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A Visit in September

By Deborah Chaney


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The notes of jazz float over my ears like downy caresses of breath. His face, only in my mind is recalled in soft detail. The edges are fraying; the stark reality of absence is falling away in tiny pieces. Memory shoring up the image with fantasy and color. He’s been gone twenty-five years. The vodka burns my nose with its abundance of alcohol. My eyes tear as the telephone rings. I jump, almost spill the precious liquid from the fancy glass. Wiping the drip of liquid from the glass with my finger, I stick the digit in my mouth and close my eyes at the elixir of damnation. The phone continues to ring.

The clink of the glass on my tiled counter acts as a switch. Normality washes over me. I rise hoping the interruption will die of its own accord. The answering machine will pick up on the sixth ring. I decide not to worry the caller and push the talk button on the receiver. I smile, "hello?" Expecting my husband to say "Hello Dear." It’s the same every day. Our life has a rhythm, a schedule, a comforting boring routine. The voice is not my husband’s. "Hello Z?" I drop the phone. It bounces on the wood floor. My hands fly to my mouth to stifle a scream. I pick up my glass and drink deeply, pour another while the phone rests on its side at my feet.

Sitting down at the kitchen bar I stare at the phone, drink, pour another, and drink. The shaker is empty now. A buzz begins in my ears like a wind of recall; the jazz is too soft to push through. I pick up the phone from its resting-place on my clean grained floor. Holding it up to my ear I hear the dial tone. A smile spreads my lips into a numb grin.

Rinsing the evidence of my relapse I hum softly. Reach over to change the radio station. Words blast my world with their personal tirades that attempt to sway, to convince listener’s to side with the politics. I push the CD button; Joni Mitchell wafts through my world recalling a simple, different time in a different house, during a different life, a different husband. I begin to sing along, washing the implements of my demise. Slurring my words I stop to dry my hands on a towel. Pour coffee into a sunflower mug and zap it in the microwave. Looking at the clock I see it is ten in the morning. The first buzz. It is glorious and frightening all at the same time. I am slowly killing myself. If courage were to visit my hollow heart there would be no greater relief than death.

The ringing phone sends a tightening through my body. My stomach lurches. I freeze, sing a few lines of Hejira, my favorite song of all time. Turning to look at the phone I wish I’d turned it off. I fix a smile on my face and say "Hello?"

"Z, don’t hang up." The voice at once familiar, distant send chills through me in waves of apprehension. It is a consequence of my insanity. This isn’t happening, I think to myself as I listen to the deep masculine voice pleading with me to speak. There are many words, statements floating up my throat. Swallowing with the rising scream they vanish. "Hello." I finally say the pause seems interminable. Conjuring up the visage of this man who left my world a lifetime ago, two lifetimes if I count marriages. His face, no clearer, his voice no comfort. I don’t know his heart; I don’t know his face which had to have changed, wrinkled, become sketched with regret or happiness or both. All I know are the vibrations of his vocal chords. They are beautiful, haven’t changed. I swoon, sit down heavily on the barstool.

"Sorry to pop out of the blue like this." The silken threads of apology wind around my heart strangling hope. Hope that he may profess amnesia, paralysis, or imprisonment as reason for disappearing and remaining that way.

"You’re apologizing."

"Modus Operandi around you Z."

"No one calls me that. No one ever did except you. I had a few different nicknames since, Devo, Bitch. Both have interesting stories . . ."

"Z . . ."

"Yes Thomas?"

"No one calls me that except my father."

"I always did."

"You did a lot of things no one else ever did." My sharp intake of breath silences him. These conversations happen frequently in my head. I couldn’t be sure if this was real. How much alcohol did I consume? "Sorry, this has to be a shock."

"Something like that." I study the tile, scuffle my socks on the way to the sink. I dry the implements of martinis and put them back in their places deep inside a cupboard as the receiver, still silent is cradled between my neck and shoulder. No one would know I began drinking again. I didn’t believe it would go that far. The fact that our/my daughter left home had a great deal to do with my insanity. For that is what it is. Insanity, nuts, bonkers, lost my ever loving mind otherwise I wouldn’t be hallucinating this conversation with Thomas. It could not happen. Surprises rarely occur to someone like me, as I am now. Although good things happened all the time, just not of the hysterically screaming variety.

