The Other Shoe Dropping
Everyone knew Tina talked too much. Like a runaway train, once she started it was close to impossible for her to stop. One night she and her husband David had a lot to drink, not unusual for either of them. But that night Tina’s “motor mouth,” as some of her friends jokingly referred to it, catapulted David into the UCLA psych ward. It was about Tina’s lovers. She had many. And although David had known of one or two, his sanity slipped further and further away that night as she ticked off five, then ten, then twenty. When Tina’s verbal list grew beyond fifty, her young husband went down for the count.
“I thought he was interested. He seemed to be getting a kick out of it. You know, like he’d probably done the same thing himself before we got married. That he understood it was just sex. Nothing more. Just sex. It wasn’t like I married any of them.”
It was dark in the living room of their Santa Monica apartment. Street lights provided the only illumination, as they sat on the beige carpet their landlord installed before they moved in, a bottle of good chardonnay and two crystal glasses on the cocktail table in front of them. They both stared straight ahead, out the open window, at the twinkling lights in the black sky. If Tina had turned to look at David she might have stopped her monologue. His voice remained steady, nonjudgmental, as every so often he encouraged her to continue; so she did. His face, however, reflected something else entirely. Undoubtedly this fell into the realm of TMI and David was horrified. This was the wife he chose! How had that happened?
“After I finished I assumed he’d start talking about all the women he’d been with. Much later I found out I was number two for him. Can you believe it? Number two. Now that set me back. Actually you could say I was as surprised as he was. We both miscalculated. Do people ever really know each other before they get married, before the masks expire? I married a stranger. David did too. The next day he didn’t speak, didn’t eat, wouldn’t leave the apartment even to go to work. He slept more than I thought was humanly possible. After two more days of this, he checked himself into the hospital. We’d only been married a couple of months.”
“At first I thought he’d leave, never come back to the one bedroom on 10th Street we had such fun fixing up. The truth is there wasn’t much keeping us together beyond a year of dating after grad school, a small wedding in Beverly Hills, and ten days in Oahu. We’d both gone to USC. He was in finance, I was French lit. That should have been enough of a tip-off. Finance, French lit. We didn’t have a lot in common, but it didn’t seem to matter back then. We were both tired of scouring online dating sites, clubs, and bars for a mate, and especially tired of the lies. You know, the whole dating masquerade. I guess you could say it was timing. We met at a time we were both beginning to think about marriage, about leaving all that other stuff behind. We looked away when we saw something we might not like; we chose not to really see who we had chosen or risk having to start a whole new search.”
After two weeks went by, Tina picked David up at the hospital. She got caught in traffic on Wilshire Boulevard, and he was waiting in front of the medical center when she finally drove up. He didn’t smile. His face was pale, paler than usual. It looked like he hadn’t combed his hair, or maybe it was the wind.
“David wouldn’t talk about it. Believe me, I tried. I thought if we spoke about it, maybe it wouldn’t hurt him so much anymore. If I could explain. I wanted a do-over; he wanted silence. I waited for him to tell me he was leaving, waited for the other shoe to drop.”
They went on with their lives, their jobs, a son, the split-level in Brentwood. Tina was thin and pretty, David made money. Year after year, strangers living side by side, sharing a bed, responsibilities. They were a family.
“I don’t think he ever forgave me. Sometimes I’d catch him staring at me. I’m not sure what I saw in his eyes. Pain, regret, hate. It always changed. I could have left. Started over. Kept my lovers to myself the next time around. I can’t say why I stayed. Why he did. I guess it was all we knew. Some people go, some stay.”
It didn’t happen right away, though if it had anyone who knew what happened that night would not be surprised, but ten years into the marriage and several before the advent of Viagra, David lost his ability to have sex. Tina had lost her enthusiasm for it around the time of his breakdown, but he never knew. She felt she owed him that. So she’d have a few drinks, maybe smoke some pot, and do what she thought was expected. Until the day David couldn’t anymore. After a few tries on several separate occasions, he gave up. This worried him like nothing else ever had, but as usual he kept his fears to himself. The little that remained of their marriage evaporated like sprinkler water under midday desert sun.
“I knew things were bad, even if he didn’t talk about it. I mean, that was just David. No communication. But it was strange for me. I’d read enough about it, of course. Literature is full of such problems. But men always had a thing for me. I’m not bragging, believe me, but I was the one who always had a date, the one who did the breaking up. My husband not wanting me, well, that was a sea change. And even though I wasn’t in love with David, I didn’t take it well. Still, I had my life; it was pretty much intact. We never did that many things together anyway.”
