Monday, January 08, 2007

The mother of all memes

Mrs. Chicken of Chicken and Cheese started a fiction story, and great and many bloggers have had the chance to add to it. Now it's my turn. Please read our tale. How will it end? Oh, the suspense!

The Mother Of All Memes
(by Mrs. Chicken of Chicken and Cheese)

I thought I saw him at the grocery store. It was raining that afternoon, and he had an umbrella. The red and white triangles that made up his portable shelter partly obscured his face, but I caught a glimpse of his eyes. Those eyes. Huge, blue and empty.

When he left me I remember searching their vast cerulean expanse for some sign, some flicker of love. It rained that day, too. Why does it rain when you lose someone you love? My tears left him unmoved. I don’t know why that surprised me.

The baby kicked in my cart and I let my gaze fall on her face. Her father’s eyes stared back at me. Green eyes, warm and full of life."Mamma?" she said. "Mamma!"

(by Binky of 24/7)
The question-turned-exclamation jarred me out of my reverie. There was pressure in my temples and behind the hazel tint of my colored contact lenses. "Mamma's here," I cooed. My voice was a manufactured kind of soothing. I leaned in and brushed a kiss over Bethany's forehead, where a drop of rainwater hung like the tiniest Swarovski pendant. Its chain was made of fine blond locks.

"What do you think, baby girl?" I asked as I pulled her into my arms. "Is it time to go home?" Her searching legs and center of gravity found all the right contours as she settled atop the jut of my hip. I tugged at her coat until the hood framed her face, then I stepped into the rain. A small deluge of water streamed off the curve of the lowercase "o" on the Save-A-Lot sign and landed at the back of my neck. I could feel the tag from my shirt sticking sharp and soggy to my skin.

I sighed against Bethany's face and tried to avoid the bigger puddles on our way to my twenty year old Civic, which was miraculously close. One row over and three cars ahead, I saw a familiar red and white umbrella spanning the gap between an open door and the driver's seat of a rusty 4Runner that had to be as old as my own piece of junk. The guy I'd mistaken for Paul sat sideways and watched the rain as he talked into a cell phone.
(by Tony of Creative-Type Dad)
Hastily reaching into my purse holding Bethany firmly, I could faintly hear the sound of his voice. His mumbled words were almost too reminiscent of Paul’s. The way he laughed as he said "Gouda" into his plastic phone brought back imagery of the two of us, sitting together last winter on the living room floor, sipping Merlot watching "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". Occasionally Paul would jokingly burst out vocabulary in his comedic English accent – expressions like "Don Perignon!" and "Caviar Dreams!" oh, how I loved Caviar and that faux bear skin rug.

With keys finally in hand, stumbling to open the rusty car door, I could sense this stranger's stare against my cheek. His phone chatter abruptly ended and I could hear the sounds of squeaking cowboy boots crushing the wet pavement.

(by Occidental Girl of The Occidental Tourist)
My mind was suddenly full of so many thoughts vying for my attention at the same time that I couldn't think straight.

It can't be him, I thought, no way. What would I say? What do I look like? What am I wearing???

The answers came in rapid succession: It could be him, it's okay if it's him because I'm not angry anymore; I could talk about my fulfilling life that I've enjoyed since knowing him, like this beautiful child I created with someone else, without him; I look like shit but since I'm too hard on myself in general, I probably look just fine; men - especially Paul - don't notice what women are wearing unless it's nothing at all. Then, they notice.

When you coincidentally encounter someone you loved once, a long time ago, the traitorous mind tends to retrieve only the good memories and leave the battles and frustrations out of it. This leaves us to wonder what in the world we ever thought was wrong and maybe it was a mistake to end the relationship. After all, doesn't every relationship have ups and downs? Ours certainly did. It was passionate, without a doubt, but in every area: the loving AND the fighting. It was when the fighting overtook the loving that we fell apart. I wonder if he ever thought about all of that, even now. Paul didn't seem to notice many things unless they were stark - naked or otherwise.

And yet, here he was - maybe - coming over to talk after all this time. I took a deep breath, then turned around.

(by Meg of Maine-ly Megin)
"Hey." He practically whispered.
Oh. My. God.
"Hi." Was it relief or despair?
"I wasn't sure you'd remember me."
"No, I..." Not Paul. Not Paul. Not Paul. Who the hell was it?
"Peter Johnston, I sat behind you in statistics freshman year.

Peter freakin' Johnston. I felt my pulse in my neck, and I focused my breathing the way I had 15 short months ago in labor. Not Paul.

Peter held his umbrella over me and the squirmy Bethany. Idle chat. Wife, 3 kids, new job, just moved into town, wife hasn't met anyone yet. Not Paul. Not Paul. Peter was bursting with the need to share his happiness, which allowed him to simply see an old acquaintance, not someone's former lover plagued by mere memory.