The sunrises paint the sky with a pink embrace; the sun sets with an orange tinted glee. These are anticipated and treasured. This is my life. From my wild past came cultivation of mediocrity. A relentless struggle to be respectable and sober. I killed myself and birthed a calmer boring clone. My daughter would not have survived if I had not.

"Listen . . . I’m in Corvallis. I wondered if I . . ." I hang up the phone. This had gone too far. Imagine Thomas from 1978 Thomas from San Francisco. Thomas and Z an affair so intense, so absolutely romantic now here in little old Corvallis Oregon. I had really fallen off the edge. Extremity – the line crossed the boundaries shift in my mind. I may never make it back. Normality has been hard won. I cherish, covet, and hold it close to my chest in a mental hug of comfort. Thomas is the end of all that. He cannot be. He is not here. Yet the phone rings again and I fear it will manifest into his voice. The undertones of loss, regret and longing are cuddled in my mind from that baritone of long ago. I watch the phone. I turn off the ringer. The ring from the upstairs phone faint and disturbing. The light blinks in absence of sound. It stops.

The ring begins again. Surely the cup of coffee I just finished will do its trick. My husband’s voice will infuse me with contentment. "Yes?" I say tentatively, my insanity could be continual. How long do things like this last I ask yet no answer from the space inside my skull.

"Z, why did you hang up on me?"

My eyes close of their own accord. I cannot be here. I cannot deal with this. My entire life is turned upside down with Courtney’s departure and apparent happiness at college. Happiness is mine in this drudgery, in this prison I call a home. A very well decorated home a clean and tidy home that houses memories, love and family. This interloper cannot call one day and change my existence. Even if I’d been praying for this exact thing to happen. "You are not real." My voice croaks with clogged emotion. Clearing my throat it is shockingly loud. "Sorry."

"What do you mean I’m not real?" The incredulous question causes me to laugh. "Ah, the laugh. I’ve starved for the sound." His voice carries the moans of pleasure too real, too personal, too intimate.

"We didn’t say goodbye." I twirl my graying blond hair in my right hand. Holding the phone with my left I watch the birds flit from one branch to the other making their way to the birdfeeder. A birthday present from my husband. I can name all the birds by their calls and colors. Sometimes we see Tanagers yellow and orange they are as colorful as parrots. I love our house, our area, and our life. I have to; it is all I have sometimes choices leave little choice at all.

"Yeah, um, Z, I’m in town . . ."

"You said that."

"Can I see you?"

"Of course not."



"Z, I took this job knowing you were here. I want . . ."

"I don’t care what you want."

"Yes you do. You still care. I know you do, you have to."

Holding the phone at arm length I stare at it as if it were his face, which I still cannot recall in detail. "I don’t have to do anything . . ."

"Petulance, that much hasn’t changed." I hear this pressing the plastic against my ear a bit too hard. It sucks at my eardrum.

"Too much has Thomas. The woman you knew died. She had to for me to live."

"Yes, I know. You were on a pretty fast track for a while. I witnessed some of your undoing, remember?"

"I don’t want to."

"Understandable. Can I see you?"

"I don’t know . . . I’m married, happily married whatever that means, I’m content and comfortable. I married my best friend."

"You couldn’t have. I’m your best friend."

The conversation resembles target practice. One shot after another. I can barely keep up. "You were. I found a new one, finally." The lump I swallowed earlier rose to do its worst. The tears begin to course down my face the sob that lacerates my silence is uncontrollable. The moans of emotional suicide spur him to speak.

"Z, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. You scare me; hell you’ve always scared me. I tried to come back . . . remember?" I could not respond. The emotion falls out of me like bricks. I cover the receiver to stifle the tortured sounds of my heart rending, attempting to expand to hold this man inside, again. "Listen. Let’s get together and talk. Nothing more than a conversation." He waits silently while I attempt to catch my breath. The elusive air hides from my lungs. "Are you okay?"

