Emma wonders if any of the others are thinking of Macbeth and his witches. The kindling takes hold with a loud crack. Sparks flash, and rise into the night. Someone has thought to bring food this time: a pot of chili in a small cast-iron cauldron. Emma cannot imagine anyone will taste it. Their hunger is not for food. The pipe sizzles at the touch of the lighter. The itch of anticipation glides along her forearms. They all say they want to kick the habit. But, they’ve all been through rehab, at least once. It’s where some of them met.
“We’ll take in a quick bite at the restaurant at the end of the universe,” Sophie whispered to Eli as she unwound her fluid body from his long limbs.
“I love how you talk, babe,” Eli answered, eyes closed, sleep dripping like honey.
“At the end of the universe? Did I just say that? Residual effect of that herb, I guess. I meant at the end of University Avenue.” Sophie zipped up her skirt.
“Eli, sweetness, you gotta go kiss-ass your boss. And I’m starving. We have eighty minutes to get to work.”
Eli sat up, and Sophie laughed. It was the kind of laugh that accompanied new love, that all out elation when you might not trust the heart, but there’s not a chance in hell you can rein it in.
“You ought to see your hair. That is the craziest bed head I’ve ever seen.”
Eli, eyes still closed, ran his fingers through his short dark hair effectively creating a collection of tiny haystacks across his scalp.
“There is no end to our universe, babe,” Eli affixed his hazel eyes on Sophie.
Sophie didn’t know it then, but it turned out that Eli was right. Some things you just know.
Sophie and Eli married. They earned promotions. They bought a house. When Sophie got pregnant they gave up smoking weed. There was a second baby girl, and a second house. On the cusp of the girls entering high school they hit a rough patch. They split. Eli moved out.
One day, a year into the separation, by chance, Sophie was in line at a coffee kiosk, and she heard someone laugh. It was the sort of laugh that telegraphed new love, that euphoria that carries you to the heights of, as yet, untrammeled emotion.
She turned to see Eli watching her, laughing. He rose, held Sophie’s elbow, and with his cheek next to hers said softly, “We’ll take in a quick bite at the restaurant at the end of the universe.”
One day Stella’s daughter will ask, “Mom, where did you and Dad meet?”
Stella will answer, “We met at a Bingo game.”
When that day arrived her daughter may never have heard of Bingo. It was still years in the future; her daughter was not yet born.
The last thing Stella expected was to fall in love at a Bingo game.
Her grandmother had persuaded her. “Come with me,” she’d said. “Keep me company.” Stella had not hesitated. Her grandmother was the light in an otherwise dark world. Stella wondered all the time how her mother became the bitter alcoholic, fighting demons, having been raised by the woman Stella called grandmother. What didn’t she know? Why does her mother avoid her grandmother like the plague?
“I’ve made mistakes,” was all her grandmother would ever say.
“Did grandfather abuse her?” Stella asked one day.
“Why would you ask me that, child? How do such evil things climb into the head of one so young?” Stella was fifteen when the question surfaced. Her grandmother had wrapped her in a tight embrace, as if to ward off those same demons that menaced her mother.
“I read too much, I guess,” Stella had answered. “So many articles, and TV shows, talk about it.”
“No, darling,” her grandmother had assured. “It’s nothing like that. I promise.”
“Did she give a baby up for adoption?” Stella had tried again.
“Oh, baby girl. These dark thoughts that cling to you, let them go. Misunderstandings, hot tempers, inherited addictions, peer pressure, it all adds up to the perfect storm. Don’t you give up on her, honey. I never will. With our help your mother will find her way.”
Misunderstandings could mean a lot of things, Stella thought. Or it could mean nothing at all. People are born already formed balanced or imbalanced with hormones and chemicals surging through bloodstreams. Sometimes there’s nothing anyone can do to alleviate another’s suffering.
At the Bingo game a ninety-year-old man suffered a heart attack. G-47 was called. Those are the details you remember when you fall in love at a Bingo game. G47, a thud, a cry for help, and Pete rose from the table. He rushed to the side of the ailing man.
Oddly Stella and Pete’s eyes met while Pete, a cardiologist, attended to the fallen man, who was already gone, anyone could see that.
Love at first sight.
Stella had accompanied her grandmother while Pete had chauffeured his mother. Yes, the age difference was great. Stella was thirty; Pete was sixty. People frown on such things. The only number with meaning for Stella and Pete was G47.
