11.29.2004

Excerpt from chapter twenty-one (the last one!)
of GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick




The Subaru salesmen smoked cigarettes and talked pussy, leaning against the plate-glass door of the dealership, bending spent filters into a sandy ashtray. Hopefully slick blue and white and orange and green and yellow pennants hung from a line, flapped in breeze, but there were no customers. There were no mommies to promise safety and all-wheel drive to. There was just asphalt and the whack and slip and crack of those pennants in the breeze. There was the mustardy Wendy's sign and green-arrow left turn signal and Hit or Miss women's clothing store and TJMaxx across Route One. The Radio Shack whose assistant manager promoted his cover band from his mother's former basement rec-room. Strip malls, asphalt. The promise that if you bought something, even a double bacon cheeseburger, even something that small, that you could freeze the moment, you could be okay, you could be safe.

But no mommies were coming, that morning–the mess was too big in the mommies’ homes, the mess was swarming, the mess swamped and pooled and felt like drowning. The beginning of flu season, middle of November, arrived with chapped lips and chapped bottoms and piles and piles of dishes, piles and piles of germs on the dishes.

Today it was warm, but the warmth arrived on the tail of an early, solid freeze. Creeks had already hardened, small ponds had even iced over near to their middles. The warmer morning today cracked all the sickness well into the open. This morning, it swerved to the other side of seasonable–somewhere in the high sixties, bright sun, though ice still sparkled across the fields and in the shoulders of the roads.

The Subaru salesmen edged their conversation in pure guy sureness and the pleasure of being terse. They pushed the missing mommies from their minds this way. One of them–-pink faced, not unkind, mustached, hair blown dry in a perplexing geometry if you looked at it closely–-felt the terseness give, though, felt the control of the man-conversation slip when a moment of silence descended onto Route One, no cars in either direction. Hush. Until.

Long wild tendrils of blond hair flying out the car window filled the emptiness something like a roar in reverse—a sucking-in of all noise. But it was quiet just for a moment, just until the very loud car stereo got drowned out by this driving woman’s voice. Just a regular mid-size rental, a white Ford Taurus, but inside and outside it felt like a convertible. Ruth, driving and still even as an adult perpetually too warm, had all the windows down where anyone else would have been a little chilly.

Did Kurt Dieckmann recognize Ruth when she shouted his name out the window that day, or did her voice just veer back into the taunt and crack of Mick Jagger's on the radio? Did Kurt Dieckmann swallow the sentence he had been ready to unleash on his Subaru cronies? Did he think of the.. . different. . . way their eyes would land on his wife as she walked up to the buffet at the Christmas party if they heard the exploit he was just about to tell them? Did he feel mess encroaching? And excess? And a giddy laughter that made him nervous? And his wife's unequalled, delicate jawline, the woozy drop in her voice right before she'd fall asleep? And the bloody scream of something perpetually beyond the edges of what he understood?
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