch. She was willowy and smart and I was taken with her almost immediately.
Email to her: "Do you believe in love? I do. Despite my marriage and all of the loss and guilt I still believe in love and its power to save."
Email to me: "Love fades. It feels good now, exciting and passionate, but it won't be long and this good feeling will fade."
So it went. Lunches. Secret walks to secret places.
Then came the dog park. We went at the spur of the moment. And a kiss happened and it made me love her once and for all and whatever I had left for my now ex-wife was gone forever. It extinguished all old feelings and the only thing I can think of to describe it is Robert Hughes' title "The Shock of the New." Something new had happened-interesting and strange-and my world was blown away in a perfect nihilistic kiss. Maybe dada.
A modern phrase: It is what it is.
I kissed her gently-it was my first kiss of another's lips in years and years-then harder and she finally took my tongue. Her nose was larger than I was used to and I turned my head. Her lips were soft and warm and resisted and then forgave.
Her breast was in my hand and my forefinger found her nipple and I circled it like a hunter: around and around and around ever closer to the goal.
I had her taste on my lips for hours.
Email to her: "I will give you my heart and my head and my life. Think Leonard Cohen: I've touched your perfect body with my mind."
Email to me: "I cannot give up my life. I have too much. It's too much to ask for me to leave where I live, what I have. Do you understand how hard that is?"
Email to her: "No. Life and love are not easy."
Email to me: "For me life is not a sacrifice. It is comfort. It is this paradise I live in. The only sadness is you cannot live in it with me."
It is what it is.
Last email: "Is it over for us?"
"Yes. I am sorry."
I am thinking of that pistol on my kitchen table now and my truck is flying along an empty morning road in New Mexico. A hawk wheels in the sky.
There was a therapist in my life once. Suicide is a viable option, I told her. Viable? It is a choice like not having a baby when you are pregnant or not being treated for cancer with chemo orâ€¦ Or? Or deciding this is not worth doing any more.
There is a place where the road comes to a rise just outside Galisteo. My truck stopped there. A huge basin, white gray in the bright morning light with nothing in it but the occasional tree or odd Cholla, lay spread before me wide open and inviting.
I remember being here with my ex-wife and saying, "This is why I came out here. That road."
And running out below us, away from the rise and stretching ramrod straight and true was the rest of the road. It ran until my eyes could not follow it any more and it faded into the horizon and the Sandias sitting blue on the horizon. A song by the Killers fired on my internal soundtrack: burning down a highway skyline, on the back of a hurricane that started turning when you were young.
"This road looks like it goes on forever. But it doesn't. In the end it comes to a place where everything comes true. It's why people come west, Sharon. Hope at the end of the road."
And she looked out the windshield and thought it over a few seconds and her forehead did not even crease with thought.
"Thomas," she said. "Don't you realize? Nothing is there."
Santa Fe Reporter