NoHoldsBarredPoetryWritingChallenge Day 11: Housewife

I’m waiting for my husband to become a millionaire so I can quit my job. Not that I hate it—most days—but I’d much rather be a housewife, and I know I’ve set feminism back a century with that statement, and though I love to cook, I hate to clean, and you really need to have the “right” husband to desire to be his servant without it belittling your worth, and I believe I’ve snatched him. He respects my autonomy, doesn’t command submission, didn’t even make me change my last name, and he supports my dreams of being a writer, which is the true reason for why I want to stay at home, because what I crave most is time, less time wasted making a conglomerate richer, more time curled in a corner of my loveseat, pencil and notepad in hand, creating the worlds that play like films on my brain during strategy meetings and scribbling the words that flood my thoughts as I edit the writings of authors who’ve fulfilled their destinies while mine remains indefinitely on hold. So if it means taking a little more care in vacuuming and mopping floors, in washing and drying and setting his clothes out for the morning, in preparing the bacon he brings home by five each evening for dinner after a long day’s work, with a kiss on the lips and words of affirmation, I will do it, and after dinner, I will brew him chai and sit him in my lap and massage his scalp, and between his sips and his futile attempts to not fall asleep, I will tell him of my day, between the dusting and the folding and the rearranging of furniture, how the stories poured from my head and flowed through my arm and bled onto the page in the ink from the pen that I held in my hand, and he’ll nod, though I’m sure he’s only nodding off, so I’ll put him to bed and lay my head on his chest and listen to his heartbeat slow as he finally drifts to sleep, and when his breathing becomes rhythmic, I’ll close my eyes and dream of the plays I plan to pen tomorrow.

© 2022 Nortina Simmons

NoHoldsBarredPoetryWritingChallenge Day 6: Happy Anniversary

Love Katauta 

the number six, one
off from completion, but six
years this day, you made me whole

© 2022 Nortina Simmons


*Dedicated to my cousin celebrating her six-year wedding anniversary with her husband today.

**This poem is a katauta (half-poem), a 3-line poem that follows either 5-7-5 or 5-7-7 syllables per line. Considered incomplete, it is usually paired with another katauta to form a sedoka, which acts as a question and answer conversation between two lovers.

Forecast

“Careful. Hurricane’s out there churning.” Steve says. “Rip currents are strong.”

Always the meteorologist. Even on vacation. I hate it. I don’t need his job reminding me of how sad I am.

I step closer to the water’s edge, seashells making crescent moon imprints on the soles of my feet, spume from the crest of the waves kissing my toes.

It’s forecast veer north, fizzle out in the ocean, but how I wish it would stay the course. Make landfall. Pull me under and drag me out to sea. How I pray he would dive in after me, swim through the crashing waves, the salt in his eyes, the entangling seaweed and obstructing driftwood, to bring me back to him. Hell or high water. My life guard to press his lips against mine, breath the air back into my lungs, the beat into my heart.

Two days ago, he proposed, and when I told him no, he said work was moving him to Texas. There he’ll be an anchor, he tried to justify, more than just a weekend weatherman. People will see him.

How far is Texas? I Googled—nearly 1,500 miles. And away from me. He makes a living predicting the future in weather patterns, but he can’t see what’s right in front of him—the storm clouds gathering above my head, that I’m caught in a whirlwind, being pulled and tossed in different directions, falling apart.

Though he hasn’t explicitly said it, this trip feels like goodbye. Why continue in a relationship that will never end in marriage?

But the truth is I love him. More than the air in my lungs, more than the salt in the sea. More than I want to see the sun rise over the ocean in the morning, or his back shrinking behind the radar green screen.

Water splashes my hips. I’m deeper than I want to be, and when I turn around, he’s a retreating blur in my periphery. I’ve been drawn so far out already. Maybe it’s easier this way. He can climb back over the sand dunes and leave me here to prune. At least then he won’t see me cry, and I won’t have to explain again why it hurts too much to marry him.

Nortina

Moving In

“Did you pack enough boxes?” he asks as he folds the cardboard box he just emptied of all my china under his arm and tosses it toward the trashcan, missing it completely.

I don’t tell him about the two bins still in my trunk stuffed with decorations for almost every holiday—Christmas, New Year’s Thanksgiving, Halloween, Easter, Fourth of July, even President’s Day. I’ll wait to unpack those tomorrow, while he’s at work.

