Awarded an Honorable Mention in the Marin branch of the California Writers’ Club’s Write Across the Golden Gate 2012 Fiction and Nonfiction prose contest
She’s always so quiet. It makes me angry to think about how many conversations have died when she turned her gaze inward.
I no longer feel a part of her world.
Where does she go when she tunes me out? She looks out the passenger side window, her eyes filled with life. I can see through the broken side mirror that she is content, maybe even happy, where she is.
“Lisa, you want to stop and get something to eat?”
“No thanks,” she says glancing my way. “Let’s wait for a while. We’re only half way there.”
She retreats again, back to the harbored island in her mind.
I watch white dashes run the road in front of me, leading me to my brother’s house—a four-hour drive without traffic.
Lisa doesn’t like my gruff brother, Joe, or our talkative sister-in-law, Karen. Yet, she loved that Karen kept our two daughters for a week, and drove them back and forth to camp. That chore was on top of her own nursing job, helping to set up for our nephew Trevor’s first garage rock concert, and directing a fundraising project for Trevor’s school.
Lisa should consider herself lucky to have Karen. So what if she talks our ears off? She’s been very generous to us.
Tree after tree races by my window, then mile after mile, sign after sign, town after town. I yearn to see the green mileage markers to break the monotony.
My god, this trip is endless! I glance at the clock.
Why can’t I go to different settings in my mind, like she does, instead of staying stuck in life as I know it, only taking off in flights of fancy when it comes to analyzing computer programs? She once said that a composition teacher-slash-writer has a plethora of fascinations to explore, like Alice in Wonderland. She added that I should just call her Alice.
Yeah? Well it feels more like Alice doesn’t live here anymore.
The rear view changes with the colors of the cars. Let me see. Now, it’s a blue Chevy behind us. Or, is it a blue Buick? Yes, a Buick it is.
Hey, don’t ride my ass. Pass me or back off.
Good, she backed off. I hate tailgaters.
Oh man, only ten more minutes have passed and my wife is asleep! Wow, she’s asleep at three in the afternoon on I-95 North heading to Hartford, Connecticut. She’s leaving me alone, yet again, with looming gray skies ahead of me and a blue Buick behind me.
Still behind me, huh?
Looks like a pretty woman. Hard to tell.
Wait. Her blinker is on. She’s going to pass. I’ll check her out as she goes by.
Blonde, shoulder-length hair. Pretty. She’s alone. Probably doesn’t know that I am, too.
Blondie glances over. Does she like what she sees? Why not follow her? How about it, old chum? Hey, forty-one is not old, and why the hell not? Okay, blinker on. Mosey on back over into the left lane. Good, now mosey quicker.
Beautiful execution, Billy boy. Now, speed up a little. Great, we’re right behind her. Let’s see how long it takes for her to check her rear view mirror.
Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum. Sigh. De-de-de-de-dum. Ho-hum, ho-hum, ho- hum, hum. Dum-de-dum-dum.
Look at me. Come on! I know you know I’m here.
She spots me. I can see the grin crossing her face through her rearview mirror. I wonder what she was thinking? She appears to be in her early thirties. She’s got Jersey plates, too.
You’re far away from home, honey. Well, maybe not.
Three fifteen. Speedy fifteen minutes. Hey, she’s got her blinker on, going over to the right lane. Good, I can pass her.
Okay Bill, hold on, be cool. When you pass her, nonchalantly glance over with casual indifference. Be cool now. Sly. Step on the gas. Edge up more … more … more. Now look!
All right! She glimpsed right back at you. Yes, and she smiled! Okay, more like another grin, yeah, but recognition. Love that recognition. Haven’t had much of that lately, especially from sleeping beauty on the passenger seat.
Blondie’s cute–older than early thirties, though, closer to forty, maybe even forty-five. That Buick doesn’t seem to be her type. Maybe it’s her husband’s car, or her lover’s. Hell, she’s probably fifty, haggard looking close up, with four kids all still at home, and absolutely no pizzazz.
