Some women have daddy complexes. Wedding pictures are taken; son-in-law stands head to head with father-in-law; professions, habits, religious affiliations are matched subconsciously, or not.
We go to a bar, my husband and I. He is my height, five foot seven inches, three inches shy of my father, and weighs eighty pounds less than the man who taught me how to hunt.
They like to hunt together. Sometimes we drive down to Kentucky on Saturday nights and wait for the hunt. My father always knocks before he comes into the room he built, the room where we sleep. I imagine he’s afraid of seeing me naked, bedsheets thrown aside during the night. But I’m not. I never am. I wear an old tee shirt of my husband’s; the name of his first band ironed above my left breast. My husband jerks at the knock – the kids don’t knock on our bedroom door at home – then says, “I’m up.”
Why doesn’t he ever say that to me when I slip over him in the morning?
At the bar, my husband is asked to sing. He looks at me and winks. His voice is what lured me. Never mind that he was small. Never mind that his thighs were the size of my biceps. He could sing. So he does.
He sings one song after another. I think I’m forgotten. He’s stopped looking at me. He’s singing to the entire crowd; the men who wait until their cigarette ashes threaten to dirty the bar before tapping their smokes against tin ashtrays, the women who dance on the floor – pecking like chickens in a pen.
A man sits down next to me. My husband points and smiles through the lyrics. The man nods to my husband.
“Do you remember me?” he asks.
“Not at all,” I say.
He orders a whiskey sour and I laugh. A sour. Not straight. All sugared up.
“What do you do now?” he asks.
“I sit at home.”
“I sit at home sometimes, too.”
My father never sits at home. He always has something to do. He helped my brother build a cabin at his lake last year. He owns two autobody shops. He likes to hunt and fish.
My husband goes outside during the band break. He’s part of the band now even though we showed up on the sly.
“It’s better to talk now,” the man says. “Jared.” He touches my hand. “You’re Crystal. Crystal Gayle.”
He smiles this big grin that puffs his cheeks and makes me look away. Even though years ago I grew tired of the tugs on my long hair, of my namesake, while my head is turned to the side, I laugh too.
The next weekend we go camping. My husband and Jared have rekindled their old friendship. They’ve spoken on the phone for the past three nights, planned, called other friends, and my husband, for the first time in years, found a babysitter all on his own.
“Have Crys look,” he says.
Some guy I don’t know passes me a porno mag.
“Are they real or fake?” my husband asks. “Crys knows,” he says. “She can spot them a mile away.”
“I don’t want to look at this,” I say, tossing the magazine into the bonfire.
“What the fuck?” The owner of the magazine stands up on the other side of the fire. He has on plastic flip flops from Walmart and is holding a can of Busch light.
“Grow up,” I say, before walking down to the lake.
“Maybe she’s seen too much,” I hear my husband say. “Here’s five bucks. Sorry about the magazine.”
No one comes down to me for a very long time. The sun has faded into the kind of orange that reminds me of the sherbert Push-Pops my dad used to buy at the local grocery when I was a kid.
“I’d tell you they were childish but you’d think I was trying to make small talk,” Jared says, sitting on the sandstone rock below me.
“Did you ever do this when you were a kid?” he asks. He takes a pocketknife from his pocket and scrapes against the rock, collecting bits of sand in the palm of his hand. He holds them out to me for inspection and I’m afraid to touch his hand.
“Yes. When I was bored. Are you bored?”
“Only slightly,” he says. “It’s wearing off.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Ditch the mag or storm off?” I ask.
“Ditch the mag.”
“Women are women are women,” I say.
Jared gets off the rock and sits next to me. He stretches out his legs, that like mine, are thick; mine from dancing – I don’t ask about his.
“It’s time to eat,” he says.
“Is that why you came down here?” I ask.
He sits across the fire. I sit beside my husband.
“Try this,” my husband says, balancing a bite of coleslaw and Ramen noodles on his fork.
“Didn’t you just cut your Brautwurst with that fork?”
“Just eat it. You’ll like it.”
“No thank you.”
The only thing I have to eat is what I brought – pasta salad. I try not to look at Jared but notice, through the blue light of the fire, the curly noodles and dark bits of veggies that fill his plate.
Someone brought two inflatable boats. They are tied off to a stake in the dirt on the bank of the deep.
I know how to row a boat. The lake behind the house where I grew up had water moccasins, cattails, and dragonflies that skimmed across the algae. My dad taught me how to row. We used to fish together until my parents divorced and I read a PETA magazine which told me about the nerves in the mouths of fish.
The lake is quiet except for the distant claps around the bonfire where my husband sits strumming a guitar.
Out on the water, I float in a teal and yellow boat; my life dependent upon the lifejacket cinched around my chest and the strength in my legs.