That did it, three words he said over and over during our yearlong relationship, non-relationship. "Oh my God you are an asshole." I didn’t wait for him to respond. I heard the intake of breath. It would be the same as with my husband, they deny what you have just said. Which closes the subject negates the emotion that spurred you to lash out. Reality shifts that easily. No residual thought is spent on the outburst, to articulate feelings that may have taken me days to formulate. A simple "I am not . . ." is all it takes for them. "No, don’t deny it, it is a truth." Silence. "Of course I am not ‘okay’. I haven’t been okay for quite some time, now you waltz into my little town and expect me to get all mushy. That ship has sailed my lost love. It has circled the horn." My metaphor is juvenile, but so what. Breathing, I can hear breathing. The intake and exhalation from the man I cannot forget. "I’ve never forgotten you, Thomas."

"There’s my Z. I understand why you’re angry. I’m angry too."

"You don’t say." Sarcasm drips like the rain from the gutter of emotion. I grin.

"Listen. Can I come in?"

"Come in?" I stand up, look out the dining room window. There is indeed, a car in the driveway. "Why didn’t you tell me you are parked in my driveway?" I draw back the curtains and wave weakly. I could see his hand gripping the wheel. His face was in shadow at this angle. It was white a rental car Ford Taurus or some such innocuous model. "Is that your car?" My breath made a blurring circle on the window. I would have to wash them soon they smell dusty.

"No. My car is still in Colorado. This is the house hunting trip."

"You’re serious then?"




"Oh. Well, I guess you could come in. I can give you a cup of coffee. Maybe we can have a real conversation without me blubbering and crying. No promises." My mind will not wrap around the fact of Thomas outside my house. Even as I hear his footsteps on the porch I cannot fathom the consequences of opening the door to much more than his mere presence. I stand in the middle of the living room. It is magnificent, this space lovingly constructed for me by my husband. Three walls of windows with views of nothing but trees. We live in a forest. We own an acre and a half of forest with streams and a pond. The seasons dress the trees and bushes in such vivid detail it leaves me breathless. Now I stand with my hands covering my mouth away from the dining room window that looks out to the porch, away from Thomas’s glance. The world is yellow with its fall dress, my favorite color. My mind cannot rest on a thought. I smell the coffee on my breath, the lasagna I made last night. In just a few seconds I’ll smell Thomas.

I wear a black sweater with jeans and black socks. I didn’t wash my hair today. I did yesterday. It looks unkempt if it’s not washed. Anger flares in my chest. A whoosh fills my ears with white noise. Being a housewife I am not groomed particularly well. Remembering when Thomas and I were together, he played with my belt on the kitchen table one morning. He asked what it was. When he learned it went around my waist; he commented how tiny it was. I would need three of those now. I am not thin, I am not fat, and I am thick and old. My armpits become damp with the certainty of Thomas’s impending disappointment.

The doorbell rings. Movement is beyond my ability. The doorknob jiggles. He knocks says the acronym that isn’t me, not my name. I hesitate rake my fingers down my face then; step by step I watch the door get closer. I watch my meticulously manicured hand, my only constant grooming ritual, reach for the shiny brass knob. It turns seemingly of its own volition and I stare at men’s shoes. I think they are Merrels, a brand my husband prefers. Odd, that he would wear the same shoes.

"I forgot my key." The voice is immediately familiar. It’s my husband, Steve. "What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost." I stare at him, dumbfounded. Searching my memory to ascertain I didn’t leave the martini paraphernalia on the counter. I did not. They are tucked safely away. My breath smells of coffee . . . I don’t care. It doesn’t matter if I’m going insane. My stomach flips with the danger I apparently stepped upon, quashed, killed, I don’t know.

"Are you sick?" I ask stepping aside to allow him access to the house. The wind is whipping yellow leaves around the pine trees. I see the white car roll slowly down the street. Shaking my head, I close the door. Watching Steve hang up his coat. I wait for his response. He turns to me with his arms outstretched for a hug. I walk into those warm arms. I am safe pressed in comfort and unconditional love. He holds my shoulders and looks into my face. I swear not to drink again as his hazel eyes search for someone he recognizes.
"Are you sick?"

