dodging the bullet

My mother wondered out loud why I wasn’t married.

We were standing in the window of her country kitchen, watching her fourth husband hunt small birds in the driveway. The California cul-de-sac coiled around the sleeping suburbans while Rick stalked his petite prey.

The streets were empty. I was two hours in on a three-day visit.

My stepfather, a man who hated anyone with an opposing opinion, was wearing a camouflage tracksuit and a Nascar hat turned backwards. He crouched in the gravel with the neighborhood fowl caught in his cross hairs.

“You could get married,” my mother stated as if nuptials were on discount.

I focused on the mailbox. The dull red flag drooped as if beaten by its owner. Was it up a few minutes ago, signaling the sky for a rescue? Or was it stuck like that, abandoning its duty, refusing to meet the mailman?

My stepfather inched forward like a lizard. I wanted to strangle the clock.

“You can always get divorced,” my mother said.

My stepfather’s elbow scrapped the rocks. The birds froze. I craved wine and a way out. It was 10am. My mother had started cooking lunch even though no one was hungry.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“It’s just a little paperwork,” my mother replied, mindlessly checking the oven.

My mother loved to reduce the joining or separation of lives to a scribble and a stamp. She was a City Hall veteran. My father was the opposite, stating people should just be “friends” instead of getting married.

I stared through the homemade curtains and seethed at the situation. My mother’s husband, the horizontal hellion, slithered closer to his target. I closed my eyes. My mother sighed and sipped coffee from her ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’ mug.

In the silence, the smell of meat hung on us like beefy sweaters.

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