Maybe Baby

Maybe Baby

A Story by Joel McCarthy

Her bare, callused heal left a circular imprint in the otherwise untouched dust covering the dashboard. Her toenails were painted satin black and dotted with opposing whites in a seemingly random pattern, though he knew she’d spent over an hour plotting each one and its precise location. Her feet were decorated weapons, and only he knew it. Under the cover of their four hundred thread sheets, the corns and hardened skin on her soles would scratch his shins routinely, except for the nights he slept out in the living room. She was in her long term passenger’s pose, one leg resting on the dash, the other pulled close to her stomach, her heel resting on the seat. Her sunglasses reflected the storm clouds forming atop a blue sky�"dark tumours bordered in violet Prada frames, denying him her mood and expression.

            Small transparent beads began peppering the bug stained windshield. He switched on the wipers earlier than he needed to, and they squeaked across the barley wet glass like a whining child. He turned up the volume on the stereo and the Beach Boys harmonized a moment before she changed the track.

They had picked ten songs each for the weekend, mixing them together at random. They’d agreed that each song selected should commemorate some positive aspect or memory of their relationship. It bothered him that she changed the Beach Boys, an ode to their third or fourth date at the Parkshire Festival where he’d bought her corn candy and they giggled at the dreadful rendition of I Get Around performed by a middle aged cover band in town square. It bothered him that she’d added this hip hop song, one which he was sure didn’t echo any memoirs of their time together. Her mouth chewed a wad of gum in rhythm to the song as he pressed the gas. He was eager to get back into the city and out of the sprawling greenery and granite. He was eager to forget the weekend.  

The Jeep ahead of him slowed to a stop, and he weaved to his right to check for traffic. He could see four cars ahead before his vision was obscured by a large transport truck.

            “S**t,” was the first word spoken in over two hours of driving. He retrieved cigarettes from his inside pocket while steering with knees. There was one left, which he lit up immediately after stuffing the vacant package into the cup holder next to him.

 

***

The small town’s general store is where he picked up the cigarettes, two sirloin steaks, and two bottles of Echo Falls white zinfandel. His father had assured him that there would be beer and some liquor already at the cottage, but he knew that she would only drink wine and wasn’t going to take a chance on there not being any. The cigarettes were his idea, a decision made in an instant at the cash register. He hadn’t smoked since they got married eight years prior, and wasn’t sure she’d be too happy to see him start up again, but their recent argument regarding him leaving his job was still looming above them like a curse. The thought of himself puffing on a Newport, blowing menthol plumes defiantly from across the fire pit seemed a suiting vengeance to her indifference toward his occupational contentment.

            A young wiry girl rang up the items, and he watched his wife through the storefront window. She chatted with two young fishermen loading the bed of their dodge pickup with bags of ice. He could hear her muted laugh through the glass, which prompted him to flirt with the cashier.

            “You like the Hip?” he asked in reference to her black t-shirt.

            “Oh yeah,” she said, sheathing the bottle of wine in a brown bag, braces hindering a smile.

            “I hear they’re playing up here soon,” he lied.

“Really? I didn’t hear anything.”

            “I got kind of an inside scoop.” He fiddled with the postcard display. “I sort of know the tour manager.”

            “Cool.” Her hand, marked with stamps, brushed away uneven bangs from her eyes.

            “Yes, pretty cool right? You know, maybe I can get you�"”

            “Are we ready?” his wife interrupted, positioned in the doorway, shades tilted down.

 

***

The traffic stayed unmoving and mysterious, as though it were preventing him from ending the weekend. There were no construction signs or radio broadcasts to shed light on why such a thing was happening, especially through the Bracebridge stretch. There was nothing to look at except two opposing lines of evergreens and the Jeep in front of them�"raised silver letters spelling 4x4 and liberty and under this, a bumper sticker proclaiming, They took the Bible out of schools and now the prisons are full. He wasn’t sure if she was sleeping but guessed she wasn’t.

             “Hick traffic,” he said, testing the conversational waters.

            “What?”

            “This type of traffic is all hick truckers. They slow everything up so goddamned much.”

            “I was sleeping.”

            “You were?”

            “Yes. Where are we?”

            “Bracebridge. See, there’s the turnoff for Santa’s Village.”

            “How much longer?”

            “How should I know? The traffic isn’t moving.”

            She leaned forward, turning a knob from red to blue. “It’s hot in here.”

            “I’m cold,” he said.

 

***

The halved cuts of wood were soaked in lighter fluid and ignited in a flash of green flame, the flakes of white birch hissed and curled against the heat. The flames died quickly because the wood was slightly damp from rain the day before and wasn’t taking kindly to catching. He’d cut more wood than was necessary for the weekend, but had forgotten to throw a tarp over his stack during the wet nightfall. He kept balling up sheets of outdated newspaper and stuffing them into the heart of the tiny tepee he’d created, dousing the entire thing with lighter fluid. He could hear her humming to herself through the open screen door of the cabin as she prepared the steaks. Earlier they had discovered that the barbeque didn’t have enough propane to heat their dinner, and since the general store was closed for some unknown reason, they had to settle on frying the meat.

