Friday, May 23, 2014

Memorial Day

We were late getting there, what with traffic and a not-so quickie in the truck-stop rest room off I-5 that smelled of toilet bowl freshener. We took the slow lane, didn't zip down the highway. Why rush? he said and caressed my inner thigh. I agreed, but felt fatigued by the time we landed on his mother’s doorstep last night, the faces of his family blurry and blank.

I gushed insincerely about his mother’s amazing flat, the hardwood floors, the view of the bay, the double glass doors separating the living and dining rooms, skipped over mention of her now gone husband, his soldier's photo in the place of honor on the mantle. She'd start with "we"  or "he" then stop. "Vietnam," she whispered, following my eye to the photo.

His brother talked about flying in from the East Coast with his family in a nasally voice. He told how the guy next to him blew his nose on the airline blanket and then spread it over his chest. He said the cab from the airport smelled of stale hash and warned us the kids get up early, then slouched off to the back bedroom behind his wispy wife. We got the living room fold-out without much padding, the inflexible frame now cutting into my spine.

At first light, she began setting the holiday table at a dogged pace. I watched through the glass doors with one eye, riding my attention over the bunched pillow like a sneaker wave, to spy her fondling each saucer and candlestick. She flapped a white tablecloth, smoothed it with veiny hands, pulled brown napkin rings from a drawer in the battered sideboard, held up a cobalt glass goblet to the dim light, studied it, put it away, stood hunched before the dining room window, facing east, wiping her eyes, twisting her wedding band around her bony finger, thinking she alone was staring at the first hints of a mimosa sunrise.

I ignored the warmth coming from behind, his knucklehead nosing my thigh. Clearly, his mother, my hostess, was lost in painful reverie. Lost, but she didn't have on blinders. I pushed him away, suspecting her hearing was still pretty good. Relenting with the next nudge, I arched my back and surrendered into her grief.

From Hard Holidays, online flash fiction prompts from writer Meg Pokress, author of best-selling flash fiction collection Bird Envy.