David had money, money is power, and as the years passed, he distanced himself further and further away from his wife. This combination worked better than any aphrodisiac with his female business associates, even those who ignored him before. Suddenly David was attractive, and he thrived on the attention. He was like a kid let loose in a candy store, but one thing was still missing. And then Viagra took off like a perfect storm. Men of all ages retrieved their lost sex lives (or a reasonable facsimile) by ingesting a pill. David was among the first to heed the new pharmaceutical’s call. Martha, head of human resources, was eager to assist him in his initial experiments, which were met with success. Following an afternoon at Loew’s on the beach in Santa Monica, he felt like jumping up and kicking his heels together. He thought he’d be imprisoned by his limitations for a lifetime; instead he was now free to go.
“I knew it was over when he introduced me to some colleagues of his at a Christmas party. He’d always been so proud to tell people I was his wife. Sometimes I felt that the only thing he liked about me without reservation was what I looked like. But I was okay with that, it had been a while since I really cared. And, yes, I admit I liked him thinking I was good-looking. But that night at the party he was clearly bored with me. Oblivious is probably a more accurate description. For the first time ever he showed no pride at all that I was the woman he was with. Even a great new dress from Bloomingdale’s and two hours spent at a beauty salon couldn’t change that. I’d become invisible. The whole incident was entirely unspoken. But it crushed me.”
“No more than six months later, he walked in after work and told me to sit down. He gave me the old ‘It’s not your fault, it’s mine’ routine. Said he was moving out that night, that he’d stay at the Beverly Hilton until he found an apartment. With more concern than he’d shown me in years he told me not to worry, that I could live in the house as long as I liked. Forever if I wanted. And there would always be money. I sat very still. It was impossible to breathe. It felt like I’d been slammed in the chest by a herd of buffalos. Sure I didn’t love him, but breaking up our marriage? That was a whole other can of worms. I’d been through it with enough of my friends. Trust me, I didn’t want to go there. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Just like that? After fourteen years you say a few words and leave?’ ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, adding two more as he turned toward our bedroom to pack.”
“I have plenty of time to think about everything now. My mind races so much it takes a ten milligram Ambien to knock me out to get a few hours sleep, and that doesn’t always work. Sometimes I wonder if it all comes down to that night, the night I opened my big mouth. He never mentioned it again, not once. But I’d see it in his eyes. Yeah, I’m pretty sure his leaving me is the other shoe dropping, even if it did take fourteen years.”
Seeing a Teeth Mother Mask, Together, On A Friday Afternoon
You see her clearly, call her Ecstatic
and Mother. There is hair, and there are beads,
and maybe no one else understands
why you cry when I tell you I have been
here before and named this woman
Terror, long before I took your arm
and whispered hush, told you her true name.
We walk, and I am pulling you along, a man
in love with being afraid, with, sometimes,
me. My father has died, and we talk, your words
occupying air, mine not quite joining, and the pendulum
swings hard when I ask you to tell me, promise
me that anger is temporal. Because you know. You
have been that speed increasing on the way down
and I have only just discovered evidence for such
velocity. Yet, the mask undoes you. So few
of us join hands and move sideways
around what we ought to bury. Now
we grow effortlessly up for having been,
somehow, reminded of reverse birthing. I know
what the teeth offer. You let us both pretend otherwise.
But One Thing Is Needful?
The sound of you clattering in the kitchen
clapping the saucers back in the cupboard
clacking the spoons into the drawer
comes as a reprimand, the pointed finger
of Martha in Tintoretto’s elegant portrayal
of sibling rivalry for the love of God,
why aren’t you helping? and this time
I’m Mary, the thinking one, and you,
dear husband, are Martha redding up the world
a teacup at a time and because I am meditating,
I am worried about what passes for sanctity,
worry that I should be helping, even doing this task,
isn’t that what I have been always trying to do,
be saved in my small way? And what’s the chance
of that? Is it 144,000 that get into heaven?
My god, that quota was filled with the 800,000 Syrians
that moved into Germany and the millions
more on the move, what is the chance
of any one person being saved in this lottery.
It’s not just that I could never sit still.
It’s not just climate change and the destruction
of the species one by one, this morning
I can’t even remember my great grandfather’s name.
