Small Cuts (9) James

To find links to all parts of the story, please visit the Small Cuts page. Here is James again:

I hated these golf outings. Not that I hated golf —I actually thought it was kind of Zen to follow the ball over the terrain of the course— but I hated having to make small talk and show the appropriate balance of humble gratitude and ambitious hunger to the partners who sponsored the excursion. I had asked Elaine to join me. All the spouses were invited. She had declined and I didn’t press her. I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to waste 5 hours of her day listening to the false bonhomie of young lawyers eager to impress their bosses. I couldn’t remember the last time Elaine and I had golfed together. Had it been two years, maybe three? Was this one more thing she had gone along with just to please me when our relationship was new?

Sleep eluded me. I listened to the sounds of Elaine not being able to sleep either. She tossed and turned, sighed heavily, rearranged her pillow, got up for water and then a second time for the bathroom. At some point, I must have drifted off because a rumble of thunder startled me awake. I’d been dreaming, but the vision dissipated immediately when I opened my eyes. Nevertheless, it left me with an overwhelming sense of dread. When the storm abated, dark finally gave way to grey scale, and I abandoned further hope of slumber and threw off the covers. After a shower and shave, I quietly relocated to the kitchen for coffee. Elaine never stirred.

After three strong cups of coffee for fortification, I loaded my clubs into the car and went back upstairs to let her know I was leaving. I touched her bare shoulder and she opened an eye.

“Hey. What are you up to today?” I asked her.

She rubbed her eyes, looking as tired and drawn as I felt. “I don’t know. Get in a workout, maybe. I feel fat after that dinner last night.”

“Yeah. Let’s keep it light tonight. Salads or something,” I replied.

She murmured something under her breath and burrowed under the covers again. I asked, “You want me to pick something up on the way home?”

“Sure, whatever.”

“Ok. I…” I paused. “I’ll see you tonight.” I kissed her cheek and backed out of the room.

I didn’t know how to fix this. I didn’t know what ‘this’ was exactly. I never took Oliver’s flirting with Elaine seriously until recently. Until I saw how she had begun to bask in his attention. Maybe that was my fault. If Elaine wasn’t getting what she needed from me, she would look for it elsewhere. The trouble was, I wasn’t getting what I needed either, but I didn’t know how to tell her that without sounding like I was casting the blame. I didn’t want to lose Elaine. I wanted the Elaine I had married, though. The woman who shared all my interests had been replaced by a woman I barely knew.

As I backed out of the garage, I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror. Had I misled Elaine? Had she married a different man from the one who stared back at me now? Or had she known and hoped somehow that I would change? That was surely a recipe for disaster. I paused at the end of the driveway to let a car pass and wondered if there was any way for Elaine to be happy with me. The road ahead was neither smooth nor straight.

Illustration my own.

Small Cuts (8) Genevieve Continues

To find links to all parts of the story, please visit Small Cuts: A Work In Progress. Here is what Genevieve is thinking….

I had trouble falling asleep but not for the usual reason. I had hope. There might be a light at the end of the tunnel and for once, it wasn’t an oncoming train. Maybe having James for a friend was just what I needed. Losing my job made my social isolation even more apparent. I felt less of a person because of it. It was more than just a blow to my confidence or self esteem, it was as if without this job, these duties, I was ceasing to exist. I anxiously awaited the day when I would wake up next to Ollie and he wouldn’t realize I was there.

In a sense, the same thing had happened with my girlfriends from school. Over time, as we moved forward with our careers and our marriages, moved from one place to another, and yes, gotten pregnant —or in my case, remained childless— I faded from the circle. I had dutifully attended the baby showers, listened to the women speak in a language I didn’t understand, watched them coo and sigh over tiny little shoes and socks, stuffed bears and miniature bedding and blankets. With each one, I began to be less and less of a presence. No longer was I asked to help with the planning or decoration. Next, I was seated further from the piles of presents, grouped with the distant family members only invited out of obligation. I would sneak out early and no one ever noticed. My exclusion from the ‘mother club’ rendered me invisible.

I longed to be significant to someone else and at the same time, resisted it. Without that validation, it was as if I was no one at all. I had struggled to find that importance in my own family —as the middle child, I was left to fend for myself mostly. My parents had been absorbed in my older brother and my younger sister to the point that I needed to misbehave in order to garner their attention. Frankly, I didn’t have it in me to rebel too terribly much and as a result, was largely ignored as a child. So I found myself identified as Allison’s sister, Craig’s sister, Josephine and Steven’s daughter and now, Oliver’s wife. Who was the woman I looked at in the mirror every morning? Genevieve might exist in the mirror but she did not reside within this flesh. She was a vague, ephemeral force that flitted in and out of existence as she was seen and defined by the rest of the people who intermittently stepped into the same space, the same time that the force happened to simultaneously occupy. When the moment passed, when they moved on, she was gone…

If I had a baby, if I bore a child, I would become ‘baby’s mother’ —even less of a woman, a being, a self, than I already struggled to be.

Where was I? James. Yes, I had lost my train of thought.

