Read The Invention of Flight Online

Authors: Susan Neville

Tags: #Short Stories (Single Author), #Fiction, #General

The Invention of Flight (5 page)

Mrs. D. starts to say something but is interrupted by Mrs. Lovelace squealing and running over to the window. “It's him,” she says. “The bastard's home.” Mrs. D. jumps up and stands behind her. Again, the same feeling in her chest. This time she refuses to interpret it. She wonders how he'll act, prepares herself for the confrontation. They watch him get out of his pickup. He looks tired from working, his jacket slung over his shoulder. He pushes his hair away from his eyes. There are sheer glass curtains hanging in the window and Mrs. Lovelace, impatient with watching through a film of fabric, pushes them aside a few inches. He walks toward the porch, with his head down. It isn't until he has his foot on the first step that he looks up and sees his things. For a second he looks puzzled. Now, Mrs. D. thinks,
now. Mrs. Lovelace pushes the curtain aside another inch or two, her hand shaking. Mr. Lovelace reaches down to get a handful of clothes and a pair of shoes, and he takes them out to the truck. When he comes back up to the porch, he's smiling.

In less than an hour he has everything but the rolltop desk moved into the truck. The last thing he takes from the porch is a box of toilet articles and a large hat. He looks over at the window where the women are hiding and, holding the hat in his hand, makes a large sweeping bow, still smiling. Mrs. Lovelace laughs and waves and then looks like she's going to cry. Mrs. D. steps back into the living room, horrified. Mr. Lovelace gets into his truck and drives off, tires squealing. “He'll be back tomorrow for the desk, I reckon,” Mrs. Lovelace says. “He'll need someone to help him lift it into the truck.” She thanks Mrs. D. and, taking a boxload of things she's gleaned from the basement, starts to leave. “Wait,” Mrs. D. says, and she runs around the living room picking up the ashtrays, the candlesticks, the knickknacks that Mrs. Lovelace had placed there. “I want you to have these too,” she says, and she adds a couple of things she had always thought looked right before but which she decides now will never do. She wants the room to look clean, streamlined. She picks up more things and puts them in Mrs. Lovelace's box. She wonders if her house looks like an old woman's house. “Now,” she says, “that's enough,” and Mrs. Lovelace leaves through the back door.

The sky gets black and a hard rain begins. Mrs. D. wanders around her house. At another double two doors down, the porch, slanting from lack of repair, is covered
with half-naked children. The grill of an old truck in their driveway is covered with long strands of onions to dry. She looks out the kitchen window at the dog, shivering, but at least the other dogs are staying away, and she has water. Looking over at the Lovelace porch, she sees the desk is getting wet. When Mr. D. comes home, she's in the kitchen cutting apart a plastic trash bag. Ignoring him, she runs outside in the rain without an umbrella or rainhat for the first time in her life and she goes over to the Lovelace porch and covers the desk with the plastic. On the way back she lets the dog loose from the post. The dog runs around the house and under the front porch. Mrs. D. runs back into her own kitchen right after a loud crash of thunder, the whole back yard lighting up. “What's gotten into you?” Mr. D. asks, and for the first time in her married life she snaps at him in real anger. More loud thunder and she remembers stories her grandmother told her of lightning concentrating in balls and rolling right through houses. She runs into the living room, Mr. D. following her, her dress soaked. A flash of lightning she's sure is in the middle of the room, not outside, and she runs upstairs and grabs two feather pillows off the bed. The smiles of the men in the service station, of Mr. Lovelace. On the way down the stairs she meets her husband, who grabs onto her arms and shakes her. Across the dark of the stairway she hands him a feather pillow, hands it to her dear sweet husband, and says, “Just hold this, please, it might keep us safe.”