            When the meal was over and done with, they finished the first bottle of wine and smoked a loosely rolled joint in front of the small black and white television that flickered with images of a dated war film. The smoke mixed with the smell of fried steak and onions, a kind of skunkish potpourri that hung heavy in the air. When their heads were buzzed at equilibrium between pot and alcohol, they made indifferent love to one another on the floor next to the coffee table. She pushed herself on top of him at first, the only sounds being her quiet whimpering and the ping of moths smashing their bodies into the glass of the television. In the dim light, the silhouettes of their conjoined form were projected on the thin paneled walls of the cabin like a distorted film strip. He turned her over, directing more force into her, which she accepted and enjoyed until she climaxed. The place fell silent again except for the skittering moths on the hardwood floor.

            He reached for his jeans and fished out the pack of cigarettes, tearing the plastic seal with his mouth. To his surprise, she gestured for one herself, standing up and walking over naked toward to the stove to light it. She returned to the couch with the second bottle of wine, handing him her cigarette for him to light his own.

“I should go back to being a brunette,” she said. “You liked me better as one, no? Or do I look more mature as a blonde?”

            “Where is my wallet?”

            “Did you hear me?”

            “Yes, yeah, I did. But my wallet, it was in my shirt.”

            “Blonde or brunette?”

            He picked up his wrinkled jeans, shaking them until the black wallet flopped onto the floor. “Brunette,” he finally said.

            “So…” she took a long drag on the cigarette. “Brunette like what was her face? Mindy?”

            He blew smoke out of his nose. “What? Jesus, you’re drunk.”

            “Right, and you’re Mr. f*****g cool with a dart hanging out of your mouth like James Dean. How is she? Mindy the bat faced c**t…”

            “You curse like a fool when you’re drunk,” he said.

            “If you want me a brunette like Mindy, it’s fine. Just say it.”

            “It was high school for Christ’s sake.”

            “Do you miss her?”

            “It was a century ago.”

            “Is that how you feel? Like you’ve been with me that long? A century?”

            “Yes, a century of bliss,” he said.

            “F**k you,” she snorted, looking out the window.

            He drunkenly pulled one leg through his jeans. “I’m saying, I mean that what’s the damn point of bringing up Mindy Granger? She hasn’t even crossed my mind. I can barely remember what she looks like.”

            She lay back in the couch. “So you never think about before?”

            “Before what?”

            “Before everything. Marriage. Mortgage. Infinity.”

            He took his glass to the kitchen, rinsing it in the sink. “What’s the point? I hated high school and so did you if I remember correctly.”

            “You remember my memories, do you?”

            “I didn’t say that.”

            “We’re not the same, you know.” She said this, almost in a moan, her palms rubbing closed eyelids. “I’m allowed to think back to those times�"even if you block them out like you’re afraid to face them or something.”

            “Afraid, right.”

            “You block it out, maybe because… maybe you were happier then and can’t stand to compare it to now. You compare your time with Mindy to me and realize how old and isolated you’ve become. How old I’ve become.”

            “Shut the f**k up, please.”

            “It’s fine. Sometimes I think about Jake.”

            He let the wine glass drop in the sink, hoping it would break, but it didn’t.

            “He messaged me last week,” she said. “He sent me an e-mail.”

            “Are you serious?” He could feel the blood filling his ears.

            “He wants to meet up and see how I’m doing. I think I might go for coffee with him. Is that okay? I don’t want it to be a problem.”

            “If you’re being serious, you know it’s a f*****g problem. You don’t even drink coffee.”

            “I’ll order some hot cider.”

            “Sounds like a nice date you’ve got planned.”

            “Why should I ask you anyway? I’m not your property and you’re not mine.”

            “You’re my wife and�"he never gives up, does he? Still trying to f**k you? That’s what I remember about before.”

            “You’re ready to crucify the guy for wanting to reconnect with an old friend. That’s what this is. That’s all he and I want. You’re forbidding me to have a friend.”

            “He thinks like a man and I’m a man and I know how he thinks. Men and women aren’t just friends, not in reality. Men and women meet and they f**k.”

            “Oh please, you’re in no position to comment on the reality. And you want to talk about men? I need a man at home. Have you ever once made the bed? Emptied the washer?”

            “You always beat me to it. Then you beat me over the head with the fact that it was done by you.”

            “Did you f**k that chink Lu Ling or whatever her name is? Please just tell me if you did, don’t try and hide it.”

            “Foul mouth and racist, great, thank you Echo Falls!” He smashed the empty wine bottle against the refrigerator. “And I would never f**k Louise Chang for your information.”

            “Why would I believe a psycho like you?”

