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Retribution
By Lucille lucil95783@aol.com
Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Do you trust, or not?

RETRIBUTION
by
Lucille Bellucci

"When I went in and saw the mess, the blood all over the rubble, I had a flash of the rest of my life." He tapped off a half-inch of ash into the overflowing glass ashtray, then stared into the red eye of the burning end. Janice's hand twitched. A man could put out his own eye with anything; a hot coal may have just occurred to him as the most appropriate, a Biblical instrument of self-retribution. The bartender was looking at him. Cory put down the cigarette and smiled. It was the saddest smile Janice had ever seen in her life.
"It was the damnedest thing. I looked down at my feet and there was Molly's wedding ring, shining amongst the broken concrete. I couldn't take it in for a minute. The bomb had taken out three floors, the roof was down on the street, and I couldn't understand how a ring could have flown from my wife's finger. Stupid. I remember thinking that maybe if I searched I'd find the football Jimmy was playing with when I left. I think I hoped I wouldn't find Jimmy." He drank off his double Scotch. "That's it for tonight," he said. "I've got too many things to do before I dedicate my liver seriously to alcohol."
"Tell me what things." At Terry's, the bar that you read about in the "Singles and Such" column in the San Francisco Bay, she gave up very few commodious answers to his questions. I'm single, she said. That's enough, isn't it?
That's the main thing, yes, he had agreed, smiling.
She took that smile home with her, thinking, There are tears standing in his eyes when he smiles, even if I can't see them. Why can't I meet happy men?
In bars like Terry's the happy men were types with hides a yard thick and ambitions that led to the nearest bed. A lot of them were married. Then there were the anxious men who made her uncomfortable. A bad divorce (were there any good ones?) in their histories gave them twitches the moment she expressed an opinion. Even a mild declaration that she didn't like football upset them.
"I admire your projects," she told Cory on their third meeting. I don't know anybody who would give up his time and own money to go digging wells in the Sudan. Have you turned up any water, yet?"
"Not a single, damned one. I don't know which is worse, lack of sufficient water or the disease that kills every second kid in the family. I pack in what medicines I can, but I feel like a jackass telling the parents to boil their clothes and utensils and keep their hands clean. What with? When they can get a cupful of water they drink it, bugs and all."
"But you keep going back, don't you?"
"Whenever I can get away from the business in Dallas.” In the late evening of a quiet Chestnut Street, their footsteps sounded louder than his voice. "My grandma--she's quite a woman--says 'You can't take it with you, I know, but do you have to take it so far?'" He laughed. "Look at the fog rolling in. Does it make you sad?"
"I like it. San Franciscans are terribly proud of their fog. We act like nobody else has a right to it." She could smell his cologne, something like straw and heather.
At the foot of a short flight of steps to her Marina District duplex she stopped.
"I live here. Do you want to come up for some coffee?" Her own voice was quiet, though every function of her vitals had speeded up, blood and lungs and heartrate; since Roger died she had not invited a man to her home.
Cory said, just as quietly, "I'd like to, very much."
The coffee was not the best she had ever made, but when he set his cup down after a couple of sips, she knew it wasn't because of the quality of the brew. She put hers down, too. They looked at each other.
"May we, please?" he asked.
Several times, as they made love, she almost called him Roger.
You're awesome, Cory kept saying. Your warm heart warms mine. Passionate, warm lady. Then finally he said, his lips against her neck, Thank you.
When she got up to heat up their coffee and brought it to bed with two snifters of cognac, he had all her four pillows bunched at his back.
"This is a magnificent bed," he said, his next remark unspoken but clear in the question in his eyes.
"There is no one else in contention for the space.” Should she tell him? Roger had died in that bed. He had awakened dying. The heart attack killed him before she could dial 911.
Next morning it was Sunday. After she had given Cory breakfast and called him a taxi--he said he was not about to start using her to chauffeur him to the airport--she telephoned her mother.
"You sound different," her mother said, cautiously. Janice couldn't blame her. A year ago she had murmured that there might be a time Janice could think of getting married again, and her daughter had said, Don't. Between mothers and daughters the colors and textures of voices were more eloquent than bombs or roses.
