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Present Ghost

Telling stories

When her bones crack, from “The Fault”

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Photo by Jimmy Bay

That evening she was wearing her tights again, but this time she skipped dinner to begin exercising at the studio. She thought she’d leave the house before he returned, but that day, he didn’t come home late. Just as she was lacing her tennis shoes, the loud rubbery smack of the front door frame insulation startled her.

The kitchen wall clock read five forty-five.

“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” he said, as he reached to grab her hair that was wound into the fist–bun again.

She batted at his hand, insisting that he was “messing it up.”

“I’m growing out my bangs, so it took forever just to get it all up, okay?”

Mark smiled and apologized for his junior high flirting that still crept into their interactions from time to time. Although he knew it was more annoying than affirming, it was a remnant of their dating days when she learned that he wasn’t really all that funny at all—just charming and thoughtful in the same way small sons can be when they’ve been told that they’re good. It was that brand of corniness that was somehow simultaneously boyish and paternal that was occasionally endearing but never sexy.

She resumed tying her shoes.

“You’re still going to leave?”

When she didn’t answer, he offered to make dinner.

“Maybe we could watch a movie or I’ll rub your back.”

This sudden interest surprised her, so she hesitated in collecting her bag and keys. Her cheeks colored when she observed his obvious intent, but it drained when she looked at him. He tried again. Continue reading “When her bones crack, from “The Fault””

Morning scene from “The Fault”

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Photo by Wang Ward

Morning came too quickly for both of them. He had to meet with his boss to discuss the agenda for the all-company meeting taking place that afternoon, and she didn’t say what was causing her to hurry. Her lunch was already sitting out on the counter with the brown paper curled forward like a grade-schooler’s lunch.

All it needs is her name written on it with permanent marker.

When she wasn’t looking, he scrawled it across the side opposite the fold, and then he busied himself with pouring cereal. He hoped she would notice the decoration when she picked it up and headed out the door, but she forgot the bag altogether. He ran down the stairs after her to give it to her.

“Have fun at school, dear!” he said, handing her the bag with her name facing her.

She blushed her thanks.

“You are the biggest nerd. I’ve got to go!”

Before opening her car door, she surprised him with a light kiss on the mouth. Then, she threw her stuff and herself into the vehicle and drove away. He watched until she turned from their driveway, and then he walked in to get his things because he was going to be late.

He was shocked, but he told himself that the kiss meant nothing. It was just routine, a goodbye given upon departure perfunctorily, not passionately.  Continue reading “Morning scene from “The Fault””

“The Fault,” contd.

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Photo by Quin Stevenson

The dish had shattered into such tiny fractures that there seemed to be blue dust all over the kitchen floor and spread to the adjacent living room carpet.

On her hands and knees, collecting the little missiles, she thought about how maybe this wasn’t entirely her fault. After all, she’d been working more too. She’d been the one to say they should wait a few more years to have kids. Maybe he saw that as her pulling back. No kids after seven years when you’re perfectly healthy means that you don’t find the prospect of multiplication romantic.

They were two bodies of water unmoving, stagnated into one, isolated lonely gulf. Even though she liked the image, she began to see other options. She asked herself if maybe their marriage were like land — a land formed on a fault, just waiting for the plates to shift enough so that something would finally break.

I am nothing but his fault, she thought.

As she gathered the pieces of broken glass in her cupped hand, some of the shards splintered into her palm, enough to draw pinpricks of blood smaller than tear sheet perforations. She dusted the remaining pieces into the sink and turned on the garbage disposal.

Now the eggs were overdone and a green-gray halo had formed around the chalky yolks.

Tuna salad on rye with tomatoes, though filling, wasn’t too heavy with only an hour of down time before working out.

When he finally came home, he didn’t look tired, and he didn’t make any excuses. Instead, he hung up his navy blazer and immediately asked her if there was any dinner left before he’d removed his Oxfords. Continue reading ““The Fault,” contd.”

The Appraisal

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At Central Watch, a woman with silver hair waited. Her red pill box hat capped her bob and accompanied her wool camel coat well. She had been wearing this outfit, or something like it, for at least 50 years. It looked good, even when she had started to shrink and her voice had begun to lose its easy, youthful volume. She stayed warm on her way to Grand Central.
When the clerk had taken my cash and returned my watch, she spoke.

“Excuse me, sir.”

From her leather tote she pulled a watch so bedazzled that the diamonds caught the light and broke it across the room in a thousand glamorous fractures. Certainly, it was meant for more than a timepiece, but it was more luxurious than jewelry.

Holding it a full arm’s length in front of her, she started again, “Do you know anything about this watch?” Continue reading “The Appraisal”

Dance Lessons

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“Shoes, Mommy. Shoes.”

My toddler begged me to put on my dirty pink flats. I didn’t want to, but there’s no other way she will watch the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” on YouTube.

“Sha-sha-sha-shoes, Mommy,” she whined.

Only once when she was just 17 months old did I show her scenes from The Nutcracker. It was mid-September, and for four months, she insisted that we watch ballerinas and twirl in the living room while I wear those shoes.

My daughter is too young to know that I’m no ballerina and have no business calling myself a dancer. Right now, for her I am the Sugar Plum Fairy who changes her pants and teaches her everything she knows about dance. Eventually, she’ll discover that I know very little. She might even be ashamed of me.

I always wanted to learn how to dance, and by the time I found out that there might have been a chance for me, it was already too late. My first dance teacher said it was a shame.

“You really are a natural,” she told me.

I tried not to cry because I believed her. My emotions choked my gratitude. To fill the silence, she asked me to look in the lost-and-found crate outside the door. For two weeks, she had been trying to convince me to take some shoes that a real ballerina had left behind.

“Take those. I’m sure they would fit you. They’re good shoes. Use them in your classes in Texas.”

I remembered a few of my friends explaining the rite of passage of earning pointe shoes when we were in late grade school. At 23, I received my first good pair of ballet flats. I will never dance on pointe. Like my instructor said, it’s a shame I started when I did.

Being called “a natural” pierced me. The high compliment fell from my instructor’s mouth and shattered at my feet. Like my belated entry to the world of dance, those words were overdue. I turned 30 before I realized that all those hours I spent hours locked in my room stretching and pushing my body to bend made my body feel right. With no one looking, I was free to let my limbs speak through nameless movements with a structure and rhythm of their own. That I could communicate beauty and art with my body never took root, and it should have. Continue reading “Dance Lessons”

Resignation

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The driver’s side door of the limousine burst open. In tuxedo and top hat, the driver exited the car and stood on 5th Avenue facing his employer still in the back seat.

“You never give me the Christmas, or the vacacion,” he said. He never raised his voice above cool resolve; he stated facts. Then he slammed the door, leaving his post and the car running as he walked north toward the New York Public Library.

For a few minutes, the limousine idled on the street as traffic passed. When the back door finally opened, a man in a trench coat stepped out. He was beyond middle-age, balding, and stunned. Without his chauffeur, he returned to the car, this time — and maybe for the first time in a long while — to drive and not to ride.

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