A short tale about the last evening of a marriage.
|This was my first short story and an entry for The Writer's Cramp. Unfortunately, I failed to notice that formatting such as bold and italics do not survive the cut and paste from MS Word to the Portfolio here. Thus my firstling was disqualified and I learned how to use the formatting on Writing.com. BTW-The bold text in the story are the words and phrases required by the prompt for the contest.|
"Pass the mustard.”
“Get it yourself, I’m busy.”
“Busy? Really? You call playing with a coloring book busy?”
It wouldn’t matter to you what I was doing, as long as I dropped it to do your bidding, Cindy thought as she colored in the wooden parts of the pirate ship with a burnt sienna crayon. I didn’t marry you to be your slave. Something was different now and it took her a moment to realize that those spiteful thoughts, that had come across her consciousness many times, were no longer filled with spite, they were just a sad habit. Out loud she simply said, “In a minute then."
"You spend more time coloring than any kid. Seems like you would grow up sometime."
She glanced up as she dropped the crayon back into the shoebox. What a joke. Alex was sitting back in his ratty brown recliner staring at some guy with a big head on one of the cable news channels. He was holding his arm out, balancing a styrofoam plate with two hotdogs on flat white bread. His garish checkered shirt and tacky plaid tie were lying on the floor, but he was still wearing those awful striped pants and a dingy sleeveless undershirt. His toupee was crooked from his habitual head scratching and the odor from his bare feet was almost nauseating.
Cindy shook her head as she stood behind his chair and squeezed a line of yellow mustard along the hotdogs. She resisted the urge to snatch the rug off and squeeze mustard all over his head. He had gotten the thing through the internet, probably from the same place Donald Trump’s hair had been purchased, but she knew better than to touch it.
“Grab me another beer while you’re up.” He said blankly, pointing the remote and raising the volume. The boring guy with the big head had been replaced by a bubbly gal with a big chest. She was sweeping her arms across a weather map and smiling as she described the imminent arrival of a thunderstorm in the area.
He had already gone through five beers she saw as she pulled one from the plastic rings and closed the refrigerator. Mom was right. His dad had been an alcoholic and he was going to be one too, if he wasn’t already. She warned me, but did I listen? He was drinking every day now, and on the weekends it was worse. Last night he and James had been playing beer pong, using an old plastic vuvuzela as a funnel to guzzle the stuff through. He had thrown up all over the kitchen, hall and bathroom before passing out on the floor of their walk-in closet.
She took the empty and sat the cold one down, not bothering to look at him, much less to try to talk to him. I am done trying. She was surprised at the lack of an inner voice telling her to stay with it. Shaking her head again she dropped the empty can in the trash and returned to her chair at the table.
The page with the pirate ship still needed the water and sky done. I wonder if any other twenty-seven year old housewives still color with crayons. It was an old thought now, comfortable and familiar, and the answer no longer mattered at all. She sorted through the shoebox, smiling when she found the sea foam green one.
The storm didn’t turn out to be much more than a bit of wind, rain and cold. By the time it passed, the pirate ship was floating on a green sea below a brilliant blue sky and he was snoring in his chair. She sighed and roused him enough that she could help him walk, and then tucked him under the covers in the bedroom, not bothering to remove his clothes.
She stood for a while then, weighing her decision, looking for any trace of the emotions that had kept her with him for so long. She watched him, listened to his snores and felt, nothing. The internal voices that had clamored within her for so long, were silent. Worry, guilt and anger stood vigil with sympathy and loyalty. Probably praying over Love’s lonely grave, she thought sadly.
Back in the kitchen she sat down at the table and looked over the page she had colored. She loved the silky texture and the shading she could produce with simple wax and a smooth technique. Sure, coloring children's books with crayons wasn't much to be proud of for a grown woman, but it had been her sanctuary for a year and a half now. It was a hobby that didn't cost too much, didn't take up a lot of space and gave her something to do with the empty time.
He had wanted a housewife and she had become one. She had not worked outside the house since they were married, but her house was immaculate, if a bit shabby and worn. He sold used cars on commission and things were rarely going well enough to have more than the bare basics. Basics and beer anyway, she thought, the anger that usually came with such thoughts was weak and almost unfelt.
Turning the page she removed a blue envelope and checked the contents. Her passport and the airline ticket were just as she had left them. The next picture in the coloring book was a parrot sitting on a treasure chest. She hadn't gotten around to coloring it. Eighteen months it had taken to save enough for the ticket, the passport and the five hundred dollars in cash she had tucked into her bra. Eighteen months and thirty-seven and a half coloring books that is.
While she was waiting for the dispatcher at the taxi service to answer she removed a red crayon from the box and in very bold text wrote “I'm done coloring now” on the wall near the phone.
Mom was right. It’s long past time I cut my losses. She felt strange, almost giddy, but in a way that left her feeling very much in control and on the right path.
She ran her fingers across the lip of the old shoebox and then shook it. That sound, a dull rattle that signaled peace; it had been her companion for a while now. It was warm and safe, comforting. It was the first sound she heard when she sat to color, to think, to meditate. It was the last sound she heard when she returned to her dismal reality and put the box and the coloring books away-it was never a good idea to leave her things lying around.
Cindy placed the lid on and took the box and the book into the den. The fire she had started to ward off the storm’s chill was still crackling. Opening the screen, she breathed in the smell of wood smoke, enjoying the warmth for a moment before folding the coloring book open and placing it atop the box so that the ship was visible. Almost reverently she sat them atop the log.
Tears ran down her cheeks as she closed the screen, and her hand went to her mouth. She could smell the wax burning as she watched the ship become shiny and slick. The flames took it quickly then. The box took several minutes longer and the scent of crayons filled the air. Those simple things, a shoebox of crayons had gotten her through what she needed to get through, but now it was time to find a life that didn’t need an escape. “It is time to live.”