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ADELAIDE Independent Bimonthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Bimensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

DENIAL
By Kathleen Glassburn

 

 



The yellow 1964 MGB my father gave me as a birthday present had been parked in front of our special place—Rose Motel—for three hours. We’d been meeting there for the past six months.

In Room 5, Nick and I sprawled across a lumpy, double bed, still naked and damp from lovemaking. One of my long, sticklike legs draped across his lower torso. My head nestled against his shoulder. I traced a hand along his stomach. Was it less fleshy? Was Nick, at seventeen, losing his pudginess? Just the year before we had been the same height of five-foot-ten. Lately, he’d been looking down at me instead of meeting eye to eye. My lips pursed into a smirk at the image of him towering over everyone in my family. The whole lot of them—Mother, my older brother Chet, my younger sister Marj, even my father—with their healthy, golden skin and compact, shorter-than-average bodies.

Picturing those sturdy, tanned people, I couldn’t help but recall endless hours on Sunny Daze, the sailboat inherited from my maternal grandfather, Frederick Porterfield. The others companionably hollered back and forth above board while I hid below deck, playing my violin, going over and over difficult passages in pieces like Vivaldi’s “La Tempesta di Mare.”

Every half hour or so, Mother would yell down, “El - e - a - nor! Enough already!”

I had been named after my paternal grandmother—a name I’m sure Mother disliked but agreed to as a concession to my father. She’d parody it when annoyed with me, which was most of the time.

I’d take a break from my practice, feeling like a collapsed sail. Once I figured she was occupied with rigging, or whatever else happened up there, I resumed my music.

Now, moving away from Nick’s warm body, I whispered, “We have to talk.”

“Huh?” He roused from a doze.

“Please wake up. I need to tell you something.” I placed a pillow behind my back and drew the sheet over my breasts, self-conscious even though he called them his “beautiful little lemons.”

One of his brown eyes squinted open as he rasped, “What’s up?”

“My acceptance from Middlebury came yesterday. I’m going to Vermont.”

It was December of our senior years—mine at Oak Ridge, a private girls’ school on the fringes of Porterfield, Connecticut; his at Roosevelt, a public high school in the warehouse district. August seemed an eternity away, yet I knew we had to think about this if my plan were to work, if Nick were to go with me. I had purposefully chosen Middlebury over Mother’s Wellesley because it was co-ed.

“I want you to apply.”

Nick sat up and I caught a whiff of his English Leather. He stuffed a pillow behind his back. “Even if I could get in, how do I pay? No one’s going to give me a scholarship.”

“I have a plan.”

“Yeah?”

“Let’s get married.” We had never used protection, and I had secretly wished for a pregnancy to force the issue. But, no such luck. “Right after graduation.”

“Your mother won’t allow it.”

“We’ll elope.”

“What’s that got to do with you going to Vermont?” His dark eyebrows scrunched together.

“She’d never, ever want me to skip college, and you can go too. My father will pay.”

“Your father?”

“Of course.”

Daddy didn’t have much to do with Nick, who showed no interest in Sunny Daze or playing tennis, but unlike Mother, he’d never been nasty. She made remarks like, “He’s not our kind, dear.” Daddy said things like, “If he makes you happy, he’s all right with me.” My father knew what it was like to be poor. He’d been a scholarship student when he met my mother. And, ever after, he did whatever it took to keep things agreeable for her. If it meant paying for my new husband’s education, as well as my own, Daddy, who ran Porterfield Textiles since my grandfather’s death, would do exactly that.
Taking in Nick’s puzzled expression, I said, “Trust me. This’ll all work out.”


*


Walking around campus with my handsome husband, I felt as if I possessed some enviable treasure—like a trunk full of gold coins and jewels. Other girls stared at him, which gave me a secret smile. He was mine. Rushing to keep up with him, I could tell by his lengthened stride that their attention also pleased him. By the end of freshman year, he had reached six-foot-four, his chest broadened, his waist slimmed, and his ruddy skin, though scarred from adolescent acne, had a masculine, outdoor look, as if he spent all his spare time in the wind and spray. He’d also gotten rid of the glasses, opting for contact lenses. Along with physical changes, something else had occurred. His grandmother, whom he’d lived with since his unwed mother was killed in a car accident when he was three, died shortly after we married. Nick was adrift except for me.

I didn’t delude myself. I still looked the same—tall, with scant curves, hunched shoulders, and a plain face that, while not unpleasant, resembled the cautious demeanor of a church cleaning lady. Despite this, with distance from the family, my self-confidence blossomed in direct proportion to the clearing of eczema that had plagued me since childhood.

