The Empty Nest

The Empty Nest The kitchen was silent with the exception of my slurps. I was still slunk down in the corner, downing that last bit of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, the freezing cold oozing bits sliding down my throat. I wanted to stop, wanted to throw the carton against the stove backsplash. Wanted to scream, “Why’d you leave?” when I knew the reasons. I heard Megan plodding down the stairs. I jumped up. Opened the nearest cupboard filled with spices and tossed the nearly empty quart in there. Pretended I was finishing the dishes. “What’re you still doing up?” Megan asked. She reached for a glass, filled it from the fridge. “Can’t sleep,” I said. “Wanna help finish the tree?” Megan had recently bleached her hair. Wasn’t the first time. But now she’d streaked magenta through the entire maze. “Yer gonna ruin your hair,” I’d warned. “Big deal. It’s my hair,” was her reply. I wanted to say, But I’m the one who has to look at it! Instead I just nodded. “The tree?” she asked. “Are we still gonna go through the façade, Mom?” The hot water scalded my hands. It felt good, but I turned it off. Grabbed a dishtowel. “It’s not a façade, Megan. It’s a holiday about Jesus. After all, he died for our sins.” She snorted. “Yeah. Thanks for the reminder. And I nearly died just thinking about it all these years.” She yawned. I thought about her cutting herself, the reason I’d started going to church, alone. He wasn’t interested. Thought I was over-reacting. I needed something to hold onto. Belief in something larger than myself when I couldn’t fathom why Megan would do something so brutal to her own flesh. “Nah, I’ll pass on the tree.” Dragged her heavy feet back toward the stairs. “G’night.” My youngest half-sister, Nicole, dropped by the next day. She liked to appear out of nowhere, like a cyclone. No call in advance, no warning. “I was on my way to the cleaner’s and wanted to bring you this,” she said. Handed me an envelope with just my name, Jodi, scribbled on it. I knew it was from Dad before I saw the writing. Nicole took her new Uggs off. “Aren’t you going to open it?” she asked. She sat at the family room table. “Nah, I’ll read it later.” I hadn’t talked to Dad since Marv had moved out. They worked at the same law office. “You should see how Lindsay just devours those Laura Ingalls Wilder books you gave me.” “Oh really?” I set her coffee in front of her, went back to add more milk and sugar to mine. “I have to make her stop long enough to get her to do her math and science projects.” Nicole was home-schooling her kids; Lindsay was the eldest of her three darlings. “Well, I’m happy that she likes them so much. I remember enjoying them when I was younger, too.” “Your tree looks nice,” Nicole nodded toward the half assembled plastic bush. “It’s not finished yet.” “Oh. How’s Megan?” She sipped her coffee. “Fine.” I didn’t have any reason not to trust her, just didn’t. “How’s she handling the whole Marv moving out thing?” I shrugged. “I guess, okay. We don’t really talk about it much.” Nicole stared, then her cell rang. “Sorry,” she said, glancing at the number. “I’ve gotta get this.” She stood up and walked to the window as if I wouldn’t be able to hear her. “Honey? What is it? I’m over at Aunt Jodi’s. You’re supposed to play nice together. Don’t make me call Daddy. Okay? Mommy loves you. Bye.” Turned to me. “Sorry. I guess our new sitter sucks.” What sitter didn’t? “So, what are your plans for Christmas?” Her eyes lit up. “Well, we’re going over to Grandpa and Grandma’s after we open our gifts. You know, this is probably going to be Sybille’s last year believing in Santa Claus.” Sybille was seven. “I don’t think Megan ever believed in Santa Claus.” “I heard that.” I turned to see Megan rubbing her eyes and yawning at the kitchen sink. “More snow?” she groaned, looking out the window. Nicole jumped up. “Hello, Megan.” She walked over to her. “Can I have a hug?”  Megan hugged her, while mugging a face toward me. “I like your hair,” Nicole said. “It’s- unusual.” She smiled. Megan poured a mug of coffee. “How can you be so perky this early?” “I’ve been up since 5!” “That’s about the time I fell asleep.” They laughed. We all settled at the table. Megan’s hair stuck out in about a thousand directions. I wanted to smooth it, to lacquer it. To buzz it off and start over. “I have an idea,” Nicole was saying. “We’re going to Costa Rica in January.” “Lucky you,” Megan said. “I hear they grow good weed.” Nicole laughed. “Megan!” I warned. “Just kidding, Mom, chill.” “What I wondered,” Nicole continued, “is when do you go back to school, Megan?” She shrugged, looked at me. “Any idea, Mom?” “I think it’s the 14th? I’d have to check.” Nicole smiled. “How would you like to come with us, Megan? As our nanny?” I suppressed a laugh. Megan nudged me under the table. There was a long pause. “I don’t speak Spanish,” she said. Nicole giggled. “They all speak English, or some form of it.” “I think they call it pidgeon?” I said. “No, Mom, that’s-” “Oh my god, look at the time!” Nicole said. She jumped up. “I forgot, it’s Saturday. Garrison has his private swim lesson. And, I just have to tell you… All the kids begin lessons in Minnow. Well, in three lessons, Garrison was already a Shark! He jumped, like, six levels. He’s such an amazing kid.” She downed the rest of her coffee. “I’ll e-mail the dates of our trip and some pictures of the resort. Megan, we’ll have a blast!” I followed her to the door, watched while she pulled her boots on. “Say hello to everyone.” I knew it was lame, being so vague, but it was the best I could do. “Merry Christmas, Jodi,” she whispered in my ear.]]>