Pete, a widower for twenty years, had no children. Stella had never been married. What did it mean when someone said, “It will never last?” Who are these naysayers who take pleasure in hurtful prognostications? If Pete lived to be ninety, as did the gentleman he assisted on the night he met Stella, they will have enjoyed thirty blissful years together. If Stella died crossing the street a month after they married, that figure drops to one year, but would it not be worth it?
Love is worth whatever time it is allotted.
Stella and Pete await the birth of their daughter. Will she be born whole and balanced? Or will she be troubled, like Stella’s mother? Will she be a light in their lives, like Stella’s grandmother? Will both her parents live long enough to attend her college graduation?
The answers aren’t important. What’s important is the number G47. Love happened at a Bingo game.
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, SAM gave me this prompt: It happened at a Bingo game..
I gave Michael this prompt: A couple has chosen to get married, but they are not marrying for love.
A house needs a grandma in it. – Louisa May Alcott
I sometimes wonder if my grandmother was as happy as she seemed to be.
I see her ample figure in a flowered housedress, her waist encircled by a white apron with scalloped edges. If I travel back far enough I see her holding a spoon, stirring a pot, instructing us to sit down and eat. Typical, traditional, stereotyped, all these words apply.
I see her men at the table, her husband and sons. Better known to me as my grandfather, my father and his brothers. She had a daughter too, but by the time my sisters and I were born that daughter, my aunt, had acquired a husband, moved to another state, and started a family of her own.
My grandmother cared for a house full of men until we came along: one girl after another for a total of six.
Her dining room table was topped with a whiteboard, perfect for drawing. But it was not the little girls who took out their colored pencils. It was the men of the house. From their shirt pockets they chose a pencil, sometimes a pen, and during dinner they sketched electrical components on the tabletop, and satisfied mathematical equations. My grandmother didn’t agree with this practice, but she was powerless to halt it. The men are boisterous engineers, each with an idea for the current project.
Later in the evening they retreated to the small barn at the rear of the house to build these components that they have sketched on the table. My grandmother did her best to wipe it clean, but ghosts of the sketches remain, to this day. One of my sisters still uses that table
Though my sisters and I lived on a ten-acre spread, with plenty of space to roam, it was our grandparents’ backyard that lured us with its otherness. Lilac bushes separated their yard from the neighbor’s, and in our smallness they loomed large, like hot air balloons ready for lift-off. We played hide-and-seek edging along the perimeter of the massive shrubbery as the seeker drew near. The elderly neighbors, who perhaps had no grandchildren of their own, placed lawn chairs in their driveway, as if we were actors on a stage.
My father was the eldest of five. In the early years of our family, when the first three of us were born, two of my father’s brothers were still young, and lived at home. There were no “spare” bedrooms in my grandparents’ house. We often spent the night, and were put to bed in a small bedroom off my grandparents’ room. I can still see her tranquil face leaning in to kiss us goodnight, and her wavy hair that none of us inherited.
The house faced a street, unlike the dark, quiet acreage we were used to. In this small room headlights from passing cars splashed across the walls, and slid along the floor. This light show thrilled and fascinated us, and we lay awake for a long time not wanting to miss the next pattern, and the sound of the cars rushing by.
At breakfast the next morning our grandmother cooked us each the breakfast of our choice. Cereal, pancakes, muffins, we named it, and she made it. This was her role, and she was the star.
Nana, as we called her, was affectionate. We never lacked for hugs and kisses. She was rarely “cross” with us, as she referred to discipline. Granddaddy made us laugh, but he kept his distance, a quality he passed on to our father. He lost track of our names, called us all Charlie. Finding this hilarious we did the same, called him Charlie in return, which made us all laugh. When he tired of our constant need of attention he handed us a few dollars, sent us down the block for ice cream and pretzels.
We were often at our grandparents’ house. But I have little recollection of my grandparents at our house. My mother and grandmother did their best with each other, their relationship strained by shared quarters when my father was at sea in the Navy, leaving his young wife, and infant first daughter with his parents. And then again when three little girls moved in while my parents renovated the house where we were raised, and remained until we all set off on our own.
Occasionally Granddaddy would come by, and he and my father would sip Scotch, and talk about their shared work experience, but our grandmother preferred her own rooms, her own kitchen.
