I’ve decided to be more proactive with the ol’ manuscript in my drawer. That being the case, I may have to toss a repost at you. I promise not to do it often, but this was a piece of fiction that may have slipped through the cracks for some. Hope you enjoy!
Oh, and for the record…None of this is factual or has any resemblance to my family whatsoever. To the best of my knowledge my father is not sex-crazed, nor has my mother had to fight off his amorous attacks in broad daylight.
When I was twelve, my best friend Katie McGuire lost her mother in a freak accident. The newspaper said she hopped a train and froze to death in a boxcar full of Tyson chicken parts bound for Wisconsin.
My father read the article to us over breakfast. “It says here that she jumped on the train around 9:30AM, shortly after dropping her eight kids at school. Packed the little mob lunches and headed for the Burlington Northern. By the time they unloaded in Jefferson, she was covered in freezer burn. Jesus Christ, what’s wrong with this world?” He turned to my mother and passed her the front page.
“I can’t believe Nancy would do such a thing. Those poor children!” Mother scanned the article; her thin lips tightening around her sorrow like a zipper.
“Come on, Phyllis. Nancy McGuire has always been a kook. Remember the Christmas party when she told us she ate her kid’s afterbirth?” My father raised his voice a few octaves to impersonate Katie’s mom at the party, “I don’t know what you find offensive, Bob. It’s natural. Animals do it.”
He pulled himself upright and dropped his buttered toast dramatically, “Well frankly, I don’t care what the animal kingdom decides to consume. They also don’t think twice about eating their own feces.”
“But getting in an open boxcar and traveling like a hobo?” My mother raised her hands and covered her mouth.
“Phyllis, honey, this is the same woman who wore her pajamas to the grocery store. Let’s not paint her as a pillar of sanity.” My dad searched for his handkerchief and blew his nose, a thunderous call to the wild.
I looked at my older brother Mick, usually too stoned to follow a topic for longer than it took to roll a joint. He was carefully forming Cheerios into a decorative pattern on the red Formica countertop.
When I think back on my parent’s conversation I remember my mother trying to defend Mrs. McGuire. She was not a lunatic. Nancy McGuire was only a woman wanting an upgrade from her limited birth control options.
The morning that we heard the news, mother stood up from the kitchen table and vindicated Mrs. McGuire’s liberalist ideals, her right to die among chicken breasts and thighs. At that moment I wasn’t sure what sex and the church had to do with my mom’s emancipation, but there was one thing I was certain…someone was holding back information in our bible studies.
My father’s eyes narrowed and his brows joined together. “Phyllis, why must you always blame the Vatican? The church didn’t make her eat afterbirth and hop trains.”
“No Bob, but the church has been in their bedroom conceiving every last one of those children.” My mother spit the words and stormed out of the kitchen, clutching an armful of dirty laundry, and an attitude that carried over throughout the day. An angry storm rose in her. She did not speak to my father and if my brother or I came within arms reach, she swat at us like she was beating demons from our clothes.
Years later, I discovered the real problem, but only after my mother had a few cocktails. Vodka on the rocks with a twist, and then an olive was added as the night progressed. I have never met anyone who has an interest in the details of their conception, but that night my mother seemed induced by a satanic seed to familiarize me with my father’s procreative propensities. She retraced incidents when my dad would chase her down, pin her to a stationary item, and mount her. Bent in flexion over the kitchen counter, half sprawled on the old creaking church pew in the entryway, and even smashed against the Country Squire station wagon in our driveway while the carpool kids pressed their cold faces anxiously against the steamy glass. My mother confessed there were times it was easier to put up with the poking than fight it off, even though she often felt like a mattress with a hole in it.
After years of “sexual incarceration,” as mom referred to her marriage, she developed a sort of ‘binge and purge’ mentality. Following intercourse she would become violently ill, retching until her cheeks lost their glow. Soon it was obvious that my father was quite content following her into the bathroom and holding her hair back while she lifted the toilet seat. Since nothing short of death seemed to repel his advances, my mother took matters into her own hands. She threatened to get a restraining order if he did not leave her alone. Court intervention was the biggest stick that my mother could shake to regain power. It wasn’t that my father thought she would resort to such tactics, it was the humiliation he felt each time he visualized appearing in front of a judge and a snickering court reporter as the details of his appetite were made a part of public record. It was at this time mother became commander-and-chief of the bedroom, an imperious Josephine to my father’s furiously energetic Bonaparte. She controlled their lovemaking sessions like she was dangling live bait in front of a performing seal.
“No,” my mother admitted, “It was not a perfect union, but Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you tell me who has one of those?”
“That’s rather cynical,” I offered, though my words fell short. Mother had already begun to stare sympathetically at the cubes in her drink, as if only their small melting faces understood her.
My family knows this forlorn look. Just as we recognize the angry twirl of a swizzle stick, we all know that nothing good has ever come from that pivotal stare, bound by drink and an emancipated beaver. It is a gaze we have seen before, a scrutinizing glare that wants to speak volumes of my generation’s refusal to suffer through marriage. She argues that it takes determination to work through disappointment and misconceptions about a person you promise to love until death. It is much easier to set them free and try to find another who discovers everything you do exciting, until one day they too, can fill a database with your shortcomings. My mother says that my generation collects wedding rings. We try husbands on like hairstyles, and bat children back and forth from one house to another as if they are flies at a picnic.
It is at this point that my Chardonnay begins to resemble the most luscious shade of buttery wheat and wisdom, encouraging me to set the record straight and explain why divorce is a viable option. Just as I open my mouth to speak, my mother, remembering our initial conversation, spews, “I can’t help but think there was a shift after I put the skids on our ‘tween the sheets’ activity. Once sex became political posturing, your father spent most of his time at the office or on the golf course. Life changed. Days became rather long and laborious. Of course, I had you children to keep me going…and I learned to make myself happy.” She paused and then added, “Girlfriends are nice.”
“Mom, you make marriage sound like passing a kidney stone before the morphine drip.”
“No, for God sakes, how you exaggerate! Your father is a good man and an excellent provider. Not to mention, handy around the house.”
“Well, there’s always that,” I said.
“Yes, there’s that,” she sighed.