Bombs, thought Janice. The real thing made everything else feel petty and whiny.
She gave her an expurgated version of her meetings with Cory.
"How does he think he can help his wife and son now, by digging wells in Africa?"
"He does it for himself, Mother, because he feels guilty he didn't protect them. Beirut was getting dangerous and he should have sent them home. He needs to do something useful for someone. It's the only thing he can think of to do, an act of..."
"Expiation."
"Yes."
"And he feels he should have died with them."
Thanks to TV and the movies, thought Janice, everyone was an expert psychologist.
Her mother said, "I'm not such a dummy, Janice. These things can't be worked out according to a timetable. I merely wanted to know if you feel the man is beyond emotional redemption. Is he going to be good for you or bad for you? I'm sorry about his family, but it's you I'm thinking about."
"He still has a daughter. In school in Switzerland. She was in school when her mother and brother were killed. So he has her to live for."
"I don't know what it is about women, Janice. What makes us want to stroke and cuddle a wounded man? Is it purely maternal, does it make him...I can't say it."
"Sexy."
"Well, all right. We're fools, anyway. You're not still going to that place at night, I hope. Janice, I can't help worrying about it."
"I'm not going there anymore, Mother. But if I did...."
"Yes." A sigh. "You're a grown woman, etc. etc."
A week later, late at night, Cory telephoned her. "I'm at the airport, passing through to Phoenix. I wish I was with you."
"I do, too." She wasn't going to ask when he planned to be back.
"I want you so much. I can't ask you not to see anyone else..."
"You can't." She relented. "I'm not seeing anyone, and I won't."
"I'm falling in love," he said. "It makes me so sad, isn't that crazy? I have to be in San Francisco in ten days. Wait for me."
On a Friday night, she turned on the stoop light and looked through the peephole. A mass of tawny day lilies filled the narrow scope of her view. She flung open the door.
Cory stepped forward and held her tight; the crushed day lilies smelled like gardenias. "This is the first time I've seen you smile. You look like a day lily with white teeth. What makes a woman so good-looking want with a rumpled type like me?"
He was handsomer than he thought, but that was merely a dividend. She hoped to learn he had interests that she and Roger had shared in common: did he like to read? Sailing? Foreign films? Slowly, she told herself, Don't push. There are no clones to Roger. Enjoy the now.
He was always thanking her. He perceived the little gestures exchanged by lovers as miracles he had never hoped to experience again.
The next time he telephoned he said, "Sorry I wasn't home when you called. But I'm glad you did. Your voice is the best thing in the world to hear." They talked until he said he had to call his daughter, Ellen. The seven-hour time difference between Texas and Zurich always made their communications a tricky business.
"How do you manage from Sudan?"
He groaned. "I don't."
One night on a weekend in October she got up to go to the bathroom and slipped back into bed beside him as if he had always been there. That he always had to fly off on Sunday night to go on to Tulsa, or Phoenix, or back to Dallas, assumed the cast, in her mind, of a long and troublesome commute until the next time he could return. Sometimes she telephoned him in Dallas, leaving her message. On one of those calls she said, finally, I love you, Cory; her one to his two dozen times on the telephone, in her arms, over her suppers, even as she washed dishes.
Her mother asked, "But what is it he manufactures, Janice? And why does he travel so much on its account?"
"It's an oil pump, Mother. His family has a patent on it; his uncle runs the plant. His parents are dead, so he and his cousin are partners. Cory takes care of most of the sales and servicing in the United States."
"But what about his daughter? Doesn't she ever come home on a visit?"
"She graduates next year, and then she'll come home for good." Like a child, she covered her mouth with her hand to keep from telling her special news. When her mother got around to discussing Christmas dinner, Janice planned to say, casually, I'm flying to Zurich with Cory for Christmas. He wants me to meet Ellen.
This had come about because she had said, having decided to be forthright, "I love you, and you love me. What happens now?" He looked frightened. "I don't deserve...."
"Cory, you do. You couldn't help what happened in Beirut.
I think you are doing a wonderful thing, Cory, regardless of why you are doing it. But I hope you won't punish yourself forever. You can allow someone to love you and you can't stop me, anyhow. So, may I know if...." She turned red with shame.