Second Coming

At all moments I expect you. There are of course logistical problems. I know that you are hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles away, that you are not even sure where I am, but I decide that you are on the road and passing my exit on the interstate at all moments of the day. I imagine your call from the highway, calculate the time it would take you to get to my house from the directions I give, if I could get my face washed, clothes changed if necessary into something that looks less like I've been waiting for you, wonder if I should ask over the phone if you would like coffee or if I should use that question to get past the first few uncomfortable minutes when you are in fact here. At night, since you couldn't come to my house, I prepare excuses for each hour—who the voice was on the phone, why I have to leave suddenly for the truck stop, the store, a friend's, things I never do. The reasons must be more urgent in proportion to the lateness of the hour and there is a point when, even though I expect your call, I hope it won't come, a point at which my imagination falters, when all I can think of to say is it's him, I've been expecting him, or else I must say to you I'm sorry, I can't come, try again on your next trip through, knowing fully that this is the only chance. Both
of these possibilities are unthinkable and so there is, as I say, a point at which I hope the call won't come.

My youngest is eighteen months now. Finally I don't need to keep my eye on her constantly. She can take baths with the oldest, and I can stay in the kitchen, make sure the dishes are washed and the crumbs cleared for your visit; I can do this without too much fear of their drowning. I try to keep their toys in one room so that you won't trip over them, so that my house won't look the way we always said our houses would never look—baby furniture in the living room, rattles, games, miniature trucks, and dolls in every corner. I try to keep them in one room, but most days it's a losing battle and on those days, if you called, I would take the children to a neighbor's, meet you at McDonald's, at a diner, take the chance that one of the women from church, from my club, might see me, almost hoping one might. Maybe you will come on a day like that. Of course you don't know, do you, that I have any children at all? You don't know their names or what they're like or what my husband's like (leaving each morning in a three-piece suit, carrying an umbrella, handsome, such a family man that women would never even try to tempt him, the dinners when we can't speak over the din of the children until we've somehow forgotten how to speak, evenings of paying bills, playing children's games, the moments, infrequent, when he looks at me and doesn't ask did you will this or did I?). You don't know that there is another child due in December, that I am already enormous from it. And you don't know how I was for those few years before I began to expect you, the way I dressed each day in a stained T-shirt, no bra, my grandfather's
cardigan, sloppy pants, white socks. The difficulty I had getting up in the morning, days spent with the only voices children's voices.

I don't expect you've changed. The lack of concern about the way you dressed became you, was somehow masculine—the hole in the knee of your jeans, the shirts you'd get at Christmas and wear the whole year, no matter what the style—the plaid ones, the fancy silk one with the French cuffs that you wore to chemistry lab stapled at the wrists, the funny shirt covered with horses that your sister sent you. You may have grown a beard by now—that's the way I picture you, with a beard, unmarried, some secret source of income so that you never wear a suit or sit in an office. The income is of course necessary because when you come, when you're finally here, you will simply take me to wherever you're going next. You will have money and I won't have to worry that I have no change of clothes, no creams or lotions, no toothbrush. We'll buy the important things in the next town and along the way you'll buy me things, all the while telling me, as you used to, how beautiful I am, how you like the way I touch you. I expect that you are as attractive to women as you used to be, that you might be with one tonight, but that you still are drawn to me, almost mystically, that you are leaving her at this moment and moving toward me, will be calling in the next hour, the next day.

Then there are days I think that you are already here, that you're outside the house, timid about ringing the bell. Those are glorious days, the days when I think that. I reach down to pick up a toy and there is, I know, grace in the movement. I look in the mirror and smile at
myself, touch my hair, certain that you are watching. At night I try to get my husband to dance in the kitchen. I laugh at anything he says, know this makes me look younger, more alive, that you are impressed with me, hesitant about entering such a family as this, but your desire grows stronger from that thought. You see, I do remember what you're like.