Then there’s Vélazquez’s double picture,
on the wall Martha reprimanding Mary,
in the foreground an irate, elderly Mary
with the pointed finger, not pleased,
it seems, with the way Martha is grinding
the garlic for the fish, neither of them very happy.
From Cite to Cease
like braided water
liquid rose and blue
you and I
which one will the gold coin
the inky blue
of a t-shirt
dyed in Indonesia
cold glow fingers prying
a wild tail
on the horizon
how does one
know the sunrise
when the moon
suspends it shadow
it is how
I sometimes remember you
Playing the Prelude
I pile the pale branches of my fingers
in two heaps on the keyboard, watching
them slide and crumble to so many sticks,
so much tinder for the spirit’s fire.
I feel tones ooze out of them,
sealing the silent space from mind to hand,
hearing and moving wrapped together
in a single chrysalis of thought.
The weight of sound slumps on the air,
a glacier scraping slowly down the chancel,
each phrase another sonic ridge
fading like remembered mountains.
Worshippers come hesitantly from the narthex
like birds in a bewilderment of spring,
old deaths dry and matted on their shoulders,
new life pink and delicate beneath.
Their eyes betray the first shy gestures
of their inward transport, yearning home.
My fingers weave the mystic bridge
suspending us between two worlds.
Dear goddess of the sea
Can you tell me
What I wished for that fateful day
It seems whatever it was
I’ve failed it in some way
Some misunderstanding between
Who I am and what I say
So many broken pieces
Only a few of us can see
Only a few of us to figure out
I am scared that I’m facing my end
And I’m still waiting to begin
I am afraid of what I asked of you
I am afraid of what I asked of me
My heart its changed now
Deeper roots, broken branches
Whatever the sea has sent back to me
Is not what I want
Its not of my heart
For the friend who visits me yesterday,
this is the neighborhood of the past: she
lived here as a child, then again as young
mother of a young child, her marriage ended,
alone in her twenties. The streets we walk
together are shadowed for her, overlaid with
her memories. She tells her stories of that time
carefully, disclosing facets as if unwrapping
a solid object held, preserved.
Last night I dream I’m negotiating Boston
subways, not sure where I want to go, trying
to buy a ticket while answering the questions
of a woman who stops me, a stranger who
tells me she’s lost her memory. How has my
new friend kept hers, kept past moments
from dissolving, disintegrating?
When I think of touching the past it runs
through my fingers, water. How much of
what we remember is a reality we invent,
come to believe is actual? A stone, a solid
object; a moving current, stream: each is
real, unreal as evening’s attenuated light,
leashed, holding against the dark.
Karen Karlitz’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, Broad River Review, Loch Raven Review, Iguana Review, Ranfurly Review (Scotland), Short Fiction Break, American Diversity Report, Scribblers on the Roof, Miranda Literary Journal, Long Story Short, Clever Magazine, Twisted Endings Magazine, and The Stray Branch. One of her stories won the Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction award, one was included in The Best of The Foliate Oak, and her e-book, “Baggage,” is now available at the Amazon Kindle store.
Kelli Allen’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the US and internationally. She is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and has won awards for her poetry, prose, and scholarly work. She served as Managing Editor of Natural Bridge, is the current Poetry Editor for The Lindenwood Review, and holds an MFA from the University of Missouri St. Louis. She is the director of the River Styx Hungry Young Poets Series and founded the Graduate Writers Reading Series for UMSL. She is currently a Professor of Humanities and Creative Writing at Lindenwood University and teaches for The Pierre Laclede Honors College at UMSL. Her full-length poetry collection, Otherwise, Soft White Ash, arrived from John Gosslee Books in 2012 and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.www.kelli-allen.com
Lois Marie Harrod, author of 6 poetry books and 10 chapbooks, also writes short stories. Her poems and stories have appeared in journals and online ezines from American Poetry Review to Zone 3. Visit www.loismarieharrod.org for online links.
Sharon Scholl, professor emerita from Jacksonville University (Fl) where she taught humanities and non-western studies (Africa, Japan). Besides two scholarly books (Music and Culture, Death and the Humanities), she has several chapbooks of poetry in circulation (Message on a Branch, All Points Bulletin) and single poems in Mason’s Road, Caesure, Adanna.
Christina Frasher is a self taught writer, mother and seeker. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA and teaches at Point Park University.
Sandra Kohler is a poet and teacher. Her third collection of poems, Improbable Music, (Word Press) appeared in May, 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 Associated Writing Programs Award Series in Poetry (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals, including The New Republic, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, and many others over the past 40 years.