“Because she fired me.”

            There was a pause before she spoke. “I thought you told me that you quit.”

            “You’ve had too much to drink and are acting like a spoiled b***h.”

            “You’re the one acting. You’re the one who lied to me,” she said this, drying tears on her t-shirt.

            “Speak for yourself.”

            “What did I ever lie about?”

            He spoke rapidly, almost choking on the sentences. “When I married you I wanted kids, you knew that. I told you I wanted two kids, at most three years apart. I said I didn’t want the first one growing up lonely like I did�"like you did. You sat there and nodded and agreed and we’d stay up thinking up names and you’d say I’d make a fine father�"”

            “What the f**k is your point you a*****e?!”

            “You withheld information! How long before you married me did you know?”

            She rolled onto her stomach, burying her face into the pillow, a muted lament into the blue and white nautical pattern. There was a long break in conversation. 

            “It doesn’t matter now,” he said, sitting himself down at the table. “We both lied. We hide things from one another and I guess that’s the way it will always be.

            “I wanted to have a girl,” she said. “But now…”

            “We could adopt,” he offered.

            “I don’t want it anymore. I’m a career person. I take care of myself and a child is a burden. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. And I want you to know something.”

            “What?”

            “When I said you’d be a good father I was a girl. I’m a woman and I see what kind of man you are.”

He threw on his leather coat, turning to the screen door as she turned to the television, end credits of the film creeping up the screen.

“What makes you a woman?” he asked. “You can’t even be a mother.”

 

***

He didn’t sleep after she passed out. He stayed by the smoking ambers of his fire all night, right up until the sun rose, and he watched as the blue plumes seemingly joined the low clouds to drape an aura over the still lake. He urinated on what was left of the pit. She came down draped in a burgundy quilt.

“Do you want breakfast?” she asked.

“No.”

“Coffee?”

“Is there coffee?”

“Yes.”

            “Let’s pack up. Let’s go home.”

            “Alright.”

            He followed her up to the cottage, holding the door for her as she entered.

 

The final track started to play on their mix tape. The cubicle traffic around them began to work up some momentum, slowly breaking apart, and he managed to change lanes. She lowered her glasses and turned up the stereo.

            “What song is this?”

            “Buddy Holly,” he smiled.

            “That’s right. I haven’t heard this since our wedding I think.”

            “I don’t like to play it often,” he said.

            “Good. It makes it more special when you don’t hear it all the time.”

            He accelerated and noticed a strange smearing of red that covered almost all the lane in front of him.

            “Oh my God,” she said.

            He looked out her window. Slumped over the roadside gravel was a humongous brown mass of limbs and antlers, the trail of red leading to its lifeless head. He was only able to see it in a flash, keeping an eye on the road. She followed the corpse in the side mirror until it was gone.

            “I wonder what hit it. I didn’t see any busted car or ambulances,” he said.

            “I feel bad that I don’t feel worse about what I just saw.”

            “It was probably a transport truck. Must’ve hit and kept on going. Nobody wants to hit a moose.”

            “It dragged itself off the road,” she said, just as the last few notes of the song rang out.

            Up ahead they spotted a candy shop, and he decided to exit off of the highway toward its gravel parking lot. “Let’s see if they have those gummies.”

            “Corn candies�"will they have corn candies?”

            “Maybe,” he said.

 

 

© 2011 Joel McCarthy


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Something seems to be missing where they've left the cabin, gotten in the car and left. I missed that, somehow, and ended up briefly confused. Perhaps my unfamiliarity with the term "cubicle traffic" is responsible. Otherwise, this piece is just outstanding. It's highly-polished, excellent writing in every way. A+
Commenting on the content, it seemed, according to my life-experiences, a very realistic, believeable look at married life. (at the eight-year point)

Posted 8 Years Ago


Hello Joel,

You captured everyday life very well with a small flash of a 24 hour period. You kept me involved all the way to the end, it is ashame the moose had to be taken out, but I won't tell Peta.

This was marvelous, if I have anything to critique it would to put more behind the argument, maybe set it up on the car trip up....show it as a "Foreplay" tactic to get to the sex...and make the sex more explosive.

This was a fantastic write and a great read. Deserves more touches than just 7. Great work.

Always,

Matthew

Posted 8 Years Ago


Wow. The way that you make these short stories appealing to the very end astounds me. You're great at making short stories in which they could be considered great one day, and maybe put into anthropologies or english class textbooks. Your vocab and description throughout was excellent. The dialogue was good as well. Nice job.
PBP

Posted 8 Years Ago


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Added on October 5, 2010
Last Updated on March 18, 2011

Author

Joel McCarthy
Joel McCarthy

Mississauga, Canada



About
My name is Joel McCarthy and I write. Some of work has been published in magazines like PRISM International, The Feathertale Review, and Macabre Cadaver. I'll review whatever work I find that is polis.. more..

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