He said, slowly, "I've already been thinking...with Christmas coming up. It's time you met Ellen."
She spent the most money she ever had in her life on a pair of boots; they were Ferragamos, a soft gray suede, with two-and-a-half-inch heels, and sleeked her legs to the knee in a way that made her realize she needed a new coat. The coat, a gray darker than the boots, slim in front and full in the back, cried out for the astrakhan muff showed her and, why not, a matching hat. She could afford them. Her salary hadn't gone for anything but food for two years. Then she thought of how she would look to Ellen, rigged out in one perfect outfit, planned to impress or oppress, a threat for the future, and she told the saleswoman she would just take the coat.


Cory said, "Ellen will love you. Who wouldn't? Will you always make breakfasts like this for us?”
She drank her coffee, eyes lowered, as though Cory's last sentence for all its calmness hadn't leaped at her.
Last month the rusty watering can in her hand felt unfamiliar as she attempted to revive the azalea on her tiny deck. But it was all coming back. After he left she straightened up her apartment thinking about the snapshot of Ellen, serious and tall for sixteen, perhaps in need of a good deal of hugging, which Janice longed to give her. Cory had not shown her photographs of his wife and son. She understood that, and was glad he hadn't. It was Ellen she thought about most. She realized she was nervous.
Five days before Christmas she was packed and ready. She told her mother, "Cory is coming to town to clear up some last business, then we'll fly to New York tonight. He wants to take me skating at Rockefeller Center." She laughed.
"But you don't know how to ice skate," her mother said.
"I told him that. He doesn't care. He just wants me to get out on the ice with him."
"It sounds as though his wife used to do it."
Janice had thought of that. Her mother had emotional antennae directly wired to Janice's mind. Sometimes their talks forced her to tackle notions she didn't particularly want to acknowledge just then.
Though she was hungry, she contented herself with a cup of tea until she could eat dinner at the airport with Cory. By nine she had turned the TV on and off six times; at midnight she undressed, laying her clothes on a chair in case she had to dress again in a hurry, and got into bed. At five o'clock she was still awake; the trash collectors made their usual din under the window, but the phone and doorbell remained silent.
She got up and made coffee and toast and ate the toast dry while standing at the window. The pre-dawn fog made the world outside blurry; she was imagining, had been for hours, a flux of accidents befallen Cory. He traveled so much; every trip challenged the odds of chance against his safety. She picked up the telephone and dialed his number in Dallas. The phone there rang and rang and rang. No answering announcement invited her to leave a message.
At noon she went out for a walk. Chestnut Street was decked out for Christmas, strung with bright tinsel across the roadway proclaiming Happy Holidays in green and red. She walked six blocks to Terry's. The bartender was the same one who had attended her and Cory. She gestured for him to come closer.
"Do you remember the man I was with the last few times I was in here six months ago?" He would be annoyed, she thought. How was he supposed to remember either her OR her friend, and so long ago? Drinkers came and went.
"I remember you," he said. He had customers looking down the bar at him, but he stayed. His hands kept busy opening a wine bottle.
"Do you remember him?"
"I do, as a matter of fact." His blue eyes, reddened by cigarette smoke, were directed at the wine bottle again.
"Cory Watson," she said. "His name is Cory Watson. I have a message for him. Could I leave it with you?"
"Cory." He studied the wine bottle, then he looked at her. "I've heard you calling him Cory."
"It's Cory for Cornell."
He put down the bottle with a thump and leaned over and said softly, "The name on his charge tabs is Edward Skennit." He glanced away to avoid the accident of her face, then shrugged and looked back to her. "He told me once it wasn't any use trying to beat the traffic over the bridge before seven o'clock and he was pretty tired of driving home in that mess."
"Bridge?"
"The Bay Bridge. He said he lived in Oakland." Swiftly, he reached behind and grabbed a bottle and poured her a drink. It was whiskey, as he had known all along it would be. She admired that. The words Oakland and home were still suspended in the air between the bartender's mouth and her skull; they vied with each other to penetrate the bone.
"Edward...."
"Skennit." He spelled it for her. "Ma'am, don't let it upset you. I see lots of decent people, too. Stay a while, rest up."
She turned and walked out of Terry's.
