Login   Sign Up 


Little Things

by TheGodfather 

Posted: 07 August 2004
Word Count: 3085

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

I ‘ M a newlywed still, I think. It was only three years ago that I stood at the back of the church behind the closed doors and presented myself through them as the organ played. I wanted so badly to crane my neck out in front around the standing people and see down the aisle to greet him with my eyes. I waited for his fresh, pure gaze, but it doesn’t feel fresh anymore. It’s not the same as it once was.

Someone told me that if love has a purgatory, it’s courtship. I believed them until just recently. Now I think it might have more than one, maybe hundreds of purgatories. It might be an endless array of caverns, each one dark, unique to each one’s love.

I haven’t figured it out. Mike is the man women dream about, not the ones on the billboards or in the movie stills. He’ll probably never show up on any morning talk shows interviewing the latest rising star. He’s just Mike. Often, I find myself second-guessing our relationship, why he chose me out of so many others, what his motives were. I know it’s a horrible thing, but I probably do it more often than I even realize.

Maybe the thing I love most about him is his open rejection of all other women to be with me. It’s what makes me feel wanted in a crowd, the one chosen by him and for him. It feels good being wanted. I used to know the feeling, or maybe I still do.

Little things have made me start to question. We recently purchased a new car. We were so excited about it, him especially. I can see his face now when they handed him the keys, his first new car. He looked at them in his hand for a few seconds, beaming, and then pressed the button on the key chain to unlock the doors. Something like that seems so simple at first, but now I find myself obsessing at times about how long it has been since he opened my door. I know I’m being old-fashioned. I know it. I’ll stop.

We had a fight this morning before he left for work. He left his clothes on the bedroom floor last night and didn’t pick them up this morning, same spot every time, by his bed stand in the corner. If he would just pick them up sometimes…

We didn’t part on good terms.

Five days without making up, but that is what is going to have to happen. Just a few hours after this morning’s incident, I got on a plane with my mother to go and visit Grandma Sloan. Mike was at work when we left, couldn’t even see us off, say good-bye, embrace me, kiss me, map each inch of my hand with his fingertips as his hands slide out of mine and we part ways, both of us walking backwards away from each other for a few yards.

I wonder what he is planning for my birthday in a couple months, probably nothing yet. He’ll start thinking this month for sure. He’s the lost romantic who brings me roses solely to hear me inhale all the air in the room into my lungs in a single gasp of astonishment.

I love him, mostly for the little things. The little things lately seem to take longer vacations from us than from other people I know, but it’s hard to know what’s going on in their lives behind doors.

He surprised me once, rented out a quaint little park and drove me there, blindfolded, after we were done at the county fair. I was frustrated having to get out of the car and walk a ways without vision, thinking it would end up one of his child-like games. The whole thing was beautiful though, a gazebo adorned with large green-leafed ivy with white veins like rivers across the leaves. He, or one of his friends, had laced white lights around the posts of the gazebo and through the ivy. The table, the dinner, the dancing, the champagne, all proved him more sensitive than I had allowed him to be in my mind. We slow danced to Dean Martin and Louis Armstrong until the cd played “What A Wonderful World” again, and we realized how late it was.

Then he missed my birthday and apologized a week later with a card. And then there was Valentines. I never figured out what happened that time. We just didn’t do anything. It was the same unpredictable behavior.

T H E time away was going to do me good. Grandma had made grandpa paint since I last visited. The burgundy trim accented the old stones that paved the driveway and decorated the lower half of the front of the house. The cherub fountain, the first thing you noticed after entering the gate, now freely spewed water out of its mouth onto the head of a smaller, less important one hunched a few plants away.

The garden looked far more cared-for than the inside, which was not a sore sight itself but could have used some tidying up.

“I like what you’ve done with the garden,” I said.

“You don’t know how hard it was for me to get your grandfather to do it,” grandma said, rubbing the back of her head in lingering frustration.

Grandma was sixty-five and beginning to plump up around her hips and rear. Mother wasn’t quite there yet but was beginning to show signs of similar plumping. It wouldn’t be long until grandma wasn’t able to wear the stylish clothes of the younger generations she had prided herself for so long on being able to wear.

“Where is dad?” Mother asked.

