Sitting alone at the bar closest to my house during happy hour on a Friday night should make me cringe. In the past, I would have never been able to pull it off. The term “loser” would have washed over me like a tidal wave but somehow it feels different now. Sure, I am alone, but I was always alone. I just never realized it until a slew of trust shattering events occurred…again…on February 28th, the anti-versary of the first time my husband and I were married in 1987.
Apparently, I didn't learn my lesson the first time. Getting mentally gut-punched for 18 years just wasn't enough. A sucker for punishment, I willingly climbed back into the ring for round two. We remarried after being divorced-but-never-really-separated for nine years. I still saw all the red flags but chose to ignore them because who am I if I am not one-half of a couple, with him by my side? We had been together since we were 23 years old. I never realized how young that was until I had children of my...
Wait, the bartender has asked if I want another house margarita. Frozen without salt. Sure, why not? This is why I chose the bar closest to my house to drink. If I have more than one, I can drive home or even walk on the back roads. They are super curvy and filled with potholes but that makes them less traveled. Less likely to get randomly pulled over by a curious police officer, and if the officer happened to be my neighbor, he would likely just escort me home. This is a benefit of living in suburbia in a middle-class neighborhood. The cops are your neighbors.
The margarita just arrived, and I find myself giving the bartender a thumbs-up for the second time. What the actual fuck? Have I never had a social outing in my life? Well of course I have. I did more than my fair share of mingling when I was a flight attendant for 25 years, until I was injured and took early retirement. I contemplate why it is that I make lame gestures now such as winks and thumbs-ups, reminiscent of a creepy old man.
I am a middle-aged woman. I still look pretty good despite 34 years of gaslighting and narcissistic abuse. I did have that one spell—when my husband had a freak accident on vacation and almost died—where my hair was falling out in clumps with the roots still attached. At first, when I noticed the clumps of hair lying on the floor after a quick blow-dry, I thought they looked like doll hair and my first thought was Ka-burp-ee, the doll Santa brought me when I was in third grade. Her real name, in the Sears and Roebuck Catalog, was Diddee Darling; but once her hair became lumpy and threadbare, she became Ka-burp-ee. If you woke up with Ka-burp-ee in your bed in the morning, you were the big loser for the day.
Since the four of us kids all slept in one tiny bedroom, it was easy to slip her into the oversized crib with my four-year-old sister. It didn't just end there either. My brother and I piled Lincoln Logs and a Slinky and even an Easy Bake Oven on top of Ka-burp-ee, and therefore, my sister by default. We couldn't risk that monster-like-doll-creature getting out and ending up under one of our pillows.
Well, my baby brother couldn't have a pillow. When he was almost two years old, he had some kind of disorder that caused him to projectile vomit any time he ate, which was both scary and disgusting. We (my other brother, sister and I) gave him a wide berth when we passed by his playpen on our way outside to play. He almost died but was admitted to Duke University Hospital where they performed a cutting-edge esophageal stretch procedure. It didn't work and the surgeon gave my mom and dad “the speech,” preparing them for his upcoming death. When they checked him out one more time before sending him home to basically starve to death—since he couldn't keep anything down—lo and behold, the doctors said a miracle had occurred. His esophagus was completely normal. The surgeon couldn’t explain it except to suggest that perhaps someone had been praying. Duh. Everyone was praying.
I thought that was probably a pretty good thing but was too busy feeling nauseous from looking into the backseat of a taxicab parked by the emergency room at the hospital. During my brother’s procedure, a kid told me that someone had gotten shot in the course of a robbery in that cab. Being skeptical, I snuck down while my parents were preoccupied with my baby brother's impending death and had a closer look. The front seat and Plexiglas partition that separated the driver from the paying passenger looked pristine, and I was about to tell that kid that he was a big fat liar until I gazed into the backseat. The vinyl seat cushion had a massive rust-colored stain and there was something that reminded me of my grandmother's chicken and dumplings on the floorboard. A mental image of the flesh-colored gore invades my mind and…
Wait, the bartender just asked if I was finished with my plate, and I said yes. My appetite is sort of ruined thinking about the chicken and dumpling thing. He whisked my half-eaten order of beef fajita nachos away.