At home she dialed Information for East Bay and asked for Edward Skennit in Oakland. Then she dialed the number. After three rings a woman said, "Hello."
"Mrs. Skennit?" That was safe to assume; besides, it could be his mother, aunt, or grandmother. Maybe it was the cleaning woman.
"Yes. Who is it, please?"
"Are you the wife of Edward Skennit?"
"Yes, I am." The voice became louder. "Who is this?"
Janice fell mute. She had not thought this far. She said, slowly, "My name is Janice Kittredge," and was again silent.
Mrs. Skennit waited.
"I think I know your husband. I could have the wrong house."
But the woman said, harshly, "Describe him."
"He's about five-eleven. He has brown hair with some gray in it. Blue eyes. He wears, sometimes he wears a blue Harris tweed jacket with gray pants and black laced shoes."
"That's all you know?"
"He had a bursitis attack in his left elbow in September."
The silence this time lasted until Janice said, "He said he lived in Dallas, Texas. I've been calling him there."
A derisory sound in her ear. "But you always had to leave a message, didn't you?"
Instead of answering, Janice asked, "Do you have children, Mrs. Skennit?"
"Two, a boy and a girl."
"Is she, is her name Ellen? Is she about sixteen?"
The voice sounded depleted of energy, "He has gone over the top. I'm going to divorce him. I put up with the last two times because I'm an RN and I work nights. Believe it or not, that makes fighting with your husband difficult to do. Number three is all I can take."
Janice could hear the woman's breathing over the line. Simultaneously, they both said, "I'm sorry." She hung up.
After a few minutes, during which she watched a hummingbird (a resurrected dependent, like her azalea) dipping into the feeder she had begun refilling, she picked up the telephone again to dial her mother's number. She hung up before she finished. I am an independent woman, she told herself. She had still to sort out her feelings, but for the moment the brilliance of her anger glowed in her body like a high fever. When that burned out, she knew the shape and sense of herself again would be altered. Would she become like one of those wounded males at Terry’s? No. She would be better than that. Add or subtract, she was already changing, moving along the road she was to travel.
###












RETRIBUTION
by
Lucille Bellucci

"When I went in and saw the mess, the blood all over the rubble, I had a flash of the rest of my life." He tapped off a half-inch of ash into the overflowing glass ashtray, then stared into the red eye of the burning end. Janice's hand twitched. A man could put out his own eye with anything; a hot coal may have just occurred to him as the most appropriate, a Biblical instrument of self-retribution. The bartender was looking at him. Cory put down the cigarette and smiled. It was the saddest smile Janice had ever seen in her life.
"It was the damnedest thing. I looked down at my feet and there was Molly's wedding ring, shining amongst the broken concrete. I couldn't take it in for a minute. The bomb had taken out three floors, the roof was down on the street, and I couldn't understand how a ring could have flown from my wife's finger. Stupid. I remember thinking that maybe if I searched I'd find the football Jimmy was playing with when I left. I think I hoped I wouldn't find Jimmy." He drank off his double Scotch. "That's it for tonight," he said. "I've got too many things to do before I dedicate my liver seriously to alcohol."
"Tell me what things." At Terry's, the bar that you read about in the "Singles and Such" column in the San Francisco Bay, she gave up very few commodious answers to his questions. I'm single, she said. That's enough, isn't it?
That's the main thing, yes, he had agreed, smiling.
She took that smile home with her, thinking, There are tears standing in his eyes when he smiles, even if I can't see them. Why can't I meet happy men?
In bars like Terry's the happy men were types with hides a yard thick and ambitions that led to the nearest bed. A lot of them were married. Then there were the anxious men who made her uncomfortable. A bad divorce (were there any good ones?) in their histories gave them twitches the moment she expressed an opinion. Even a mild declaration that she didn't like football upset them.
"I admire your projects," she told Cory on their third meeting. I don't know anybody who would give up his time and own money to go digging wells in the Sudan. Have you turned up any water, yet?"
"Not a single, damned one. I don't know which is worse, lack of sufficient water or the disease that kills every second kid in the family. I pack in what medicines I can, but I feel like a jackass telling the parents to boil their clothes and utensils and keep their hands clean. What with? When they can get a cupful of water they drink it, bugs and all."
