The Other Side of Beautiful continued

Her mother stayed home with her, hating every minute of it. Everything about her was cold and disapproving. Everything but her food.

The graceless way her life had developed was not novel. It was not even unusual. Her world seemed to the onlooker like a once delicate, yet slightly tragic garden overgrown and marked by neglect. She thought about how she saw pain and loss in each direction she looked. Her failures sprung up all around her, as the only flowers left in her sad little garden. The petals were colorless and with twisted stems, choked by weeds and sorrow.

Her mother wanted little to do with her, Her father even less. Often as a child she felt like there was some kind of clear partition between she and them. At the dinner table they would sit there, her father reading any one of a number of articles on corporate finance, the rise and fall of whatever company, international trade. Her mother would smoke cigarette after cigarette, her mouth a thin angry line. Sometimes the line would open. “Eat your peas.” Her mother would eye the pile of green orbs she kept piling on top of one another and letting roll back onto the plate. Her mother was an excellent cook. But Arabella was lonely. A battle over peas was better than nothing.

“I don’t like peas.” She would answer defiantly craving the attention an argument would bring. Unfortunately even that was beyond what her parents were willing to give.

“I didn’t ask if you liked them. I told you to eat them.” Later, after dinner was cleared, the kitchen cleaned and her parents watching television in the next room she would kick the table leg rhythmically with the tip of her shoe watching the peas bounce against each other. She would take her fork and smash them into the plate, their sides splitting and green flesh spilling out. “Eat the peas Arabella or they’ll be waiting for you in the morning!” The edges of her mother’s voice sailing through the doorway over the muffled sounds of the television set felt like tiny knives up and down her arms. She pushed the plate forward and laid her head on the table in silent protest, knowing exactly what the cold peas would taste like gulped down with water the next morning and not caring.

Her father ran a consulting firm. He had a head for numbers and a firm grasp on the market. He was well-respected and his firm had netted their clients millions of dollars in revenue from their well-placed changes. He was proud of his work. It was essentially all he cared about. He was not an emotional man. He was sparing with his words, his advice, his affection. Her mother stayed home with her, hating every minute of it. Everything about her was cold and disapproving. Everything but her food. Yes, she was an excellent cook. She made Arabella oatmeal and blueberries in the mornings with a sprinkle of sugar on the top. Sometimes she made pancakes or french toast on weekends, the dough always gold and fragrant under the swirls of melted butter and caramel syrup. A cascade of soups- tomato bisque, cream of chicken, southwest chili- appeared on the table at lunchtime always with a side of four buttered crackers. Her dinners were flawless; tender slices of beef paired with roasted carrots and potatoes steamed from china plates. Bowls of clam chowder beckoned. Crisply fried chicken dripped deliciously onto neatly folded paper towels. It was as if her mother put all of the love she had into the food she cooked. There was none leftover for Arabella. Truthfully she had no need to smile. Her cherry pie smiled for her. She would stare angrily out the window, smoking her cigarettes. Almost as though she were waiting for something or someone to come and rescue her.

When Arabella became pregnant with Luke her mother sniffed and said to her father without looking at him “Well I could have told you that would happen.” Arabella stared at her mother, clutching her abdomen.

“My baby is not a mistake.” Tears slid from the corners of her eyes and tumbled over her quivering cheeks.

“Tell that to the rest of the world.” Her mother spit the sentence at her before getting up to clear the breakfast dishes.

Her father looked at his watch and then back at his article.

“You have always been a liability, Arabella. Twenty-four with no college degree, no job and now pregnant by a man who’d as soon slap you as look at you.”

“He’s rich and smart and he’ll marry me, you watch! I don’t need your judgment or your ridiculous pity! He loves me! He said so! I’ll never come back to you for anything ever again!” She yelled these words even as she herself did not quite believe them. He was rich alright and he’d probably marry her. But Love? That was a whole different story. She doubted he could truly love any woman. Not after the life he’d had. But she loved him. And in the back of her mind she swore she could make him love her back if a thing were even possible. She knew she was THE ONE. It just might take all she had to prove it to him.

*to be continued

The Other Side of Beautiful

She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

This was an ugly time for her. The laundry lay in a messy pile, the sink was full of dishes. Her teenage son slept lankily on the couch, his limbs hanging off the edges. She cursed the tiny one bedroom but it was all she could afford. In fact she’d be lucky to make rent this month. She ran her fingers through her curly hair, grey at the roots, dark brown at the edges. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to the salon. She looked at her hands, her bitten fingernails. She sighed and decided there were more important things to worry about. Like yesterday when she saw her son squeezing his feet into his shoes, wincing slightly. She’d have to come up with the money for new shoes and soon. She wondered if her boss would give her an advance on her paycheck. They could eat ramen and hotdogs for a month if they had to but he needed new shoes now.

