Owners are done tossing the ball over and over. It’s the beginning of dog days, so little dog hunts for a shady spot. Owners nap in chairs under a warm, hazy sun as a soft wind filled with after-smoke from the fire pit dances all around. She dreams of the sweetness of horses and the choices made by sweet people. He dreams of little sweet victories and ways to keep her sweet. Now little dog stirs from an incomplete shady spot, ready for a drink of sweet water…unless they’re ready to begin tossing the ball over and over.
They would recollect years later how it was mosquitoes that had drawn them together. Under a half moon, alone at her parents’ lake cabin, they ran from the shadowy swarms, barefoot across the sandy beach, and splashing into the tepid water, feeling against the soles of their feet the warm pebbles that had been baking under a hot day. They had always been kindred spirits in high school. But magically, that night, they found themselves laughing, then embracing, rolling with the subtle waves. Graduated and with all of summer ahead…young and impulsive, yet true to each other. And then a lifetime.
As calm as both the day and her long hair, Mother waited for Daughter, who had grown cranky on their walk home from church. Mother, offering a drink from a sippy cup, towered over Daughter like a Roman goddess, with bronze shoulders beneath the thin-straps of a long, indigo dress. Daughter began to stomp around in her white, puffy summer dress, becoming nearly as unmanageable as her own head of curls.
As Mother verged on displeasure, a voice from up the grassy embankment said, “Rhubarb with sugar, anyone?”
“Who’s that lady, mommy?”
“Let’s go see,” Mother answered, with a smile and a hand.
From up the path, he shouted what sounded to her like “Get back!'”. He was pulling away from her, her ‘soulmate’, the man who completed the other half of her. Driven. Intelligent. Energetic. Together, they were intending on conquering the world. But now…she began to fade, both in spirit and stride. Too many thoughts. From the single pink-line that had made her feel alone for so long. To the recent loss that had made him more distant than ever in their young lives. The morning sun slipped behind clouds as she began to walk slowly, staring down at the dead cat.
A lemonade freeze on a cold, windy day makes the most sense when she, strawberry cute, and he, math club nerdy, sit across from each other, staring only at each other, feeling comfortable with each other, ignorant of the other patrons. He jokes about something nonsensical, and she pre-laughs. And together a little something burns. Not like passion, but something more like a low, warm burn. Perhaps a cigarette lighter, a small flicker, just enough to keep the coolness of both day and drink at a distance.
They were laughing as his jeep slid and spun, slush flying everywhere, like her hair in the warm air. He was retrieving his icehouse before deploying overseas. She was along for the wild ride. Everything was melting. The ice. His fierceness. Her heart. Their time together. She thought only of chaos. He pondered oblivion. And together, the sun and lake forgave them both.
Paul tried to think about afternoons on the river – tadpoles, fishing poles and beer pulls. The deafening hush of silent skies and quiet ripples. Sun-baked arms and sleepy eyes. His mind was nearly empty of winter’s heavy hand, shadows and thaw-freeze-thaw cycle. But the slow pace of merging traffic and Terri’s voice, pitched and pointed, penetrated his drifting thoughts. He tried to curl the combo of angst and anger, seething beneath the surface, into a ball the soft shape of Nerf.
“The baby needs new clothes,” she said.
Her words caused Paul to have a flash thought, a blinking mix of regret and acceptance. He’d been having them all winter. The first one had occurred last spring, after Terri had told him she was pregnant. Run or be responsible, followed by a quick erasure of “Run” and acceptance of a terrifying “be responsible”. He never imagined such thoughts would become harder over time. And more frequent.
“I’d ask you to work more overtime, but I think you spend enough time with Andrea.”
Paul glanced over at Terri as the baby started to cry in the backseat, and decided to stow his “Shut up” and thought more about fishing and worrying less about the baby weight she’d yet to lose.
“I bet Andrea doesn’t have to worry about baby clothes,” Terry said, followed by a mumbled “yet.”
Another flash thought. Someone getting away or maybe not. Just depends on the amount of destruction he would be willing to inflict on his new young…Forget it!
“All that gaming with the guys…and Andrea,” she scolded. “It costs money.”
His arm resting on the lose chrome of the car door, Paul flicked ash from his cigarette while memorizing the necessary approach pattern to overtake Humpback Ridge from Josh in Games of Warfare 3. Rolling to his left, behind a burnt out dwelling, he calculated the distance needed to chuck the grenade into the last gunner’s nest. Then he’d rush the nest and blast to hell those left alive.
“And so does all your fishing trips,” she continued just as a white Dodge Charger zoomed passed on the shoulder. “The money you spend, we coulda just bought some fish at the store.”
Pissed, Paul wondered where that guy thought he was going, cutting line as if there was an open space up ahead just for Chargers.
“I’m sick and tired of Andrea showing up at the house,” Terri declared. Then she challenged Paul. “Can’t you just work with her?”
Paul cranked the steering wheel hard to the right and took off down the shoulder. Once alongside the Charger, he got out while ignoring the sound of Terri’s voice. He first knocked on the passenger window. He could see the startled face of the driver, a brunette holding a compact in one hand and an iPhone in the other. Realizing she wasn’t about to power down the window, he stood straight up, shouting at the top of his lungs, “It’s called a zipper merge for a reason, you bitch!” while pulling his fly up and down, over and over, like a man on the wrong side of a flash thought.