Summary: Future fic; married life
Category: Max/? (Don’t wanna spoil the ending)
Rating: G-ish. No bad words, no sex scenes. Just a lot of confusing adult babble.
Author’s Notes: Ann Beattie, postmodern genius, wrote an amazing short story called Imagined Scenes. I loved it; what better to do then ruin it by trying to emulate it? Much like the famed “Chasing Abby”, the following short story (although “Abby” was long) follows the same accord. Basically Ann Beattie on crack and what she would write if she was obsessed with Roswell like me. Like most postmodern works, I like to follow the hard to follow trend-so get ready for some stream of consciousness.
* * *
“I’m standing on a cliff. When I look below I see water churning; to the right I see these beautiful bright red and purple hues in the sand. A desert, I think. Behind me there’s this cave, but I can’t see it. But there’s something important inside it. I try to look, but there’s the silhouette of a person that urges me not to without saying a word; it’s like I could feel it in my body. I think it’s a he. ”
“Spooky,” Max says.
“What do you think it means?”
“Maybe it’s something about my heritage. Remember that cave back when we were kids?”
When she wakes from the dream, Max is already awake. He does things like that; he can sense when something is disrupted in the air. He could always tell when something was out of place or misplaced. She remembers back last summer when she broke the pitcher that his mother had given them as a house-warming present. She looked all over the mall for a replica and finally found one. She brought it home and replaced it where the old one stood in the cupboard. But when he came home from work he had known. Even though she took the broken shards and placed them in the neighbor’s trashcan that was sitting on the curb, he had known. He wasn’t angry, though. He just commented on how the new pitcher looked so much like the one that his mother had given them. He noticed everything; probably because he had such a set routine. Which is why he surprised her when he told her that he was quitting his job.
Now he sits in the brown sofa chair in the living room, sipping coffee with two sugars. The two sit together in silence until she feels tired. Then he turns off the light and follows her upstairs to the bedroom.
“This summer, when I finish painting the garage, we’ll go back to Roswell. We can check out that cave from your dream.”
She wants to go to Nevada. Couldn’t her cave have been in Nevada? She shakes her head to rid herself of the question.
“No?” he says. “We will. We’ll go to Roswell when I finish painting the garage.”
The flower seems to blossom right in front of her eyes. A deep red, it looks like she could fall into the very center of it; become lost in its deep color. The flower has begun to grow quite rapidly; both agree that it’s strange since it’s the middle of winter. Max buys a book about flowers. Flowers suddenly interest him. Every time the soil grows dry, he adds his own special mixture of fertilizer and water to it. He has even transferred it to a new pot; it’s growing very fast.
She puts the groceries away and checks on Max in the living room. He’s busy reading another book on flowers. She thinks about getting him a cup of coffee with two sugars, but she doubts he’ll drink it. He’s too engrossed. She feels tired and goes upstairs to rest. She has to work that night. She falls to the bed, but cannot sleep. She eventually heads back downstairs. Max is in his sofa chair, reading the book, drinking coffee. With two sugars.
“I like cats. They’re awful nice. You can pet them. And stroke them. They’ll only curl up next to you if they like you. They aren’t like dogs. You have to work to earn a cat’s love. Dogs are loyal to a fault. Stupid creatures. You wouldn’t love somebody just because they provided food and shelter for you, would you?”
The old lady is sitting by the windowsill. She is her patient. Her son and daughter-in-law are away for the week, and the old lady’s sister stays with her during the day. She has been hired to stay with the old lady at night. She’s not ill, just old and frail.
She’s tired; she didn’t take a nap during the day. She should have.
“I don’t sleep well,” the old lady tells her, “I like to talk instead. Or look at pictures. My sister and son don’t like that much. They’d rather I sit and sleep. But my daughter-in-law loves to talk. I think she’s glad to have someone to talk to.”
She looks out the window, tuning the old lady out. The snow has stopped and the lights seem to illuminate it. She sees a young man and girl underneath a street light. They’re talking to each other in soft whispers. She can barely see their breath. The young man leans in and kisses the girl. She remembers when she used to get kissed like that. Underneath streetlights. At school. In the eraser room. She’s surprised when she catches the old lady staring at her. She wants to show her some old photographs.
She obliges, following the old lady into the room down the hall. The old lady pulls a few out of her nightstand and hands them to her. She stares at the yellowed photographs. One catches her eye. A deer is in the distance while a young girl tumbles down a small hill. The light catches the yellow highlights of her hair. They shine gold in the sun.
“Is this you?”
“No. I found them as a little girl at a garage sale. I could make up a story about the girl if you’d like.”