She shuffled over to the coffee pot and pushed the button. The familiar gurgle gave her some reassurance she could make it through another day working the checkout line. She never thought she’d be scanning other people’s groceries at forty-one but life happens and she found herself with few if any other options. The coffee pot was full enough to pour a cup so she grabbed her favorite mug from the shelf and filled it with the hot liquid. After adding the milk she put it back in the fridge. The coffee was hot and perfect. If only she could stay there in her slippers and threadbare robe with the hole in the side drinking coffee at the tiny kitchen table. If only she didn’t have to change into the formless black polo and slacks, affix her name tag and drive her old, blue camry to greet the line of impatient shoppers.

”Mommy! I peed!” Her daughter’s voice rang out through the silent apartment.

“Did you pee in the potty Maisie?” She prayed for a yes.

”Yep and I wiped front to back!” Maisie’s pride in her accomplishment was palpable.

“Good job baby! Now go start getting dressed!” She looked over at her son on the couch starting to show signs of life.

“Luke! Maisie is up, she’s getting dressed. I need you to get her breakfast. Remember you’re on duty today. I have to work.” Luke groaned and reached for his cell phone.

”Jesus mom it’s Saturday.” He scrolled his Instagram, his eyes half closed. “Are they ever going to give you a fucking weekend off?” His voice was annoyed yet protective.

“Luke don’t swear! And I know what you mean. We’re short people right now you know that. There’s nothing I can do.”

”What about Dad why doesn’t he ever take her? It isn’t fair.” He threw his phone down on the couch in disgust.

”It’s complicated baby you know that.” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and anger. Life was a lot of things but fair was not one of them.

”I love you!” Maisie bounded down the hallway and jumped into her brother’s lap.

”I love you too Maisie girl.” Luke smiled at his sister. “Are you my supergirl?”

“Yeah!!” Maisie began jumping up and down on the couch. “Pow, bang!” Luke started laughing. “Supergirls need clothes Maisie! Not just underwear! Gross go get dressed!” He lifted her off the couch and led her down the hall to the bedroom she shared with his mother. “Go find a shirt supergirl!” She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

The way things used to be. She almost laughed. She knew exactly how they used to be. She could forget a lot of things but never the afternoon she’d come home early from the caterer. She could never forget hearing the barely audible sighs and whispers from her bedroom as she made her way up the spiral staircase to the carelessly half open door. She could never forget opening the door the rest of the way to witness the rise and fall of a pale, freckled back in a swath of turkish bedclothes. Bedclothes she’d picked out; pale grey sheets and a deeper grey duvet cover with tiny, yellow flowers.  She could never forget that image, that moment. The slender, white back that wasn’t hers stretching and curving with an unfamiliar passion her bed had never known. She watched with morbid curiosity as her husband’s dark familiar hands held the girl’s hips gently, guiding them. They were oddly quiet, serious almost. Passionless but for the occasional sigh. Followed by a hushed reassurance as though they were both complicit in their lie. Their shared pretense that their orgasms held no consequences.

She closed the door gently and made her way back down the stairs. She set her single package on the counter and then her forehead, the cool stone stilling the the fury of betrayal thundering through her mind. Hadn’t she seen this coming? Could she truly say she cared? Their marriage had been dead long before this latest betrayal and she knew her husband cared even less about this woman- not even a woman- than she did. The thought brought her some comfort, but not enough to override the humiliation. She felt broken. It was only a month before that the IRS had started looking into their finances. She had seen the notices on the counter, by his bedside table. “Is everything okay?” She asked, knowing nothing was okay.

“Of course babe, they audit everyone eventually. I got this.” He had it or so he said. She had to admit she knew he’d had nothing. But she didn’t care. She knew that the car, the house…even the endless parade of women was merely a front. She knew he couldn’t let them see that barefoot boy he used to be and still was with his tightly curled afro and overalls two sizes too small getting knocked to the floor by his angry drunk of a father, glasses shattering on the dirty floor. “Get up and clean that shit up, you good-for-nothing excuse for a son!” White foam grew at the corners of his father’s mouth. “You heard me! I said get the fuck up and clean up this mess!” Through a swollen eye he watched his father loosen his belt and head towards the bedroom where he could hear his mother softly crying. He knew she’d be screaming soon after each whip of the belt. He cut his fingers on the broken glass on purpose each time she cried out. It was his penance for being born.

*To be continued*

The Goodbye Song

I told you that words mattered, all those conversations were the reason I was falling. But I’ll give you this— you’re beautiful when it’s raining and there’s nothing but the weather.

There’s a future for us, but I’ll give it up and to know I saw it coming I’ve been through that. 

They can all see the way you’ve been watching me, seeing nothing but my absence….I’ve retreated. 

I told you that words mattered, all those conversations were the reason I was falling. But I’ll give you this— you’re beautiful when it’s raining and there’s nothing but the weather.

There’s a clock on the wall with a broken heart tired of tracking the illusion of our victory. 

I don’t know anymore why the earth still spins, you’re a coward and a bully— god I hate that.

You have to admit it was so good when we started, a real intoxication. And how many times did we try and fail together and take pictures of us laughing?

Oh can you feel it now?

What a pretty death.

I feel blown away—

Nothing gold can stay.