I admit I’m a bit of a hoarder, but just as he would’ve inherited a single mother’s snot-nosed kids, all my stuff instantaneously became his the day he married me.

At least we can both agree children will never be in the picture. I have no intentions of sharing him . . . ever. And in this big house, there are so many places we have yet to christen. Including the kitchen counter.

It takes me a few hops to pull myself on top of it, and once I’m up, I spin around to face him, shimmy my shoulders and let the spaghetti straps of my top fall to my elbows like melting ice cream.

“Are we ever going to eat off these?” he asks, oblivious to my advances. He taps his knuckles against the stack of gilded porcelain plates.

“Of course,” I lie, waving off the flying dust. We haven’t used them since Grandma died and left them for me in her will. Only for show, Mama always said. It’s good to have nice things.

“But not tonight.” Tonight, I have other plans. I pull him to my lips by his shirt collar and he stumbles over the box still containing all of my kitchen gadgets next to his feet—the handheld and electronic mixers (because I couldn’t have just one), the blender, food processor, and Spiralizer (how many ways can one chop up veggies?), the juicer that I’ve only used once since buying it five years ago.

Photo by @_WILLPOWER_ from nappy.co

“We’ve wasted enough time already,” he breathes into my mouth, reminding me of the housewarming we’ve pushed back twice now.

“But we have the rest of our lives,” I say. What are ten more boxes left—or twenty. I’ve lost count. My head spins when his bare chest is pressed against mine. His body heat melts my candle wax like fire.

“This is all I need,” I tell him, and he mounts the counter top to join me.

© Nortina Simmons

#1MinFiction: A Bride At Last

That I wasn’t his first choice humbled me.

But when he kissed me, delicate lips caressing mine, after we exchanged vows, and planted the lotus blossom in my hair, and that night, fitted his hips between my legs and filled me till I overflowed, soaking my bangs with the sweat of his brow…

I prayed my sister, three months dead, would not be jealous.

—Nortina


For a new flash fiction challenge: Monday’s One-Minute Fiction—write a story in one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided. This week’s prompt is a photo. Click the link to join in!

 

 

 

Sleepless

I’ve been watching the morning news since 4 AM. It comes on earlier and earlier these days. I can’t imagine there would be much breaking news to report between 11:35 PM and 4 AM that it can’t waiting until 8. Who besides me is up watching it? But then I remember Orlando, and I turn up the volume.

Donald Trump will be in town. They interview a girl in a sleeping bag just outside the gates of the special events center. “Ah’ve bain hair saince faive a em!”  she says in a heavy Southern drawl. She wants to make sure she gets in and that she has good seats. All this for a man whose only policies I can remember involve banning a billion people and building a wall to ban a million more.

Hell, I’ll be up, I might as well go. Maybe he’s not as bad as he seems. Maybe he actually has good ideas. Maybe there’s a logical reason for why people like him so much, and not the reason I fear. But then I remember where I live. The last time I stepped out because I couldn’t sleep, I found myself on the outskirts of town, driving behind a black pickup with a Confederate flag in the rear window. Going to see Trump is the closest I’ll get to attending a Klan rally. They’ll take one look at my afro and know I don’t belong.

Sean walks in buttoning his uniform and sighs when he sees me on the couch. For once, I wish he’d be happy that I’m up before him. I could’ve cooked him breakfast, fixed him a fresh pot of coffee. But who am I kidding? He’s known since our first date sophomore year in college that I don’t cook. I’m one of the few people who are actually skilled at burning coffee.

“Please tell me you haven’t been here all night,” he says.

“Just all morning.” I smile, but he doesn’t laugh.

“Sweetie.” He sits on the arm of the couch, and my eyes drift down to the gun holstered on his hip. I wonder, will he have to shoot anyone today? Someone who doesn’t cooperate, doesn’t listen, like me. Pull the trigger to silence my defiant mouth.

“We sent Matthew to your sister’s so you could finally get some sleep. Please tell me you don’t still hear the man downstairs.”

I don’t understand why he can’t just go downstairs and check that apartment. He’s a cop for God’s sake. The man downstairs is beating his wife. Her screams should be probable cause enough. I hear her struggle with him every night — the lamp crashing to the floor, the shaking of our bed when he slams her against the wall. I hear him curse her: Bitch! Cunt! I know he’s drunk. He comes home from the bar and demands she get on her knees, do her marital duties. Some nights I think he’s already on top of her when she wakes up because I hear his grunts and then her high-pitched screams. Their bedroom is directly below ours.