We had begun helping grandma tidy up, a family activity that assumes tension and awkwardness between people if something was not talked about. This is why mother talked, not because she was particularly fond of talking. I had the possibility this weekend of ending up in any one of the seven levels of hell, each one containing a version of mother and grandma trying to talk, civilly or savagely.

“Your father is playing golf,” grandma answered, leaving us to wonder if she was going to let the silence burn in our ears and force us to ask more questions or talk about ourselves. “He’s taken up golf lately. He’s not very good at it yet. It’ll probably be a while still before he admits he doesn’t like it.”

Grandpa would think the game isn’t sophisticated for the likes of him and that he’d rather be reading Bukowski or the Far Side anthology or any other interesting piece to be found on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. He thinks he’s the only one to discover the most up-to-date library around. He talks incessantly about how the chairs are always full, and the lines are always short, wondering if anyone actually buys anything.

“How do you like it, his playing golf?” I asked.
Her askance glance at me was memo enough to know I wasn’t to ask questions like that, unsure as I might have been about the why or why not.

Grandma changed subjects, making my situation all the more uncomfortable. “If you two have your minds set on helping me, we might work better separately.” It was as good as anything. Although we visited her hoping for the off chance of quality time, any time was just as well.

So grandma assigned us jobs, “only for the morning.” I was cleaning the pool area, sweeping the leaves from off the deck, removing the branches, leaves, and dead june bugs from the surface of the water, and excavating whatever tree litter had made its way into the kumbayah pit. I could see grandma working at the kitchen sink and could hear her soft humming of some country song that I didn’t know the name of.

She wasn’t there long before mother joined her, either done or putting off whatever chores she had. They stood in the window for ten seconds or so and then fully embraced for a few minutes. I made it look like my full focus was on the fire pit, but I couldn’t help being drawn to what was happening. They separated for a moment, and I could tell mother was in tears over something.

“We’ve been trying for months now,” mother mumbled through the sobs, having trouble controlling the volume of her voice, loud sobs combined with short whispers undulating enough for me to pick up pieces of the conversation. “Maybe we’re just too old now. We’ve been talking … but … that we’re actually trying … I feel like it’s driving a wedge … don’t know.”

All grandma did was reach her hand behind mother’s shoulder and pull her to herself, holding her close again, not that there was anything else she could have done.

I wondered why I had not picked up on their attempts before. Another child, brother or sister, wasn’t something you expected from parents hovering around fifty. The empty nest must have gotten to mother. I was the youngest, the one she had wept for every step of the way, when I left for Penn State, when I moved out with Jenny, and when I married Mike. I guess I didn’t really thing about mother at all. I found it strange that now, here, I would realize this.

M I K E called that afternoon asking what my plans were for returning home. I told him I didn’t have any yet except that it would be Monday or Friday. Mother and I had separate, open-ended e-tickets, a new experience for her, in case I had to return on Monday for work. I told Marie, my secretary, to call me on Sunday if they needed me for the merger documents.

We were finished working, mother and I both reclined on the black leather couches, she at the one with the ottoman. Grandma was showering, getting ready for dinner.

I stared down at the corner of the glass inset in the coffee table, the one grandpa had complained about having to trim to the right size after grandma had found it at a local rummage sale. My book lay on the corner, one in a long line of books I will carry with me in life in case I have an extra minute or two to get some reading in. I decided not to read but to find a way to talk to mother. I could have either asked her what she was crying about, delicately letting her know that I had seen her in the kitchen, or I could have said, “I think what you and dad are doing is a good thing, trying to have another baby and all.” I chose the latter, however wise that may have been.

The result of my gamble paid off in hours of talk and us never actually ending up out on the town but quite the opposite. We discussed age differences, the struggles of a baby, mother and father’s age, and my age and when Mike and I were going to settle down with a family. When grandma walked through with black slacks on and matching bra, we filled her in on the change of plans and kept right on, stopping at a point to all don more comfortable clothing and shifting to the living room where we bunkered down with popcorn and bon bons in front of When Harry Met Sally.

