Small Cuts (4) – Genevieve

Find part one here, part two here, and part three here.

Beautiful Elaine. I watched her through my lashes. Beautiful, curvaceous, fecund Elaine. No wonder Oliver couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. His hands, either, for that matter. In comparison, I was a sallow, insubstantial, specter. Whatever fleeting and foolish love Oliver had felt for me in our early days had been completely and unabashedly transferred to the wife of his best friend. I shot a look across the table at James. He’d taken my hand in a gesture of understanding —as Elaine basked in Ollie’s attention— that he was in the same position as I. I turned my hand to link our fingers and whispered, “Thank you.”

“No, Gen, thank you,” he replied. And after a gentle stroke of his thumb to mine, he let it go.

He returned to his meal and I to mine, though I had little appetite. My stomach rolled at the sight of the medium rare red meat. I should’ve ordered something light like the soup. But in an attempt to feel ‘normal’ among all the other normal people, I’d ordered the steak. Oliver had been making snide remarks about my recent weight loss, as if I was doing it just to spite him.

He really had no idea…

For years I had counted on my career to supply the ammunition for my arsenal of arguments against reproducing. I really did see the most horrid side of humankind. But now I didn’t even have that any more. Three missed deadlines, three major screw-ups and I had lost one of the biggest donors the non-profit had on their list. I hadn’t told Ollie, even though it had been a week since I’d been ordered to clean out my desk. I still got up every morning, showered and dressed and left at the same time. However, instead of heading to my Center City office building, I bought coffee at the cafe and I walked. I walked and walked and walked for hours.

Failure. I was a failure. At everything.

That was the reason I didn’t want to have a baby. God, I was barely able to take care of myself. How was I supposed to care for another human being? A little person who had to depend on me for their very existence? It scared me to death. And yet my unwillingness to have a baby was just one more loss on my score card.

I was thoroughly convinced that my parents had had children out of a sense of achievement. As if it was another box to tick off in the accomplishments of life. And now they were exerting that pressure on me. If I didn’t fulfill this duty —this obligation— to produce offspring, it would be yet another demonstration of my incompetence. Yet, the more pressure they put on me, the more resistant I became toward the idea. I’d be damned if I was going to become Oliver’s brood mare just because it was expected of me.

Mother sent emails with articles about how much more difficult it was for women to get pregnant after a certain age —the age I now approached. My sister was an oblivious conspirator in this battle, in that mother had insinuated to her that Oliver and I were trying but failing to conceive. Allison now tried to offer comfort in not so subtle ways. She made remarks about my taking time off work to rest and get my health back —if she only knew— and how stress interferes with all sorts of things, especially fertility. I would laugh and say that would only be a problem if I was trying to get pregnant. And she would tsk and nod with pity and a knowing look.

I hated them all for their self satisfied, ‘I know better than you’ attitudes. It made me want to scream. I was never enough for anyone. No one was ever happy with just me. Why was I so unlovable? Did I not offer enough all on my own? I was a bad daughter, not playing by the rules. I was a bad wife, not yielding to my husband’s desires. I suppose my own desires were of no consequence in comparison. I was a freak of nature. A woman who ignored her biological and evolutionary purposes. I had failed my species.

And now I had even failed at the one thing I counted on for validation —my job.

And so I didn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I found myself I staring into an abyss of perpetual misery. I had no practical answers, no solutions to this predicament. I dreaded talking to Oliver. He would view my newly unemployed status as an opportunity. Or at least he would have a few months ago…

But now I watched him, gazing at beautiful Elaine, his eyes full of tenderness —he used to look at me that way long ago— and the emptiness and despair that washed over me was physically painful. As I looked across the table at James once again, the first tear spilled over and rolled down my cheek.

Small Cuts (3)-Oliver

Find part one here, and part two here.

I had gone too far. I saw the look of pity in Elaine’s eyes and I knew. She knew. To this point, she had probably thought it was harmless flirting. But the truth was, I was in love with my best friend’s wife. And now with a few softly spoken words, I’d let her see the depth of my feelings for her. Maybe I could get out of this. I was a bullshit artist, after all. As a salesman, I dealt in bullshit every day of my life. I grinned.

“You know I can’t stand not to be the center of attention, Lainey,” I said, with a wink.

She let out the breath she had been holding. “Oh, Oliver,” she said, giving my hand a playful smack. “Go on. What were you saying?”

