--I HAVE BEEN QUIETLY STANDING IN THE SHADE
Wives and Women
You notice the sag, the pale, drawn-down look of your husband’s face, how it resembles balloon rubber now, or a frozen mudslide stitched with white stubble. He snores coronet-high, head craned against the love seat, exposing his Adam’s apple as if offering his throat to a guillotine.
You remember the long ago sting of his fresh kisses, how his urgent grip once left you fondling bruises at night in your dorm room after he’d left. You’d wept like a dolt then, recalling how he made your pelvis flinch as he counted fields of freckles on your back, his voice a purr.
The woman across the lake is a lot like you, or so you want to believe. Her husband of forty-seven years passed away in August after enduring a protracted bout with prostate cancer. You can see her through your binoculars, pulling weeds in her hand-me-down garden. All these bumpy years, yet she’s held love strong, weaved through the gullies and ditches every marriage eventually faces.
You watch the old woman bend and pluck, watch her wipe sweat from her brow and stretch. She must be near seventy. What a solid soul. What a fine role she’s played.
In the car, you don’t have any specific destination in mind. You know you are not the neighbor across the lake and quite frankly you no longer care to be like her. You’ll drive and keep driving, even if it’s off a cliff.
You wonder if your husband will even notice your absence upon his waking, or maybe he stopped looking years ago. Never mind, you’d rather eat razors than ever again have to hear his lips smacking as he eats casserole with his mouth open, farting in between bites.
Oh sure, you might be a bad woman, a despicable wife, but you no longer care. Instead you roll the car window down and let the wind disrupt your hair. You only know five or six swear words, and still you use them all, even as they come out sing-songy in the flustered breeze.
When the cop pulls you over for speeding, you giggle like a toddler.
“What’s going on?” he asks, but you won’t say. Telling him might ruin everything, and besides, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t understand anyway.
The officer gives you a pass for speeding.
You drive over the canyons and down into a valley. Even in the dark of night, you feel lighter than you ever have.
Back To Good
The man in line at the bank looks exactly like you, only a younger version of you, a you with all his hair and that hair brown and bark-colored like it once was.
He has his driver’s license out, pinched between two fingers, and when you check, sure enough it says Len Kuntz and gives your address, your date of birth, weight and eye color.
A shudder ripples through your left shoulder like a stroke.
You’re about to tap him on the shoulder when the teller calls him forth.
You check the clock on the wall, match the time to the watch on your wrist, examine the blank faces of the people around you and confirm that you’re not in some kind of time continuum gap. This is real, this is your life.
And now the other you is moving toward the door. You leave your place in line and bolt after him, after you.
You worry you might startle the guy, that he’ll think you’re a whack job but you’ve no choice except to address what your own eyes see, so before he steps into the car, you say, “Hey, Len, hold up.”
He turns, his face showing no signs of registering recognition, but neither is he annoyed.
“What up?” he says, using your trademark greeting from the mid 90’s.
“So, you’re like me, a younger me?”
“What if I am?”
“How can there be two of us?”
“When did you start asking so many questions?”
“I’m different, now that I’m older. I’m not as good.”
“Not as good? Not as good as what?”
“I’m not a great human being.”
“Don’t kid yourself—I’m not exactly winning trophies.”
“Where does it go wrong, between you and me, between how old you are and how old I am now?”
“Again with the questions.”
“Please,” you say. “I feel so lonely. I’ve lost everything.”
“All right, all right. You’re not going to start bawling here in the parking lot are you? That granny over there is staring.”
You glimpse the stooped white-haired woman the other you has just referenced.
You turn to the other you and say, “I don’t get why you’re here, but since you are, can’t you just give me one bit of advice, just a nugget, a pebble of anything to help reverse the damage I’ve caused.”
The other you with your then lithe jawline considers your request. The other you has no bags under his eyes, no wrinkles or jowly flaps drooping off his cheeks. The other you is a handsome fuck.
“How fair would that be?” the other you says.
“You’re always taking short cuts, always trying to use white out to make up for the shit you do.”
“So I’m hopeless?” you ask, your heart a dull stone sweating acid.
“Start there. Tell everyone everything, every little bit. Make yourself as small as you can, and once you’re very, very tiny, take a breath and start fresh.”
“Are you serious? That’s your fucking advice.”
“You were the one asking.”
You watch your younger self smirk before driving off in the convertible BMW you’ll later total on a rainy night after a drunken work party.
The sun is a scalding diamond in the sky. You feel dizzy, frazzled. And still you take out your cellphone and dial. When you ex-wife answers, you stutter initially, but then you start and find a cadence and you don’t stop talking until the purge is complete. You say, “I’m sorry,” repeatedly. You fold your ego into a thin envelope. You let your ex-wife scream and swear. You blink back tears. You start to shrink a little. Your bones crick while redacting. The pain is blistering and still you feel yourself smile, because this is the beginning of become small and tiny, the beginning of a way back to good.