I'll tell you what else I remember. At odd times, on my knees in the kitchen or the bathroom, while sewing a button on a dress, I remember geometry. You're laughing, I know; you remember how excited I used to get about it, how I always understood it faster than any of us. It was some kind of leap I was able to make, no disbelief to suspend—of course a line has no dimensions and it goes on infinitely—of course. Some days I imagine that there are lines all rushing toward me, intersecting at a point in the center of my heart, and the intersection must remain at all times perfect so that if the center moves I move, but the center moves only from one room to the next of my house (winter now, the sky gray and inches away from every window) and, infrequently, to other places in this town where I am expected only at expected times. Of course that is Euclidean geometry, the geometry where lines are straight, the kind that only works on earth. For days I have been trying to remember the name of the geometry that's true for the universe, where lines curve, and that is one thing I can't remember. It frightens me. Last night I took my oldest child into the kitchen. She's in kindergarten and I've already taught her to read. I put a soap bottle on the window ledge, stood her at one end of the kitchen, and asked her what the bottle lined up with on the house
next door. She said the living room window at the front of the house and I said correct. I took her to the other end of the kitchen, asked her the same question, and she said the kitchen window at the back of the house. I hugged her, said see, that's geometry, that's how the Greeks knew, without going there, the approximate distance to the stars. She of course didn't understand. My husband understands but is bored by it. When you come we'll talk about geometry, astronomy; we'll discuss physics. There have been new developments, I'm sure, just as I'm sure that you know about them. A few years back I began feeling stupid and I'm hoping you will teach me and once again make me feel bright.

I don't know who to blame for what has happened to me. My husband reaches for me and it's comfortable, but the only way I can respond is to close my eyes and think of you, the sensitivity between us, our hands moving at the same time, the kisses like some sort of gentle dance they were so perfect. The thing that gets me is remembering how innocent we both were, when we thought of ourselves as so modern. Afraid of pregnancy, young, we of course never slept together—it wasn't done then. When you come we will sleep together even if you can't for some reason take me with you. And I will not feel guilty, will not feel guilt, because it will be for the times when we should have but didn't. In the greater scheme of the universe, time is not necessarily a straightforward line or progression—I will think of that moment as happening before my marriage as it should have, and there will be no guilt.

I must tell you. There are women on my street who do not have children and who still work at home. There are
women on my street who do not have children and who leave every day for work, dressed in expensive clothes. There are women on my street who do have children and who still leave every day for work, the clothes only slightly less expensive. I am not stupid. I know that all of those options were at one time available to me, that some of them still are. I am not shallow enough to think that typing someone's letters is more noble than caring for children. I know I could do both, have my children and work. I could teach part-time at the high school. But last week I found myself throwing out all my physics notes, and I can't remember the name of the geometry that works for the universe, and I can't, cannot move from this house. As I grew up I spent all my time inside the house and now my children are growing up in the house; I can't even push them into the back yard to play. I'm afraid that when it comes down to it I'm not very good for them. I'm afraid of that.

Every day I think this is the day I will make a decision to do something, and every day I am unable to make a decision. I am waiting for you to knock me out of orbit, to cause combustion, to make me explode. When I think about leaving with you, I can't imagine living more than three or four more years and I am not at all frightened by that thought. When I imagine staying here, I'm afraid of every ache, every trip of the foot; I must live until I'm very old, I must. This makes little sense, but it's the way I feel. Possibly I don't want you to see me when I'm old—I know that you would leave me in a while, I know that and I wouldn't want to live beyond that, having lived my life somehow to avoid loneliness. But the other, why it's so important to live so long, that I don't
understand. Sometimes I think the stars, the universe, the earth must feel this way, this ambivalence, secure in their circles, their safe fixed cycles, but waiting for the day when the edge of the universe begins its collapse inward (the way paper burns from the outside in) toward the center, first a few stars, then more, a gathering fireball, all the stars waiting and then the rush, the thrill in those eons when they know it's coming, are waiting to be consumed, the exquisite beauty of that chaos and just so, just in that way I expect you at all moments, fear you, and expect you to make me luminous, incandescent for a while.

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