The retirement specialist
had been years since she'd been still. Any thought beyond a self-imposed
hypersensitive world, one that embraced magnificent spirals rather
than the stiff corpse of a thin, frayed line, had long been daunted
by the impasse of routine.
She gazed up at the flawless shade of blue that
seemed to crystallize in random pockets in the sky. She studied
their mystery, their connection, unable to derive any certain
answer despite knowing how they made her feel. And after a while
they made her uncomfortable, the way a newborn child sometimes
makes you uncomfortable.
Her front lawn was a cracking brown, except for
the green-and-yellow resilience of dispersed dandelions. It was
a testament to nature's varied palette of life and all things
consuming it. Summer had ceased the will of any exertion, and
with its oppressive heat lay the foundation of sticky self-loathing.
The Australian pine that hovered above fit in the
palm of her hand just yesterday, it seemed. If things had only
been done right. The marriage, the anti-marriage. Elaine had always
imagined a more glamorous lifestyle. A runway model was how it
Her feet were tucked underneath the sprawling pages
of her latest romance novel. She was always embarrassed by her
unruly, stubby toes. She had near-perfect cheekbones, though.
A kind of mistaken royalty, the kind they were looking for. But
she had made it a point not to reminisce. Not to think of "they."
To try and relax without any excuses.
She leaned back on her elbows and closed her eyes
in an attempt to imagine a perfect world. She wanted so much to
believe that things happened for a reason. Good reason, because
what may be considered bad will most likely become good with time.
It worked for her. Usually. Though a swarm of hitches
always loomed close behind. The sunlight raced its way through
curious planets straight down to the small circumference of her
face, and then buried itself inside the small freckles surrounding
her mousy nose.
She loved the feel of the sun on her face. It was
one of the few things that assured her that there was indeed a
God. Just as her mind began to ease, the shrill of the one voice
she had tuned her whole life to came crashing inside her three-note
"You're dead," a small child exclaimed.
"No I'm not, you missed," Addison assured
his assaulter, then turned and fired back.
fair," the other child demanded, reiterating the rules of
the game. "You have to lay on the ground and count to 10."
Knowing that the perception of life and death has
far too many gray areas in between, Elaine quickly intervened:
"Addison, I've told you that I don't like you playing guns."
"Mom, it's not called guns. It's called escape."
"Whatever. Now give that piece of plastic back
to Brandon and come over here."
"It's not plastic, it's a laser-firing missile
"Addison Lee." The combination of those
two words was intended to intimidate.
"It's just make-believe, not real, mom."
She looked directly into his eyes. They fit Addison
just like they fit his father. They had a downward slope giving
him a sad, wounded look. One that begged forgiveness.
"There are many things you could be doing on
such a lovely day other than shooting imaginary bullets and faking
"Like ..." She paused for a moment, feeling
the scent of a slight breeze pass. It was always a revelation
to her when one of life's elemental simplicities was reintroduced.
"Like fly a kite."
"I don't have a kite, mom."
"Well, fly an imaginary kite. You shoot invisible
bullets, don't you."
"Mom, that is stupid."
"Okay, then, go clean your room."
Addison avoided cleanliness at all costs.
"No, no, I'll fly a kite."
"Good, then." Elaine looked over at her
son and smiled almost at the edge of tears. She felt guilty that
there existed a time when she believed Addison was ruining her
life. Now he was the one thing keeping her alive. "Try not
to get it caught in any trees, though."
"I won't," said Addison, wondering if
his mother was crazy. He wondered if all adults were a bit insane.
But to him, contemplating such issues seemed far too time consuming
and a bit disappointing as well. Like most children his age, Addison
wanted someone to look up to without having to look further than
the expectation itself.
Elaine had always known that he was self-absorbed.
Denial often needs a swift, downright vicious blow to the core
of what is being ignored. Such attacks usually offer two options:
to confront a deep withstanding fear, or to cower even further
into the recess of make-believe.
wasn't until a cross-country flight to see her mother-in-law that
Elaine decided to go with the intended plan. Chuck was having
a difficult time coping with Addison, who was curled up in his
mother's arms and shaking with the frustration of not being able
to fully express his needs.
In his sandpaper voice, Chuck made various comments
about ineptitude and regret, as well as revealing some blatant
motivations towards the chubby, blonde stewardess.
"I need a stiff one," he said, pressing
a square call button that sat imbedded in the ceiling beside a
tiny fan. His curiosity then led him to turn the fan on high,
and like a child who antagonized a smaller sibling, he aimed it
right at the top of Elaine's head despite her recent request for
a blanket. She looked over at him and scowled.
"Ah," Chuck began, "do you have to
do that in here?"
Elaine had finally calmed Addison down and was breastfeeding
him as inconspicuously as possible. "Could you please direct
that fan elsewhere, I'm cold." Her voice was careful, calculated.
"Well, I'll turn the fan off when you stop
embarrassing me with your exhibitionism."
Elaine reached up and turned the annoying mechanism
off hastily. While in the process, a nipple popped out of Addison's
mouth making him let out a prodigious scream that carried throughout
"Why don't you control that child?" Chuck
wondered aloud, about to turn the fan back on when a generously
endowed woman with an exceedingly large amount of makeup sauntered
over to aisle seat 23-C. Chuck had been watching her since they
"Can I help you?" she offered with a drowsy
Chuck looked into her dry, red eyes. "You can
get my kid to stop crying and if at all possible get me a seat
in first class so I don't have to pay for the drinks I so desperately
She laughed uncomfortably and looked down at Elaine,
who was busy consoling Addison.