"But you keep going back, don't you?"
"Whenever I can get away from the business in Dallas.” In the late evening of a quiet Chestnut Street, their footsteps sounded louder than his voice. "My grandma--she's quite a woman--says 'You can't take it with you, I know, but do you have to take it so far?'" He laughed. "Look at the fog rolling in. Does it make you sad?"
"I like it. San Franciscans are terribly proud of their fog. We act like nobody else has a right to it." She could smell his cologne, something like straw and heather.
At the foot of a short flight of steps to her Marina District duplex she stopped.
"I live here. Do you want to come up for some coffee?" Her own voice was quiet, though every function of her vitals had speeded up, blood and lungs and heartrate; since Roger died she had not invited a man to her home.
Cory said, just as quietly, "I'd like to, very much."
The coffee was not the best she had ever made, but when he set his cup down after a couple of sips, she knew it wasn't because of the quality of the brew. She put hers down, too. They looked at each other.
"May we, please?" he asked.
Several times, as they made love, she almost called him Roger.
You're awesome, Cory kept saying. Your warm heart warms mine. Passionate, warm lady. Then finally he said, his lips against her neck, Thank you.
When she got up to heat up their coffee and brought it to bed with two snifters of cognac, he had all her four pillows bunched at his back.
"This is a magnificent bed," he said, his next remark unspoken but clear in the question in his eyes.
"There is no one else in contention for the space.” Should she tell him? Roger had died in that bed. He had awakened dying. The heart attack killed him before she could dial 911.
Next morning it was Sunday. After she had given Cory breakfast and called him a taxi--he said he was not about to start using her to chauffeur him to the airport--she telephoned her mother.
"You sound different," her mother said, cautiously. Janice couldn't blame her. A year ago she had murmured that there might be a time Janice could think of getting married again, and her daughter had said, Don't. Between mothers and daughters the colors and textures of voices were more eloquent than bombs or roses.
Bombs, thought Janice. The real thing made everything else feel petty and whiny.
She gave her an expurgated version of her meetings with Cory.
"How does he think he can help his wife and son now, by digging wells in Africa?"
"He does it for himself, Mother, because he feels guilty he didn't protect them. Beirut was getting dangerous and he should have sent them home. He needs to do something useful for someone. It's the only thing he can think of to do, an act of..."
"Expiation."
"Yes."
"And he feels he should have died with them."
Thanks to TV and the movies, thought Janice, everyone was an expert psychologist.
Her mother said, "I'm not such a dummy, Janice. These things can't be worked out according to a timetable. I merely wanted to know if you feel the man is beyond emotional redemption. Is he going to be good for you or bad for you? I'm sorry about his family, but it's you I'm thinking about."
"He still has a daughter. In school in Switzerland. She was in school when her mother and brother were killed. So he has her to live for."
"I don't know what it is about women, Janice. What makes us want to stroke and cuddle a wounded man? Is it purely maternal, does it make him...I can't say it."
"Sexy."
"Well, all right. We're fools, anyway. You're not still going to that place at night, I hope. Janice, I can't help worrying about it."
"I'm not going there anymore, Mother. But if I did...."
"Yes." A sigh. "You're a grown woman, etc. etc."
A week later, late at night, Cory telephoned her. "I'm at the airport, passing through to Phoenix. I wish I was with you."
"I do, too." She wasn't going to ask when he planned to be back.
"I want you so much. I can't ask you not to see anyone else..."
"You can't." She relented. "I'm not seeing anyone, and I won't."
"I'm falling in love," he said. "It makes me so sad, isn't that crazy? I have to be in San Francisco in ten days. Wait for me."
On a Friday night, she turned on the stoop light and looked through the peephole. A mass of tawny day lilies filled the narrow scope of her view. She flung open the door.
Cory stepped forward and held her tight; the crushed day lilies smelled like gardenias. "This is the first time I've seen you smile. You look like a day lily with white teeth. What makes a woman so good-looking want with a rumpled type like me?"
He was handsomer than he thought, but that was merely a dividend. She hoped to learn he had interests that she and Roger had shared in common: did he like to read? Sailing? Foreign films? Slowly, she told herself, Don't push. There are no clones to Roger. Enjoy the now.