Anyway, the margaritas and scrambled thoughts have me kind of reeling, and I think about my childhood—not the funny stuff—and how completely messed up it was to move every year on the whim of a father suffering with undiagnosed schizophrenia, and it somehow puts it all in perspective. Everything I went through in my childhood gave me inner strength and the ability to persevere until our children were old enough to not have to endure a big custody battle. That was what kept me there all those years…the first time. What possessed me to hop back in a second time? Perhaps it was a trauma bond or maybe I am broken. I really can’t explain. I nurse the rest of my margarita. Thinking. Though I feel broken, I am not broken, just a little bent. I know I am better off now…I don't need him. It feels like an uphill battle; but I am finally ready to take back my life. To make my way on my own.
I am at a bar all by myself on a Friday night, but I feel less lonely than I did when I was with my husband.
I catch the bartender's attention; give him a thumbs-up and a wink and say, “Check, please.”
By Lisa H. Owens
Created for a WOW! (Women on Writing) Q-3 2020 Non-fiction Essay Contest Fall 2020
Coming Soon to Short Story Town (November 27, 2021)
*Warning: Use of harsh language and triggering subject matter*
"Hon, I think I'll check on Bea and then go sit on the porch a bit."
"Quit your yammering, bitch; and bring me another beer."
"I just want a little fresh air, is all."
"What'd I say? Don't make me come in there and black and blue your ass."
This was pretty much the way the conversation in Theehouse went night after night after night.
Sometimes Theeman made good on his promise to black and blue Theewoman but mostly he just passed out in his La-Z-Boy-knockoff recliner, legs sprawled wide, mouth open emitting sour breath and jarring sporadic snores. His beer bottles were stacked off to one side. Drained perfectly dry, except that final one. The one that could make or break the situation.
If Theewoman mouthed-off, the bottle would likely wind up shattered on the increasingly sticky linoleum floor after smacking the wall. Hard. The one with the brown watermark—well technically beer-mark—and chunks of plaster chipped away, highlighting the sheetrock in stark contrast to Daffodil Yellow paint. These were the areas the bottle hit just right; and next time it would be her head if she provoked him again.
If Theewoman kept her big trap shut, that last beer would sit half-empty wafting its dank yeasty smell long after Theeman passed out in his worn chair. It was a good night if the wall with its yellow paint and Theewoman went unscathed.
I remember the happy day Theewoman—well technically Theebaby—chose the paint color. She was so lovely and full of youthful passion. An idealist. Poor soul wanted to change the world. That was before Theeman had knocked some sense into her one too many times; and it wasn't his fault. She made him do it; and it was for her own good.
It was always a happy time when the big-red-truck was not in the driveway—sometimes for a lot of days in a row—because I was allowed inside Theehouse the whole time with my person. When Theeman was home, I was allowed to be inside as long as I didn't get under his fucking feet or make Theehouse smell like a fucking dog.
During better times when Theeman was feeling generous, he gave Theewoman some money to fix-up this shithole of a place as long as she didn't waste the money on junk like that fancy baby formula; and she promised to come straight home from the Walmart; and she better not get all dolled up like a whore like she did the last time he let her take the truck. He would keep Bea at home so she didn't get any funny ideas about pulling a disappearing act.
Theewoman made the promises, like she always did, and then left in the big-red-truck for a while. She never left Theebaby home with Theeman for very long because it would make him angry that Bea cried the whole fucking time; and what took so long? He hoped she wasn’t flirting with that fancy fruitcake at the cash register again; because she knew what happened last time, as he unbuckled his belt.
On the happy day when the paint was chosen, I was snuggled up against Theebaby on the freshly mopped linoleum floor. She was goo-goo-ing and gaa-gaa-ing, like babies do, while Theewoman shuffled through a fan-deck of those cards—vaguely resembling the color of paint each represented—she had borrowed from the Sherwin Williams. She spread a few out, poker-hand-style, in front of Theebaby and asked which one she liked. Theebaby dotted a sticky finger on one with a determined, "Dah!"
"Daffodil Yellow," Theewoman said; and she smiled, "Just like your hair, little one."
Things went downhill fast after Theeman lost his job, all because that candy-assed college boy had it in for him from the start; and who did he think he was with his la-dee-da suit and tie? The drinking got worse and I was banished to Theeyard forever while the yelling got louder and the slaps got harder.