I picked up the story from where I’d left off. Elaine’s husband James, had reached across the table to squeeze my wife’s hand and it hadn’t gone unnoticed by either myself or Elaine. But I was past giving a shit what Gen did.

Cold hearted, self centered bitch. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking getting myself tangled up with the ice queen, but here I was. In the beginning I was smitten. She was everything I admired– smart, beautiful, artistic, cultured, and socially conscious. We’d met at one of the gala functions my company sponsored for its clients. Genevieve had been pressed into attending to win additional funding for the liberal think tank she worked for. As the top salesman for financial products, it was a given that I would attend.

When Genevieve entered the room, all eyes turned. She was tall, a natural blonde, with blue eyes the color of arctic ice. When I introduced myself, she was polite but didn’t smile. That should’ve been my first clue. Nevertheless, I pursued her with the same dogged determination I would have used on a million dollar investor.

When I finally won her over, I had felt like I’d won the lottery. I had a beautiful wife with an important job. She was a brilliant conversationalist with opinions on all the current issues. We’d stay up late debating politics, social issues, philosophy. She, of course, being better informed on all those topics always won the argument. But at the time I had enjoyed the banter.

We’d been married for three years when I raised the subject of children. She had off-handedly remarked while we were dating that she didn’t want any children. I didn’t take her seriously. And, I had thought, if she was serious, she would change her mind. So on our third anniversary, when we had come home from our favorite restaurant, I had taken her to bed, made love to her and afterwards, as she lay in my arms, said maybe it was time we thought about having a baby. She looked at me like I had just asked her to cut off a limb.

“A baby?” she asked with a snort. “You’re funny, Ollie.”

I had pulled her close and kissed her. “No. I mean it. I want us to have a baby.”

She pushed away, holding me at a distance. “You’re serious.”

I nodded.

She slid from beneath the sheets and grabbed for her robe. “Oliver, I told you long ago I didn’t want to have children. Nothing’s changed.”

“Why?” I had asked, propping myself up on one arm.

“Oliver, do you know what I deal with every day when I go to work?” It was a rhetorical question. I wasn’t meant to respond. “Suffering.” She began pacing. “Suffering, poverty, disease, famine, the effects of war on ravaged populations. I read reports of men raping and killing young women in the name of their cause. I see the same young women who have been raped being put to death because they ‘dishonored’ their families. I see pre-pubescent girls having their genitals mutilated in the name of religious tradition. I see young boys being sent to fight in militias before they even reach their tenth birthdays. I see the disobedient being beheaded. I see the faithful strapping suicide bombs to their bodies and walking into crowded marketplaces. That’s the world you want to bring another child into?”

“Gen,” I said softly. “Children are the future. Our future.”

“Not my future.” She turned her back on me.

“Can we at least think about it? It doesn’t have to be now. We have plenty of time. Maybe in a few years….”

She was shaking her head. “Absolutely not. I will never, ever change my mind, Oliver.”

I dropped the subject. I hadn’t meant to ruin our evening, but I had. “Gen, come back to bed.”

An entire year passed before I tried again. We had visited her family for the holidays. Her brother had sired two children, her sister had borne three more and her parents hinted with hopeful expectation, that their youngest child would soon follow suit. Gen had joked with them light-heartedly and laughed it off. With just that tiny sliver of encouragement, I foolishly raised the subject in the car on the way home. It had once again led to an argument, with Gen giving all the same reasons she had before. Suffering. Violence. Poverty. War. Disease. Every word was another small cut in my heart. I loved kids. I wanted to be a father. I never imagined that I wouldn’t have that chance.

It became a wedge between us. A wedge so divisive that even images of happy families on television or in the movies would have Gen stiffen and brace for an argument. Not talking about having a family devolved into not talking at all. Gen lost weight as if to emphasize her already boyish figure. It was like she was saying, “See, Ollie? I’m not made for making babies.” And I began to suspect the real reason she didn’t want a baby was vanity. God forbid, she added a little flesh to those bones.

And that’s when James introduced us to Elaine.

I looked across the table at her now. She was everything Genevieve was not. Her dark eyes shone with warmth and humor. She smiled wide and often. She was animated, outgoing, and effortlessly sexy. Luscious. Curvy. I couldn’t help but touch her. I’d even kissed her once, when the four of us were saying goodnight after another dinner together. It had been dark so I was sure James hadn’t seen. I tried to make it appear playful but I had needed to taste her sweet lips. She hadn’t seemed to mind. Or at least she hadn’t objected. Not having her was an agony.

