I lie in the flower field staring at the sky. My head peacefully rests on my hands. The sun, which at first I barely felt due to the cool breeze, is beginning to burn my ankles and face, the only part of my body that remains uncovered. I stare at a cloud, and I can’t decide if it reminds me of a unicorn or a horse-drawn carriage. I gaze at the clouds, and I wonder why I never did this activity as a child. I lie there debating on the cloud shape when I hear an “Ann come on, its time to go”. It is my husband’s voice, booming from the car. His voice bounces against the white flowers, hits my ears, and moves on with the breeze. Perhaps it is a unicorn drawn carriage, I decide while looking at the cloud. I don’t know why in movies it is only children who play this game, because I could lie here and stare at the sky forever.
I am twenty-eight years of age, married for five years, and an accountant for six. When did this happen? I’ve accomplished most of my goals, but I can’t remember the accomplishment process. I try to recall the first steps of my road to success. Perhaps it had been when I got accepted to college, or maybe when I got that scholarship. Perhaps it had been when I met Charlie, my husband. If I really want to be literal, I suppose my road to success started when I traveled down the birth canal, although I played a rather small part in that process.
Maybe the cloud is actually a lady wearing a beautiful bonnet, perhaps the kind Audrey Hepburn wore in My Fair Lady. I could watch that movie a million times; in fact I think I have. Charlie used to offer to watch that movie with me when he wronged me in some way; we rarely watched that movie together. In fact, after the past two years, I owe him more movies than I care to count.
“Annabelle” Charlie’s voice resonates across the field, sticking to my ears. He only uses my full name when he is irritated. We had left Boston to visit his parents over the weekend, a three-hour excursion. I had asked him to stop on the side of the road. “Annabelle”. I know that tone. In a minute he’ll get out of the car, and in less than sixty seconds my peaceful calm will be ruined. I use my hands to push up from the ground, and I reluctantly drag my body towards the car. “Sorry” I mumble, “I spaced out”. I say this to ease his grimaced face. Charlie is silent. I owe him another movie.
We are eating at his parent’s house. Charlie’s mom is telling us about a recent wedding she has been too. Elaine Statten, is a kind friendly woman, whose mouth never rests. When I first met her, I used to wonder how it was possible for her to have an hour long monologue about a vase she saw in an antique store ten years ago. However today, I am grateful for her gabbing ability, because it means I can sit here absorbed in my own thoughts.
Elaine is slightly overweight, wearing a yellow house dress, which contrasts sharply with her bright red dyed hair. Every time I see Elaine, her hair is a different color. Last time it been black, the time before that blonde, and if I remember correctly, the time before that it was a shade of purple. Charlie and I used to make bets about what color her hair was going to be. When he guessed right I would accuse of him asking his parents ahead of time, “Mom doesn’t discuss such things with me, and you know dad doesn’t talk about such trivialities”, was always his reply.
Don, Charlie’s dad, sits silently eating his spaghetti, and I wonder if he is also grateful for his wife’s talking ability. Don enjoys talking the way most people enjoy pumping toilets. He avoids words when he can, and when certain situations force him to converse, he keeps his words to a minimum. Sometimes I wonder if the reason for Elaine’s incessant talking is to balance out her husband’s silence. Supposedly Don used to spin entertaining stories, and Elaine used to discourse about politics, religion, and the absurdity of modern art. This was before the death of their eldest son Tim.
When Charlie was three years old, his eldest brother Tim, died in a car accident. Tim had been eighteen years old. He left behind two grieving parents, two grieving brothers, and Charlie, who only has one memory of Tim. Charlie’s other brothers, Sam and Al, had been seventeen and sixteen at the time. After Tim’s death, Don began an affair with a woman who attended the Statten’s church. The affair unfortunately became public. Elaine forgave Don, however, his sons did not share their mother’s ability to forgive. They both left for California, Sam to attend college, and Al to work in a seafood restaurant. For a while , all contact between children and parents had ceased, and when they regained contact , Elaine and Don had become completely different people. According to Sam, Don always had a joke or an anecdote at the dinner table. Sam’s favorite was about his dad’s colleague , who started a pipe collection to impress a woman, only to find out the woman was kidding when she said she liked pipes. “Dad’s stories were always great conversation starters”, Sam told Charlie once. “Any time I had an awkward moment on a date, I’d tell one of dad’s jokes, and the conversation would flow from there”. Last time I saw Al, he told me about the time his mom battled against the high school library because they got rid of certain books. She started a petition, got 500 signatures, and managed to get the school board to put those books back into the library. But these people were strangers to my husband. Charlie grew up with a silent father, and a mother whose biggest concern was finding a place in the house to store her excess silverware.
“Does everything taste good ?”, Elaine asks me. “Delicious”, I reply. Elaine chuckles lightly. “What’s so funny ?” I ask. “Oh nothing”, Elaine answers. “It’s just that I asked you this question about four times. I was beginning to think I’d never get an answer.” Charlie walks towards the kitchen,” I’m going to get the ice cream, come help me ma” he says as he walks through the swinging door. Even though I cannot hear them, I know they are talking about me in the kitchen. I know this with the same certainty I know the Eiffel Tower is still standing in Paris. I could probably even figure out what they are saying. Elaine would start “So there is still no change?”
“I think she has gotten worse.”
“No she hasn’t, she just hasn’t gotten better.”
“Maybe you should take her to see some one .”
“She’ll be fine , it’s just phase she’s going though.”
“Phases don’t go on this long…”
“Ma leave it alone, everything will be fine.”
“Charlie, maybe you should consider -”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“All I’m saying is -”
The kitchen door swings open, and Charlie and Elaine reappear in the dining room, carrying greens bowls filled with chocolate ice cream. I enjoy my ice cream, barely listening to Elaine describe the floral arrangement at the wedding.
The next morning, my in-laws walk us out to the car. It is time for the good-bye ritual. Elaine hugs me, and gives Charlie a chaste kiss on the cheek. Don and Charlie shake hands, Don’s eyes are strained, so I know he is about to say something.” “Drive safe”, he orders us. His eyes are still strained, and I know that is not what he wanted to tell us. They stand in the driveway, watching our little black car drive away.
On the drive back home, Charlie tries to have a conversation with me. A task that has been quite difficult for him these last couple of months. “I think red really suits mom”, he says. “Much better than black anyway”.
“Yeah I suppose.”
“Dad is going to start growing tomatoes in the garden. Next time they visit, we’ll have ourselves some organic vegetables.”
“I think we should see that new Will Smith movie that came out. I don’t remember the name, it’s a drama movie, got excellent reviews. I think you’ll like it.”
“If you want to.”
“Did, I tell you that John (Sam’s son) got into UCLA.”
“Good for him.”
Charlie gives up, closes his mouth, and pops a Beatles CD into the car stereo. We drive the rest of the way home in silence, listening to love songs