Monday, March 12, 2012

Waiting to Climax

       Waiting to Climax
      A very, very, very short story 
      by Amber Lea Easton


     She stared at the setting sun bathing the mountains across the valley in various violets and reds.  The hues reminded her of a spring garden, alive and vibrant like an illuminated promise. But in the end it’s all false; in the end it all dies and turns to dust.  Even the most brilliant of roses goes dormant, stems brittle and breaking.  That’s the thing.  That’s the joke.  No matter the promise or the beauty or the joy…all of it ends.  
Amanda snapped the breadstick into crumbs without noticing as the dogs rushed to lick up the mess from between her bare feet.
“Hey, sweetie! Are you here? I just needed to drop off these poster boards for you.” A woman stepped through the side gate, all long hair, white teeth and nauseating exuberance.
That’s the thing, too.  Always remember to smile.  If not a smile, then at least a grin.  Must look agreeable at all times.  Wouldn’t want anyone to think you’re a bitch.  Not at all.  Never.
“Hi, Karen.  What do you have?”  I wonder if she realizes her once red hair has faded to pale orange. Time for a maintenance trip to the salon, sweetie.
“The poster board for the school carnival.  I’m glad you could take this on last minute.”   
“Of course. It’s not like I have a lot going on, right?” She dropped the remnants of the broken breadstick onto the uneaten salad in front of her.  
“Oh, am I interrupting your dinner?  Where’re the kids?  It’s awfully quiet around here.”  Uninvited, Karen stretched onto the lounge chair next to her and kicked-off her shoes.  “Do you have any wine? You wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had…”
Oh, yes, I would.  You have no idea who I really am...you wouldn't believe the thoughts I'm having...thoughts about leaving...permanently. 
“No, why’s that?” she asked even though she could care less. 
“Oh my god.  First Darin refused to sleep through the night and then when he finally decided to give in it was 6 so of course Danielle was wide awake.  Then I had to be at kickboxing at 9 and there’s absolutely no way I can afford to miss a class, not with these thighs.  Jonathan called from work saying he’d forgotten some blueprints so I had to run them into town.  By then, I needed to get Darin to tumble tots and Danielle was late to dance.  I don’t know why they call it being a stay-at-home-mom when we’re never home, do you?”  Karen finally took a breath and looked into Amanda’s eyes, the kind of look that dances between friendly and resentful.  The kind of look that makes you guard your back.
“Sounds rough.” Her gaze slipped toward the sunset.  She didn’t want company.  A decision needed to be made and it wouldn’t be an easy one.  
“Are you feeling okay?  You look kinda…sick.”
“Headache.” Growing worse second by second
“Well, I hope you get the posters done. No matter what people say, your work on the PTO is appreciated.  Some people just can’t be satisfied.” 
“What are people saying exactly?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.  You shouldn’t care what people say.  I mean, what do they really expect from a volunteer?” 
That was the other thing:  innuendo.  Karen was a master at undermining a person’s confidence like a sculptor chipping away at stone.  Pick.  Pick.  Slam.  Amanda tried not to let the words get beneath her skin, but it became more difficult with the passing of time and the persistence of the master sculptor.  
“Karen, if you’ve heard a specific comment about the posters, flyers, whatever I’d rather hear it than—“
“It’s all just…general.  You know.”
“I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking.” 
Karen looked at a loss for words, or perhaps more likely she was stalling to come up with an appropriate lie to fill in the generalities.  
“Never mind. I don't really care what anyone's saying.” She stood with the bowl of salad in her hand and a quick glance toward the poster boards.  “I think I need some ibuprofen and a long bath.”
“Oh…well…I should go then…”  Karen fumbled, some of the energy sucked away by the abrupt dismissal.  “Thanks again for—“
“No problem.”  Just get out of my house.  
“Have a nice night of relaxation.  Wish I had the time for such luxuries.” Pick, pick goes the sculptor. 
Amanda didn’t watch her leave, unable to maintain the pretense any longer.  She pressed her back against the closed patio door and struggled to breathe.  
This wouldn’t be easy, but she’d already planned too much.  She needed to end this now before she hurt someone.  Seriously, she’d reached the end of her rope. 
    She looked at the walls where framed photographs—her photographs—decorated the walls.  She’d been a renowned photographer, traveled the world for publications like National Geographic and Conde Nast.  Then David came into the picture like a bigger than life force who swept her into his life—and out of hers.  
        Not that she’d ever thought of it like that until she'd woken up one morning--alone as usual--and realized the great love affair had ended a long time ago.  Regets?  Yes, she had them.  Marriage?  No, that wasn’t a regret.  Neither were the two kids who snuggled with her every morning and giggled at her silly dancing while she made breakfast.  
 It was this so called life, a half life, that beat at her heart now with bitterness.  She’d broken a promise to herself, to the young ambitious girl who’d set out to accomplish great things with that camera of hers. Compromise led her to this place. That’s what she regretted--losing herself, abandoning her dreams.    
Words of acquiescence, agreeability, compromise had gotten her here.  So easy to get along with, she’d thought they’d say, but she’d been wrong.  
They saw through the false smiles...somehow they knew she was pretending to be one of them.  The more they chipped, the more pieces of her fell to the floor like crumbs of a breadstick about to be devoured by the dogs.  
This was about survival--about sanity.  
      Hands shaking badly enough that she dropped everything at least once, she packed the car with her suitcases before returning to the house for her napping children. Thank God, she'd worn them out at the pool earlier. They'd sleep for most of the drive.  As for David...well, he was off on yet another business trip, living his life with cocktail parties and adult conversations...it would be days before he even noticed his family had left him. 
Dogs panted, excited to being going on a big adventure as they settled between her sleeping children nestled in their car seats with their favorite stuffed animals. This was all she’d take, all she’d want, all she’d need.  
With one last look in the rearview mirror, she marveled at the beauty of the sun outlining the mountains. Beauty meant nothing, however, when it left the heart hollow and lonely.
      Uncertainty whispered through her mind for only a minute as she drove from the driveway.  Good, bad, right or wrong, she was driving toward her life on her own terms. For the first time in years, she felt alive.