Sitting Guard

Screenshot 2017-11-01 07.15.47BY VICTOR WALKER

Some days are better than others,

some days are worse than others,

some days just are.

 

This was going to be one of those better days, I hoped.

Did I resent my mother’s remarrying?

It was Dr. Runner who suggested that I write down my feelings between sessions.  So that’s what I’ve done:

I was happy for her.  I even gave her away at the wedding.  She made a beautiful bride.

I showed Dr. Runner the pictures I had taken on my cellphone.

He’s a year younger than she is, I told him.

Does that bother me?  Not really.

My dad had been almost ten years older, however.  That can be quite a lot when a couple gets up in age.  Personally, I don’t think most people can stay married for more than seven years before serious problems begin to appear.  It’s like owning a car.  After seven years you get another one.

Your first car is just about speed and fun and driving with the top down.  You’re not thinking about the long haul—the countless errands, the endless lines of traffic, the forty dollar fill-ups at the gas pump.

Where the highway was once a chance to air her out, that open road is now just a place to close the windows, turn on the air, and hit the cruise control.  Seven years is all any car really has in her.  And maybe only two really good ones at that.  The way I look at it, my mom and dad were way ahead of the game.

Next week would have been their ruby anniversary.  I looked it up.  That’s almost six new car lives.  Ruby is also my birthstone.  I’ll be forty this July.

Does that bother me?  Not really.

Anyway, I’m very happy for her.  For both of them.  It’s no good getting old by yourself.

They’re going to Costa Rica for their honeymoon.  You know, my mom’s sixty-one—no, sixty-two—and this’ll be the first time she’s ever really been anywhere outside of the country.  I had to drive her down to our post office to help her apply for a passport.  She refused to wear her glasses.  She wouldn’t wear them to the wedding either.  To tell the truth, I was a little afraid that she might trip when I walked her down the aisle, but she didn’t.

I told her she’ll have to make the trip to the mall by herself, however, to get any beachwear she needs.  My sixty-two-year-old mother in a bathing suit!

Does that bother me?

Why should it?  She deserves to have a life.  Not that she didn’t have a life before.

I remember when I was growing up, she and my dad used to have this thing together, a kind of a date night.  Once a month, they’d get a sitter and they’d go out to dinner or a show.  My mom loved the movies.  My dad did, too, but I also think he did it mostly because he loved her.

I remember her favorite movie star was Cary Grant, and her favorite Cary Grant movie was North by Northwest with Eva Marie Saint, who my mom looked a little bit like.  It was that movie they went to see the night my dad proposed to her.  Or at least that’s how the story went.

Anyway, for their honeymoon, my dad’s older brother, Asa, drove them to Chicago (part of the movie was set there) where they had lunch at Marshall Field’s and dinner at The Palmer House before the next day taking a sleeper from the old North Western Train Station all the way up to Rapid City, South Dakota just so they could honeymoon at “the foot” of Mount Rushmore, which must have raised some kind of 4th Amendment red flag, I mean having four of the nation’s greatest Presidents practically peering into your bedroom window.

I kid.

There is that last bit of nifty camera work at the very end of North by Northwest, however, just after Cary Grant rescues Eva Marie Saint from falling off the monument by hoisting her all the way up into the upper berth of their honeymoon sleeper and kissing her, just as their speeding train plunges headlong into a mountain tunnel.

I must’ve seen that movie at least a half-dozen times, and even though intellectually I know it’s just a movie, I like to think that I was conceived in that very tunnel.

That’s childish isn’t it, to hold onto something silly like that?  At forty?  

 *

When my mother initially told me she and Stan (her new husband’s name) would be going to Costa Rica on their honeymoon I had to look it up online.  At first I thought it was an island.  (It sounds like an island, doesn’t it?) But it’s actually an isthmus, which is a kind of a land bridge between two larger bodies.  In the case of Costa Rica, it connects with Nicaragua on the north and Panama on the south, with the Caribbean to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.  And although it’s only about the size of West Virginia, it has sandy beaches, tropical rainforests, and six active volcanoes!  It was in fact, as I found out later, where Jurassic Park was supposed to be set.  (Curiously enough, Stan bears a passing resemblance to Sam Neill, though I’m sure my mother never saw Jurassic Park.  She hardly goes out to movies anymore, and that’s definitely not the kind of movie she would go to if she did.)