She waits for the old lady to begin her story. But she doesn’t.
“I don’t like old people. They lie all the time. I like young people. I trust them. I’d even tell you where I keep my jewelry: in my sock drawer inside a cigar box. I have real photographs: my own. With real stories. I could tell you lots of them. Just ask, anytime you’d like to hear one.”
The old lady falls asleep in her bed. She goes to leave the room, but the old lady speaks up. “Don’t worry. The light doesn’t bother me. You can look at the photographs some more. Don’t take them out of the room. The light doesn’t bother me.”
It’s the afternoon, but no one is home. There are glasses and plates missing from the cupboard. She finds them on the dining room table. Were people here? She sees a store-bought tart on the cutting board. One she doesn’t remember buying. Max doesn’t like store-bought tarts. Neither does she. She checks the living room for Max. He’s not there. She returns to the kitchen. She looks on the message board on the refrigerator to look for the message he hasn’t left. On her way to the bedroom she sees Max outside playing with the dog. She hurries down the stairs to meet him. The dog runs in and jumps on her.
“You should be asleep. You can’t work at night and stay awake all day.”
“I thought I’d wait for you to come back so I could say hello.”
“You shouldn’t have. I could have been anywhere.”
“Where would you go?”
He removes his coat and hangs it in the closet. “How’s the old lady?”
“She’s no trouble. Last night she showed me some old photographs.”
“You look like you need sleep.”
“So do you,” she says.
“I couldn’t sleep last night. So I took the dog out for a walk. Go get some rest. I met the people who just moved in down the street. They need help putting their sink in. They’re names are Jane and Henry.” Max gives her a kiss and then grabs his coat again on the way out.
“Getting old is awful. Everything becomes the same. Everything is the same. And you come to expect it. Sometimes I think that maybe a little fresh air would clear my head. And then maybe things wouldn’t be the same. My neighbor likes to go outside. He likes to run in the snow. Sometimes he walks.”
“I have to go now,” the old lady’s sister says. Wrapping her coat and scarf around her, she looks like a blue bird. “Don’t forget to take your vitamins. You don’t want to get sick.”
“How would I get sick? I never go outside. I’m always inside.”
She pulls on her boots over her shoes. “Still,” she says as she leaves.
“She’s very good to come everyday. I know I wouldn’t. Sometimes I forget to thank her. I don’t mean to take her for granted. It just happens on accident. Twelve years sure do make a difference. I could never lace up those boots. But she can. Sometimes it hurts her hands though. I think she’s getting arthritis.
“I suppose that I’ll have to take those vitamins. That way my son will have something to do when he gets back. I don’t think he likes going to the pharmacy for me. But he does it anyway.”
“Would you like me to read you a story?” she asks.
“No. That’s okay. My sister reads me lots of stories. They’re mainly love stories. Every now and then a mystery.”
She looks at her watch to see if its time for the old lady’s medicine. But it’s not there. Did she forget to put it on? She boils water for the old lady’s tea as she dials Max to ask if she left her watch on the nightstand. She hangs up again, redialing. Still no answer. Maybe she lost her watch outside. She looks out the window. It’s beginning to snow. She should have had Max take the watch to the jeweler’s. She knew the clasp was beginning to loosen. She goes outside and looks on the ground. No watch. She looks in her car. No watch. It must be at home. The tea is ready. She carries it upstairs to the old lady.
The old lady is asleep when she arrives. She places the tea on the nightstand. She hears the snow softly hitting the roof. She sits in a chair and closes her eyes and begins imagining things: deserts and caves. This time she knows where she is: Roswell. The colors in the sand float around her. It turns to night and her feet feel cold in the sand. She looks down at them, waking up. She picks up the tea, which is now cold. She hears footsteps downstairs. She must have slept through the night. The old lady’s sister has arrived.
“I take her for granted,” the old lady says.
The flower is gone. She looks in the living room for it. Then the kitchen. Then the bathroom, but can’t find it. Her watch is in the bathroom. She decides to take a shower. The steam makes her skin pink.
She thinks she hears something. But it’s nothing. Perhaps the wind. She dresses quickly. She wears one of Max’s old t-shirts. She notices that his books are in the bookcase, organized alphabetically. Now she’s sure she hears him. The dog runs in and the door slams shut.
“Hey,” she calls.
“Hi.” He greets her in the bedroom. “It’s strange having you work at night. I never get to see you. I was down at Jane and Henry’s house. They had puppies.”
“Take me to see them,” she says.
“I think they went out.”
“Take me later.”
“They’ll think I live there,” he jokes.
“Where’s the flower?”
