An Old Photo
Mary Baker (3)
Mountains in LC
Untitled 1 & 2
Photo by Britten Traughber & Written by Teague von Bohlen (2)
My ex Nancy thinks she’s a successful businesswoman just because she opened a tanning salon. It does okay, it’s true, but come on, this is Illinois. Pale is the state color. People look at their reflections and don’t like what they see. They pay to not be so white. They pay to look like they can choose everything, like their freedom extends even into their skin. But it’s a lie. A pretty lie.
It was the salon that finished us, I think. At first, I was all in. The extra money was good. It let us buy a few things, like the flat screen TV she took with her when she left because Mark’s was too small. She’d started tanning after her shifts. She said she needed to look the part, and began to run in the early morning before I was up. My friend Mark started running with her. I didn’t think much of it at the time, just liked that there was already coffee made, and I wasn’t expected to jog. I didn’t see
what was coming. After ten years, your vision gets hazy.
Sometimes, a man doesn’t get to decide what he’s sharing. Nancy taught me that. Other things I’ve learned on my own, like not to cook anything on high, what not to put in the dryer, how to sleep by myself and not have to leave the TV on for company. The last time I heard from Nancy was last week. She called to say she wanted the king-bed, and the microwave, since Mark’s just got a double and a toaster oven.
“Not my problem,” I said.
“I’m just asking,” she said.
“I’m just saying no.”
I could see her perfectly. She was standing in Mark’s kitchen. She shook her head impatiently so her yellow curls swayed like bent willows in a hard wind. A flush creeped up her bronzed chest, reached up her neck and behind her ears. “I’ll just sleep closer to Mark, then.”
“He kicks in his sleep,” I told her, “I’ve been hunting with the sonofabitch.” When she hung up on me, I listened to the silence on the line like it could tell me something.
I don’t miss Nancy so much. I really don’t, but I miss being in the bed with her. Not the sex. Just sleeping next to another person that wants you to be there in the morning or can pretend they do. Another pretty lie, one I’d take most nights just to be able to sleep again. When I lay in that bed–the one we bought with her tanning money–I’m all over the place. Up and down and sideways. I wake up with my head where my feet should be. It’s getting worse. The bed is always a disaster. The sheets are pulled up, moist with sweat, and balled around me like a shroud. I always end up backwards, the mattress bare and shining like unprotected skin.
It was good to get rid of things, he thought. The toaster oven his mother used to burn his Pop-Tarts on the edges, the way he liked them. The small chiffonier in which his aunt had stored her unmentionables. The alabaster-stemmed pipe that his father had brought back from a trip to Maine one summer. The unfinished set of pastel dishware that he and his ex had started buying piece by piece, trusting that they’d be together long enough to finish it. Someone could use all this. Someone might love it. Just not him; not anymore.
Some were small things. A teething rattle–still in the package–marked $1.29 from Turn-Style. A six-pack of Billy Beer. A small trio of Hummels with sad eyes that seemed to fear the larger world. An egg-shaped piece of colored glass—a paperweight, he guessed. Three squirt guns, his old Daisy rifle, and a slingshot. Two Star Wars figures: a Jawa and Obi-Wan, neither with capes or accessories. A stack of Motor Trend magazines from the 1970s, with one lonely Penthouse four magazines down. A baby gate for keeping the dog out of the basement, with gnaw marks on the crossbar. A tattered poster of W.C. Fields saying, “Some weasel took the cork out of my lunch.” An ashtray from Freddy’s Freeze his friends dared him to swipe when they were fifteen–right after they won the game against Lewiston–right before the one and only time he got to kiss Courtney Dee. A mason jar full of buttons and fishing lures. The head of a hammer mixed in a box of deck screws.
Some were larger. The leather couch he’d bought because Heather had once said she’d do anything on it. All she ended up doing was drinking his Chivas and kissing him goodbye. The hand-blown glass lamps the color of just-minted pennies he and Carolyn had gotten at the art fair upstate. The putt-putt mini-bike he bought to restore for his son, the kid he’d never had; which was maybe for the best because he never bothered to touch the bike. He wonders if he was supposed to be any of the men he always assumed he’d eventually become.
Tiny anchors, all of them, pulling him beneath the surface of the water, drowning him in absent context. It would be good to be rid of them, he thought. It is too good to start again, fresh, like a new colt wet from his mother’s womb ready to stand for the first time. He wanted to pour himself into new things. He wanted to breathe without all this sitting on his chest. He wanted to see what else would come to him, if he just made room.