Rocket Scientist

Rocket Scientist

There is a slight defensiveness on her part, an anxious tone, a quiver which he recognizes from strained conversations. He brings with him a Hallmark greeting card as his peace offering. She reads, her face resigned, tight at the corners of her mouth, pinched; this mouth which received him openly, tenderly for twenty years, but never enough. They sit on the patio park bench, in the stillness of the late spring morning. She sets the card down, opens her day planner, business face on. “The way Violet did it is she gave me all the cash and you all the assets, so we just have to tweak it.” He delays, attempts another strategy. “Stock market’s up!” “Figures are all right here on the page.” She points, ignoring him.  “Here’s your copy.” He scans the paper, asks, “What about the liquidations, loans, more recent acquisitions?” As he glances at the document his eyes narrow. There’s a pause. She shifts her weight, crosses a leg. “Maya’s not ready to see you.” The image of his precious girl dropping her bicycle, running to him for a hug. He clears his throat. “Your choice, or hers?” “She probably won’t want to see you.” Her jaw muscle strains as she looks out at the traffic on Walker Street. “Not just yet.” Then, “So I believe the only thing left is meeting with the lawyer, getting signatures.” “Lawyers,” he corrects, a little louder than he’d meant. “I mean, you have your cousin. I’ve hired George Hershberg.” She removes her Helly Hanson coat revealing her perfect body. He can’t help notice her amply sculpted breasts despite the cancer. She bites an immense section of the bottom of her bagel, barely chews, swallows. Says, “Whatever, lawyers, fine. But all the work is done. Look at your copy.” She points to the report on his lap. He reads, shakes his head. “It’s not right! It can’t be right.” “That’s all I have. I don’t know why you think that I always have money. I don’t have any hidden money.” He knew that wasn’t entirely true. Part of the reason he’d married her in the first place was her family’s deep pockets. They retreat to their clipboards to reconfigure. He uses the calculator on his laptop while she finishes her bagel. He says, pointing to the paper, “Here’s how I see it: here’s your cash, here’s the American Express. Here’s the lake house, and here’s the house split right down the middle.” He continues, explaining his method of dividing the assets. “It’s exactly what Violet already prepared.” She tries not to look at the family photograph he’s selected as screensaver. “You just did it a different way. It’s still divided 50-50.” The name of this scenario is breaking up at Einstein’s doesn’t take a rocket scientist. He has to do it his way, cannot abide the possibility that someone, anyone, especially a woman, might configure his life into 50% margins, into half of what his esteem requires. As he shrugs, it’s as if he offers back to her, back to the world in which they created all of his burden, his carriage of their responsibilities, a lifetime of self-deceit. He coached himself that morning in his bathroom mirror while shaving,“Bern, you will remain calm. You will not raise your voice. You will not show emotion. Be a man! Be a man, goddamn it!” She looks at her Rolex. Sighs. They’ve reached the end of their agreed meeting time. She says, “So- is that it?” while leafing through the numerous pages drawn up by the innocuous lawyer.  The cousin, hired by her father, hired after everyone warned her: don’t get fucked one last time by this guy. She says “So…” another three or four times to prolong their parting, to jab one last time, like she does when she offers, “She’s just trying to protect me.” As she walks to the trashcan to throw away her half eaten bagel, he notices how much weight she has gained. Especially her rump looks plump. They assemble their possessions; she pulls out the last page, hoping to get the final signature. Before he does, he still has a few more “I this and I that…” He wants to discuss more about Maya as the trump card, insist upon seeing her, but she’s rigid about this. It will have to do for now. They walk away acting complete, satiated, giddy almost. Meanwhile, he is bitter, resolute. Thinks, I will never marry again. Before she gets to her newly leased Volvo, she plans in her head to call her divorced parents, and her entire Park City social network to say: “It is OVER! What a relief! Let’s meet at Maggie Moos for some Butter Brickle!” Years later, he’d recall how exciting it was that as a bachelor, he was saving so much money on toilet paper.
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