We tried to break JD Mader’s website this week with our Friday flash fiction. Not yet, but we keep getting closer. It was a long week, and I kept sneaking away to pop out some two-minute bits. And a few more. And a few more. I don’t know if there was necessarily a theme in the ones I posted, but as I was reviewing them, it felt like I was working toward a progression of sorts.
She was a kaleidoscope to him; every way he examined her he saw a different facet, a different sum of her parts, a different colored crystal tumbling into place. Until he wasn’t sure which was real and which was the illusion. He knew some facts to be undisputable: long blonde hair with a little flip on the end, blue eyes with flecks of brown, a pointed chin, an endless inventory of elephant jokes. But some things he’d taken for granted kept changing. The way she’d cry at certain television commercials that she used to think were stupid. The way she’d meet him at the door with haunted eyes, and through a two-inch space tell him she couldn’t come out. He was afraid to ask what might be wrong, afraid to find out it might be something horrible. So he decided to be patient, and wait her out, and bring her favorite movie the next time she allowed him over, just wanting everything to be normal again.
In the bright, warm days of compromise and movie nights, you were a team with a capital T and prided yourselves on sharing those decisions, each one proof that you had what it took, that you could do it better than your parents, you could be the ones to finally survive. Now each decision felt like a battle, a war of wills, a contest. Being the first one to break lost. The “us” in the union felt like a “you” and “me.” Losing meant you were weak, could not hold your own, could not craft a solution tilted to give you the advantage. It felt hollow and wrong and not the example you wanted to set for the world. You wanted to shine and be larger than life, like those characters in Ayn Rand, you wanted to beat the world and stand atop skyscrapers and announce that yes, you had it figured out, this marriage thing, this forming a perfect union thing, but no, in the end you became what your parents did anyway, and it felt like defeat, a bitter taste like spoiled, year-old-wedding-cake in the back of your throat.
Someone should fix this, she thought, deliberately trying not to look toward the boat launch where a woman had once driven herself and her three kids into the river. It would be too easy, too much a temptation when the children are screaming and it all weighs too heavily and even worse waits for you at home. Someone should put a chain up, at least. Something to stop the flash-second indecision of decision, the what-the-hell-who-would-care thought of a station wagon sliding under the surface, disappearing with a closing ripple and stream of air bubbles. How did it feel, she wondered. Was the water cold? Did the kids cry? Beg Momma to let them out? Or did she wall herself over while the murk rose up to the windows, while the sunlight danced on the particles of floating debris? Did she sing lullabies, old songs from her own childhood, talking to them in soft voices, telling them that daddy would be fine and Grandma would meet them in heaven?
A chain, at least.