I am an adjunct lecturer in the English department at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. This is also where I earned my M.F.A. My short stories explore journeys toward autonomy and the boundaries placed on the individual by society, family, and self. I have published short stories in several journals including Connotation Press, Blacktop Passages, Halfway Down the Stairs, The Writing Disorder, Crack the Spine, and more. Learn about my published fiction at LeahHolbrookSackett.com.
What Lovers Leave Behind
The door was locked. Jason dug the key out of his member’s only jacket pocket, and he handed it to me. I opened the door smiling back at him. The kids rushed in racing to claim their bedrooms. Jason picked me up Honeymoon style and carried me across the threshold. It was quiet here. We could hear the birds in the trees.
I’d been married 14 years when I began bird watching. I didn’t know any other bird watchers, and I didn’t have an interest in it. In fact, if I’d thought anything about bird watchers, it was that they were boring, binocular bound people tracking a moving target, and had nothing to show for it. But I doubt I even thought about bird watching that much. I was too busy to consider hobbies.
We’d just moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to Evansville, Indiana. It wasn’t a huge change, but it was noticeable. It was smaller. It had a zoo, a museum, a mall, and a Starbucks. It had at least one of most everything you’d find in a mid-size city. It was suburban sprawl with limited options. From within the interior rooms of our new home, I could sense the cornfield perimeter. But Jason had a new job with Shoe Carnival. It was a good move for his career. It would be a nice place to raise the kids.
It was mid-September when things began to settle into place, two months after the move. Jason was working late hours at his new job, trying to feel out the politics and prove his worth. The kids had started signing-up for after school activities and requesting play dates. My role as a chauffeur was in full swing. I was happy the kids were adjusting so well. Jackson, 10, had protested vehemently against the move. He didn’t want to leave his fort in the backyard or Mitchell Evans next door. But at the end of the third week, Jackson had stopped talking about Mitchell and wondering about the condition of his abandoned fort. Now it was all about Bey-blades, the soccer team, and a kid named Ben. I was happy for him. Millie followed Jackson’s lead. She was 7, and her biggest fear was forgetting or losing something in the move. Once the toys were unpacked, she counted all the dolls and stuffed animals each night before going to bed. It lengthened her bedtime ritual by 15 minutes since each toy had to be counted and kissed. Millie projected her emotions upon her toys. It was a menagerie of coping skills, and I think I envied her.
I had returned to working as a Physical Therapist in Cedar Hills Retirement Home two years ago. With the move, I was thrust back into the status of a stay-at-home mom. Everyone had enjoyed my venture back into the workforce. It made me less cranky even if I was spreading myself across the roles of mother, wife, housekeeper, short-order cook, chauffer, physical therapist, and lover. Jason and the kids had not become helpful or suddenly independent when I re-entered my career. I was juggling more with less time to do it. I was still the primary caregiver at home. Plus, a caregiver at Cedar Hills and lover to my boss, Sean. It was with a personal interest that I encouraged Jason to take the job in Evansville. Moving was the only way I was going to end the affair. However, it also meant I wouldn’t work, and I was cowed by the idea of having time to be bored, once Jason was off to work, the children were off to school, and I left in an empty house for 7 hours with nothing to do, but think of him.
But things are never what we fantasize them to be. Home alone left me conscious that one of my lives was a delusion. Thankfully, after 3 weeks, the house brought work and surprises in the form of faulty wiring and mysterious wet spots developing on the ceiling of the living room. I was relieved to be tasked with repair and free of the solitary fantasy of Sean.
The plumber was on a ladder investigating the wet spot. At this point, we were on our second plumber. The first guy’s prices were out of our league. In the interim, the wet spot had developed a trail across the ceiling and down the wall. While Jason dealt with the lawyers and previous owners, I dealt with the plumbers. This guy was younger, early thirties, maybe. I sat in the front room, the formal living room, an outdated concept, while the plumber tore an even bigger hole in the casual living room ceiling. I sat on the couch that had belonged to Jason’s mother, aged and stiff. It had knobby wood armrests and tootsie roll type throw pillows. Already Millie had discovered they were a useful tool to hit her brother in the crotch; thus, making the formal living room off-limits for play.
I had my book splayed open and one of Millie’s hair ribbons for a bookmark. I fiddled with a loose thread on my sweater.
“I’m done in there. You don’t have any plumbing problem. You have a bad roof,” he said.
He thrust his bill at me. “I take Venmo or cash.”
I had established myself with a counselor, who didn’t have a 6 month waiting period, just one week after leaving Kansas city and Sean. It was harder than I had anticipated. I was looking for a quick fix, but it was becoming clear that there wasn’t one. I hated speaking to Stan with his coffee breath and pudgy stomach hanging over his belt. He shifted side to side in his swivel chair as if he were waiting to hear something important or fart. When I stopped talking, Stan would wheel his squeaky chair close to me and sigh, “Well, we’ll see you again next week, Melissa.” Then he handed me the bill to take to the receptionist. I left ashamed, a feeling that has clung to me since the day I met Sean. I paid my $20 co-pay, scheduled my next visit, and went home.
A bird was awaiting me. He, I guess it was a he, was sitting on the back of Jason’s favorite chair, the blue-green Lazy-boy. It cocked its head as if trying to make out what I was doing there. I snapped a picture with my phone. By the look of things, according to Google, it was part of the Common Grackle family. I had a bronzed Grackle. His body had a bronzed appearance, while his head had a bluish iridescent quality. It was the prettiest average bird I’d ever seen.
The bird seemed to want something. I didn’t care what, I wanted it out. I thought of shooing it out the door, but the bird did not look agreeable to my whims. I took a seat across the casual living room from him. I had wanted to make a latte, but I was afraid that the noise from the barista would startle the bird, and he would start flying about and shitting.
After a half-hour, I found the Grackle easier to talk to than Stan. He looked judgmental and severe, but that was the response I expected. I needed to be punished. I told him all about Sean being necessary in Kansas City. In a life filled with too much, Sean felt like a little bit of time carved out just for me. But here in our new home, there was no leeway for Sean; yet, I could not eject him from my thoughts. I had begun to feel like Stan kept the ulcerated wound of my preyed upon memories open for business. The Grackle shifted his weight. I could see the little pinprick holes his talons were making in the chair. I didn’t mind. As my mind and heart joined in purging the gravity of my sins, I could see the outlines of what was important. Jason and the kids were enough.
When the kids got home from school, they startled the bird, of course. Now he was perched upon the clock on the mantle. Jackson and Millie were both scared and excited about the bird. I told them to have their after school snack in the formal living room, and I reminded Millie not to touch the tootsie roll pillows.
I returned my attention to the bird and clock. Sean had given me the clock as a memento of our time together. Several weeks ago, I found it a romantic gesture. Now, I saw it as a stupid, insipid cliché. I told Jason it was a gift from the girls at work. Then I had held it carefully. Today, it felt like an albatross around my neck. Jason came home early from work to help me with the bird. The Grackle held his ground. This bird was unflappable. Jason went to the kitchen and returned with the broom.
“Open the sliding glass doors,” he said.
I pulled back the blinds and opened the door. Jason took a swing at it. The bird took flight out the doors and into the yard. He landed on a branch of the evergreen. The clock lay in pieces on the floor, the face detached from the rest. Cogs and wheels were spread across the fractured housing.
“Oh, Melissa, I’m so sorry,” he said.
“I’m not. I didn’t want those memories anymore,” I said.