Inspired by Ann Beattie's "Snow"
We were standing at the kitchen sink, me elbow deep in suds, you holding a dish towel. A bubble rose slowly and burst in front of my face splashing my nose. You rested your hand in the small of my back and whispered. “Stephanie,” you said with mock gruffness, “you’re using too much soap.”
We laughed, me so hard I spit. Saliva dribbled down my chin and I wiped it on my shoulder. I laughed so hard I could hardly see the dishes. I heaved and coughed and just as I regained my composure I heard the shuffle of my mother’s slippers on the dulled linoleum as she made her way into her kitchen. She joined us at the sink, pushed her way into the sliver of space between us and said, “Stephanie you’re using too much soap.”
It started all over, the laughing. I grabbed the dish towel, dried my hands then my eyes. She stared at us and I’m sure she was thinking we had finally cracked. She didn’t get the joke. It was private and too old--nearly ten years old--to explain it. And she never did appreciate being a punchline. She planted her hands on her hips, smiled at you and said, “I don’t know how you two haven’t driven each other crazy by now. Looking at each other day and night without any distractions. Like children.”
She stretched out the word children, gave it four syllables. Chill-ill-ill-dren. That’s how she said it. She looped one of her arms through yours. “She’s my daughter, and I know she’s beautiful, but aren’t you tired of looking at her yet?”
She was still smiling, but I knew, and I think you knew, what she was really asking: How long would we keep up this happily ever after charade? How long until our marriage ended like hers and she could tell us--tell me--she told me so?
Your comeback was perfect. “I’m just a sucker for a pretty face,” you said, pulling me close and blowing a raspberry on my cheek. You wanted to cheer me up. It worked. I smiled and bumped my forehead against yours and you kissed me again, softly and silently on the cheek.
You remember things differently. You remember transitions--the duration of phone calls shortening, the length between visits widening--and forget the details. “Life is best remembered in pieces,” you once said. “Leave the details to the memoirs no one ever reads. Put everything together and the pictures get distorted.”
How’s this for clarity? Last Christmas I visited her, and we talked about you. We flipped through old photos. Did you know she wrote summaries on the back of each one? Paragraphs neatly printed telling the backstories because, she said, the picture only tells half the story, and it’s the other half that’s the really good stuff. Her hands shook, she squinted and held the photos right under her nose. It’s funny (and sad) how right she was.
I read her notes to her, reminding myself every few sentences to read louder. This was the story printed on the back of a photo of the two of us that time the soap bubbles burst in my face:
Daughter and son-in-law Apr 2001. Ten years married.
No grandchildren. After dinner she washed the dishes
and asked me to consider getting a dishwasher (again.)
They live in different worlds. She still oohs at the new moon
and presses petals between the pages of books and believes he
can slay dragons. When she wakes up, she will forgive me.
About the author:
Amy Blondell serves on the board of the Chesapeake Fine Arts Commission in Chesapeake Virginia and is completing her MFA in fiction at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia (home of the Monarchs!). She credits her three teenagers for helping her develop creative uses of language.