Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mighty Like a Rose

Mighty Like a Rose and Other Fictions Borrowed From Truths

"Well you can laugh at this sentimental story, but in time you'll have to
make amends.
The sudden chill when lovers doubt their immortality, as the clouds cover the
sky and evening ends…."
-Elvis Costello, You Couldn't Call it Unexpected No.4

Marmalade sunlight melted away what was left of the summer afternoon. The
distant eastern horizon was banded by an orchid bruise, speckled with bats, and
quickly disappearing behind the two commuters. Highway seemed to speed along
like unraveling twine beneath the gray compact as they hurried home for a rushed
visit with family and friends in a complacent silence that had more presence
than either passenger.

The man was driving, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel both
disconnected entirely from conscious effort and in perfect tempo with the song
playing on the stereo. After skipping two songs he changed the disc in the c.d.
player without ever taking his eyes of the road or saying a word.

The woman had her knees tucked against her chest, head against the window,
fingers woven between her bare toes. Early May heat had prompted her to crack
the car window enough to catch a breeze through her tangled hair. With night
fast approaching the warmth didn't seem to warrant asking for the
gas-wasting air conditioner, so she satisfied herself with a thin stream of air
from the window and waited for the buttery light and sticky heat of the evening
to at last dissolve into night's humidity sodden cool.

Her eyes half-shut, she hummed along to the song playing and was disappointed
when he changed it.

"I might have been enjoying that, you know, if you'd asked," she
thought to herself, but did not say.

Before the first track on the new c.d. began to play she heard his long
fingers slide a cigarette out of her pack in the cup holder, the flick and hiss
of her lighter, the smoke's dry whisper as it was blown through his lips. The
cab of the car filled for a moment with the acrid scent of burning tobacco, then
his window opened and the roar of wind replaced the smog.

After a lethargic hour curled in her seat, she lit a cigarette for herself and
stretched her legs out as long as she could as she exhaled the first drag.
Staring at the burning cylinder resting between her fingers, she began to wonder
why he never stopped to buy cigarettes before they left town if he was already
low in his own pack.

The man glanced at her when she moved. He laughed softly, "Thought you
were asleep."

She shook her head, then realizing his eyes were on the road ahead and he
could not see her, added a hoarse, "No." Why did he laugh that way?

"Not far to go now. Only another hour and a half," he said, reaching
down and taking another cigarette. The right corner of her lip jerked down just
a fraction of a second with the crack of the flint when he struck the lighter.

A sigh slipped between her lips, released slowly, almost inaudibly so that he
wouldn't hear it an suspect she was pouting.

"You ok," he asked in his habitual way, committed neither to
question nor to resolution.

"Just tired," came her always reply, true or not, barely
acknowledging her wasted effort.

The word tired resonated in her thoughts and soon recollections of greater
efforts than stifled exhalations that had been wasted on her companion. Four
hundred, seventy-two the conversations she forced herself to have to amuse him;
ten thousand, eleven gentle touches on his bad days he didn't notice; a
seven hundred courtesies he never said thank you for; fifty nights she was too
tired for company she'd entertained him on anyway; ninety-five acts of oral
sex provided but never reciprocated, three hundred, eighty-five "I love
yous" said a thousand different ways only answered with silence or a weak

Her eyes watered.

His fingers tapped.

In this way, their trip progressed, just like everyone they had ever been on
together. Fueled by nicotine, reticence and oblivion for mile after mile the
silence stretched between them, winding around the peg of her resentment and the
tuning key of his negligence until one by one the strands began to pop.

She huffed.

He glanced at her. "What?"

Guilt prompting rancor she responded, "We have nothing to talk about."

His head jerked involuntarily at her words as if she'd just bitten him, then
angered by her sudden change of mood. He took a breath. "What do you want to
talk about?"

From the corner of her eye she glanced at him, irritable. "I wish you
wouldn't change c.d.'s that way."

The vein in his neck began to throb as his blood pressure raised. "What are
you talking about?"

"You're just so inconsiderate. You do things like that all the time,"
she snarled, turning in her seat to look at him, muscles in her shoulders and
arms tightening as she braced herself on the console and seat.

"Like what," he pleaded, finally looking at her.

She threw herself back in her seat and folded her arms across her chest.
"Forget it," she said, now mollified.

"Damn." He shook his head and lit another cigarette.

"We need to stop so you can buy your own, I'm getting low," she snapped,
eyeing the ten left in the pack.

Looking down at the open pack he rolled his eyes. "Fine. There's a truck
stop coming up soon."

She turned her face to the window.

Lips trembled.

Teeth ground.


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