At thirteen, Nick and I had met in a dermatologist’s office. The state paid for him to make a few visits.

While he paged through a car magazine, I sat across from him, in an otherwise empty waiting room. Thoughtfully rubbing my hand on the pebbly upholstery of a chair, I decided that this boy, with his blotchy face, seemed nonthreatening. Bolstering my courage, I moved over beside him. He didn’t look up. After a minute or two, I said, “That red car’s a Corvette, right?” My question started a friendship, and a couple of years later, it became our romance.


*


One day, the end of junior year, we took our last exam and headed across campus. I anticipated a long summer with plenty of time to play my violin, read anything I wanted to read, and explore fun places together.

“Let’s sit down.” Nick tossed his books on a stone bench.

“Aren’t you ready for lunch?”

“I want to talk first. Here. Not at the apartment.”

I sat next to him and put a hand on his knee. “Are you upset about something?”

“Not at all.” He moved his leg. “I’m excited. I just don’t want you to be upset.”

“Why would I be upset?” I made a move to stroke his rough cheek, but he drew away and started scratching at a gouge in the bench.

“I’m not going back to school next fall.”

His words sank in. “What do you mean? What will you do?”

“I’m not cut out for this stuff, El. You love it. I don’t. I don’t care that Michelangelo spent four years on his back painting that ceiling.” He looked me full in the face. “The past few weeks have felt like four years to me.”

I clutched my arms as if to protect myself from a storm at sea.

“I’ve been talking to Mike.”

I grew uneasy when Nick talked to this Mike guy during class breaks. He was swarthy, with grease under his fingernails, not someone I wanted to be around. Meanwhile, I made an effort to talk to some of the girls, while trying to disguise how much I watched Nick out of the corner of my eye. The situation made me feel like a hovering, overprotective mother, but I couldn’t help myself.

“His dad owns a garage. The old guy’s sick and forced to retire. Mike’s quitting school to take over. He wants me to work with him.” Nick assessed my reaction, then sat up straighter. “I start tomorrow.”

“No asking my opinion? What am I supposed to do while you’re working all summer?” Suddenly, I felt rudderless, and my usually controlled voice had escalated to a shriek. A group of girls strolling by stopped and turned, like a flock of ducks on a pond. They gave Nick a quick once-over, then paddled away. This time their attention didn’t make me feel the least bit pleased.

“I knew you’d be upset, and I’m really sorry, but I can’t back down.” He put an arm around my “bony frame,” which he’d taken to teasing me about—in a loving way. “Let’s go home. There’s the rest of today. We can make the most of it.”

I peered at him, almost able to touch the waves of enthusiasm emanating from his body. More than anything, I wanted him to be happy.

“Okay.” I rose from the bench, already resigned to the future. The beginnings of a familiar tingle made me quicken my step.

That’s how it worked—easily distracted. Whenever I grew bothered by something Nick did or didn’t do, even though I seldom said anything, he sensed it, and at the earliest possible moment we were in our bedroom, where he stroked and plucked my body like a well-tuned instrument, his hands working me into a trembling, taut tension, until release was near, like the highest note on my violin, the piercing, exquisite sensation of a thin golden string running up through my insides, stretching tighter and tighter, until it could go no further…a sostenuto…followed by my soft exclamation and a tumbling down - down - down in a series of deepening tones.


*


I dropped by the garage every day, bringing lunch from a nearby deli. Nick seemed to appreciate each sandwich surprise. Often he would be with a customer, so I’d slip off to a corner of the grimy-smelling room, holding a brown bag and a Dr. Pepper, trying to be inconspicuous.

He’d be bent over an open hood, carefully tuning, adjusting, and pointing out different aspects of the engine, justifying services to be performed and explaining how the owner’s car soon would be humming along in perfect order.

That fall, to my surprise, I enjoyed college on my own. I took appealing classes without worrying whether there would be anything remotely interesting for him. I played my violin with the campus orchestra. I attended marches against the war in Vietnam, and sometimes said to Nick, who had a medical deferment due to a heart murmur, “The U.S. government is lying to us. This is futile and senseless.”

If happening to hear me, he’d mumble a vague response, then go back to his car magazine.

One day, I walked into the garage, and a girl from several of our classes the previous year stood next to him, looking into the engine of a purple Capri. Nick was in the midst of explaining the operations of her vehicle and his proposed alterations—as slowly and precisely as he did with any customer. At one point, he showed her how to test the car’s oil level. After she (I remembered her name to be Heidi) pulled the dipstick out, wiped it off, reinserted it, pulled it back out, and showed Nick her results, I stepped forward with my deli offering.