"Dinner sounds great, I'd love to meet Lisa and the kids."

With the baby buckled in and my door as close to closed as it got, I watched Peter close his own door. The rain rushed down the window and distorted the images. It blended the head and brake lights of the cars winding their way through the parking lot.

(by Bethany of mommy writer)

The seven-thirty hour, the one right after dinner, is always the worst. Waiting for Daniel to come home, feeding and changing Bethany for bedtime, cleaning the kitchen. It's a nuisance and a routine all the same.

That is, until Daniel comes stumbling into the back door in nothing short of drunkeness.

"Hi honey," he chirped balancing himself against the cracked linoleum counter kicking off his shoes, "Sorry I'm late."

When isn't he late?

"S'okay," I look up from the over-used skillet I'd been tackling with a worn Scotch pad for the last 15 minutes, "Had a good time tonight?"

Daniel only tripped past my shoulder to the spaghetti, waiting in the stained Tupperware and fixed himself a plate of dinner.

It's just as well. I didn't have the energy to congratulate him on an obvious vacuum sale. Not today. The office post-sale drinks in celebration are too habitual, if not an excuse. And it isn't as if he'd just made a commission worth writing home about. It was more like we'd be able to splurge on groceries. Or buy Bethany the expensive diapers.

"This is good," he chewed, spilling sauce to the edges of his lips. The edges I used to adore when he spent more time smiling.

"Bethany went to bed easily tonight," I said more to myself than Daniel. "For once anyway."

Daniel shoveled another tangle of noodles into his mouth. He was either too drunk to realize I was trying engage him in conversation, or plain ignoring me.

I rinsed the pot and placed it beside the sink where the drying rack should be, the one I was too lazy to take from the bottom cupboard. Patting my hands on the stretched blue jeans that hugged my legs for the last two days, I pecked my husband on the forehead and walked towards the bedroom.

Just before leaving the hallway, I called back to him, "Your nemesis, Peter Johnston is back in town. We're having dinner with him, wife, and kids this weekend."

(Heather of Cool Zebras)
I paused for a moment just inside the bedroom door. Ahhh. There it was, the choked sputter of breath, then silence.

I allowed my thoughts to wander while I pulled on my well-worn flannel nightie.

Peter and Daniel had been at odds since they were five. Preschool battles over who got the first cracker evolved into teenage hostilities on the basketball court. B Squad basketball at that. If there was something they could compare, you could bet there would be a pissing contest about it.

I’d avoided both of them in high school.

I continued my bedtime routine and tried to ignore the clink of bottles from the kitchen. I pulled at the corners of each eye and slipped out my contacts. Even to me my eyes looked tired, my skin drawn. It has been too long since I’ve dyed my roots.

The woman in the mirror looked sad, but then one corner of my mouth started to twitch.

I loved that Peter had no idea that I married Daniel.
(by Christy of yankeeinontario)
As I lay in bed trying to go to sleep, I thought about the fireworks that were sure to happen during dinner next week. I wondered about Peter's wife. Would I like her? Would she like me? What would I wear? Could I possibly get myself poured into a pair of slacks without the 2% lycra content that allowed me into my jeans? Would I be able to carry on an intelligent conversation about something besides the newest Fisher Price offering or the latest guest star on Sesame Street?

I worried myself into a wide awake tizzy until I heard Peter dragging himself up the steps in his drunken stupor. He slammed the bedroom door against the wall and the baby woke up, howling with the injustice of being awakened. "Now you've done it, you ass!", I hissed at Peter. I hauled myself out of bed, cursing my husband, too drunk to tend to his daughter. He was snoring, face down on the bed, when I returned after quieting Bethany. And here I am, 1 a.m. Still awake.

(by Tater and Tot)

It took 2 full hours before I fell into a deep sleep. My buddy anger had given up and dosed off, but my good friend discontent was up and ready for a party. I tossed and turned while the tides of thoughts surged through my mind. Is this really as good as it was going to get? Was this life to its fullest? This certainly wasn't what I dreamed of when I was a little girl. I never thought to add dirty dishes, laundry, half-nights of sleep, poopy diapers and stained Tupperware to my pretend play. Nor did I think that my thoughts would drift toward a "what if" life with an ex instead of spending time with any of the other 25 letters. I’ve watched enough Dr. Phil to know that I only think about Paul because I can make the pretend relationship however I want it to be.

But then there is real life - and Daniel. Complacency is his best friend. He’ll sell Kirbys door to door for the next 30 years and never be bored - or promoted. He’ll have the same celebratory drinks at the same bar with the same guys and revel in the predictability. He’ll be obliviously happy and expect the same from me.

"If only it were that easy," I whispered out loud before drifting off into a hard, dreamless sleep.