Now, now, come on, Bill. You’re probably projecting your own boring world onto her. She’s not Lisa. Her name’s, I don’t know, let’s see, Bridget. Sure. Why the hell not? I like that name, yeah, Bridget. And she’s a child psychologist when she’s with the kids, a gourmet chef at breakfast and dinnertime, and great in the sack. She loves to talk about computer programming, and she thinks I’m the funniest man who ever lived. She plants little “I love you” notes with Valentine hearts in my pockets, and never, ever falls asleep when we travel together.
Dream on. You have two kids, one eleven and one nine, and you drive a station wagon with a broken passenger side mirror.
The sleeper murmurs a question. “How long have I been out?”
Honestly, Lisa? About five years. “I’d say about twenty-five minutes. Maybe thirty.”
“Let’s stop at the next rest area. I want to take a break, stretch my legs, get something to eat, and pee.”
Oh, now you want to stop? “Okay Lisa, I’ll let you know when we get to the next rest area. I saw a sign not too long ago that read twelve miles. Probably another five minutes or so.”
“Okay, don’t forget. I have to go to the bathroom.”
“No worries. I’m hungry, too,” I remind her, but she’s already out again, off into the eternal warm darkness of her abyss. I never met someone who falls asleep as fast as my never-lovin’ wife.
Now, let me see … where’s Bridget? Ah, there she is. Hello again. Yes, I’m back. You’re still behind me, ready to follow me wherever I go. Don’t worry, I’ll just stay here in the right lane. I won’t budge. I’ll keep the speed at sixty-five and you’ll stay right with me.
Lisa stirs again. Please don’t wake up, Lisa. Sleep in the world without end; the world of kindness and safety; the world made up of pastel colors and sunny days; the world of lovers and friends; the world you hide in when I approach.
You sold me on that world many years ago. A world where we hid together behind exaggerated dreams that we thought could make a real difference. We held on together, hand in hand, through all the work and life demands. We were so grateful that other families’ problem weren’t our own.
You appreciated my stability, my ability to hold on to you when you went into flight … your ideas, your fantasies, and your half-written stories with no endings. You loved that I understood you and never wanted you to change. You envied my ability to live in the moment and be in that moment, and not need a book or students to make me feel real. Now when you bother to notice me at all, you tell me that all I do is work at a computer, and that robots could design programs.
This is the end of our week off together, courtesy of Joe and Karen, and what do we have to show for it? Every time I suggested we do something fun, you insisted we had too much work to catch up on. Office stuff. Kid stuff. House stuff. Stuff stuff.
Don’t think I don’t know about your tryst with that visiting professor.
I know because Sally called me and snitched on you. The department’s secretary knows everything, Lisa, and she likes me. Me, the loyal one.
But you were already gone, long before the affair. You started to nag me to do more around the house, and then got annoyed at everything I tried to do to please you. You began rolling your eyes when I started to talk to you, barely hiding your contempt. You returned my Christmas present, my birthday present, my anniversary present. You slipped your hand out of mine when I tried to hold it.
“Are we there, yet?” Lisa asks.
Why? What’s your hurry? You won’t be happy to see Joe and Karen, or maybe even the kids, though they’ll all be happy to see you.
“Last sign said a mile ahead. We’ll be there in a mile.”
“Good,” she said as she stretches like a cat after a good meal, her long legs pushing against the floorboards and her hands reaching toward the rear window. What a body! It still, after all these years, knocks me out. Little good it does me.
She’s cold as ice.
Easing back into her seat, she flips down the sun visor to look at herself in the lighted mirror. She pulls a makeup bag out of her purse on the floor. Not that she needs it.
More to hide behind.
Do you know, Lisa, that my feelings have also fizzled?
An affair will do that.
You don’t know that I know. Would you care if you did?
The blue Buick comes up fast behind me.
Lost you for a moment there, Bridget. What a treat it’s been traveling with you. Wow! What youthful energy I feel!
“Right here, Bill. Don’t miss it!”
“Yep. Got it, Lisa. Blinker’s on. Turning in. I got it.”
Goodbye, my Lady in Blue, my candlelight in this ominous gray sky.
More like the flashlight in my blackness.
Thank you, my companion. Thank you very, very much.
I peek through the rearview mirror for the last time.
“Lisa, I want a divorce.”