T H E next morning grandma found me in the front porch garden. I wasn’t sobbing or anything but my cheeks were still moist, mesmerized by the cherub gently spouting onto the other crouching figure its ideals, dreams, life goals, and whatever metaphorical garbage that run through a distressed woman’s head. What I hadn’t noticed on first walkthrough were the porcelain frogs scattered throughout the ferns and ivies, free of the spout but not clear of the real ones who left their distinct droppings around the garden.

I wasn’t positive about what exactly I was emotional. Maybe it was how close I felt with mother and grandma. Maybe it was the pains in my lower abdomen and migraines I’d been struggling with during my cycle. It could even have been because Mike called again this morning wanting to know my return plans. It could really have been anything. I couldn’t help but snort and crack a smile as grandma sat next to me on the wood-slatted bench held together with rod iron. She asked how we were doing, me and Mike, and I told her fine, that we were both focused heavily on our jobs and keeping things even-keel around the house.

“Do you still make love?” Grandma asked, placing her hand on mine on my knee.

It took me a moment to recover from the initial shock of her inquiry about my love life, but I was glad she had. The truth was we hadn’t been as close as we used to be, both of us seeming to drift into our hobbies, friends, and work, which felt healthy when I first noticed it but now was the root of an isolation deep enough to turn up the sidewalks. She sat with me for a long hour, while something about those cherubs, maybe the bushes between them or the seed pods on the ends of the ferns made me suddenly want my husband.

P U L L I N G into the driveway at home late Tuesday morning, I noticed, as I had assumed, that Mike was at work. Setting my purse and keys on the counter by the phone, I noticed he had done some cleaning, dishes done, towels from the foyer taken to the garage, tile swept of the dog hair.

I was missing Mike in a way I couldn’t remember last feeling. The thought of the spa upstairs entered my mind, and I wanted nothing more than to undress, light some incense, let the kama sutra bubbles do their work, and let my fire build.

I started up the stairs, and having almost reached the top noticed the bedroom door mostly closed, although open enough to allow a line of sight into the room. A woman, blond hair shining across the navy decorative pillows that lined the headboard, was asleep. I stopped where I was on the last step and stared, contemplating. No tears welled. It was something of a different nature entirely, a calm, calculating anger that wasn’t at all against the woman in my marriage bed but against who was not, who had likely been going off to work and returning to her in the evenings.

Quietly, I retraced my steps down the stairs and went into the garage, where I wrapped an apron around my waist and grabbed the pastel blue laundry basket and the vacuum. I returned to the room, swaying open the door and asking her to excuse me, that I just needed to clean up a bit and I’d be out of her way.

She said, “Oh, go ahead,” that I wasn’t intruding at all and asked me if I needed any help. That was almost too much for me, and I had to bite my lip to fight back whatever flooded my bloodstream at that instant, adding a rash facet to me that wanted to coolly approach the bed and slug her with my closed fists, like a man.

I slid the mirror closet door to the side and removed a few of my favorite skirts and pants. I continued loading the laundry basket until it was full, topping it off with the kama sutra products and birth control pills that I had not taken with me to grandma’s. Leaving the vacuum by the open closet, I paused by the door with both hands on the basket, “Excuse me. Sorry to bother you again, but I didn’t get your name.”

“It’s Anabel,” she responded.

“Nice to meet you, Anabel,” I lied. “I’m finished in here, but if you happen to need anything in the next few minutes, I’ll be downstairs.” She said thanks as I returned the door to its nearly closed position.

In the dining room, I cleared off the table, placing old newspapers in the corner under our parents’ wedding pictures and moving a few wine glasses that had either been used since the dishes had been done or otherwise had been forgotten.

It was clean. I stood with my wedding ring in my hands, fiddling with it, a solitary tear rolling off my cheek onto the deep brown surface. I couldn’t help but recognize the similarity it had in shape with the one grandpa had given grandma. I wanted him to notice the ring, so I wiped it down with a rag from under the kitchen counter, setting my ring in the middle of the table. Light from outside spread its shadow long as it reflected off the varnished oak swirls.

I gathered my keys and left the house. After inserting them into the ignition, I sat for I can’t remember how long, one foot still out of the car, the door not able to close, the incessant beeping. I wondered about Anabel and if she would notice the vacuum or take the dog on walks frequently enough. He likes it down by the duck ponds.

