Fiction

ROXANNE DOTY – What Surrounds You

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What Surrounds You

“Why do you still wear his ring?” Lydia’s fiancé Danny asked her.

“I just like it.” She looked at the silver band with a tiny gold ball in the centre.  She wore it on the middle finger of her right hand. “I like rings.”

Sometimes Danny annoyed her with his questions. She lifted her left hand and looked at the engagement ring he had given her. A simple gold band. A bit thicker than she would have chosen but she liked how it matched the gold in the other ring. She wore a third ring on her right pinky finger, a silver Egyptian ankh.

“Jesus Lydia, it’s a wedding ring.”

“Not anymore, it’s just a piece of jewellery.”

***

A month before her divorce from Keith she visited a psychic. Lydia did not put much stock in psychics, fortune-tellers, goddess cards or other divinations of the future but she had won a free session simply by clicking ‘like’ on the psychic’s blog page. The psychic was a friend of a friend and she figured what the heck.  The session was not at all what she expected. No crystal balls. No wrinkled old woman wearing a turban with a jewel clasp in front. No beautiful gypsy girl.

A retired corporate lawyer, the psychic lived in a gated community on the city’s edge. Small to medium-sized houses of beige stucco with red-tiled roofs. Not the kind of house Lydia would have imagined either. The setting was a little like the unsuccessful couples therapy she and Keith had gone to. A bedroom converted to home office with two comfortable chairs. Lydia and the psychic sat facing each other, a small coffee table between them. The psychic turned on a recording machine. “I make a CD for my clients,” she said. “That way you can go back and listen to the reading.” Then she asked Lydia to place her hands over a deck of Tarot cards, move them around and let her energy seep into them.

“Now choose one and turn it over.”

Lydia turned over The Lovers, an angel draped in purple, the sun in the background. A nude couple who looked like Adam and Eve stood below the angel, while a snake coiled in a fruit tree. The card was upside down.

“This card represents your recent past,” the psychic said. “The Lovers can point to a partnership, a sexual attraction, a passion or a duality inside of you, ambivalence in some situation in your life.”

Lydia nodded.

“Are you involved with someone? Or more than a person maybe? A recent big decision?”

“I’m getting a divorce.”

“The card’s reversed,” the psychic said. “For struggle.” She paused and looked at Lydia, “He won’t go easily.”

***

Shortly after the divorce was finalised Keith started showing up at the house they used to share and that Lydia still lived in. At random times, out of the blue. She would hear the doorbell ring and he would be standing there.

“You remember that Mark Knofler CD?” he said the first time he came. “The one he made solo after Dire Straits broke up, Golden Heart?”

“Yeah, sort of. Why?”

“I can’t find it. I was wondering if I left it here. It’s got that song Darling Pretty on it.”

She did remember the song. He used to sing it all the time when they were first married. Heal me with a smile, darling pretty. She promised she would look for the CD.

The next time he came, he was looking for Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie.

“Did I leave my copy here?”

She recalled the dog-eared book by his side of the bed. He was always reading her passages, about Steinbeck’s travels with his French poodle, Charlie.  “I don’t know. I’ll look when I get a chance.”

Another time it was a multi-coloured glass ball about an inch and a half in diameter. In the sunlight, it radiated colours in a trippy vibrating motion. He had bought it in Jerome when they stayed in that haunted motel on the hill overlooking the Verde Valley.

He did not ask to come in, just stood at the door, appeared a bit disoriented.  At first, she thought he was high, but it was not that. His eyes were clearer than she had seen for a long time.  She never found any of the things he thought he might have left at the house.

***

Lydia met Danny a few months after the divorce. They were engaged rather quickly. It was mostly Danny’s idea. He liked things settled and secure, said he wanted a formal commitment. Lydia was not sure what she wanted. Danny rented out his condo and moved into her house. Keith’s ‘visits’ stopped. She had mentioned one time to Danny about Keith knocking on the door looking for various items he could not find.

“He doesn’t do it anymore.”

“Sounds like a stalker to me,” Danny had said.

Lydia thought for a minute about this.  “No, he’s not a stalker. He’s harmless”

“Maybe,” Danny shrugged. “At least he quit doing it.”

Danny and Keith had never met one another but Lydia kept a photo of her and Keith at the Grand Canyon on her bookshelf in the living room. She noticed that Danny looked at it a lot. Eventually she put it in a drawer and replaced it with one of Danny and her at some restaurant at the Borgada in Scottsdale. She forgot the name of the restaurant. She had not liked it very much.

Another thing, the psychic had said was, “There’s a shadow around your heart.”

Lydia envisioned a pinkish red thumping heart surrounded by dark clouds.

The psychic asked her to turn over a second card.

“This is what surrounds you,” she said.

Lydia turned over The Tower card. Like the Lovers, it was reversed. An upside down tower with people falling from windows, plunging in terror to the ground below. It made her think of those 9/11 photos of the World Trade Centre.

“What does this one mean?”

“Well,” the psychic hesitated. “Some consider it an ominous card, but that’s just one interpretation. The Tower means change. This one is reversed, but it does not necessarily mean a negative or frightening change. The Tower often follows Death in the deck or vice versa.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“The card can be a metaphor.”

“For what?”

“Someone close falling away. A warning to not hold on too tightly.”

***

A couple of months after Danny moved in and Keith had stopped coming around, Lydia noticed his red Toyota pickup parked at the corner of her block.  She could tell it was his because of the dent in the back bumper. She had actually made the dent herself when she backed his truck into a fire hydrant parallel parking downtown near Symphony Hall where they went for Dvorak’s cello concerto conducted by someone Keith admired. Keith was nowhere in sight.