But Sean doesn’t hear a thing. He sleeps like a bear in hibernation. He’s sure the apartment downstairs is empty because he saw an eviction notice posted on the door last month. It’s just my postpartum, he tells me, it’s just my insomnia.

He tangles his fingers in my hair, pulls me into him, and wraps me in a suffocating hug. “Why don’t I go ask the manager if anyone’s living in 205, hmm?” he says, kissing my forehead.

“No.” I pull out of his arms. “I didn’t hear anything last night.”

“Well that’s good!” he exclaims, but he’s missed the hint again. I couldn’t sleep last night because I didn’t hear anything. Now I fear she’s dead. He’s wrapped her in a throw rug and is sorting out where to dump the body. Maybe he’ll put her in the trunk of her car and drive it into the swampy waters of Midland Lake, five miles down the road. Would he be so stupid to bury her so close?

“Babe, do you think we can bring Matthew home tonight? I don’t want him to start thinking Sidra is his mom.”

I shrug because I don’t hear him. I’m fixated on the news again, waiting for headlines of a woman’s body found. But they keep playing footage of wounded patrons of Pulse nightclub being carried off to safety. I can see they were shot, blood pouring out between their fingers as they try unsuccessfully to block the wounds, t-shirts and pants soaked through, red, a deep cherry. Are they supposed to show this much gore on early morning TV? I think of that movie — I’ve seen so many since the night I decided to stay in — Nightcrawler, staring Jake Gyllenhaal. News directors obsessed with getting the grisliest of crime scene footage, and the cameramen willing to cake their lenses in innocent victims’ blood just to get it. They wonder why we’re so desensitized now. One thousand Palestinian children can have half their faces blown off, and no one bats an eye. And then I remember my own child. How he could be watching, how he could be dying.

“One more night,” I tell Sean, and he kisses my hand.

“Fine.” I never knew one syllable could stab me in the chest so deeply. He’s disgusted with me. He thinks I’m making up these phantom screams from downstairs because I don’t want kids; I don’t want his son, his image and likeness, attached to my hip. Was it so bad just the two of us?

“I’ll be in late tonight,” he says, walking to the door.

“Are you doing the Trump rally?”

“Yea, making sure no one gets sucker punched.” The breezy air in his voice returns, and I think maybe he’ll forgive me if I try to fall asleep tonight before he gets home.

“You know, if those protesters were smart, they would just stay away,” he says.

“If they were smart, they’d keep protesting. We don’t need someone who promotes violence and racism in the White House.”

He shakes his head. I’m so much more political than he is. He’s only voted once, Obama’s reelection, and I practically had to drag him to the polls kicking and screaming. Even last summer during all the demonstrations against police, he didn’t refute with chanting “Blue Lives Matter,” or the ever-insulting “All Lives Matter,” as if to exclude Black lives from that category. Too many people are dying for us to be so selfish, he told me.

He’s halfway out the door when he calls back to me, “Why don’t you get out the house today. Go to Sidra’s. It might do you some good just to hold him.”

I consider his proposition. It could help. My breasts have gotten so sore over this past week, my nipples so tender. Then I think my time would be better spent just buying a pump from Target. But what would be the point of having all this milk and no baby to nurse? So I nod. Tonight, I’ll sleep in the nursery so I’m not tormented by the screams or lack there of from under my bed. I’ll show Sean how much I’m missing our precious baby boy. I’ll be a better mommy for him and for Matthew.

—Nortina

Zappy Zachariah

I couldn’t move. My feet felt like they were sinking in solidifying concrete. Just when I thought Grandma had finished with the earth shattering revelations, Kyle dealt a deathly blow to my ribcage, and he didn’t even know it.

“He—Drake’s your father?” Grandma asked.

“Yes,” Kyle said, still oblivious to the blank stares from me, Grandma, and the others at the table. He draped his arm over Drake’s shoulder. “Dad, this is the woman I’ve been telling you about—“

“Jenny,” Drake said.

“Jenny’s niece,” Grandma corrected.

Kyle dropped his arm. “Niece? Mom never had any siblings.”

