Any Other Day
A Short Story by Liz Varley
Written using the suggestion "Digest"
Originally featured on 01-04-2007
As part of our series "Phases of a Holiday Meal"

 

His engine finally turns over after fifteen minutes or so of swearing and near-crying. He’d left the lights for a late night horseshoe game, one he’d lost twenty bucks on to boot. Frankie had finished off a twelve pack of PBR and had schooled him. Schooled him and drained his battery. Now he only had a half hour to get to Georgia’s house. I can’t be late anymore, he tells himself. I can’t play horseshoes all night either, he adds.

“Today’s the day,” he says to himself, turning his truck onto the highway.

Georgia is counting the days by her birth control pills. Thursday? She thinks to herself. Rob is coming soon then. She looks at the stack of dishes and the various newspapers opened to the crossword, each abandoned after the obvious answers had been filled in. A half full can of pork and beans sits on the counter, the lid pulled wide open. Nadia is crying. Georgia hurriedly sweeps the dishes into the sink and fills it with soapy water, suds spilling out onto the counter and bits onto the floor. She collects the papers in wads and heaps them into the fireplace for later. Nadia is still crying.

“Coming baby!” she calls, running the broom along the floor, its bristles gone wild over the years and doing more spreading than collecting. She shoos the dirt out the front door.

With Nadia in her arms she pours milk into a pink sip cup while her daughter grips at her long collarbone.

“Someone needs to have their nails trimmed,” she says quietly, not sure who she is referring to, her own nails being bitten down and slightly jagged. Nadia is thirsty and chugs down the milk, cheeks billowing in and out with the effort. Georgia smiles. With her free hand she scrubs the linoleum table of its marmalade spots and dried cereal pieces. On the floor is a crusted tomato slice, and Georgia pictures Nadia flinging it from her highchair days ago, after a long “ewwww”.

She hears Rob’s truck turning into her driveway, the hot purr of the diesel engine stopping just before the front window. She can smell the exhaust.

“Damn it Rob,” she says, covering Nadia’s ears. The engine turns off with a shudder. Nadia’s lips loosen around the cup top, now more curious than hungry. Georgia hears his boots hit the gravel driveway and she glances around the room fervently, looking for a hair tie, some chapstick, something. It’s too late and Rob is at the door, knocking though he doesn’t have to. Nadia is looking intensely at the window.

“Truck?” she says, making the word into three syllables. She smiles as she sees her fathers face, reaches her arms out to him when Georgia opens the door.

“I’m sorry it’s such a mess,” Georgia says, having seen Rob’s eyes flicker around the room to the pile of toys next to the TV, the even bigger pile of laundry, the most recent juice stain on the rug.

“It looks fine,” he says, “but if you want, I can take the laundry for you after you get home tonight…the Laundromat is right on my way home and…”

“It’s fine, I was planning on doing it tonight anyway,” Georgia interrupts, although this isn’t true.

“Right, of course,” he says, rolling back onto his heels with Nadia in his arms, “you never need my help.” Nadia is having her own conversation, turning to look at her father, and then her mother, using her hands to accentuate.

“How’s your brother? ” she asks, eager to change the subject.

“Fine, fine. We were at the Belmont last night, with the rest of the guys.”

“You were at Belmonts?” she asks, her eyes narrowing,

“Drinking 7-Up only,” he says, and she looks him over. His hair is clean and combed back, his brown eyes clear, even soft. It’s only been six months, she thinks to herself, don’t get too excited.

“That’s great Rob, that you can hang out there…I mean it’s a huge step.”

“Yeah. I’ve been reading a lot of philosophy lately,” Georgia’s eyes narrow again, “my sponsor recommended some books,” he explains, “to kind of make me see the bigger picture. It’s really interesting, you know, like anyone can just decide how the world works, and then try and convince people it’s true…”

“How do you think the world works, Rob?” she asks, and inadvertently looks over to the dishes still piled up in the sink, the soap bubbles slowly deflating, crackling quietly. He follows her eyes to the dishes.

“Why don’t I take care of those…” he says, “go hop in the shower and whatever else and I’ll take care of stuff for a while.” He watches her weigh the proposition in her head.

“Just don’t make my water cold.” She smiles, just a little bit. It wasn’t the kind of smile he got from her in the beginning, the big lopsided one that he fell for—it was the kind she gave to acquaintances in the supermarket, the people she would later mercilessly gossip about. He hears the water turn on in the

bathroom.

“Three months ago, though, I wasn’t even getting in the house,” he said to Nadia, back in her highchair and slowly attempting to spoon yogurt into her mouth, letting out heavy breaths in between. He looks up to the window, eyeing an orangish stain on the curtain, the general yellow grime on the sill.

