Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Uneven Like Islands

by Susan Tepper

Down the center then veering off to one side is a large crack in my kitchen window. It’s like the profile of a pregnant woman in a line drawing. A round jagged hole, the size of a navel orange, where a breast would be.
A boy threw a baseball either deliberately or he had bad aim. Hearing the shatter that seemed to come from the kitchen, I’d put down my wine glass, running from the side porch. Glass shards in my sink. A hard ball, smallish and discolored, was covering the drain. I picked it out of the glass studying it a moment. Then I looked out the window. In a light breeze, the pink dogwood brushing the clapboards seemed undisturbed. Then I spotted the boy.
He stood in my un-sheared meadow of weeds and brambles. Shorts, bright-yellow T-shirt, blue baseball cap. A boy around twelve, gawky, some thirty feet from my house. Close. I went to the back screen door, opening it, calling out to him. He didn’t say a word. No apology, nothing. As if he had just delivered a newspaper. He gave me the finger then turned his back.

Some time later I am to discover this boy is the son of a man I’ve been seeing. I came upon this information accidentally. If Joe’s wallet had not been left open on my night stand, the plastic photo flap showing the same boy in the yellow T-shirt and cap, I probably would never have made the connection. The photo flap could have opened to the wife, or any of his other children. There are four. How the boy found out I’m involved with his father is unclear. We’ve been very discreet. Bars and restaurants several towns over, that sort of thing. When Joe saw my window taped, he naturally asked what happened. I told him a boy may have thrown a baseball deliberately, or just aimed wrong. I’ve kept the ball on my bedroom closet shelf. I once had a boy child who lived only a short time. A few days. He came and left so quickly.

The night Joe saw my cracked window, our sex was more fierce than usual. He seemed to be expunging something from my body. Of course, back then, I still didn’t know the boy was his son. Not until later in the year.


On the side porch my sister sits in the old slat rocker. Across from her I’m stretched out on the wicker couch, surrounded by toss pillows. The big pillows are boutique, and expensive; from another lifetime. I’d coaxed my then-husband to stop in Bridgehampton for ice cream, before we made the long drive back to the city. The pillows in a nearby shop window had enticed me. I ended up spending a lot on them. Something to do with vintage fabrics. He didn’t seem to mind. In our divorce settlement I took very little. It was a bone of contention between me and my sister. She didn’t understand that I couldn’t take more than I went in with; which wasn’t much.

We’re drinking from a bottle of Chardonnay she brought over. She’s smoking again. Rain stops and starts as if on a timer. She asks if I feel guilty sleeping with a married man. No. I don’t say this but shake my head to indicate. She squints at me, disbelieving.

“Guilt doesn’t enter into it,” I say. For a good red the wine tastes slightly acrid.

“How long do you think this is going to go on?”  She’s insistent that guilt would play a part if she were under the same circumstances.

They are never the same circumstances. You are you, and I am I. A striking arch to her eyebrows makes me wonder if she had them threaded. I want to say: Look. Your husband provides nicely for you and the kids. Your house is large and airy. There’s granite in your kitchen and bathrooms. A great mahogany deck, big gas grill. Manicured lawn. While I have this tiny cottage where the roof leaks when too much snow piles on.  So, you see, things are never the same.

I don’t say it. Or that this whole place could use a paint job. Sections of bare wood, turned greyish, show on the clapboards uneven like islands. My kitchen has old formica counters chipped in places. The one bathroom is decrepit with age. I never expected Joe to leave his wife and family. Between us, that subject has never come up.

“I’m a free woman,” I tell my sister.

She shrugs looking at her watch. “Last call,” she says.

The darkness is closing in tight. Pouring her final glass almost to the brim she puts her feet on the ottoman. “Remember to turn the clocks back this weekend,” she says.

“Yeah, I remember.” When I stare out into the rain, and dim, my reflection back seems fractured.

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"Uneven Like Islands" was first published in Mom Egg Review.

More about Susan Tepper and her widely published work can be found at www.susantepper.com.

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