Categories
Fiction

A Bottle of Wine

“Screw you, too!” I screamed to the slamming front door. Even knowing he wouldn’t hear me, I couldn’t help but add a resounding, “Bastard!”, punctuated by the throwing of a coaster.

It hit the wall with a dull thud, causing a picture to fall and crack sharply on the hardwood floor.

“Gahhh!” My hands clenched, nails digging painfully into the skin as I fought the urge to throw another coaster. Marco was gone. Again. Unless I wanted more of a mess to clean up, throwing another coaster wasn’t going to get me anywhere. No matter how satisfying it was in the moment. I fought my fury to bring in what was supposed to be a deep, cleansing, peaceful breath into my body. What I got was more like the snort of a raging bull. My grandmother had tried to warn me about Italians and Irish mixing in marriage. And like a good, stubborn Irish lass, I ignored her.

I had to do something with all of this pent of energy. While it might be spring in the Lower 48, here in good old Alaska, it was Slush Season. Which meant taking a walk was out. And my dearly, beloved husband had just driven off with the truck, leaving me stranded to the confines of our happy, little home. Cleaning, it was.

I started with the more recent mess. An assortment of various items now lying haphazardly about the floor. A silent testimony to the trail this latest fight had taken; TV remote, plastic cup (thankfully empty), paperback novel, coaster, and picture. Thankfully, the glass hasn’t broken and the frame was still more or less intact. I pushed the edges together and hung it back in its spot, trying hard not to look at our smiling faces. I didn’t want or need a reminder that there had been times when I wasn’t this angry at my husband or he at me.

Done, I looked about the house. It was clean. Every room had been deep cleaned within the last week and a half. Friends joked about cabin fever, spring cleaning, and my bordering obsession with becoming a clean freak. If they only knew the truth. What else was there?

Attic. We had an attic space. And since I couldn’t remember the last time I had been up there expect to shove more junk in it. I felt confident that that should last me at least the rest of the day. If I was lucky, it would take me two. With the way things had been going, I would need it. Sad thought, that.

Armed with a roll of trash bags, dust rags, medium sized plastic storage boxes, can of Pledge, phone, phone charger, and blue-tooth speaker, I made my way to the small attic storage space we had carved out of the whole attic when we first moved in. I flicked the light and the singular bulb, hanging from its cord flared to life. Marco had promised to put in a proper light fixture years ago. Just another empty promise among thousands. Irritation and anger flashed again, hot and ready.

Cleaning. I had to start cleaning.

I threw myself into the project with a vengeance that would make even the hosts of those hoarder TV shows proud. Nothing was safe. Every item and scrap was scrutinized, tossed, set aside for donation, or cleaned within an inch of its metaphorical life. Hours passed and slowly, the anger drained. But still I kept cleaning, working my way back through the layers like some archaeologist seeking long lost treasures of the past. Though thus far, most of what I found needed to go into the trash. What had possessed us to hold onto this junk anyway?

That was when I found the box. Tucked away in a large U-haul box of various relics was a medium sized cherry wood box with vaguely Celtic designs carved on the front. The last time I had seen this was right after our honeymoon. Frowning, I undid the simple faux gold snap and opened the lid. Nestled inside were four envelopes and behind those a bottle of merlot from 2009, the year of our marriage. If this was what I thought it was…

I checked the envelopes. Sure enough two were addressed to Marco and two to me. One of the ones addressed to Marco was in my handwriting. Of my two, one was from Marco and the other from his sister. This was our Make-Up Box. On the day of our first big fight we were supposed to open this box together, read the letters, and drink the bottle. I think we missed the deadline on this one.

I almost shoved the letters back in and re-latched the thing. I was almost ready to rebury it. Almost.

Instead, I picked up the letter from Marco’s sister and opened it. I wasn’t ready to read Marco’s words. Not after what he had just screamed at me before he left.

Well, if you are reading this, congratulations. You are now well and truly married.

Trust Joanna to open a letter of this nature like that. I felt myself smirk. She always did know how to talk past my strong emotions, which was why she was my best friend.

Truthfully, though, I am sorry that you are fighting so badly that you’ve had to go to this. But from a woman who has been married for a few years herself, trust me when I say, every marriage gets here at some point or other. And it’s not until you’ve hit this point that you come to realize just what your marriage is made of and if it’ll last or not. Knowing you and knowing my brother, you’ll make it and be okay. If anything, because you both are two darn stubborn to call it quits. You know you are. So just might as well admit it now and move on.