A friend —that was what I needed. An independent source of acknowledgement, substantiation, confirmation that I was legitimate, valid, solid, real. And important on a different level than I was accustomed to. Men and women interacted with each other so much differently than women did with other women. There would be no competition, no judgment, no comparison to an ideal I couldn’t possibly achieve. I believed that James had the potential to ‘see’ me and not as the Genevieve in the mirror. I finally drifted off to sleep with that thought in mind —James would bring me back to life.

By the morning, however, I began to doubt. I awoke to Oliver’s soft snoring in the half light of dawn. He was sleeping on his back, one arm thrown back over the top of his head. I reached over and laid my hand on his chest. He didn’t move, didn’t shift, didn’t break the rhythm of his breathing. I had no effect whatsoever. The specter that was Genevieve did not penetrate his dreams. What would the waking Oliver find? Was this the day Gen would fade away for good?

I pulled my robe on and slipped from the bedroom. It was 6:15 am —too early for anyone in the neighborhood to be up and about, save for the religious and maybe the dedicated athlete. I made coffee and stared out the window as it brewed. Across the roofs of the houses, a trio of vultures circled. A dead thing in the field below. Were they waiting for the predators to finish their meal before swooping in and gleaning from the corpse? Or was there a sort of protocol they followed for claiming the residue of a kill? I didn’t know. I stared at them on their invisible, mid-heaven carousel. I blinked. They were gone.

The coffee maker had shut itself off. I had lost time. It was nearly 9:00 according to the clock on the stove. The house was as silent as a tomb. I hurried back to the bedroom and found it deserted. The bathroom was warm and humid from the residual steam of the shower. Oliver’s towel was damp and the scent of his aftershave lingered on the air.

“Ollie?” I called, knowing there would be no answer.

“Oliver!” I shouted as I raced to the garage and confirmed what I already knew. His car was gone. He was gone. And I wondered if he forgotten to say goodbye or if he had finally forgotten about me altogether.

Header image ~ The Mirror’s Eye, by Meg Sorick

Small Cuts (7) Oliver Again #fiction

Read the opening thoughts of each of them: James, Elaine, Oliver and Genevieve. Then James again, Elaine continues and now Oliver again…

It happens this way in dreams: Once in a while in the midst of the dense fog, there is a brief moment of clarity. A parting of the mist where for an instant the terrain of the road ahead is visible and navigable. With confidence, you forge ahead until once again the clouds descend and the view is obscured. And not only is the way now hidden but the lay of the land forgotten, rendering you immobile and impotent to act.

This was the state of my mind now and really, it had been for the past few weeks, months —maybe even a year. The obstacles between Gen and me seemed insurmountable. How do two married people on opposite sides of the issue of starting a family manage to come to terms? How do you possibly compromise on that? It’s not like I could do this without her… Even if I offered to be a stay-at-home-dad, it would still be her body carrying our child, she —the vessel bringing another being into the horror that was this world we lived in.

And now, with the added variable of Elaine in the mix, I was no longer certain I wanted to fix the issues between my wife and myself. I felt like throwing everything into the fire and starting over. And yet, and yet… Without knowing for sure if Elaine shared my feelings —which to be honest were intensely strong but vague in scope— I didn’t dare make a move that could destroy not one, but two marriages, and a best friendship that had lasted decades.

Ironically, Genevieve had seemed happy on the way home from the restaurant. She actually talked animatedly about her conversation with James. Apparently, James had decided to read his way through some classic literature and she had been delighted to give him advice.

I should be jealous, I thought to myself. I was positive Elaine wouldn’t be babbling away about the things we had talked about tonight. James would have been jealous. Wouldn’t he? Or was he really that oblivious to his wife’s beauty and my attention to her? Of course the devilish solution to the whole problem whirled around in my head: James with Gen, me with Elaine. I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time such a thing happened. It just seemed so … unsavory didn’t quite cover it. Could new love be founded on the bones of betrayal? Because if nothing else, I was sure of my love for Elaine. If she loved me too, was it fair to deny it? This where the fog descended and I became most disoriented. Somewhere ahead was a cliff or a gradual slope, the step I chose could be disastrous or easy to transverse. I couldn’t act rashly.

Later that evening, as I brushed my teeth, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. Which man stared back at me from the glass? The husband or the adulterer? A man bound for happiness or misery, love or loathing, and which of those men was which?

I set my toothbrush into the ceramic mug beside Gen’s and flipped the light off on my way out. The bedroom was dark, save for the reading light on my bedside table. Gen was already sleeping when I came into the bedroom. She looked so beautiful, so delicate with her porcelain skin and long, slender limbs curled beneath the heavy duvet. Her blonde mane fanned out over her pillow like a tawny silk shawl in the wind. She was facing away from me, so I touched one soft strand, wound it around my finger then let it drop, as I climbed in beside her. In the dark, after the lamp was extinguished, I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling. Only then did I become aware that her rhythmic breathing sounded forced and I wondered if her sleep was feigned. I wondered if we would both lay awake tonight thinking about the future.

Tomorrow, my fate would be decided.

Header illustration: Man In the Mirror ~ Meg Sorick, 2018