I shake my head and look out the window over his left shoulder. "Of course not."

"Why were you . . ."

"Nothing is wrong . . ." I begin, interrupting his concern, knowing any buzz I had was killed by the hallucination of Thomas. "I was just thinking about my story." I lie. I’ve not written a word in almost six months. He walks into the dining room and sets down his briefcase, walks into the kitchen sniffing for baked goods. "What time is it?" I ask wonder why he’s home before noon. He uncovers a plate of chocolate chip cookies, takes three and begins to eat smiling at me. I walk into the kitchen and see that I’ve baked cookies and cleaned up the mess. I’ve done the housework I do every day yet I do not remember doing any of this. The swell of blood rushing to my head is deafening. I sit down at the kitchen table, paste a smile on my face and wait for Steve to tell me about his day.

"You don’t look as if you feel too well."

I press my face into a confused dismissal. "Of course I’m fine. I baked you cookies; I cleaned your house. Who knows what else I did for you today? I’m just Susie Homemaker and you tell me I’m sick?" The forced cheerfulness sounds ludicrous to my own ears Steve chuckles. I’ve done it. I’ve covered up my insanity and perjured the circumstances of my day. A day I lost. No more booze. This cannot be happening.

"You are a wonderful wife, Rebecca. No doubt about that." Steve wipes his mustache with a paper napkin; it is yellow in a red napkin holder my father made me. I dislike worms intensely so my dear father put a big fat green one on one side of it carved from wood. People love to tease me, I don’t know why.

Steve rises and throws the napkin away. "What’s for dinner?" Like clockwork is my life.

"To tell you the truth I don’t know, but I’ll figure something out."

"I know it will be scrumptious." Steve disappears down the hall.

I hold my head in my hands, close my eyes. I hope mere wishing will bring Thomas back to my door. Knowing this cannot happen since I apparently imagined the entire thing, I rise mentally brush myself off and head into the kitchen to prepare dinner.

I sit, sipping my coffee, reading the grocery paper’s advertised specials as I make a grocery list. Today is Wednesday, grocery day. Yesterday was a lost day; I am a day behind. I must shop and iron to atone for my loss. I frown at my easy life. Which is not so easy to other people, but is to me. My best friend has nicknamed me Hestia, after the goddess of the hearth. She is amazed at my domestic bliss and apparent talent for it. I have named her Kairos; she is much too busy and unwilling to change. I think about calling her or writing her an email. She is my best friend because we have parallel lives. Such pain and joy rolled into our scarred hearts we found each other limping along. Now sometimes we soar with the blessings that rain down on our wounds. Sometimes we feel we are drowning.

The doorbell rings. I jump sitting at the kitchen table my head turns towards the dining room window that looks out on the front porch. It is a man. He is slight of build, has blond hair cut short and squared at the neck. There is a lock of wavy gold that falls over his forehead. He sticks his hands in his jeans pockets. It is Thomas. I would know that back anywhere with how many times it was turned on me. Continuing to watch him he stares at the door. I sip my coffee under the sunflower chandelier that hangs over the kitchen table. The window is to his left. He does not turn toward me. That is a telling inaction, this distance that separates us even in our most intimate times. He rings the bell again.

I rise thinking he’ll see me. He doesn’t turn still; the odd quality of this tickles my consciousness as I walk past the window with my eyes locked on the side of his face. He wears glasses. I do now too, I take them off. As I go by his head remains in profile. There is that shiny knob. My heart begins to beat faster; it is beating so fast it stutters with effort. The welcome mat of sunflowers summons my feet I stare and wonder how my life will change with the opening of the door. I reach for it, hear a rush of blood in my ears a distant ringing. My hand grasps the knob the door begins to open; a bright light crowds the crack of the door and frame. Pain suffuses my body with expectation as I pull the door open completely shading my eyes from the brightness step over the threshold and realize the price. Thomas wraps me in his arms. It is over.




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