Admit it yet? Good.

Now I know my brother can be worse than a stubborn mule. I did grow up with him after all. But I also know how crazy in love with you he is. And we both know how horrible he is with words and expressing those things we call emotions. Come on. You do remember how he proposed to you, right? Right? Exactly. He loves you. He just gets so twisted up in his frustration that everything but what he needs to say comes out instead. You’ve got to remember that about him. And about you, too. Yeah. You do it, too.

So do both of you a favor. Shut up with the words. Drink the wine. Remember that you actually like each other most of the time. Trust that this too will pass. And it’ll be okay. Promises and pomegranates.

I closed the letter, letting it fall in my lap. She was right. Marco stunk when it came to dealing with emotions. He proposed in the middle of a grocery shopping trip for goodness sake. And when he was frustrated or hurt, he raged like a bull.

Not that I was any better. There had been plenty of times this last fight when we could have stopped. But I had said something, or rolled my eyes, and kept it going. I was just as guilty as he was.

Damn.

I opened his letter. Scrawled in the middle of the page with his heavy hand were two words:

I’m sorry.

I don’t know how long I sat there crying. But eventually, I heard the front door open. Marco was home.

Time to set things right. I stood up, clutching the box and its contents to my chest, and made my way out of the attic. “Marco?” I called out, voice thick and rusty.

“…Polo!” he called out in return. Was it just me, or did his voice sound thick, too? Either way, he must not have still been angry. He wouldn’t have answered that way otherwise.

Maybe Joanna had been right. Maybe we would be okay. If could both just shut up instead of insisting on winning every time. If we could just remember how much we did like the other. How much fun we normally had together. If we could just…

“I think it’s time for a bottle of wine.”

Categories
Fiction

House Call

“Taxi!”

One of the many benefits of living in New York is that there is always, and I mean always, a taxi ready to go. Less than a minute later, even in the dead of night, a yellow and black wrapped car eased out of the river of endless traffic and glided gently to a stop beside me. A quick glance at the interior and the face of the cabbie was enough to assure me that it was safe enough to enter. The back was clean, no left over food containers or crumpled tissues. The front was as well; passenger side clear save for a worn novel, no tacky decorations hung from the rear-view mirror, and no little Hawaiian girl danced on the dashboard. Even the cabbie was clean cut; his dark hair with wisps of silver cut close and a white dress shirt without too many wrinkles. He turned in his seat as much as the seatbelt would allow as I slid in and greeted me with a smile. Laugh lines framed his bright eyes. He’d make a terrific grandpa, if he wasn’t one already. “Hello.”

“Hi.” I gave a nod and busied myself with the seatbelt, arranging my purse on my lap. My phone buzzed, vibrating through the Louis Vuitton leather. The great search started as I tried to remember just where I shoved it this last time amid the various pockets and other necessities of life.

“Anywhere in particular?”

“Oh, oh!” My head snapped up. That was right. He needed to know where to go. Stupid, thoughtless me. “Home.”

I found my phone, hiding under the Kleenex, three sticks of lipstick, and a thrashed to hell pack of cinnamon gum. It vibrated again and this time I could see the blue flash of the light indicating my unread messages. My fingers fished through the debris and claimed my prize. Three text messages, one Hangout, eight Facebook, two Instagram, one Snapchat, twelve tweets, and ten emails all vied for my response and attention. Some were social, others work, everything a huge mesh of the two realms making it hard sometimes to tell where one stopped and other began. And neither one ever really stopped. Thank goodness for long lasting batteries and recharging sticks. Such was my life these days.

As the cab eased itself back into traffic, I busied myself with the unending task of trying to clear my notifications. Sometimes I felt like that guy from Greek mythology who was always pushing a rock uphill. No sooner would I finish responding to the last piece of communication, then off my phone would go off again, starting the whole process over. I was so engrossed, I never bothered to look up at the streets or buildings that slid past my window.

“Looks like you’re quite the gal in demand,” the cabbie commented.

“…Yeah. Always something going on.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“Depends. Both.” I frowned at the screen, trying to concentrate on my reply to my boss about a client she had a question on.

“Seems like a heavy load.”

I clenched my jaw to hide the frown. I hated the talkative cabbies. If I wanted conversation, I would start conversation. Couldn’t he see I was busy? He wasn’t going to earn any extra brownie points or larger tip for trying to keep me company. In fact, the general rule of thumb was the more they talked, the less I tipped. Hopefully this one would take the hint. “I’m really needing to focus on this right now.”