In any event, she and Stan certainly weren’t going to be roughing it in a jungle or running from raptors.  They’ll be honeymooning at The Shaka Beach Retreat, a 5-star resort hotel, according to TripAdvisor.

Does that bother me?

Let’s just say that at sixty-two it’s hard to picture my mother strolling along a tropical moonlit beach in a bathing suit.

I have to go all the way back to when I was a boy for that.  I remember one summer trip to the mountains.  (I couldn’t have been more than maybe nine.)  We’d stopped at a motel halfway there that had an outdoor pool, a water slide, a diving board, and deck chairs with big beach-type umbrellas.  Most of the kids, my age and younger, were in the pool.  Most of their parents were reclining on loungers or sitting in patio chairs drinking Cokes and lemonade or playing cards around the pool.  A lot of the women still had on their earrings (which caught the sun), protective garden hats, big sunglasses, and smelled of sunscreen, while most of the men were wearing golf and fishing hats, short-sleeve shirts and shorts, with deck shoes and sandals which they wore over white crew neck or navy blue or black knee socks.  They were all smoking, reading paperbacks or magazines (or, as I said, playing cards), and occasionally looking up to tell “Mikey” or “Terri” to stop running around the pool and “play nice” with their little brother or sister.

None of them stuck even so much as their big toe in the water.

I remember sitting on the edge of the shallow end motorboating with my feet, my dad sitting by himself under one of the umbrellas, listening to his transistor radio through an earplug (I’m sure a ballgame) and sipping an iced tea I’d seen him spike from one of the little flight bottles of rum or bourbon or vodka he took out of his breast pocket as soon as he’d gotten away from my mom. He always brought the little bottles back with him from company trips.  (I collected all his empties.)  Sometimes he’d also bring me back a pair of plastic pilot wings he’d gotten from one of the stewardesses as well.

Do you remember those National Airlines ads?  I do—I’m KiKi.  Fly me. 

My mother was still up in the room putting on her bathing suit.  She was always the last one to be ready whenever we went anywhere in the car, and my dad would always give me a look while we waited for her that seemed to say, Women!  What’re-ya-gonna-do? which always made me smile, and think, Women!  What’re-ya-gonna-do?

Whenever we went on long car trips, my mom always had control of the car radio (This was before FM and stereo speakers were standard.  And only one or two of the AM stations even played rock-and-roll), which meant an almost steady stream of Rosemary Clooney and Vic Damone-type crooners on all our trips.  Silly songs like “Come On – A My House” or sappy love ones like “Cherokee.”

It was even worse when she made me go clothes-shopping with her and I had to sit outside the changing rooms (“guarding” her purse) while she tried on dress after dress after dress, and then in-between each one she’d come out and ask me what I thought (They were dresses, for chrissake!), saying, You’re a man.  What do you think? as if to mollify me.

No way.  At minimum, I was getting a hamburger and a milkshake out of it.

At least in the backseat of our car, I could roll down the windows and get some fresh air to drown out all that crooning.  (Even the word sounds icky.)  We didn’t have air-conditioning back then either; that came with our next car.

Don’t put your head out of the back window and open your mouth like that!  You’re not a dog! she’d say.

I don’t know, my dad would chime in, maybe he was an Airedale in a former life.

I remember seeing my dad’s eyes crinkling up in the rearview mirror and smiling back at them.  I didn’t have to see my mother’s eyes.

Even though the back of my neck was sweating and the backs of my thighs were sticking to the car upholstery for the remainder of the drive to the motel, I still needed to work up the courage just to ease into the motel’s pool.

An only child just doesn’t jump into things.

I remember looking back at my dad to get an encouraging thumbs-up, but he was smiling and talking to some woman who was wearing one of the motel’s signature white terrycloth robes, which had a picture of an Indian maiden painted on the back.

Up in our room, I remember there had been several robes hanging from the shower rod.  Besides the Indian maiden, there had been one with an Indian chief in full regalia (which thankfully my dad had left upstairs) and two kiddie robes hanging on hooks behind the bathroom door, one stenciled Tommy Hawk, the other Minnie Haha.  They were just the sort of getups some moms no doubt thought were “perfectly adorable.”  But there was no way I would’ve been caught dead in one.