My husband made me bring the walkie-talkies.
“Are you coming in?” he asks.
“Sometime,” I say.
“I’m trashed. I have to go to bed.”
“I’ll be back soon.”
Jared is waiting on the bank. “Are you in for the night?” he asks.
“I’m tired of rowing,” I say.
My husband is asleep in the tent. Maybe not. It’s only been fifteen minutes.
“Do you want me to come along?”
“That’s the only reason I want to go out,” he says.
Jared doesn’t walk into the water to push off like I did. He climbs into the boat, sticks the oar into the mud, and thrusts us out into the deep olive water.
“You still don’t remember me, do you?” Jared asks.
I don’t know how I could have ever met someone so stunning and forgotten him.
“No, I don’t.”
“When your parents divorced, your dad rented a house down Asher road, way out in the cornfields. My parents owned those cornfields. You used to go 4wheeler riding with my younger brother. I helped him set up the tent where you used to sleep with him at night.”
“I was only thirteen. That was nineteen years ago,” I reflect.
Jared’s hair was frizzy before he came onto the lake; a brown, uninspiring mess of split ends that touched his shoulders. I tried to picture him from twenty years ago but couldn’t. Maybe I never even saw him. Maybe he used to sit several yards away, behind a tree or a haybale, and watch his younger brother lift my shirt.
One night my father drove his pickup truck up and down the gravel road looking for me. With the spotlight clamped to the driver’s window, he slowly churned through the gravel, bounced into ruts, and called my name. I know he heard the 4wheeler start, heard me speed away towards home. I couldn’t look at him, not with swollen red lips and wild eyes and hair twisted into knots.
I didn’t ride through dark dusty cornfields in the middle of the night for several years afterward.
The boat is small, intended for two people sitting in the same direction. Jared and I face each other, so I have to cross my ankles and lay them over the side of the boat.
There is a cove, three hundred yards from our camp. Jared doesn’t row there. He stops rowing and lets the current take us closer to the cove.
He reaches out with one finger and touches my ankle. I don’t move. I want to reach out and wrap his beard hair around my finger, twirl a piece where the brown thick hair begins to fade into red.
I have a scar on my right foot. When I was seven I stepped on a piece of glass buried in the dirt in the barn. I knelt down and picked up the blue glass, a shard of a Mason jar. My dad came in from feeding the horses while I was standing there holding the glass. Paternal instinct? The quizzical look on my face? Maybe he was just looking down and saw the wet brown dirt under my foot? Regardless how he knew, he picked me up, and ran to the house.
I heard him talking to my mother in the next room as I lay on the couch with one of his red bandannas wrapped around my foot. To the bone, he said. I undid the knot on the side of my foot and pulled one of the ends. I wanted to see the bone. How often do you get to see your insides from the outside?
My mother fainted when I held up the foot and pulled back my middle toe, exposing my tiny pink bone.
Jared found the scar. It’s a callous with a split now. It looks like a smiling mouth with thin white lips. He clicks it with his fingernail. He must know everything about me.
“Are we supposed to talk?” I ask Jared.
“Do you want to?”
“Ask me a question then.”
“How do you know my husband?”
“We used to work together several years ago. He was an apprentice and I was his journeyman. He’s a good worker. Quick and smart.”
“Why did you ask me to come out here with you?” I ask.
His legs are so long that balancing them on the edge of the boat pushes them behind my head; so hairy that I can’t tell the color of the flesh beneath.
“We should go back, then. I need to pee,” I say.
“How badly do you need to go? We’re pretty far from camp. I could row you to the shore on the cove.”
The walkie-talkie hadn’t beeped since I last talked to my husband. I couldn’t remember the communication range. I didn’t really care.
The shore is strewn with plastic bottles and aluminum cans and beer bottles and rotten wood. Jared follows me to the bike trail several yards from shore.
I pull down my panties and squat, reach behind me and bunch the thin cotton fabric in one hand. Pee splatters against the dirt and mists my ankles.
Jared watches, stands five feet away with his arms crossed. There is a look on his face that I haven’t seen years.
I stand up completely before reaching down for my panties.
Lights pierce the tall thin trees that grow at the water’s edge. I notice them first and wonder if someone is lost or has drowned in a drunken stupor.
Jared and I walk back to the boat. That is when I hear my name being called.
We take the long way around the cove. Jared rows quickly and quietly, only a soft plunk escapes the water when he sinks the oars.
A quarter mile from camp, Jared pulls the boat onto the shore.
“I have to leave,” he says.
“No one knows we were together.”
“I can’t see you again.”
“Because I want to kiss you and it’s wrong.”