He was always thanking her. He perceived the little gestures exchanged by lovers as miracles he had never hoped to experience again.
The next time he telephoned he said, "Sorry I wasn't home when you called. But I'm glad you did. Your voice is the best thing in the world to hear." They talked until he said he had to call his daughter, Ellen. The seven-hour time difference between Texas and Zurich always made their communications a tricky business.
"How do you manage from Sudan?"
He groaned. "I don't."
One night on a weekend in October she got up to go to the bathroom and slipped back into bed beside him as if he had always been there. That he always had to fly off on Sunday night to go on to Tulsa, or Phoenix, or back to Dallas, assumed the cast, in her mind, of a long and troublesome commute until the next time he could return. Sometimes she telephoned him in Dallas, leaving her message. On one of those calls she said, finally, I love you, Cory; her one to his two dozen times on the telephone, in her arms, over her suppers, even as she washed dishes.
Her mother asked, "But what is it he manufactures, Janice? And why does he travel so much on its account?"
"It's an oil pump, Mother. His family has a patent on it; his uncle runs the plant. His parents are dead, so he and his cousin are partners. Cory takes care of most of the sales and servicing in the United States."
"But what about his daughter? Doesn't she ever come home on a visit?"
"She graduates next year, and then she'll come home for good." Like a child, she covered her mouth with her hand to keep from telling her special news. When her mother got around to discussing Christmas dinner, Janice planned to say, casually, I'm flying to Zurich with Cory for Christmas. He wants me to meet Ellen.
This had come about because she had said, having decided to be forthright, "I love you, and you love me. What happens now?" He looked frightened. "I don't deserve...."
"Cory, you do. You couldn't help what happened in Beirut.
I think you are doing a wonderful thing, Cory, regardless of why you are doing it. But I hope you won't punish yourself forever. You can allow someone to love you and you can't stop me, anyhow. So, may I know if...." She turned red with shame.
He said, slowly, "I've already been thinking...with Christmas coming up. It's time you met Ellen."
She spent the most money she ever had in her life on a pair of boots; they were Ferragamos, a soft gray suede, with two-and-a-half-inch heels, and sleeked her legs to the knee in a way that made her realize she needed a new coat. The coat, a gray darker than the boots, slim in front and full in the back, cried out for the astrakhan muff showed her and, why not, a matching hat. She could afford them. Her salary hadn't gone for anything but food for two years. Then she thought of how she would look to Ellen, rigged out in one perfect outfit, planned to impress or oppress, a threat for the future, and she told the saleswoman she would just take the coat.


Cory said, "Ellen will love you. Who wouldn't? Will you always make breakfasts like this for us?”
She drank her coffee, eyes lowered, as though Cory's last sentence for all its calmness hadn't leaped at her.
Last month the rusty watering can in her hand felt unfamiliar as she attempted to revive the azalea on her tiny deck. But it was all coming back. After he left she straightened up her apartment thinking about the snapshot of Ellen, serious and tall for sixteen, perhaps in need of a good deal of hugging, which Janice longed to give her. Cory had not shown her photographs of his wife and son. She understood that, and was glad he hadn't. It was Ellen she thought about most. She realized she was nervous.
Five days before Christmas she was packed and ready. She told her mother, "Cory is coming to town to clear up some last business, then we'll fly to New York tonight. He wants to take me skating at Rockefeller Center." She laughed.
"But you don't know how to ice skate," her mother said.
"I told him that. He doesn't care. He just wants me to get out on the ice with him."
"It sounds as though his wife used to do it."
Janice had thought of that. Her mother had emotional antennae directly wired to Janice's mind. Sometimes their talks forced her to tackle notions she didn't particularly want to acknowledge just then.
Though she was hungry, she contented herself with a cup of tea until she could eat dinner at the airport with Cory. By nine she had turned the TV on and off six times; at midnight she undressed, laying her clothes on a chair in case she had to dress again in a hurry, and got into bed. At five o'clock she was still awake; the trash collectors made their usual din under the window, but the phone and doorbell remained silent.