“Ollie?” Elaine said, breaking my reverie. “Now who’s ignoring who?” She smiled and her adorable dimples appeared. “You’re a million miles away.”

I took her hand and played with the ring on her finger. “Maybe you should join me.”

The Mysterious Arboretum (7)

By Meg Sorick

Last year, I started writing a story for the 10-year-old daughter of a friend. I hope you enjoy it. Find previous chapters here.

Chapter 7

“Mr. V! Did you see that?” Liam asked excitedly. “Look!”

From the depths of the forest flew a tiny winged creature. The teacher and his students instinctively ducked as the flier zoomed over their heads. After a loop, Pella came to a hovering stop in front of Mr. Vogelsinger.

“Teacher!” she cried. “Sandy is in trouble! The professor has her. You need to follow me!”

Mr. Vogelsinger was rendered speechless and stood staring at her with his mouth agape. Pella motioned for him to follow and flew a little way in the direction she’d come. “Please!”

Mr. Vogelsinger shook his head to clear it. “Now hold on just a minute.” He held his hands up for her to stop. “I think you’d better explain…. “ He paused, struggling to wrap his brain around what he was seeing. “You’d better explain… everything.”

“There’s no time!” she cried.

The teacher frowned. “I am not following after a…. “ he waved his hands in her direction. “What are you?”

Pella sighed. “All right, here’s our story…” And she quickly relayed the tale of what had happened to her and her unit as they traveled through this part of the universe. Finishing by explaining how the professor and trapped them to make them do his bidding. “Now will you come with me?”

Mr. Vogelsinger looked skeptical. “I don’t understand. With all your abilities, why couldn’t you free yourself? Surely if you can maintain the habitats of this arboretum, you could move a simple cage to free yourselves.”

“If it were a simple cage, that would be true. But the professor has it rigged with a small explosive device. The explosive device itself is in a container that has a pad that the professor uses to turn it off and on again when he brings us supplies.” She flew in a circle, becoming more agitated. “I’ve tried using the pad myself but it doesn’t work for me. I think maybe another human has to open it. I couldn’t take a chance that I’d set off the device before my friends could get free.”

“Hmm, it might be a fingerprint reader,” Mr. Vogelsinger mused. “If that’s the case, the professor will be the only one who can open it, then.” He cleared his throat. “So that’s what you were hoping to get my student to do for you? Open the container? Good gracious! Sandy could’ve blown herself to smithereens!”

“Well, the professor has her now! We have to hurry!”

This time the teacher sprang into action. “All right, listen up guys. Stay within sight of me but stand back. I can’t take a chance on losing you in this crazy place but I also can’t take the chance on getting any of you hurt. Follow me!”

The class and their teacher hurried to keep pace with the flying alien as she darted along the path and into the trees. They had to follow single file as they wound their way deeper into the habitat. Soon though, they emerged in front of the shed where Sandy and Pella’s friends were being held. Mr. Vogelsinger motioned for the class to wait quietly at the edge of the trees.

He crept to the door and pushed it open. “All right, professor! What do you think you’re doing?”

The professor spun around, shocked and sputtering. “What? Oh! N-n-nothing! Look, your student broke in here and was up to no good!” he blustered, pointing at Sandy in the corner.

“It’s not true Mr. V!” she cried. “He’s the one that’s up to no good!”

Pella flew into the shed and hovered over her caged friends. The professor gaped at her. “There’s another one? Where did you come from?”

She ignored him and spoke to her friends. “You can stop flying now. The teacher is gong to help us!” And at her words, the exhausted fliers stopped their circular flight and dropped to the floor of the cage. Immediately, the ground beneath their feet began to rumble.

The professor cried, “NO!” and made a dive for the container holding the explosive device.

Mr. Vogelsinger stepped in front of him and blocked his way as the building began to shake. “Don’t even think about it!” he ordered.

The professor stopped in his tracks, but as the children waiting outside began to shout, he smiled wickedly. “Don’t you think you’d better go check on your class?”

Mr. Vogelsinger looked from the professor to the tiny imprisoned aliens in the cage. And he realized he had no option….

To be continued…

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