I would sit in Theeyard night after night after night. Watching. Waiting for my cue to make my move. When the lights upstairs turned off, Theeman was down for the count. And so I would creep, stealthy like a thief in the night, to the porch to lie in wait for my person.
Theewoman always came out when Theehouse was dark, to sit and get the fresh air her body craved. Her nightly reprieve from the hellhole that her life had become.
She would sit down beside me, quiet for a while, rubbing the top of my nubby head, dampened by her tears. Then she would talk, telling me of her dreams. Dreams of a better life for Bea. Dreams of escaping with Bea and her kind and gentle friend, Shadow (that was me) the three of us finally being free.
I hear her light footsteps as she tentatively (so as not to wake Theemonster) turns the doorknob and softly pulls the door open, stepping down into the moonlit night. In her arms rests a quilted bundle that is Theebaby. On her shoulder hangs an overstuffed backpack, and in her hand, the keys to the big-red-truck...and my purple leash.
By Lisa H. Owens
Winner of Round-One in a Reddit June 2020 Picture Prompt Contest
The Handyman gets up early; the Texas sun just peeking above the horizon. It is going to be another scorcher. Well into the 90’s and possibly hitting 100 or more by mid-afternoon. His “to do" list is long. He has a lot on his plate. Best to get started early. His black truck is not air-conditioned and the last thing he wants is to make his trip to Ace Hardware during peak heat-stroke time; any time the sun is up in August.
He dresses quickly, grabbing shorts and a wrinkled t-shirt from a rumpled pile of clean-ish laundry, before tip-toeing to the bathroom (mindful of his sleeping girlfriend) to splash water on his face and brush his teeth. Single-mindedly on a mission, he shuffles through the house, out the side door, and into the garage. The knob is loose and shifts away from the door as he pulls inward to open. One more thing to add to the list. He reaches into his shorts’ cargo pocket and extracts a crumpled sheet of paper, spins, and heads back inside to the kitchen. He knows there is a pen in here somewhere and begins cracking drawers to peek inside. Silverware...nope. Dish towels and potholders...nope. Mismatched silverware, ladles, spatulas, and a can-opener...nope. Double-A batteries, extra bread twist-ties—his mind briefly wonders about what purpose they could possibly serve—and finally buried beneath a plethora of odds and ends…BINGO!...a Bic ballpoint pen. Extracting it from the drawer, he jots “tighten garage doorknob" at the bottom of the list just under “replace nails around back door frame”. This pen is old. The ink blobs and smears and then quits altogether leaving the last word an inkless etching in the crumpled notebook paper. He tosses it back into the drawer then rethinking, picks it up again, etching an inkless *BUY PENS at the top of his list next to a tiny etched asterisk. First things first.
This handyman thing is new to him and wanting to make an impression on the homeowner, his girlfriend’s brother and family; is his goal. Although they have a little money saved up, the handyman and his girl will crash here until they find an apartment of their own so repairing broken stuff will be his repayment to them for their hospitality.
He has zero experience fixing anything other than his morning slice of toast (oftentimes ending with him standing at the sink—butter knife in hand—scraping away the burnt part) but has a pretty good feeling about it. He has a good head on his shoulders, having recently graduated from college as a mechanical engineer, and is always willing to try new things.
He marches out of the kitchen and through the den with purpose. Carefully opening the loose and jiggling doorknob, he steps down one step into the garage where his faithful black truck is waiting to take him wherever he wants to go. Ace Hardware for tools, Walmart for pens, or even his previous hometown in Massachusetts where cooler air surely awaits him. He rolls all the windows down then thinks for a moment before turning over the key. Scenarios run quickly through his mind, the possibilities endless. The cooler air is tempting and his entire family would joyfully welcome him home with open arms.
Making up his mind, he turns the key and Old Black’s engine roars to life. Backing slowly out of the driveway and into the quiet street, he throws the truck into drive and begins the journey to Walmart and a brand new package of Bic Pens. He will give this handyman thing and the sweltering Texas heat a try. Barring burning the house down, what could possibly go wrong?
By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events.
Entered in a WOW (Women On Writing) Winter Flash Fiction 2020 Fiction Contest.