Describe the Mess

I remember a day when my parents were still married—I was small, maybe in the first grade. There was a fight between them, but was it explosive, or a calm-voiced disagreement, or a slow simmering cauldron with acidic bubbles bursting into the room? The fight, one among countless battles, is lost to me.

Mom was curled up like a cat on the couch, slapping pages of a Cosmopolitan magazine against each other. Dad was in the kitchen, sitting at the counter with his back to her, looking out the window to the pine-dotted meadow, inhaling deeply on a Winston cigarette.

I don’t know how my brother and I became involved, but I remember going into the closet and picking up two of my father’s shoes. My hands were small and his feet were impossibly large and the shoes were heavy. I instructed my brother to get a shoe. He could only carry one at a time.

My father’s feet were riddled with corns and callouses that made him hobble and limp. Working at Dexter Shoes, he bought many pairs in his search to find one magical pair that would mitigate his pain. The back of the closet was lined with boxes full of them.

Like a fireman’s brigade, we gathered his shoes, ran to the kitchen and threw them on the floor in front of him. Back and back we ran until we were out of ammunition, wondering all the while when we would be made to stop. Finally when we came to throw the empty shoeboxes, he rose to yell at us and sent us to our rooms with warm bottoms.

Mom remained on the couch, the corners of her mouth curled into an I-was-right smile.

My brother and I still feel bad.

Along the edge

It was ten o’clock and the leftover heat of the day was still baking the stucco house. Fans spun at the highest setting with windows flung wide open and yet the air wouldn’t budge. One step outside and the temperature dropped eight degrees. It almost made a person want to sleep outside, but in this dense urban environment the idea wasn’t appealing.

Sweat trickled down her ribs and between her breasts, adding a new irritation to her long hot list of complaints. Desperate for some relief, she sat on the edge of the bathtub and filled a basin with cool water to soak her feet. The dog lay outside the door, whimpering and panting, despite her lack of activity.

As she sat, she stared sightlessly out the bathroom window overlooking the small parking area for the building next door. Her thoughts drifted lazily, as if on a rudderless boat, until she realized that there was a tall figure of a person standing in the shadows of the trees between the buildings. It looked like she was in his sightline and a spasm of adrenaline ran through her.

She quickly dried her feet and walked across the room to turn out the light.  She returned to peek through the curtain, but the man was gone. He could be anywhere, now.