Shelly never could explain herself. Not
as a teenager when her mother asked her where she’d been so late. Not
as a young mother when her husband left her a widow. Fifty years
later, a widow twice, it was her strong belief that she could get
along without a man.
Dry eyes, a straight back, Shelly stood
at the graveside. Her bottle black hair, a concession to old age,
matched the dark raincoat wrapped around her spreading waist. Her
daughters each had someone. She couldn’t explain why she envied them
the happiness they had found with men who adored them.
Tent packed, sleeping bag in the car, Sophie set off for the Florida Keys where, at fifteen, she had ducked through mangrove channels, oars pacing past leaf littered roots and crowding branches. With the divorce final, Sophie needed a vacation.
Drenched in sweat, she would breathe the soggy air, gathering the constituent parts of herself that had withered in a confining relationship with a man she still loved. She would smile at deer flashing their white tails as they sped away.
Water sheeted the windscreen. Sophie pulled over, the car rocking, the wind howling. Wet noise covered her inevitable disappointment.
Mother Nature announced that her nephew, Dorian, was limbering up for a run along the East Coast. Not known for her empathy, the goddess told an AP reporter that she’d be cheering him on.
She mugged for the camera. “Don’t you love my new look,” she asked pointing to her melting ice caps. “Things are so fluid now.” She held a towel, maybe longing for a hot bath or a long shower. “Global warming has changed my whole look. So many insects, forest fires, new algal blooms.”
She ended the interview saying, “It’s a new world. Get used to it.”
You back out of the driveway, past the “For Sale” sign, into
the same roads you sped over in high school. Some blacktop. Some
gravel. All deserted. No one caught on and you never got caught.
You know you can drive fast until you get to town. Then slow to a
crawl. Wave at Mrs. Brown. Pull up to the undertaker’s where your
honor student persona worked ages ago as a receptionist. A job where
straight white teeth counted.
When you said good-bye, locked the door on that past life, you never intended to return. But now, alone, you’re back.
When the Titanic sank, it was accompanied by the strains of the orchestra playing Nearer My God to Thee. The music calmed survivors and doomed alike. Maybe the musicians thought there would be enough lifeboats to get away at the last minute. They clearly felt an obligation to provide art as a bromide for the fear of imminent catastrophe.
Once the damage was all sorted out, the musician’s families received bills from the ship’s booking agency for the tuxedos that went down with the ship. Come hell or high water, they would collect what was owed them. Business as usual.