“My father, your grandfather, worked at the GE plant, over in Waterford, on Route 7,” he says, turning to Nadia, whose eyes are heavy, the corners of her mouth pushing out thin white yogurt bubbles. He wipes her mouth despite protesting and lifts her up, scrubbing the dishes awkwardly.

“He worked there all his life, the whole time I was in school, and he came home at the same time everyday—five twenty-five. Every day…he never got off early, never had to stay late. It’s just crazy you know, because I feel like he’s the kind of guy Camus was talking about, but he seemed like such a hero to me.” The hair dryer is going in the bathroom and Nadia’s cheek is heavy on his shoulder.

“Your mom and me,” he continues, “we’re no different than our parents, or it seems different…I mean how do you even know if you’re living you own life, and if you think you are, is that confidence or is that denial?” He feels a wet spot forming on his shoulder where Nadia’s open mouth lies.

“I just can’t believe I spent so much time in an alcoholic stupor,” he says, hearing the bathroom door open, the decade old fan wheezing in its efforts of suck in steam, “At first it was fun, and I thought I was really living my own life and no one could tell me what to do,” he sucks in his breath and pulls his lips around his teeth, “but really, and I’m going to be honest with you, because I can. That whole time in my life…it had nothing to do with me, it was being just like everyone else.” He stacks the last plate and tips the dish tray to let the excess water drain. He scrubs the sink and Nadia wakes, sniffling a little bit as her body shakes with her father’s movements.

“It’s like, some people make you become a person you want to be, and others a person you don’t want to be, but think you should be…it’s hard to tell the difference, at the time. I wish I could know what existence seems like to you,” he said, holding Nadia out in front of him. She was missing a sock and the expression on her pudgy face was loosely ambivalent. He sighs.

“Sometimes it’s just hard to believe that so much time went by,” he says, and turns to smile at Georgia, who is barefoot and running a comb through her hair.

“What?” she asks, threading a belt through her jeans. She’s straightened her hair and is wrapping it up into a bun, holding bobby pins between her lips. She’s lost all the baby weight, he thinks, and then some.

“Are you eating okay, Georgia?” he asks, opening the refrigerator with his free hand. He sees mini yogurt containers, string cheese, juices, a few old Coronas. She shrugs, takes Nadia from his arm and puts her onto her play mat.

“I guess I don’t really notice.” A piece of still wet hair falls along the line of her cheek and he feels his heart surge slightly.

“I think we should get back together,” he says, and winces as she blushes, looks down to the floor. She goes to the highchair and snaps the table off, shakes the crumbs into the sink.

“I know,” she says, quietly. Her pale skin looks as thin as Nadia’s yogurt bubbles, he can see traces of her blue veins and imagines them running to her heart and back, over and over. He remembers how this skin felt on his fingertips. He moves towards her but realizes this is a mistake when their eyes meet. The look she places somewhere near his collarbone is indignant.

“This is because you’re a new man now, because you’ve got it all figured out. You think my situation is sad and pitiful, and that you can make it different so easily?” He shakes his head.

“It’s just that it seems so, I don’t know…obvious, I guess, that’s it’s the right thing to do.”

“Well it might seem obvious to you Rob, but for me it’s a lot to digest. Especially coming from a man who six months ago forgot his daughters first birthday.” She drops her arms, slapping her hands against her thighs. The anger turns to imploration.

“This is fine, we’re making progress,” she says, motioning her hands in between them and then to Nadia.

“She’s happy. I don’t see any reason to rush into anything…” she continues.

“But I feel like a different person, Georgia, you know?”

“Listen, Rob, I have to go to work, okay? Nadia’s ready for her nap and we can talk about this when I get home. That way you’ll have some time to think about it, about how you really want your life to be.” Her face was set and Rob knew he wasn’t going to get another word in.

“Fine, we’ll talk later,” he says, and she nods, eyes wide. She tucks a few bits of stray hair behind her ears.

“Maybe I can make dinner?” he ventures, then thinking of the empty fridge, “or get take out?” She nods, kisses Nadia’s cheek.

“It’s going to take time,” she says, “for both of us.” She kisses him lightly on the cheek before grabbing her purse, heading out the door. He watches her walk down the driveway, check her coat pocket for keys and hurry across the street, to where she will catch the bus to the restaurant.

“So this is my life now,” he says to Nadia whose fingers wrap around the threads of her blanket, “trying to have a life.” He picks Nadia up from he floor and carries her into the tiny second room, setting her down into her crib, where she immediately turns onto her side and begins to suck her thumb.

“Lucky for me,” he whispers, “all I’ve got is time.”

Read More By Liz Varley

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