I wonder if she lived the life she’d dreamed of. I have love letters, if they can be so named, that my grandfather wrote during his college years to this young woman that waited through his graduation so they might begin their lives together. The letters are matter-of-fact, one-sided dialogs of his time in engineering school. I have only his letters to her. She saved them. I do not have the letters she wrote to him, though in his letters he refers to them. Were he a poet he might have tied them in a bundle with a yellow ribbon, but he was instead an engineer.
Here is one of the few excerpts where he expresses emotion:
It surely did seem great to be with you again last night, but the time goes so distressingly fast! It was “True Heaven” while it lasted.
He refers to a movie they must have seen together, a 1929 film of British spies in WWI. He goes on to tell her a story about how women spies during the war could make no headway with the analytical engineers, so they concentrated on the cavalry officers whom, he says, barely had “horse sense.”
Another story follows of how much schoolwork lies ahead of him, drawings for pumps and steam engines, until finally he ends the letter:
I’ll write as often as I can, Vivian, but don’t be surprised if you don’t get a terrible pile of mail from me. I know you’ll understand, you are so clever, cute, and good-natured.
All my love, Brose
She died young, his cute, good-natured girl, in her mid-50’s. My younger sisters have no memories of her at all. Some of my cousins never met either grandparent.
The eldest of us who knew them treasure our memories. We loved them both. It’s difficult to imagine what our lives might look like without them.
It’s up to those of us with stories to tell – to tell them – to make them come alive.
“Clever how the cosmos, in a single portent, can be ingratiating yet sadistic.”
“Is that a riddle? Or will you reveal what the cruel cosmos has portended?”
“I guess you could say it is a riddle. But, I won’t give you the answer. I was only thinking out loud.”
Christine was so beautiful it hurt Ian to look at her. Never in the far fetches of his fantasies had he ever thought someone like her might show him any interest. Yet there she was, naked, in his bed.
They’d been inseparable, for nearly a year by then. The way she’d looked at him sucked the air from his lungs. The scent of her flawless skin, the weight of her hand in his, the undulation of her shoulder blades as she hooked her bra, the way she slid into her jeans, the way she swept a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, again and again, a habit she was unaware of, but one that cut him to the bone.
How easily she’d laughed. Her compassion for all, the poor and the rich, had threatened to crack his resolve. She told the truth. She found some scrap of goodness in everyone. She was too good to be true. Except for one insurmountable detail.
He was rich, and she was poor. Of course he hadn’t known she was poor when he first laid eyes on her. Her clothes were the standard issue of college campuses everywhere. She wore no makeup or perfume. She didn’t need it. It never occurred to him that she couldn’t afford it until she told him her story.
Not that there was much to tell. Her parents were happily married but uneducated. Before her father was injured in a car accident that confined him to a wheelchair he had worked as a sanitation engineer, a ridiculous euphemism, Christine had admitted, one that even her father disliked. He was not on the job at the time of the accident. No insurance guaranteed a life of debt. Her mother worked as a hotel maid.
Christine, his brilliant Christine, earned a scholarship to the ivy-league school where they met, and fell hard.
“What will we do for Christmas?” she’d asked that day without guile assuming they’d spend the holiday together.
“We’ll stay with my parents. It’s about time you met them,” he’d lied. “I love your parents, but I don’t relish sharing a single bed in that double-wide of theirs.”
He remembered that she’d laughed at that, unashamed of her poverty. She might be weighted by her parents’ dreams and hopes for her, for them, but she was never cowed by their lack of position.
For just shy of one year of his life he had been loved. Even if Christine had loved him without knowing who he really was, he had been loved. Everything he’d told her had been a lie. She would never meet his parents. His parents would never know she existed. In families like his a protocol held sway.
On Christmas Eve of that year, thirty years ago, he’d disappeared without a trace. He supposed she might have been offered some information by the registrar had she inquired, but she had never attempted to contact him. Why would she? He was a coward.
Now there is this entity called Facebook, and there is Christine, still beautiful, staring at him from the screen. A pediatrician with two grown sons she has done well as he knew she would. In a photograph Christine stands between her boys smiling broadly while each plants a kiss on a cheek. He thinks of his own two sons and how they despise him. He accepts the blame for their rancor. Their long-suffering mother has been denied the love she deserved.
Christine has marked her status as divorced. She lives in a city on the other side of the country where the sun shines three hundred days a year, and it hardly ever rains.
He types his name, uploads a recent photo, fills in minor details, and creates an account. On Christine’s page he clicks, Add Friend. He is assured a friend request has been sent. If she answers she will be his one and only friend.