Anyway, “Tiger Lily” (or whoever she was) leaned down and peeled the paper wrapper off my dad’s straw, blew it at him, and took a sip of his iced tea, before setting it down on the glass-top table between them, causing me to glance anxiously back up toward our room door, which—thankfully—was still closed.

In all those TV westerns I loved, the good guy would have immediately spun the bad guy around by the shoulder catching him flush on the chin with a solid right cross sending him tumbling backward and splashing into a horse’s watering trough (or in this case, the motel pool).  Except this wasn’t a he but a she—and even if she was an “Injun,” The Code of the West didn’t allow you to sock a girl on the jaw, especially if you fancied yourself a Roy Rogers or a Marshal Dillon type.  Even if you thought she was trying to rustle your dad away.

So all I could do was shoot a dirty look at her back, hoping it would prick her between the shoulder blades like some voodoo doll.

Of course, that didn’t work.  If anything, it seemed to have had just the opposite effect, for she almost immediately loosened her belt and let her robe slip down from her shoulders, draping it across the back of the empty deck chair beside my dad—my mother’s chair—before saying something to my smiling dad which I was too far away from them to hear, leaving it to my imagination, before she finally padded off barefoot toward the far end of the pool.

Good riddance! I thought, although even then I couldn’t help following after her with my gaze, just as I couldn’t help noticing my dad doing the exact same thing, as were several of the other men sitting around the pool (as well as some of their wives, too) in the same way we might all have ogled a ring girl between the rounds of a professional prizefight.

Only this one was wearing an old-fashioned, 1950s-style, two-piece swimsuit that cupped rather than exposed the pouty underlip of her buttocks.  On the backside of her upper thigh (for I could still only see her from behind) was a small mole, or perhaps a beauty mark or a bee sting, the size of a bullet hole, TV westerns, as I’ve said, being my nine-year-old mind’s principal frame of reference, which together gave me a wholly unexpected but no-mistaking-the-feeling sudden surge of arousal.

Easing down from the edge of the pool into the water to cover up my growing embarrassment, I was suddenly taken aback by the shock of cold water gushing out from between my legs redirecting a slew of quavering bubbles up to the surface, for in my haste to take cover, I had inadvertently slipped into the pool over one of the inlet returns.  And now suddenly it was not a prepubescent erection that threatened me with mortification but the even more public display of a seeming flatulence that was of much more immediate concern.

Fortunately, and to my great relief, no one even glanced my way.  Not my dad, not any of the other families.  No one.

The kids jumping off the diving board were all still launching themselves willy-nilly into the pool like a bunch of screaming meemies and human cannonballs, seeing which ones could outdo the others in drenching the greatest number of poolside parents with their broadside volleys.  (Think: “Wipeout”—The Surfaris’ version—which begins with that manic laugh and cackle:  wipeout!—not the Ventures’.)

She was the only adult in a line of jostling kids, a calm eye in the ear-piercing storm surrounding her, adjusting her swim goggles and making sure what stray strands of hair she had missed were properly tucked underneath her skull cap as she patiently waited her turn to walk the plank.

I remember looking back at my father, earplug drooping over his shoulder now as she mounted—no, ascended—the diving board.  Or at least seemed to.  Perhaps she floated.

Standing supremely alone and backlit by the sun, she looked positively statuesque.  There almost as an apparition really, or a phantasm.

My dad shaded his eyes, and I squinted and raised my imaginary Red Ryder BB rifle (an air gun that I, like Ralphie, only wished I’d had) and took careful aim.

In absolutely no hurry, as if stepping out onto a red carpet, she strode to the end of the board and cupping her toes over the edge, she paused and…  waved!

Not just at my dad, but at me as well.

What is she doing?! I thought.

Then she gathered herself, bouncing once…twice…a third time before springing up off the end of the board and into the air, almost as if to take flight.

If I had been the cowboy I had thought I was, if I had been the hunter I had wished I were, if I had been the avenging angel I had wanted to be I would have pulled the trigger at the very apex of her launch.

But I was her son.

And so I lowered my rifle.

Victor Walker is a former teacher and a full-time writer. His short stories have appeared in New Black Voices, The Wisconsin Review, The Long Story, The MacGuffin, Red Rock Review, The Baltimore Review and other literary publications. A Chicagoan, he is presently living in Easton, Pennsylvania