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Starting Over





Starting Over



     On this bright Saturday morning in October, the attractive brunet standing in the elevated doorway, struggling to control her nine-month-old baby, has no idea that in the next few minutes she will experience an epiphany which she will always think of as the instant when, as though awakened by the snapping of a hypnotist’s finger, she stopped being a girl and became a woman, in charge of her own life. She would also be shocked to learn that it will mark the beginning of the end of her marriage and in one year she will be separated, in two divorced. It would also be inconceivable to her that seven years from now, not long after the sun has set on a brilliant and brittle October day much like this one, she will find herself sitting in a restaurant getting ready to recount this experience to a handsome and magnetic thirty-two-year-old bachelor, who, on their first date, had digested, without the slightest sign of discomfort, the fact that she had a seven-year-old daughter. The mutual attraction between them would be evident to a careful observer by the way they are sitting side by side instead of face to face, by the way he smiles when he looks at her and seems to be focused on her to the exclusion of everything else around him, by the beguiling way she occasionally fiddles with her hair, and by the way she leans toward him, a little off-center, like a listing boat, whenever she speaks. The casual observer would not be able to tell, however, that internally she is wary of this physical chemistry, knowing from her marriage that it is not enough and has the potential for disaster, not just for herself but for her daughter, who has never met this man and who, tonight, just like on the other two date nights, is in the custody of her father. So when, as they each sip on an after-dinner Chablis, he asks in a rather offhand manner, what went wrong in her marriage, she will take the opportunity to tell him that maybe it’s time to let him know “what is lurking beneath this pleasant facade.” When he smiles and asks, facetiously, “how bad is it?’ she will try to keep the wry humor going.  

     “Well, if my ex-husband were here he would be screaming WATCH OUT! SHE IS A STONE-COLD BITCH.’  So, I just want to let you know up front that if, anytime tonight, you come to that same conclusion I much prefer the word shrew.”  

     Encouraged by his hearty laugh, she will push on. “I think the best way to answer your question is to recreate for you a five-minute event which sums up the issues in my marriage pretty well,” she will say as she watches the smile on his face morph into the sober look of a student about to take a very important exam.  

     “God! This is so weird. I feel like I am about to watch a mortifying home video of my dysfunctional marriage with someone whose good opinion of me I am going to destroy.” Here, she will pause and take a deep breath before starting her story.

* * *

     Of course, on the present October morning she knows none of this. In fact, all she is certain of is that her once again unemployed husband, the man beneath her in the yard, peering  over the picket fence, is, as always, oblivious to her need for help, and judging by his trance-like demeanor, which she has seen before, was caught off guard by the cool, crisp air and transported back to his childhood, a place he wishes he had never left, devoid of both future and past, where physical exercise done for its own sake is an exhilarating ride to eight glorious hours of dreamless, restorative sleep - a prelude to just another blissful, carefree day in paradise.

     She also understands how much he longs to escape the oppressive atmosphere of adulthood, in which he can barely breathe, and join the neighborhood’s prepubescent boys, who were also surprised by fall this morning, and happily surrendered, coming together, as though by instinct, in the vacant lot on the corner, for a game of touch football.

      She watches as he pushes open the gate and advances, like a mindless creature mesmerized by a tantalizing lure, toward the shouts from the field, and when he is halfway there, she suddenly, like a mother calling back a son who has not finished his chores, surprises herself by trumpeting out his name, freezing him in mid-stride. Then, with an unexpectedly objective eye, she stares, for a long, disheartening moment, at her very own prize from the sea of men, hanging there, suspended between two worlds, like a fish - too big to throw back, too small to keep.

     “And, for the second time in less than five minutes,” she will say in the restaurant as she concludes her story, “I heard my voice read my mind, as I looked down at my baby and said: ‘caught on our lucky hook.”

     Sensing his discomfort, she will take a few seconds to study his eyes, the one part of the anatomy which, she believes, never lies.

     “That’s quite a poker face you have there, but I think I have a pretty good idea what you’re thinking: Wow! Her ex is right. She is a stone-cold bitch. She dumped the poor bastard because he wanted to play a game of football with some kids on a Saturday morning.”

     “Remind me to never play poker with you.”

     “So, before you tell me you have to see a man about a dog and then disappear into the night, never to be seen or heard from again, let me try to explain myself.”

     “Ha!! Nobody will ever be able to accuse you of lacking a sense of humor.”

     “Thank you. But all joking aside,” she will say, leaning in toward him for a little more intimacy, “I really want you to try to understand. My marriage was a continuous drip, drip, drip of revelations trying to tell me that I was in a parent/child relationship. The incident I told you about was the drop which, for some reason, managed to fall right between both eyes and pop them open to the fact that it was not ever going to change.” Here she will pause and study his face again, wondering if she is completely ruining his night.

     “I am afraid this must all sound like a bunch of psychobabble to you. I know a relationship is more than just one issue, but this one does seem like it was the Achilles’ heel. Does that make any sense?”

     “Yes, momma,” he will say with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

     The unexpected remark, the verbal equivalent of tickling, will cause her to emit a very unladylike guffaw before matching the glint in his eyes with a playful one in her own.

     “Maybe I’m the one who should see a man about a dog,” she will say, making him laugh out loud again – the good-natured, self-assured laugh of a confident man whom she would definitely not mind getting to know better.

     “Seriously, I just gave you the carryon luggage version of my marriage. If you and I, by some sort of divine intervention,” she will say, casting her eyes and arms skyward, “ever get far enough along, I will unload the entire suitcase, going all the way back to my cheerleading days, shouting my fool head off for him on the football field, to the last tug-of-war year, if you really want to hear about it.”

     At this point, signaling she is through, she will fold her hands in the center of the table, and brace for him to deliver some euphemism meant to let her down easy but clearly intended to convey that this has all been, a la Carol’s date in As Good as it Gets, just too much reality for a fun-loving, unencumbered bachelor on a pleasant October evening.

     Instead, she will be shocked by his reaction. Displaying both sensitivity and perception he, as though trying to protect something fragile, will lay his hand on top of hers and say how happy he is she did not let that moment of truth in her marriage define her future.

     In the ensuing silence, as she sits there sipping her wine and trying to process what just unexpectedly happened, she will realize, among other pleasant thoughts, that the odds had suddenly risen quite dramatically on the possibility of a fourth date – a word which, in the days ahead, she will come to think of as not only intrinsically romantic but also perpetually young and full of promise which can, as improbable as it seems, make even a mature, realistic, clear-eyed woman feel girlish in all the right ways.

Barry W. North


Barry W. North is a seventy-two-year-old retired refrigeration mechanic. He lives with his wife, Diane in Hahnville, Louisiana. Since his retirement in 2007, he has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, won the 2010 A. E. Coppard Prize for Fiction, and Honorable Mention in the 2011 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards, and was a finalist in the 2014 Lascaux Poetry Awards. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Paterson Literary Review, Slipstream, Amoskeag, Sixfold, and others. His published chapbooks are Along the Highway, Terminally Human, and In the Maze. For more information please visit his website www.barrynorth.org

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