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Maggie Nerz Iribarne

GOING SOUTH

Blueberry Highway, Dogtown by Marsden Hartley

They’d planned on driving north, all the way to Long Island, stay overnight, attend Theresa’s father’s funeral the following day.

Todd drove, his right hand pressing on Patti’s thigh.

“Almost to Maryland,” he said.

She watched miles of trees swoosh past, dreading the decreasing November temperatures that awaited them.

“Theresa hated country music,” he said, new information delivered as he changed the radio station.

.                                                                                         

Theresa, Todd’s late wife, one year dead after a long cancer slog, prompting the purchase of the sports car, the sale of the family house, a move south. He’d joined 50andfabulous.com within a month of his Atlanta arrival. Patti, still grieving her parents’ successive deaths, awaited him, poured into her Spanx, blonde streaks shining, a fresh coat of makeup and a decent pair of legs to boot.

She did her research, watched Theresa living on in her YouTube videos, endlessly performing chemistry lab tutorials for her students. Patti didn’t like to disrespect the dead, but Theresa wasn’t very attractive. She had no hair, for one. She’d been sick for eons. She didn’t have a very nice figure and her style of dress was not in the least feminine. One word: overalls.

Poor Todd, Patti often thought. Poor Todd.

He’d been a loyal husband for all eight years of Theresa’s illness. She hadn’t been very nice to him at times, he’d said. No wonder he was ready so soon for someone new, something else.

He  called Patti Babe and Sweetness. He thought her kindergarten teacher career was adorable. They went on a cruise and out to dinner every week. He bought her flowers and he even read her a poem once. She’ d never been treated so well.

“He’s like Dad,” she told her sister on the phone after the first few dates. “He treats me like Dad treated Mom. He’s generous and kind.”

.                                                                                         

Embarrassed by her weakened bladder, Patti laughed nervously each time she requested a stop. In the throes of new love, Todd fixated on her imagined youthfulness. She hated to draw attention to the reality of her aged, estrogen-drained body, but when you had to go, you had to go. Outside the bathrooms, he waited by the soda machines, reaching, pulling her close, smelling like her father. Old Spice, of course.

On their way to the parking lot, they passed a round woman jingling a bell by the door. Patti gave money to any poor person or charity, that’s just the way she was raised.

She’d left her purse in the car, turned to Todd.

He shook his head no, his grip tightening around her waist.

.                                                                                         

“Honey, can you turn that off? I was sleeping.”

He dialed the music halfway down and then shouted (unnecessarily).

“Springsteen. Driving in Jersey. Reminds me of the beach. Good times.”

She closed her eyes again, then forced a question.

“So when did you go to the  beach, in Jersey?”

“Theresa’s family rented a house every summer,” he said, still bobbing his head to the chastened Boss.

“That’s a nice thing to do.”

“Yeah it was great, until it wasn’t.”

“Huh?” Her bladder already nagging again.

“Her brothers. Always had it out for me. Let’s just say I wasn’t welcome. Total snobs.”

“That’s awful. Why did they hate you?”

“I didn’t say they hated me. They didn’t think I was good enough for their big PhD sister. I couldn’t do anything right.”

“But. You’re an accountant!” was all she could think to say, shifting in her seat, a trickle of urine slipping.

.                                                                                         

They crossed into New York.

“Oh Jesus. H. Christ,” Todd said. “Of course, god damn snow. In November.”

Patti cringed at his expletives. In her family, they did not swear. Period. A sign of ignorance. Her first husband revealed his dirty mouth six months after the wedding. She’d hoped Todd’s college degree would help in that department.

Although, she couldn’t believe it was snowing either. Regretting her fur-cuffed, high-heeled booties, she realized she’d forgotten to check the forecast.

“The car’s not equipped for this kind of thing,” he said.

Not the  first time the two-seater had proven impractical.

The snow grew more determined .

The car fish tailed, the traffic thickened and slowed.

“I’ve never driven a car like this in snow,” Todd said.

Her father taught her how to drive, reminding her if she stayed calm and went slow she could manage anything.

“Do you want me to take over?”

“Would you?” he almost whimpered, a vein in his bald head pulsing.

.                                                                                         

At the hotel restaurant, Todd downed a second Manhattan, motioned the waitress for a third.

“You look cold,” he said, tapping his fingers on the table.

She noticed his bloodshot eyes, his drooping jowls.

“You seem tired,” she countered.

“Not too tired!” he winked.

The scampi on her plate revolted.

“If these people don’t even like you, why are we going to this funeral?” she blurted, twisting the engagement ring on her finger.

This funeral. If they never went on this trip everything would still be fine.

“Because he was a good man. Theresa’s father. He lent me a bunch of money once.”

“Lent you money? Why?

“It’s not worth talking about.”

“It’s worth it to me,” she said, her raised voice attracting an adjacent diner’s glance.

.                                                                                         

Back in the room, she rebuffed his naked advances, scrolling her phone until he finally slept. She snapped off the television, scrunched far away to the outer limits of the bed, avoiding a potential midnight grope. She lay awake most of the night, listening to Todd’s wheezy snore, staring into the darkness, thinking how things had been so much better before, south of here.

 

About the writer:
Maggie Nerz Iribarne is 54, lives in Syracuse, New York, writes about witches, cleaning ladies, struggling teachers, neighborhood ghosts, and other things. She’s won prizes in contests sponsored by The Jane Austen Literacy Society, Defenestrationism, Zizzle, Honeyguide, Books ‘n Pieces, Dead Fern Press, On the Premises, The Scottish Book Trust, and Re:Fiction.

Image: Blueberry Highway, Dogtown by Marsden Hartley (1877-1943). Oil on board. No size specified. 1931. Public domain.

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