“I didn’t know you were here,” Heidi said in a voice that sounded as languid as if she’d been awakened from a nap.

“I brought Nick’s lunch.” Why had I bothered to say this?

“That’s right. You two are married. No wonder you watched this guy like such a hawk.” She tossed her long, sun-streaked hair and laughed as if she’d said the funniest thing anyone had heard all day. Golden skin shone with her smile.

When Nick got home that night, early for a change, I mentioned Heidi. He shrugged it off.
A couple of hours later, he was extra attentive.
*
That spring, I was about to graduate, and one day, I stayed home alone making a special dinner for the two of us—to celebrate. Soon, my family would arrive for their blessedly brief visit. A knock startled me. Since no one ever dropped by, I assumed it to be the landlord returning our deposit. We’d given notice and planned a move to Washington, D.C., where I would begin working at the Smithsonian in the department that planned multicultural presentations.

Putting on my pleasant face, I opened the door and found a middle-aged woman standing outside the apartment. Head bent down, she fingered buttons on her tan coat. A kerchief half covered her crimped, gray-brown curls.

“Yes?”

“You’re Mrs. Duffek?” The woman raised her eyes for a moment, before casting them back to her buttons. One hung by a thread.

“I am. What is it?”

“My daughter…Heidi…she goes to the college.”

“Maybe I know her.”

“You do know her. She told me that she knows you and your husband.”

“My husband?”

“That’s why I’m here.” The woman stared straight at me and took on a harsh attitude. “I want your husband to stay away from my Heidi. She shouldn’t spend time with him. She’s got a boyfriend to marry as soon as she’s done with this college stuff. If he breaks it off, Heidi’s going to be sorry. I don’t want my girl hurt.”

“You’re mistaken. My husband works all day, and every night he’s home with me.” I pushed his occasional late hours from my mind. “You’re thinking of someone else.”

“I saw them together, Missus. Going into her apartment. My son…he’s a patrolman…he checked the license I gave him. The car they came in belonged to your husband.”

“Nick would never do anything like what you’re implying. You need to leave and never come back!” I slammed the door and locked it.

Breathlessly, I collapsed onto the sofa, my cheeks burning. Hands rubbing my face, I spoke to the empty room. “There’s an explanation. He repaired that purple Capri and he drove her…she had someone…the boyfriend…at her apartment. She needed to get money from him for the bill.”

A couple of hours later, I heard the key turn. I’d been scrambling for what, if anything, to say. But while I waited, my skin had calmed. I was wearing my prettiest blue dress, the one that he said made my eyes look as clear as a cloudless June sky. “Yesterday”—one of his Beatles’ records—played. I didn’t care for most of his music, but did appreciate this group. Their instrumentals were good. Sometimes, like in this piece, there were violins playing.

“How come the door was locked? I told you I’d be home early.”

“Um…I must have done it automatically…after Mr. Connor came by with our deposit.”

Nick sniffed the air. “Something smells great.” He always took my word on money matters. He pulled me to him and danced me around the room. He whispered, “What’s the occasion?”

“We’re leaving soon. I wanted to have a good-bye dinner to remember all the sweet times.” I pressed my head into his chest. “I’m going to miss this place.”

“Me too.” He twirled me as the song ended, and said, “Anything happen today?”

I chose not to mention that crazy woman who’d been at our door. Why upset him over something as stupid as her accusations? Why spoil our meal? We had so much to be excited about. College was done. We were headed to Washington. I had a wonderful job. We’d signed papers on a house that my father bought for us in Alexandria, a short commute to the District. And, Daddy had helped Nick buy his own car repair shop, a couple of minutes from our new house. We were set. No. I won’t say anything, I promised myself. What a strange woman. Spying on her daughter like that—not trusting her.

Nick put on another 45 and said, “Dinner can wait. Let’s go this way.” He started to sing with his deep voice, “Something in the way she moves…” He put his hand on the small of my back, guiding me into our bedroom. The whole day, along with the pot roast in the oven, disappeared from my mind as my skin began to glow, and I leaned into his gentle touch.

 

 

 

About the Author:

kathleen glassburn

Kathleen Glassburn's fiction has been published in many journals. For examples of her stories see her website: www.kathleenglassburn.com. She is managing editor of The Writer's Workshop Review www.thewritersworkshopreview.net   She earned her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Currently she lives in Seattle with her husband, three dogs, a cat, and a fifty-year-old turtle. Her horse is boarded nearby and she rides him several times a week. Also for fun she plays the piano.

 

 

 

 

 

     
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