She got up and made coffee and toast and ate the toast dry while standing at the window. The pre-dawn fog made the world outside blurry; she was imagining, had been for hours, a flux of accidents befallen Cory. He traveled so much; every trip challenged the odds of chance against his safety. She picked up the telephone and dialed his number in Dallas. The phone there rang and rang and rang. No answering announcement invited her to leave a message.
At noon she went out for a walk. Chestnut Street was decked out for Christmas, strung with bright tinsel across the roadway proclaiming Happy Holidays in green and red. She walked six blocks to Terry's. The bartender was the same one who had attended her and Cory. She gestured for him to come closer.
"Do you remember the man I was with the last few times I was in here six months ago?" He would be annoyed, she thought. How was he supposed to remember either her OR her friend, and so long ago? Drinkers came and went.
"I remember you," he said. He had customers looking down the bar at him, but he stayed. His hands kept busy opening a wine bottle.
"Do you remember him?"
"I do, as a matter of fact." His blue eyes, reddened by cigarette smoke, were directed at the wine bottle again.
"Cory Watson," she said. "His name is Cory Watson. I have a message for him. Could I leave it with you?"
"Cory." He studied the wine bottle, then he looked at her. "I've heard you calling him Cory."
"It's Cory for Cornell."
He put down the bottle with a thump and leaned over and said softly, "The name on his charge tabs is Edward Skennit." He glanced away to avoid the accident of her face, then shrugged and looked back to her. "He told me once it wasn't any use trying to beat the traffic over the bridge before seven o'clock and he was pretty tired of driving home in that mess."
"Bridge?"
"The Bay Bridge. He said he lived in Oakland." Swiftly, he reached behind and grabbed a bottle and poured her a drink. It was whiskey, as he had known all along it would be. She admired that. The words Oakland and home were still suspended in the air between the bartender's mouth and her skull; they vied with each other to penetrate the bone.
"Edward...."
"Skennit." He spelled it for her. "Ma'am, don't let it upset you. I see lots of decent people, too. Stay a while, rest up."
She turned and walked out of Terry's.
At home she dialed Information for East Bay and asked for Edward Skennit in Oakland. Then she dialed the number. After three rings a woman said, "Hello."
"Mrs. Skennit?" That was safe to assume; besides, it could be his mother, aunt, or grandmother. Maybe it was the cleaning woman.
"Yes. Who is it, please?"
"Are you the wife of Edward Skennit?"
"Yes, I am." The voice became louder. "Who is this?"
Janice fell mute. She had not thought this far. She said, slowly, "My name is Janice Kittredge," and was again silent.
Mrs. Skennit waited.
"I think I know your husband. I could have the wrong house."
But the woman said, harshly, "Describe him."
"He's about five-eleven. He has brown hair with some gray in it. Blue eyes. He wears, sometimes he wears a blue Harris tweed jacket with gray pants and black laced shoes."
"That's all you know?"
"He had a bursitis attack in his left elbow in September."
The silence this time lasted until Janice said, "He said he lived in Dallas, Texas. I've been calling him there."
A derisory sound in her ear. "But you always had to leave a message, didn't you?"
Instead of answering, Janice asked, "Do you have children, Mrs. Skennit?"
"Two, a boy and a girl."
"Is she, is her name Ellen? Is she about sixteen?"
The voice sounded depleted of energy, "He has gone over the top. I'm going to divorce him. I put up with the last two times because I'm an RN and I work nights. Believe it or not, that makes fighting with your husband difficult to do. Number three is all I can take."
Janice could hear the woman's breathing over the line. Simultaneously, they both said, "I'm sorry." She hung up.
After a few minutes, during which she watched a hummingbird (a resurrected dependent, like her azalea) dipping into the feeder she had begun refilling, she picked up the telephone again to dial her mother's number. She hung up before she finished. I am an independent woman, she told herself. She had still to sort out her feelings, but for the moment the brilliance of her anger glowed in her body like a high fever. When that burned out, she knew the shape and sense of herself again would be altered. Would she become like one of those wounded males at Terry’s? No. She would be better than that. Add or subtract, she was already changing, moving along the road she was to travel.
###





       Web Site: Lucille Bellucci, A Writer

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