Closer to camp, I call Cory on the walkie-talkie. I drifted out of range, I say. I was on the other side of the cove. No, I’m fine. I didn’t realize he was calling for me. I’ll be back before he will. I’m close to camp.
I lean over the boat and dunk my face in the water. The olive water is fresh. It cleanses. It purifies. It rinses away the wild in my eyes.
In the front room, three feet from the wall, the polyurethane coating has worn off the hardwood floor – not a large spot, just about the size of a child’s heel. A piano once sat there, a black grand with stiff keys and gold etching above the middle ‘C’. Kimball.
Twenty years ago, a girl sat behind the piano every afternoon for two hours; the first hour, required studies; the second hour, free play. Sometimes she would turn the knob on the timer, playing Hannon finger exercises with one hand to cover the click-click-clicking as she inched the dial towards the second hour.
She played Haydn’s Gypsy Rondo until her fingers held the memory, and her mind was able to wander. On quiet afternoons, she reflected upon her morning in the woods – the creek water slowly rinsing the bank, the clouds chasing each other like lovers amputated at the hip – and kept a mindful tempo. On afternoons when contentment filled the house, she listened for the bobbing of the needle on her mother’s sewing machine and kept a steady rhythm.
But most days, she leaned into the piano, back rigid, shoulders hunched, and thumped the keys until her mother’s screaming rampage was deflected from her siblings. Her mother would charge into the large room where the fireplace was never lit because it might leave soot on the furniture. She would straighten the drapes that framed the large, welcoming picture windows, which opened up to a world the girl wasn’t allowed to experience.
Her mother would stand next to the piano, salmon-colored cheeks huffing, fingers knotting themselves at her waist, and the girl would say, “I just want to play for you. Sit down. Sit down on the furniture I will never sit upon. Look through the windows at the world I will never experience. Listen.”
And she would watch the girl’s fingers cross and her wrists slightly turn towards the ceiling, while from memory, the girl began a new song. Her mother would back away towards the Victorian style loveseat with rose-colored velour fabric, and stare out the picture window towards the highway which led to places she should never allow her daughter to go.
The girl would press her heel into the hardwood floor, her fingers keeping a slow, steady, comforting tempo while her heart furiously pounded ‘The Dance of the Demon’.
I imagine the baby I killed had red hair. I can’t say for certain since I was nineteen, and that was a long time ago. I only saw him on the monitor at the abortion clinic, and I didn’t want to embarrass either of us by staring.
Heath had red hair with ends that were split and curled from being whipped around in the wind. Always once, during every motorcycle ride through the back roads, a lock of hair would catch the corner of my mouth. I’d spit it out and laugh in his ear, and we’d ride.
Five years after I left him, I confessed my sin on a short line next to the question ‘Is the your first pregnancy?’. Sitting in the doctor’s office, watching the receptionist eye The Price is Right while waiting for a copy of my insurance card to slide out of the printer, I felt certain that question was one of those true or false questions; otherwise, the line would have been longer.
For the next six months, people I didn’t know rubbed my swollen belly and asked if the baby was my first. I smiled, asked them if they could feel the baby kicking, and lied like the Virgin Mary to save myself.
I imagine the baby I killed had red hair like Heath’s other baby. I saw her at Christmas one year, a bow in her long red curls. She jumped off the curb outside the mall, and the wind picked up a lock of her hair, whipping it over her shoulder. I stood at the corner, holding hands with my blond headed son, and watched them ride away.
A Lonely Moment
We hear him skulking in the backyard. He lingers over the snapped branch, and I imagine his eyes brittling like ice. We don’t know when he will speak so we stand in the backyard with our fingers entwined, listening to his heavy breathing and the rain misting the treetops.
It occurs to me that I haven’t been this still for a very long time, and I think if I could reach out and touch them both, I could mold this moment like a piece of jewelry to wear a groove around my finger. Then the rain comes down hard and soaks the trees until they are black and wet like my insides, and I know I have to move or shake or let go of his hand.
We walk up the hill together, one of them on each side of me, and I want us to keep walking past the parked cars outside the barhouse, cross the road, and stop for a moment at the pond. There, we could stand beside each other and stare at our distorted reflections as the rain comes down and laughter leaks through the windows in the bar. We might be happy, the three of us, gawking at the smiling faces in the water. I know I would.
Instead, we go inside and sit at a round table. They talk about the noise on the tin roof, and I buy the three of us double shots of whiskey. I should feel caught or busted but I don’t.
The waitress brings a shot of Jagermeister, compliments of the gentleman at the bar.
They shake their heads as I drink it down. Cold, black, and wet, it coats my throat, feeling like victory inside.
Then there’s just us, the empty shot glasses, the last of the acorns pouncing on the tin roof, and the man at the bar patting the stool next to him.