She did not tell Danny about the truck, not even when it started showing up regularly. One afternoon, she walked by it and stopped. The engine was off but she thought she heard music coming from inside. The windows were rolled up, the sound faint. She put her ear to the glass and heard Mark Knofler singing Darling Pretty. Carry me awhile Darling Pretty. Heal my aching heart and soul.

“Keith,” she called and looked around her. “Damn it. What the hell are you doing?”

Nothing. She stood by the truck and listened to the entire song. When it ended, the music stopped.

The truck remained in the same spot for the rest of the week. And the week after. She walked by it but never heard the music again. She thought the truck probably violated that seventy-two hour rule about abandoned vehicles. She called the cops and they said they could put a twenty-four hour warning on the truck. If he did not move it they would have it towed. However, when they came to her house, the truck was gone.

“Well, I guess it worked out okay,” the officer said.

She had not told him it was Keith’s truck, just a random red truck parked on the corner for a few weeks. The next day it was back, this time on the opposite side of the street. The day after at the other end of the block, then on various streets in the neighbourhood. She decided to ignore it.

***

Sometimes it had been easy to go along with his illusions, the pretences, and the bullshit. She could get into those worlds too, pretend they were real. Believe he would really start selling his paintings, start making contacts with local art fairs.  Take up that offer to teach a couple of classes at the community college, inspire some young artists. She could convince herself that dealing pot was a temporary gig until he got on his feet. A fifteen-year temporary gig. And that his dark times of despair were normal ‘down’ days like everybody had.

“You’re too old to be a dealer,” she said one time.

Keith smiled as if she was kidding but she had been serious. Sort of.

“I like giving people a little joy,” he said.

And really, what was wrong with that, she’d thought. Moreover, making some money at the same time. But things that seem quirky and edgy when you’re in your twenties or thirties look odd, weird, disturbing later on.

***

He showed up on her patio two weeks after the cops had come to tag his truck.  Danny was out of town on a business trip, his third one in the three months they had been living together. The first time he went away, she had experienced, a bit to her surprise, a tinge of relief at having the house to herself. Like when visiting relatives finally leave. The sliding glass door was open, a thin net-like material hung as a makeshift screen. “That’s going to let all sorts of bugs in,” Danny had said. “We need to get a proper screen.” It annoyed her a little when Danny said things like that. The makeshift netting worked just fine. Keith had rigged it up from old fish netting he found at a garage sale and silver hooks.

Lydia sat on the sofa facing the patio and lit up a joint. Danny always turned the news on at five pm but she liked the silence, the sound of birds outside, the white noise of the nearby freeway, an occasional honk or siren. She did not notice Keith approach; he just appeared on the other side of the netting.

“Jesus! What the hell are you doing?”

“Nothing, just enjoying the citrus smell.” It was April and ripe oranges hung from the two trees in her backyard.

“You scared the shit out of me,” she said.

“Sorry. Is that the stuff I gave you?” He nodded toward the joint in her hand.

Actually it was. She did not smoke pot too much anymore. Danny did not even know she had it.

“Do you want to come in?”

He pulled back the netting and stepped through.

***

The third card she had turned over was Death. The grim reaper wore a suit of armour and rode a white horse. He held a black and white flag. Behind him, two pillars guarded a gateway to the sun.

Lydia flinched when she saw it.

“The Death card doesn’t necessarily mean physical death,” the psychic said.

“Well, that’s good.”

“It can be symbolic of many things.”

The psychic went on about the River Styx and Scorpio and thirteen moons. A jumble of thoughts and images tumbled before Lydia – the last couples’ session she and Keith had attended, the cloud of depression around him the darkest yet, oblivious when the therapist had turned to her and said, “Detach.”

***

Keith sat down on the sofa beside her. She passed him the joint, but he waved it away. She noticed how pale he looked.

“Are you okay?”

He nodded.  “And you?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’m fine.” She decided not to mention the truck.

“Remember the first time we got high together?” he said. “On the trail up in Strawberry?”

It had been a weekday when they pretty much had the forest to themselves.  After they had hiked deep into the woods they decided to go nude. They stripped except for shoes and socks and put their clothes in his backpack. She remembered Columbines growing on the ground where they stopped. He had picked two, put one in his wallet and twisted the other around a clip in her hair.

“You still wear the ring,” he said.

“Yeah.”

He reached for her hand. She did not move hers away though she thought she probably should. His hand felt cold. Odd. It was close to 90 degrees outside.  She remembered how his skin was always warm – and smooth like a child’s.  The touch held reminiscences, regrets.

“I can’t stay,” he said.

She nodded. Her eyes began to water. She recalled the psychic saying he would not go easily. Had she ever really wanted him to go at all? She closed her eyes and let her head fall toward his arm. But he was gone.

***

Blood had splattered the dashboard and driver’s window inside the Toyota truck. That is all she saw. The blood-spatter. All she let herself look at before her breath fell right through her. It had been the day after the divorce became final. He would come over to pick up the last of his stuff. She was at work. He still had a key. The truck was parked in the driveway when she came home.

The note had come in the mail two days after she found him. Handwritten on a folded sheet of lined paper. Within the fold he had placed a dried, mostly crumbling, Columbine. The note read, Take away my pain, darling pretty. Carry me awhile.

                                                    ROXANNE DOTY                                            

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1 Comment

  1. Jeanne Lombardo

    January 20, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    Powerful story. Ms. Doty has nailed the emotional complexity of a relationship, the dread associated with an unpredictable partner, the ambivalence and vulnerability that is part and parcel of sharing ourselves with others. The story is well honed, the suspense hovering just behind a wall or a curtain, the details perfectly balanced with the flow of the narrative. Well done. I look forward to seeing more of Ms. Doty’s work.

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