But not before I felt the very first quickening deep in my womb. Sixteen weeks. Right on schedule.
(by Michelle of NewDotMom)
The days of our week tripped by, falling and stumbling over one another like my own emotions. The dreaded sameness wearied me as it sustained me - I could drift on the eddies of the routine without thought. And then, finally, it was Saturday night. Bethany was bathed and fed earlier than usual - there was no way I'd be trying to feed a cranky toddler in someone else's home. It was basically asking for a full-body dousing in applesauce and strained peas. Of course, I thought, getting drenched in baby food might be a step up on the fashion scale if a miracle didn't occur in my closet sometime soon.


Silence greeted me from the den, where dual screens vyed for my husband's attention. The television screamed, the XBox roared, and the man I'd pledged to love, honor, and cherish all the days of my life sat open mouthed between the two. "Daniel! What are you doing in here? We need to leave soon, I'm not dressed, and you need to watch Bethany while I get ready." Still, silence. Either he was deliberately ignoring me again, or he was starting to experience hearing loss from all those surround-sound speakers he kept blaring at top volume. I finally stepped between Daniel and the TV, positioning my body so that he couldn't see the game.

"What the hell!? Laura, move your wide load outta here. I'm trying to watch the Skins."

"Look, you need to watch Bethany for a little while. I have to get dressed - and we are leaving in forty minutes. Dinner with Peter and Lisa, remember? We never go out anymore - we are not cancelling this. So I don't want to hear it, okay? Just... here!"

I plopped Bethany onto her father's lap, and smiled in spite of myself. Seeing her beautiful green eyes and their older, larger counterparts in Daniel's face reminded me of what was good and right in our house. Maybe not every day, maybe not every minute, but mostly. My hand involuntarily sought out the soft curve of my belly, and I sighed. Then I turned on my heel and stomped up the stairs to wrestle with my clothes decisions. I was going to have fun tonight, no matter what Daniel did or said.
(by Kristi of A Beautiful Mess)
Wiping away my tears of frustration, I pulled my tousled hair into a clip. I walked over to the small closet that Daniel and I shared, and picked out the newest outfit in my wardrobe, which was hardly new at all. It didn't matter; the night was destined to be a failure anyway and whether I looked good or bad wasn't going to change a thing.

My stomach began to flutter, reminding me of the growing life in my womb. The innocent baby that would be born into this miserable marriage. I sat down on the unmade bed, the tears flowing, my thoughts racing. How did I get here? I'm not in love anymore. Was I really ever in love with Daniel in the first place? Something needs to change; I just can't do this anymore.

Simultaneously, the chiming of the clock and the cry of a neglected child snapped my mind back into focus. Bethany stood in the doorway, tears staining her cheeks. I hollered for Daniel, but was met with only stiff silence. Already knowing what that meant, I went to check on him anyway. Of course, there he lay, passed out on the sofa, with cold bottle still in hand. There would be no waking him. I was all too familiar with this routine.

Stoically, I collected Bethany and my purse and headed out the door alone.

(by Desitin's Child)

In the car, I had time to take stock. To my credit, I was not late. I had planned ahead and had a fed, rested, clean child; and a diaper bag with everything she'd need in it. My clothes were presentable, if not fashionable, and there was even gas in the car. I am a competent person, I reminded myself. Then I remembered Daniel on the couch, and thought, I deserve better than this.

I turned onto Arrowood, deliberately taking the slow route to give myself more time to think. Crazy scenarios hummed in my ears like movie music, simultaneously seductive and ridiculous.

Peter and Lisa and I will become really close, and when they hear about Daniel's habits, they'll insist that I leave him and come and live with them. Our kids can all share toys and clothes, and... No, what would I do for money? I'm pregnant and have a toddler.

Peter and Lisa will propose a menage-a-trois, and then... No. With all those kids around? that's just impossible.

They'll be so taken with my level-headedness that they'll make me their business partner and... Come on, I can't even balance my checkbook.

This dinner is just an elaborate ruse. There is some dramatic surprise waiting for me. There's somebody they want me to meet, a handsome widower, or - maybe it's actually Paul. Okay, stop it already.

I forced myself to turn off the movie music and think like the serious scientist I used to be. I had a phone, a change of clothes for Bethany in the trunk, and $40 in cash. And I had just turned onto Peter's street.
(by Mrs. Maladjusted)
As I tumbled awkwardly out of the car door in front of Peter's house, I cursed the forgotten clumsiness that comes with pregnancy. I already felt many more months pregnant than I was, but that was all too much to think about at the moment. All I wanted was a nice glass of Chardonnay to settle my nerves, knowing full well that regardless of recent studies about a glass of wine or two being okay during pregnancy according to some doctors, I wasn't willing to risk the stirring and developing life inside me. Not when there was the chance it could come out much like the amazing child currently waiting surprisingly patient in the back seat for me to rescue her from the cage of her car seat.