“Oh. Okay. Sorry ‘bout that.”

I nodded, not even bothering to look up.

“Just to clarify. You said home, right?”

“Yes. That’s right.” I hoped my voice didn’t sound too harsh. But then again, but I wasn’t overly concerned if some of my irritation leaked through either. This one was proving to be less astute than most.

“Got it.”

Please, dear sweet goodness, let him get it.

The cabbie got it. The rest of the ride was blissfully silent. I even manged to respond to everything and a few extras that had floated into my phone by the time the cab stopped.

“Here we are,” the cabbie said.

“Thank you.” I opened my purse and began the hunt for my wallet. Movement drew up my eyes.

The cabbie had his hand up. “No need. Rides home are free for the ladies. Especially this time of night.”

That was a first. “Well…Are you sure?”

“Sure as sure,” he grinned at me through the rear view.

“Okay….Thanks.” He nodded.

I unbuckled, stepped outside, taking care not to miss the curb, and closed the door behind me. Only then did I look up and realize I was at the wrong location. This wasn’t home. In fact, I was nowhere near my little condo nestled tightly in the embrace of Chelsea. Instead, we were in the suburbs of College Point. And I was standing in front of my parent’s home. The house I grew up was standing in front of my parent’s home. The house I grew up in and left over a decade ago, never to return.

Most of the lights were off, but I saw the light in my parent’s bedroom still on. Mom was up. She always had been a night owl. After Dad died, I heard through the grapevine that it only got worse. With no one to chide her to bed at a decent hour, she was up until the wee hours of night now on a regular basis.

Not where I wanted to be.

Not where I needed to be.

I turned around to get back in and tell that to the cabbie, but the cabbie was gone. And when I say gone, I mean gone. No sight of him rounding the bend, no flash of tail lights, no sound of the engine. Nothing. Gone. Like he had never been there in the first place.

My first instinct was to call another cab. I had my phone out and even had the number pulled up and ready to dial. All I had to do was press the call button. My finger lingered over the screen. As if they had a mind of their own, my eyes drifted back to the illuminated bedroom window. It had been so long. But I couldn’t go back. That proverbial bridge had not just burned, but had an atomic bomb dropped on it. My father had been very clear on that point. Whoever had said blood was thicker than water didn’t know a thing. I turned away, back to the cold, empty street. I needed to go.

“Gabby?”

Shit.

Maybe if I didn’t say anything. Maybe if I just walked away. Pretended like I didn’t hear her. In the dim street light I might be able to pass for a stranger, mistaken identity. Panic fluttered in my chest; a trapped bird inside a cage that was far too small. I hit send and brought the phone to my ear. I turned to my left and retreated.

“Gabriela Nicole Henderson! Stop right there this instant!”

Apparently she was not going to mistake me with a stranger. And even after all these years, I was not going to disobey my mother when she used that tone. I doubt anyone ever would, ever could.

A soft and distant voice spoke from my phone, “Good evening. Thank you for calling Yellow Cab. Where do you need a ride to today?”

I hung up.

Slowly, I turned to face my mother, my gaze trained on the broken concrete at my toes. “Hi, Mom.”

Scurrying down the brick inlay path ,thick fuzzy pink robe held closed with one hand, my mother ate up the distance between us. I know I should have walked towards her, met her half way. But I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t after what I had done. Why couldn’t the ground suddenly open up and swallow me whole? That would have been a mercy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come here.  I must have given the cabbie the wron-”

“Stop.”

I stopped.

“Look at me, Gabby.”

I held out for about three seconds before my eyes drew up to meet hers. People always said we had the same dark chocolate brown eyes. Right now, hers were filled with pain, confusion, and a million other emotions for which the human tongue has no name. I’m pretty sure mine held only one; guilt.

Her hands came up and grasped my arms, fingers digging through my jacket. Her robe fell open to reveal a long line of her thin floral nightgown. She didn’t seem to notice. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Mama…” I shook my head and swallowed hard against the painful squeezing in my throat, rendering me speechless.

“It’s okay, baby girl. It’s okay.” Her hands ran up and down my arms. “I never blamed you…Now. Come inside now…You’re home at last.”

Home. The cabbie’s words echoed through my mind. I never had given him an address. How had he known?

A clatter followed by a sharp crack near my feet informed me that my phone had fallen. Screen was probably cracked now. But that didn’t seem to matter anymore. I was wrapped up tightly in my mother’s arms.

I was home.