“Johnny, you know the TA at the University? The professor there teaches botany. They thought it was great. A real freak. Growing in the middle of winter and all. I gave it to them.”
She calls early in the morning: 4 a.m. The telephone rings, but there is no answer. The old lady looks at her concerned when she wakes up.
“My husband didn’t answer the phone.”
“Men do that. They sleep through a lot of things.”
“Not Max. He wouldn’t.”
“Men sleep through a lot of things. They do that, you know? Sometimes I don’t hear the children go to school.”
“I think school was canceled.”
It snowed all night. It’s still snowing.
“Will you call my sister? Tell her not to come.”
She obliges, but her sister does not. She’s coming anyway. The old lady begins to dress. “I want to go out.”
She wants to convince her otherwise, but to no avail. She hopes her sister comes before they go out. “Don’t worry. I don’t feel the cold anymore. Plus, I have a jacket.”
The two walk outside. The old lady leaning on the younger. Children are playing outside. They’re building forts and throwing snowballs. She hears a scream. She looks in its direction and sees a larger boy pushing a smaller one. She goes over to break it up, but the larger boy is already running away. She tries to ask what happened, but she hears another scream.
She turns and sees the old lady face first in the snow. She runs back. One of the children must have run into her. She tries to help the old lady up, but can’t. She’s afraid that she too will slip and fall on the icy sidewalks. A man comes by and helps them out.
“What are you doing here?”
“I came to pick you up,” Max says. “Your car doesn’t have any chains on it. You wouldn’t have been able to drive in this weather.”
The two help the old lady back in the house. The old lady is convinced the child did it on purpose. She quickly goes up the stairs with Max’s help. By now the sister has arrived. The son and daughter-in-law return tomorrow. But the sister comes every day. Today she is wearing her boots and a green jacket. A Christmas tree with an umbrella. One moment. The old lady is giving her something: the photograph. She stares at the little girl as she and Max go out to the car.
The children are still outside. The larger boy is still picking on the smaller ones. Max is mad at her for taking the old lady out. He won’t talk to her.
“We’ll come back later for my car,” she says.
“I called you last night.”
He looks up, “You did?”
“Yes. You weren’t there.”
“I didn’t know it was you. I was sleeping. Why were you calling?”
He concentrates on the road. The engine hums and the radio broadcaster predicts more snow.
“I suppose you were out walking the dog.”
“I just told you,” he says. “I was sleeping.”
She closes her eyes. She imagines him waking up, climbing out of bed. She sees him grab the leash as he walks downstairs. Their dog follows him. He fumbles with his shoes. After he latches the leash onto the dog’s collar, they go out the front door. The dog pulls him down the icy sidewalks. Max is asleep, in bed. He walks down the sidewalk now; he has gained control over the anxious dog. She tries to imagine more, but she’s afraid if she keeps her eyes shut much longer that she’ll fall asleep in the car.
Now inside the house, she falls into the soft folds of the bed. Max pulls the curtains shut. Now it’s not so bright and she can sleep. She hears him putting his typewriter on the opposite side of the desk. He must have started writing again.
Max leaves the room and goes downstairs. He tells her he needs to clean up. She hears the distinctive sound of glasses clinking together. He’s clearing the table. She hears the phone a while later. Max calls out her name.
“Phone for you.”
She goes downstairs to answer. She sits in a chair by the table, which is now cleared. The table is cleared.
A soft voice answers. It’s the old lady’s sister. She’s tired of the old lady and her sister. She’s tired of working. She had already forgotten about the old lady until the sister called. Her sister’s upset. It seems that she’s snowed in. So are the old lady’s son and daughter-in-law. The sister tried to call her husband to let him know. The runways are filled with snow. No planes can take off. The son and daughter-in-law’s plane is delayed because of the snow. The sister is thanking her for taking care of the old lady. Why can’t she talk any louder?
“I come everyday. I wear my boots and bring my umbrella. Sometimes I wear my blue coat, other times my green one. I have a brown one too. I bring things to entertain her. But she’s so hard to deal with. She always needs attention. That’s why my nephew needs this vacation.”
She’s tired. She wants to go to sleep. The old lady’s sister keeps whispering to her. The planes are still delayed; the runways blocked with snow. The son and daughter-in-law are snowed in too. She wants her to come back and help her with her sister. As the sister talks, the runways fill up with more snow. Nothing can clear them. No planes can land. Even ones heading in from Roswell. They’re still in the air. Above the snow. She’s sitting in a chair by the table. The table is cleared. What was on the table before she went upstairs? Max has cleaned the room.
“You’re so lucky,” the woman whispers. “You can come and go. You don’t know what it’s like to be caught, Liz.”