Mom. If it didn’t hurt enough to hear him call Drake “Dad,” hearing him refer to Jenny, a woman whose blood I shared, as “Mom” was like another punch to my gut.

“Well, he was her older brother,” Grandma said, swallowing hard to keep from choking up. “He died too soon. She was still a teenager.”

“This just keeps getting good,” Jerry said.

“Need some popcorn to keep watching,” Thomas added.

“Yeeeeeaaaah!” Marcos said.

“Wait, I don’t remember . . . who’s Jenny?” Tammy furrowed her brows and turned to Frank who only grunted.

Kyle turned to me, studying my face as he scratched the smooth skin under his chin. “You know what? You actually do look a little—“

“Don’t say it!”

A boy’s first love was his mother, right? Where had I heard that before? Had my resemblance to Jenny initially attracted Kyle to me? Did I remind him of his mother? Maybe not consciously, but was there something about me that was familiar to him, almost nostalgic?

I ran out of there as fast as I could. Not stopping in the lobby to talk to the front desk nurse, I walked right out the door, went straight to my car. The heat that rushed to my face sucked the breath from my mouth, stopped me from getting in, and gave Grandma enough time to catch up to me.

“I’m not leaving, I’m just going to talk to my granddaughter!” she yelled back inside, probably to the nurse inquiring where she thought she was going. She stood on the curb and sighed. “You’re running away?”

“You saw what happened in there. He’s my cousin!” I felt like crying, but the heat evaporated any tears from my eyes. I rubbed my knuckles against them, drying them out even more to the point that they burned.

“No, he’s your mama’s cousin,” Grandma said. “Once removed from you.”

“It’s not fair,” I mumbled. I slammed my car door and leaned back against it, crossing my arms over my chest.

“Meg, you’re not married to the man. You said it yourself. Besides, what does it matter if you were? I married my cousin.”

“Kennedy was a son of a nephew of a grandparent of a whatever!” I shouted in frustration.

“No.” Grandma stepped closer. “I mean again. This time, to my first cousin.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”

“No, I’m serious. I’m actually still married to him in fact. He’s not dead.”

I looked at her for the first time. She seemed much shorter outside, hunching over to shield her face from the setting sun burning its brightest before it was time for it to disappear behind the horizon.

z

Her smooth, cool fingers pried through my folded arms, and she took my hands and held them at my side. “His name’s Zachariah. He’s my cousin on Daddy’s side. Zappy guy. So full of energy, you wouldn’t even know he’s dying. He’s off in Peru, climbing Machu Picchu, crossing another item off his bucket list. I was number seven.”

“To marry his cousin? He actually planned that?”

Grandma nodded. “To marry his cousin, have kids and see if they’re born with pigs’ tails. We’re a bit too old to be having anymore children, so he didn’t get to do that, but he still married his cousin.”

“And everyone was ok with that?”

“Who was gonna stop us? Our parents were dead. He doesn’t have any kids. Your Mama knew this wasn’t out the ordinary for me, and everyone else was just too old to care!” She bent over, knocked her forehead against mine laughing.

I pulled back and grabbed my side. “This has been the weirdest day, Grandma.”

“I know, sweetheart.” Grandma patted my cheek. “That’s partly my fault.”

“I mean, I know I didn’t know Lindell or Jenny, but they were still family . . . which means that Kyle’s still—“

“He might not be your cousin,” Grandma interrupted. “Drake was a rolling stone, and Jenny wasn’t his first wife. Have you looked at that man in there? He’s almost ninety! Jenny was only sixty when she died.”

I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath. I let out a heavy sigh, my chest falling, my shoulders dropping. “So you’re saying Drake had as many wives as you had husbands?” It was hard to believe that Grandma’s twenty-six marriages wasn’t just an isolated tale, like something you’d read in tabloid magazines while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store.

“Maybe not wives, but definitely children. Before, after, and during Jenny.  Now, I don’t know if Kyle was one of those children Drake had outside of his marriage to Jenny, but me and Jenny talked, even more when she and Linda started to build a relationship to be closer to Lindell in a way, and I only know of Jenny giving birth to one child. A girl. Trina. You probably don’t know her, but she actually helped your Mama get that neurosurgeon job down in New Orleans.”

The glare of light from the glass door opening drew my attention. Kyle walked out to the parking lot, squinting his eyes up at the sun.

Grandma looked over her shoulder then turned back to me. “He might not know,” she whispered, “like you and your Pawpaw.”

Kyle stuffed his hands in his pocket and kicked crumbles of concrete as he stepped down from the curb and looked up at me. “So—” He shrugged. “Does this mean dinner’s off?”

“Nonsense!” Grandma waved her arms. “You two go out, have fun.” She took both our hands and joined them together.

“Is it bad that I still want to go out with you?” Kyle intertwined his fingers with mine. His eyes moved down to my lips then back up to meet my eyes. They were similar to Drake’s, but softer, calmer, a dark brown, almost black. They held that same worried look, afraid I would tell him, no—it was just too weird, let’s stop it before it gets too far, pilots and flight attendants on the same airline shouldn’t date anyway . . .

Grandma twiddled her thumbs, nervous about my anticipated answer too.

Instead, I took a page out of her book. After the way Grandma waved her life, full of twenty-six husbands, all in my face today, warning that if I kept running away from the  “what ifs,” I would miss out on finding true love, as she had, at least six times, in Andrew, Carl, Ian, Lindell, Quinton, and Pawpaw, maybe even more. I couldn’t ask for the life she had, I wasn’t sure I even wanted it, but it wouldn’t kill me to take her advice, just once, would it?

I smiled, squeezed Kyle’s hand. “I’ve heard weirder things.”

© 2016 Nortina Simmons


And with that, the A to Z Challenge is over! Thanks for reading along! I hope you enjoyed Grandma’s 26 husbands!

Read again from the beginning here.

Yuletide Yusef

Y

“You would’ve liked Yusef,” Grandma said as the nurses came to the tables collecting trash and empty plates. She raised her empty glass to the nurse as she reached past her to take Tammy’s plate—nothing but licked-clean chicken legs left on it.

“You were mighty hungry, Ms. Tammy,” she said as she stacked the plate on top of the others. “Would you like something else?”

“Everything was quite delicious,” Tammy slurred as she rolled her tongue across her teeth, sucking at crumbs that had slipped underneath her dentures, “but I think I’m full.”

“Alright,” the nurse said, then nodded toward Grandma. “I’ll be back with some water for you, Ms. Millie.”

“Thanks, sweetheart.” Grandma cleared her throat, sat her glass on the curled up left corner of her place mat, and turned to me. “I thought you would’ve come home that Christmas to meet him, but you never did.”

I had planned to. Brick and I were living in Phoenix that year, and things weren’t working out. We had no money. Nights, we drove around the city looking for empty parking lots where we could park and sleep without drawing attention from the police. I never realized how cold it got in the desert at night until I found myself curled up in the fetal position on the torn leather backseat of Brick’s ’98 Buick in just shorts and a t-shirt, no blanket to keep me worm, and him nowhere in sight because we’d just had a fight, and he’d left to grab and beer and was gone all night.

I decided then I would come home, leave him for good, go back to school. I had just enough money to buy a one way ticket to Atlanta. Mama, Grandma or Uncle Richard would’ve had to drive down to get me, but it was close enough home and far enough away from Brick that it could work.

But on the day of my flight, he disappeared, took the car with him, and because I’d spent my last dime on a ticket, I had no way to get to the airport. I tried to walk, hitchhike, but after only an hour, I was completely lost, and any car that passed me sped up as soon as I stuck out my thumb. I couldn’t blame them. I looked wild—clothes hanging off me because I wasn’t eating, hair looking like a sombrero—I belonged in the wild. It was by a miracle that I found my way back to the Burger King parking lot where we’d been sleeping, that he was in the restaurant ordering a burger when I got there. I was too tired and exhausted to fight. I ate all of his fries and drank his shake, and that night we drove to California. He apologized with a Christmas present to Joshua Tree National Park. One parking permit was good for seven days. We welcomed the New Year camping out in Indian Cove, and I made the mistake of thinking things would actually get better after that.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t come, though,” Grandma said. The nurse returned with a pitcher, ice clinking against the glass as she poured the water. Grandma mouthed thank you before taking a long sip. She licked her lips and continued. “He died Christmas Eve. Craziest thing. He was allergic to mistletoe.”

“Allergic to mistletoe?” Thomas said, “That’s the first I ever heard of that.”

“He went that far just so he wouldn’t have to kiss you.” Jerry shimmied his shoulders laughing in his throat.

“Yusef was like my own personal St. Nick. He was always in the Christmas-y spirit, so when Christmas finally came, it was like an explosion of red and green lights and gingerbread houses. He hung mistletoe on every doorway so we couldn’t go to any room with kissing each other first.

“Throughout the night, I noticed that his lips were getting really swollen. Yusef had big lips anyway, but these were like platypus bills.” Grandma put the back of her hands over her mouth, opened and closed her fingers as if they were extensions of her lips. “He thought if he just put some ice on it, the swelling would eventually go down. We never thought he would be swelling up somewhere else too, like his throat, making it hard to breathe or swallow your mother’s ham. It was tough anyway—she overcooked it.”

“Grandma, that must’ve been tough on you. Especially with it being Christmas.”

Grandma shook her head. “They say Christmas can be the saddest holiday of the year. For me, that year, it was.”

I stood and walked over to Grandma, wrapped her arms around her and placed my chin on her shoulder. I turned and kissed her neck, and when I looked up, Drake was speed walking on the sides of his feet to our table, his arms moving back and forth like he was running. Behind him, a nurse had her hand on a man’s upper arm, leading him in the same direction as Drake. They moved quicker, walk around to meet us on the other side of the table. I recognized that salt and pepper hair anywhere, swooped over his right eyebrow—it was Kyle.

I quickly straightened up and tapped Grandma’s hand. “It’s him!” I smoothed my hands down the front of my blouse, tucked a rogue curl behind my ear, comparing my outfit to his loose black button down, his thin beige slacks.

“Stop it.” Grandma slapped my wrist. “You look fine.”

“Meg!” Kyle’s voice bellowed. He pulled me into a hug and kissed my temple. “You look beautiful as ever!”

Grandma tilted her head to the side, as if to say, I told you so.

I rolled my eyes. “This is my grandma, Millie,” I said gesturing to her.

He took her hand and kissed it just below the wrist. “It’s nice to meet you.”

Grandma curled her back. “Such a gentleman,” she said, fanning herself.

“Careful! Keep your hands to yourself,” Thomas said. He brushed his fingers together, twisted his mouth in disapproval.

“Grandma has a few boyfriends here,” I said when Kyle looked at me confused.

Grandma quickly shooed us toward the door. “Y’all get on before the restaurants get crowded. It is Friday, you know.”

“Wait, where are you going?”

We turned around. Drake was standing behind Frank. He hung his arms out to the side in a half-shrug, a questioning stance.

“Oh! Hey, dad,” Kyle said.

I threw his hand down, and it bounced off his thigh. “Dad?” I squealed.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons


A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “Z” is for Zappy Zachariah.

Xylographed Xander

“Where was I when this supposedly happened?” I demanded. I’d had enough of Grandma’s surprises. She had as many husbands as I had years—her twelfth being my biological grandfather—and now she was telling me that after the man I grew up call Pawpaw passed away, she married three more? Who?

“You were out gallivanting with that fool boyfriend of yours.” The disgust in her voice was like spitting out cold, runny eggs. “Brook.”

“Brick,” I corrected.

“Stupid name. What did his mother call him?”

“I wouldn’t know. I never met her.”

“So you wasted three years of your life with a man whose real name you never knew and whose parents you never met.”

“You’re lecturing me about a relationship that ended years ago.” I had to watch how I raised my voice at her. I wasn’t too old for Grandma to still put me over her knee. For a petite woman, she had large hands, and they were thick; they hollowed out your skull and made your face echo with one smack.

“I’m just showing you how much time you wasted.” Grandma would’ve  convinced a stranger that I was still unmarried in my forties, living in a cluttered house that smelled of litterboxes. Just like her generation, seeing a woman’s value in how young she married. Since sixteen, Grandma spent every year with a man. I couldn’t ask for her life. Twenty-six life partners, but also twenty-six deaths. Moments of bliss combatted with equal measures of pain and heartbreak. That wasn’t a world I coveted, full as it was.

“I don’t see it that way, Grandma.” It was true that I hated Brick, but I would’ve only been deceiving myself if I’d said I regretted ever dating him. He was the reason I become a flight attendant. Between the fights—after he’d slammed the doors of motel rooms and left me alone with no money, no food, for days—I went off on my own and fell in love with the ride, the freedom of being away from home, away from him, nothing restricting me, losing myself in a new environment.

You don’t know true liberation until you drive through the flat desert at ninety miles an hour from dusk, deep into the night, the cool breeze blowing through your hair, nothing but the stars and moon to keep you company. And with only you and road and the middle of nowhere, you marvel at how much light still emits from the sky after the sun sets. So much so that you turn off your headlights, stare into the miles of sand and cacti ahead of you, press your foot down hard on the gas, and anticipate the moment you speed right off the edge of the earth in peaceful ecstasy.

I would forever cherish the desert where I broke away the chains. I came back home with a purpose. I wouldn’t settle. I wouldn’t be bound. I would travel the world. Flight attendant seemed like the perfect job to do that, and dating a pilot just felt natural.

“If it hadn’t been for Brick, I probably wouldn’t have ever met Kyle.”

“That’s stretching it a bit,” Grandma said. I didn’t think she’d ever truly forgiven me for leaving the way I did to be with Brick. I’d left without a word—packed what I needed, told my roommate she could have the rest. When the letters finally came about my flunking out of school and my loans for the second semester being rescinded, Brick and I had been living in West Memphis, Arkansas for almost three months.

I knew Grandma was disappointed in me. Although she’d never said it, I could hear it in her voice every phone call. She hated to talk to me, but her love and anxiety to make sure I was still alive outweighed that hatred. Knowing now how much I’d missed while I was gone—three more “grandfathers”—all I wanted to do was apologize for abandoning her. Pawpaw had just died. I should’ve been there for her in that grief.

X

“Xander made a mural of him,” Grandma said, interrupting my thoughts. “I don’t know why Walter’s death was such a surprise to me. I knew he had cancer. And even if I didn’t, I had lived this kind of loss all my life. After twenty-five years, I must’ve forgotten he wasn’t invincible.

“Xander helped me move on with his wood engravings. He made portraits of me, you, Linda, Rick, Walter. He even did engravings of the postcards you sent every month. It just seemed right to marry him next. Even though he was much older than me, and his xylograph shop wasn’t making any money. It wasn’t located in the best area— between a shopping mall and a Wal-Mart superstore. His shop was there first, but they came in and stole all his customers. He probably should’ve changed the name. No one knows what xylograph even means.” She chuckled softly.

“So what does it mean?” Jerry asked.

“Have you been listening to anything I’ve said? Wood engravings!”

I was thankful Jerry had asked before I did. Without hesitation, Grandma would’ve chastised me for having a poor vocabulary after going to college, dropping out, and then going again. She would’ve said that after all that time, I still learned nothing, despite everything I had picked up just by serving people on a plane. Flying into international airports, I gained a new understanding about various cultures—like how certain gestures could be offensive to some while they meant nothing to others. With the number of Latinos on our flights west, I became fluent in Spanish. Dammit, I even found a man! I couldn’t get credit for that?

Jerry smacked his lips, sputtering spuds of mashed potatoes back at us. “I’m an old man. Why would I use one of those fancy college words when I can say wood engraving just as easy.”

“Because then it loses its mystery and allure.” Grandma kissed her fingertips and spread them out like a blooming flower.

“Sounds like he already lost that if you were his only customer,” Jerry said.

“Time to start thinking about getting that insurance money,” Thomas added.

“You know, sometimes you just make me sick!” Grandma turned away, shaking her head.

“Why?” Jerry asked, “Did the place actually burn down?”

“With him still inside!”

“Yeeeeeaaaah!”

“Not the time, Marcos!” Grandma said.

Marcos bit his bottom lip. His oval eyes shifted back and forth between me and Grandma, and I could almost hear him whimpering like a puppy who’d just gotten slapped on the nose for a reason he couldn’t understand.

Grandma slumped her shoulders. “I’m sorry. It was rough on me. I was back in my routine of short-lived marriages and quick deaths.”

“When you look at it one way, it was kind of on him.” Jerry started to say more, but hesitated.

“Come on. Spit it out already,” Grandma said, then stiffened, realizing her poor choice in words. We all knew Jerry was capable to spitting out much more that he could chew . . . or swallow.

“Well, his art was making firewood.” He nudged Thomas with his elbow to break the awkward silence coming.

“You’re just a dang ol’ fool,” Grandma finally said. Her frown melted away with the tension, and we all had permission to laugh at Jerry’s inappropriate joke.

© 2016 Nortina Simmons


A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

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