Sometimes a FistfulLisa Piazza
Nights Deed tries but cannot sleep. I stretch out beside her, halfway dreaming.
Tonight she says: “Tell me something, Eric,” in a slow voice I don’t hear so often. I turn toward her to draw out the moment, touching her angular hips lightly with my palm. Even this late in pregnancy she is mostly all edges.
“Don’t touch.” She twitches. “Just talk.”
I start in without thinking, or else I never would have told her about the dog.
“I don‟t know who brought the dog,” I begin.
“Oh,” She moans. “Everyone has a dog story, Eric.” In the shadows of our bedroom she tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, then rests her arm across the bulging tabletop of her belly.
“Not like this, Deed.” I protest. Her mother named her Deidre but called her Dee-Dee from day one. I call her Deed because she is serious and permanent, nothing you would want to lose.
“Maybe.” She shrugs. Another guy would have kept it simple and come off heroic: Saved a dog once, he’d have said.
But not me.
I say that and more, telling her everything about that summer, starting with the hint of warm air and my mother’s slight uncurling at the promise of long evenings under Sheila’s shady deck next door. “Come for dinner, let’s celebrate!” Sheila had shouted over the gate; my mom gathered Dale and me to follow.
(“Dale?” Deed asks.
“Just listen,” I tell her.)
Dale and I had no choice but to go. Earlier that week Dad had taken his big bag to Pop and Gigi’s and though Mom hadn’t said anything official, I could tell by the way she breathed his name he wasn’t coming back.
Like I said, I don’t remember who brought the dog. That night half the neighborhood had shown up to Sheila’s, wine bottles in hand, and I had no idea (then or now) who the dog belonged to. I know for sure it wasn't Sheila’s. We’d eaten enough dinners with her and Rich to know they only had a mangy cat with yellow fur and yellow eyes. “Sicker than a dog,” Sheila always said, but not a dog itself.
Unlike my mom, Sheila loved to cook, so we ate our best meals over there: roasted chicken and buttery potatoes, whole fish, eyes in, grilled on both sides, fat juicy burgers for the kids. The storyline of each dinner was success; Sheila only ever had good news. She worked in music and waved her arms around, talkin’ large about contracts or tours, recording sessions, labels. Her husband Rich smiled kindly from his seat at the head of the table. He was a retired architect who mostly worked for fun now, Sheila said.
Deed sighs loudly when I tell her how my mom worked her way in to the gaiety of Sheila’s world, telling stories of win-win situations that didn’t match the lonely home life I knew. Dad’s sudden departures never made it to the table.
(“Does your mother ever tell the truth?” Deed asks.)
In those days my mother had cropped hair, dyed a bright red. She painted her lips a shimmery gold and because of her olive skin people told her she looked like summer. I knew her to be nothing like the lazy days of June, July and August. She was sharp and tight and quick, imposing a rushed impatience on us that made it impossible to relax. She didn’t pause for the details, didn’t have time for any explanation.
“Too quick even for me,” Dad had said when I finally asked him, years later, why he left.
With Sheila it was different. Sheila was more my idea of a mother and so, over time, I took to her like a son. Took her grown sons’ old Lego kits, their wooden train tracks and once, because she insisted, the small tin tool box filled with a matching red-handled hammer, screwdriver and wrench that her father had given her boys years ago. Sheila knew I was a boy intent on the small bits; a boy desperate to puzzle together pieces and somehow eke out a whole. I heard her tell my mom I was, “of interest” more than once.
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