I wished I had taken my journal with me on the trip. I might write in it right now if I had it and leave the whole thing in the mailbox with all but the final entry crossed out:

-D-e-a-r-e-s-t- Mike,
My ring is on the table. Maybe give it to Anabel. You haven’t told her about me, have you? I noticed our pictures are not up anymore. I’m sure she will love the ring. I expect she’ll follow you through whatever you take her through, busy work weeks, another bankruptcy, hell, maybe you’ll be ready to have kids with her. She’s a step ahead of me. You’re at least taking her to bed.
Don’t call. If you do, I’ll probably say something I’ll regret. Well, you decide. Perhaps you might want that. Who knows what you want. I sure the fuck didn’t.


p.s. Let her know she can keep my teddy she’s wearing. What am I thinking? It was probably a gift.

Turning the key, I wondered if I’d been through enough yet.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

deblet at 11:27 on 07 August 2004  Report this post
hi Jon

Your voice in this is seamlessly female and American/New England - amazing. She sounds depressed from the onset and with good reason. Her defences for the things he's forgotten sound familiar as does her reason for loving him. Thin. I like the way you have explored her self deception. I also like the way she handled Anabel though I couldn't identify with the do things differently...

Great stuff


deblet at 11:43 on 07 August 2004  Report this post
!the above is meant to read "I also like the way she handled Anabel though I couldn't identify with her coolness at that time. But those american girls do things differently"


Becca at 20:17 on 07 August 2004  Report this post
Hi Jon,
I was intrigued by this story. I particularly liked the image of the fountain scene: '..now freely spewed water out of its mouth onto the head of a smaller, less important one hunched a few plants away.' That was poignant, then when you mention it again, really meaningful.
The story is told very quietly, there's a calm, resigned? air about it. I liked the way the different generations all looked in the direction of youthfulness and hope. It's a reflective story, I thought when it became a story about the grandmother and the girl's mother, that you'd changed directions, but you pull it back round artfully. I did wonder if it might be one of a stream of stories of a similar kind you were engaged with, it's something you could explore in a lot of different ways.
Oh, and I really liked: 'I had the possibility of this weekend ending up in any one of the seven levels of hell...'
I found some typos for you:
'I guess I didn't really thing about mother...'
'...she at the one with the ottoman' ??
'I wasn't positive about what exactly I was emotional' (about?)
There are some good levels of observation in this piece.

TheGodfather at 18:20 on 08 August 2004  Report this post

I appreciate the uplifting words. I have never written a work from a woman's p.o.v. but felt like I did a pretty good job on it.


Thanks for the detailed read. Always grateful for readers like you. Were you saying this could be developed into a novel or novella? Thanks for the typo help. I'll fix them soon.


Hamburger Yogi & PBW at 03:53 on 09 August 2004  Report this post
Long introductions with no events tend to make me think I am reading the first page of a novel.

Aren't 'showing/telling' discussions a drag? But something is happening here - the story is 'fading' because it is all told. The narrative creates an impression of interiority - the narrator talking to herself rather than creating images in the mind of the reader. To fix this is quite easy - just add a few lines of dialogue, two lines is enough every two paragraphs to remove the effect of distancing.

We need to know what happened to make them disagreeable with each other.

I remember reading a story by James Joyce where there is a whole page of telling. He then placed only five words of speech and the whole thing jumped out of the page and became real. This needs to happen earlier.

Bukowski? The anti-intellectuals on this site are going to carve you up on that! (Not me, though.)

Good writing, though. A realistic sense of time and place.

Hamburger Yogi

TheGodfather at 07:28 on 09 August 2004  Report this post

Thanks for the suggestions. Please accept my appreciation for your faithful critiques. They're invaluable. I think you're right about the beginning. I'll have to figure out what to do with it. Good points. They won't like Bukowski eh? Even with Far Side in there? Tisk tisk.


Becca at 09:42 on 09 August 2004  Report this post
Hi Jon,
I don't think I saw it as a novel, but the shape of the story, if you see what I mean, is rather wide and loose. So I wondered if you'd written other stories on the same theme, i.e. of desertion and betrayal, .. or written the same story in a different way.
I do think HY's points are very valid, and a bit of tightening, without losing the rather particular quiet quality it has, would be a good thing.

To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .