Sunday, November 20, 2005

And now for something completely different

This blog has been a little predictable lately with all this talk about non-hot hot guys and my non-dating dating life so I thought I’d spice it up a bit by posting some fiction.

You can thank (or blame) J. Kelly Nestruck for this endeavor. According to Kelly, I’m supposed to go my 23rd blog post, find the fifth sentence ("To prevent squeegee kids from reaching the windshield?") and write a short piece of fiction beginning with that line.

Then I’m supposed to tag five more bloggers. So Tamara, Kathryn, Nicole, Bill and James, you’re it.

Okay. Here goes:

Lost and Found

"To prevent squeegee kids from reaching the windshield?" cried Ruth Brennan from the passenger seat, twisting sideways to shoot her husband a withering look. "Don’t be ridiculous. We’re not getting a Hummer just so you don’t have to deal with squeegee kids. Just give the guy a loonie and he’ll leave us alone."

But Luke Brennan refused to budge. Hands gripping the steering wheel, jaw clenched, eyes locked on the red light responsible for making him feel like a prisoner in his own car, Luke ignored the steady tap-tap-tap against the window.

Ruth mouthed the word "sorry" at the teenager clutching a filthy squeegee on the other side of the freshly streaked glass.

The boy smiled and launched a violent gob of spit that landed thick and phlegmy near Luke’s left ear. Ruth felt a prickle of shock, not because of the spit dripping down the window but because of the black hole where his front teeth should have been.

The light turned green and Luke accelerated hard. The car fishtailed, churning up gray slush under its tires before straightening out and speeding through the intersection.

"Why should I give that asshole any money?" Luke asked. "He just started mucking up my windshield without even asking. This is why I hate coming downtown."

Ruth sighed. She turned away from Luke and stared out the window, cupping her chin in her hand. Here he goes again, she thought. There was no point arguing with him. He never took her seriously. She once told him she was thinking about volunteering at a women’s shelter and he said, don’t be stupid, only man-hating lesbian socialists volunteer at women’s shelters.

They were barely five minutes into the long drive home to Mississauga and her deep discontent was already bubbling back up to the surface. She was so tired of this bloated, balding man, her husband of 30 years.

Their anniversary was the reason they had come downtown tonight. Ruth didn’t really want a party but Emily, their daughter, had insisted on throwing one. It was fitting since Emily was the reason they got married when 20-year-old Ruth accidentally got pregnant with her. They were happier then, when Ruth actually loved Luke.

Luke wasn’t rigid and stubborn then like he was now. He had to be in control of everything. He was even in charge of his own Christmas presents. Every December, he’d go to the mall and stock up on underwear and socks and maybe throw in a fishing rod or a flashlight. He’d come home and put everything into a box, which he kept in the closet. If Ruth or Emily wanted to buy him a present, he’d make them look through the box and pick something out. He’d produce the receipt and they’d hand over the cash. Then Luke would act surprised when he opened his presents on Christmas morning.

"Well look at that! A fishing rod. How’d you know?"

It infuriated Ruth that he kept buying camping gear when he had never been outside Toronto in his life. Ever since he found out his great-grandmother was a Huron Indian, all he could talk about was how he wanted to go to Georgian Bay to get in touch with his "Native roots." Luke would set up the tent in the backyard every summer and sleep outside "just to practice" but Ruth knew he would never go. He liked the idea of change but was terrified of change itself.

"Never been west of Mississauga or east of Scarborough in my life!" he’d brag when co-workers came back from vacation.

Ruth had always wanted to travel. Her job at the Sheraton Hotel’s lost and found department was the closest she’d come to seeing the world. One minute she’d be on the phone with someone from Italy who thought he left a pair of shoes in room 2209, and the next someone from Japan would call to see if she had found a photo album in room 1328.

Sometimes she got to keep the things people left behind. She liked the T-shirts from far away places best. Once, while Ruth was wearing a Boston Marathon T-shirt, a woman in line at the grocery store asked Ruth about the race. Ruth suddenly found herself telling the woman how hard it was, how much her knees hurt but she kept going because she knew her husband was waiting for her at the finish line. The lie was liberating, the euphoria intoxicating. It was exciting pretending to be someone else. Someone who ran marathons in her 50s and had a husband who loved her.

They were almost home now. Luke slowed the car and pulled into the driveway. He was about to reach down to turn off the ignition but Ruth grabbed his arm.

"Don’t. I like this song. You go ahead. I’ll come in once the song’s over."

Luke got out of the car and went in the house. Heading straight to the kitchen to get his big bag of peanuts, Ruth thought. He was always eating peanuts. It wasn’t the peanuts she minded, it was the way he made such a production out of eating them. Grunting while cracking the shells, splitting the peanuts in half between his teeth, mashing them with his mouth open, slapping his tongue against the roof of his mouth, dropping the empty shells all over the floor. Just thinking about it made her stomach turn.

Impulsively, she jumped into the driver’s seat, put the car in gear and backed out of the driveway. She got four blocks away (one block further than last time) before she pulled a U-turn and, with a sigh of resignation, headed home.

No comments: