Somehow I feel the need/desire to post the first few pages of my manuscript in progress today. It's getting there. I think I'm close. I'd love any critiques.
The Mating Habits of Fireflies
I wake up, that morning, thinking Jay must be next to me. I momentarily consider reaching for him, my hand fumbling through blankets until it clasps his warm wrist or thigh. But, I catch myself. We don’t really reach anymore. Or, not lately anyway. We’re going through what you might call a rough patch.
I stretch and yawn, trying to keep to my own side of the bed, then realize I am alone. That Jay is gone for the weekend.
My eyes widen and I freeze.
The details of the night before, a night during the summer of my thirty-fourth year, come to me in chips and fragments, making me think of the sea glass I collected on our spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, the frosty shards I took home and glued onto a small, round tabletop that now sits in our den.
There were many beers and games of pool at Larry’s, your standard rural tavern: saturating darkness, balls crashing and thudding into felt pockets, AC/DC playing from large speakers.
There was teasing and winking and a kind of belly bump Jay's brother and I made up each time one of us pocketed a ball.
I felt liked, brimming with contentment for the first time in months. I wasn’t able to walk away from the attention. Or the good time.
I told myself Brian and I had a connection, that the universe wanted us together somehow, that he came here for a reason other than needing a place to stay.
And it wasn’t a matter of my simply giving in to his charge toward sex, because I was just as much the pursuer as he was, buying him drinks and once circling my arms around his waist while he stood trying to calculate a shot.
Back at the small, mustard-colored house, on the showy, red sofa, Brian and I yanked each other’s clothes off, I slightly sobered now that we were away from the bar but still unwilling to stop, to push Brian’s heated body from mine. Now, as I recall it, I cringe and ball myself up like a lima bean under the blankets.
Today my husband and his mother would come back.
I get up and, with shaking hands, make coffee.
The answering machine blinks, the little, red light reflecting off the refrigerator like an ambulance’s beacon bouncing from storefronts and windshields. The message is from Jay: a weather report, a list of what he ate that day, a run down of what he sees from his window at Limestone Gate where he’s gone to take part in Leola’s rehab from the Xanax to which she’s addicted.
Jay is so dedicated to Leola that he, and I, on summer leave from my job teaching gifted elementary students, relocated from our little house in Lansing, Michigan, with its well-worn ash floors and backyard Japanese maple whose leaves, just then, were a thrilling scarlet. We relocated a hundred miles North to help cleanse Leola of her “prescriptions.”
I miss my floors and Japanese maple and, near it, the tomato plants that stand along a sunny rock wall. I miss the bland, little details that Jay and I pulled together into a home.
I agreed to the temporary move, imagining sitting with Leola through afternoons while she suffered a headache or heartburn, drinking lots of green tea and lounging in the yard, listening to the river and to her talk about theatrical escapades of yore, of her glory days working in community productions and renaissance festivals where she played peasants, tarts, queens, and various characters in between. I imagined reading novels and newspapers. I imagined fetching her cold beverages and being filled with a sense of my large heartedness. I imagined it as an escape.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know until one morning in our first week as I went through her mail and she limped from her room in pumps and nothing else, hissing that I didn’t belong there. “You’re an interloper, Meredith,” she said. “You’re keeping Jay from focusing on me and my headaches.” That was what she thought her problems were. Her daughter-in-law and her headaches. Not her addiction.
Her small breasts hung like half-filled water balloons over her ribcage. Her legs were astoundingly smooth but veiny.
Tears glutted my throat. That was when it had become clear Jay and I weren’t on any sort of vacation.