I pulled Bethany out, along with my bag of tricks as I liked to think of it, containing all we could possibly need to get through the evening (you know, aside from a new husband, a new situation, a new life...). "Stop that!", I told myself.

I tucked her onto my hip and headed for the door, ringing the doorbell of the gorgeous and impressive two story cape cod in a neighborhood I dreamed of living in my entire life. Complete with white picket fence and playset off to the side yard, Peter and Lisa appeared from the outside to have it all. Fancy home, expensive SUV parked in the drive. Such lucky people in such an unlucky world it seemed. How could I have possibly have anticipated the very different story waiting to great me once I walked through that fateful door.
(by Something Baby Blue)
Peter welcomed us as he lightly bounced their youngest child. The first thing that struck me was the sight of this cherub with rosy cheeks and big blue eyes. He had to be six months old. Past the impeccably decorated entrance, my gaze fell on the graceful figure. I saw her standing in the living room. I stood frozen like a deer in headlights wondering if I could bolt. My mind was racing. Without a doubt I knew that Peter's wife was Paul's Lisa.

I took a deep breath and regained my composure. I had never met Lisa. The piercing pain had only slightly dulled from when I found the letter that she wrote to Paul. It ultimately triggered the beginning of our inevitable demise. With the evidence in hand I had confronted him and he confessed that he was seeing his ex-girlfriend Lisa. Paul had been convinced that she was going to leave her husband and they would live happily ever after. I had seen her photo in the pewter frame that he had kept turned over in his desk drawer. I had always wondered if he had it on display when I wasn't at his apartment. Here I was now standing in her new house being greeted by her husband and this perfect child.

(my turn)
My mouth was dry. I should just apologize and give my regrets, bundle Bethany back in my rattletrap car and drive off into the night. Forget Peter and Lisa, forget Paul and Daniel, too.

Lisa’s perfect smile gleamed, inviting me inside.

I had to know. Who was this person? What did she have that I didn’t -- at least in Paul’s eyes?

“I’m sorry my husband couldn’t make it,” I said, following Peter and Lisa inside. “He had to work late,” I lied.

“What does he do?” Peter asked.

“He’s in sales,” I said. At least that wasn’t a lie.

Fortunately, there weren’t any more questions about Daniel. If I was lucky, I could make it through the evening without Peter knowing it was Daniel I married. Even luckier, getting by without Lisa finding out our shared connection with Paul.

Bethany warmed up to Peter and Lisa’s oldest, three-year-old Pete. (Had it been only that long since Lisa? Since Paul?) Their rosy-cheeked baby, Ella, sat and watched the older children play.

Peter mainly replayed humorous stories from school while I acted at making conversation and pretended it was normal to have dinner with the woman who stole away the love of my life. All the while, I was absorbing everything: the delicious food I was unable to really taste, the punchlines I was unable to find funny, the bright, homey décor I’d never match. And Lisa. If I could have opened my pores to let everything about her saturate me, I would have, to find even one little thing about her that made her better than I am.

Even as she served dessert and coffee later on matching, chip-free china, I couldn’t grab onto anything that set her apart. She had the perfect smile and hair. She was pleasant. She was a good cook. Lisa was perfect.

Lisa was boring.

As I excused myself to the wash room, where tiny guest soaps and hand towels were set out, my mind wandered back to Paul. Did he really think Lisa would leave all of this for him? Of course, she didn’t have “all of this” at the time. But, still. Silly man, chasing after perfection that he couldn’t have.

A tired Bethany almost seemed relieved that it was time to go. Still acting, I thanked Peter and Lisa for the evening.

“You have a wonderful home and family,” I said, like a script.

“Ah. The ones you love matter most,” Peter said, hugging Ella. “I’m sure you know how it is,” he said, tickling Bethany.

The problem was, I thought as I walked back to the car with her, I didn’t know how it was. I knew that’s how it should be. For her, for myself, and for the little one growing inside me.

(Stay tuned... The conclusion will be written by Mrs. Chicken)


Blogger Mamacita Tina said...

Oh what fun! Interesting how the story changed from what I thought it would with the different writers. Can't wait for the ending!

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so cool! It's so interesting to see the different writing styles. When I taught third grade English we used to do this activity in class and the kids loved it. We called it a "story chain". I'd love to try one online sometime.

I'll be watching for the ending!

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the twists and turns. I can't wait to see how it ends!

9:07 AM  
Blogger Mayberry said...

Wow--I really hung on every word! Very cool.

10:57 PM  
Blogger ms blue said...

Your chapter to the story is fantastic!

5:31 PM  
Blogger Kristi said...

I'm glad it was picked up again! Can't wait to read how it ends.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hey there, I finally finished this up. Go see!

11:56 AM  

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