"Excuse me, ma'am, but our airline does not
allow that." She spoke with a deep Georgian drawl.
"I tried to tell her. I tried to let her know
that not everybody appreciates public nudity, but she's a stubborn
lady." Chuck cupped a hand over his mouth. "How do you
get any milk out of such small machinery, anyway?"
The stewardess concealed the amusement she derived
from the comment as best as she could. It was difficult for Elaine
to refrain from losing her temper in such situations, but she
somehow always collected herself, careful not to implement herself
in any way. Chuck craved reaction and she was well aware that
any expression of anger would fuel the beast that sat salivating
inside of him.
"Could you please get me that blanket I asked
for 20 minutes ago, so that I can conceal my offensive behavior?"
Elaine's mind was too busy plugging options to get caught up in
a fight with her husband.
"And a double Cutty Sark for me, doll,"
added Chuck, before flashing the pearly whites that hid just beneath
his Tom Selleck mustache.
The stewardess assured Elaine that she was making
an exception just this once, then smiled at Chuck, who gave her
a confident type of wink. She walked away accentuating her movements,
knowing she was being watched from behind.
is often told that no decision is spontaneous, that those of us
who are able to make faster external commitments have measured
their worth, their damage, for a significant amount of time so
that the internal commitment has already been established.
The subconscious can manifest itself through various
forms of conditioning, and one way of conditioning it is to ignore
it. Eventually it will assume a voice of its own, forcing one
to analyze its curious form or become so dichotomous in thought
and behavior that the self is lost completely.
Elaine had recently been listening to this voice.
For years it was pushed aside, but such as the voice of truth
dictates, it is inevitable that once deciphered, things will no
longer be the same.
She had decided on the plane that once in Boston,
a city she knew nothing about, she and Addison would take a stroll
downtown to do some shopping and never be seen or heard from for
at least six months. She had always wanted to go live near a lighthouse
somewhere in Maine, and chances were that Chuck wouldn't pursue
it much beyond a police report.
This gave him the freedom to agree to call it a
kidnapping or any number of big-city mishaps and, with a minor
amount of grieving, continue on with his life until the phone
would ring in his untidy little office one day perhaps
a Friday, when he had made plans to go out to dinner with an unsuspecting
waitress he'd met on one of his many lunch breaks.
"Chuck Pickover, retirement specialist."
The voice of his deceased wife would send chills
down his moldy spine, and once he realized it wasn't a hoax, the
accusations and cursing would begin.
By then, Elaine would have arranged the thoughts
in her head into words words with which even someone like
Chuck couldn't find fault.
He would, of course, ask for the money back that
she'd filtered out of their savings account. But again, once Elaine
described her reasons in those beautifully sculpted words, he
would be unable to do anything but hang up the phone and, perhaps
for the first time in his life, look within his tied and gagged
was too young to even care about his sperm donor then, but he
does ask occasionally now. They end up in Florida, four blocks
from the beach and near a retirement home. Elaine always tells
him that his father was a fisherman who went out to sea one day
and never came home. She figures that symbolism isn't exactly
As far as Addison knows, he was born in the pink
hospital just off A1A in Palm Beach.
Elaine sometimes wonders if her decision to leave
so abruptly was at all appropriate if it was nothing more
than selfish, since Addison now has no father to speak of. But
today she's decided not to reminisce, not to dwell on the past,
regardless of how it so haunted her.
She stands up and dusts off the dry soil from her
dirty elbows and takes in a deep breath. She smells the salt from
the ocean and the rain that accumulated in bruised pockets of
the sky. She walks out back where Addison has his head turned
toward the sky. There is an imaginary spool of string in his small
hands. His muscles are flexed as if the wind from a hurricane
is wrestling with his kite. She startles him as she approaches.
"Hey mom, see my dragon kite up there?"
His voice is excited, his eyes never losing focus.
"It's beautiful, honey."
"Beautiful?" Addison has other impressions.
"It's going to rain soon." A storm has
rushed in from the east, covering the sun like a greedy kidnapper.
"I heard some thunder earlier, and what follows
Addison's kite takes a dive, barely missing a tree.
"Well, did you know that lightning can electrocute
people who fly kites?"
Addison's hands drop to his side. The tail of the
dragon was last seen burrowing into the neck of a cloud. He turns
to his mother. His sloping, sorrowful eyes offer very little reprise.
"It's just make-believe, mom."
"I know, honey, I know."
Without trying to give way to all of the mistakes,
the struggles, the regret that have accumulated in her weary soul,
she grasps Addison's hand as she leads him inside to safety.
"Mom, do you think lightning hit dad when he
was out on his boat?" Addison asks as the first drops of
rain touch his brow.
Elaine never thinks about developing an elaborate
spine to the story.
"It's possible, honey, very possible."
"Do you think it's possible that dad lived
through the accident and is on an island right now?"
ponders the metaphor.
"Honey, your dad was a fisherman, and fishermen
usually drown or get eaten by sharks when their boats tip over.
But that's usually and usually isn't always. So to answer your
question, yes your dad might very well be on an island right now.
Anything is possible."
"Mom," says Addison after mulling his
mother's response, "I want to be a fisherman."