Sobering

Loretta stares out into the midnight fog, taking in the passing fields, vacant and eerily quiet. With her right hand cradling her round belly, she thinks about the names she and Mick had settled on just earlier in the week: Lillian and Michael Jr.  Nearly seven months along and neither she nor Mick have yet to learn the gender of their soon-to-be firstborn. They had made a pact to keep any future pregnancies a surprise until the time of delivery, after suffering a cruel six-month miscarriage a couple years ago.

The brutal late January chill is sobering, which explains why Mick insists on keeping the windows cracked open. Loretta feels goosebumps rising and wishes she had brought along her wool poncho. Mick reaches across to her, clasping his hand over her left thigh, a loving check-in he routinely does during car trips. She delights in his touch, closing her tired eyes, and starts to dream about everything Spring: Tulips, warm weather, and her due date.

“What the Hell?!!” screams out Mick, as he swerves the Camry from right to left, across the double yellow lines, then back to right, before finally regaining control of the vehicle. He stops the car on the grassy shoulder. His right arm firmly locked against his wife’s belly, all of Mick’s protective instincts had properly activated. “Holy Shit!” Mick lets out, fixing his eyes into the rearview mirror. “What the hell was that?!” Mick questions aloud. Loretta, cradling her belly with both hands now, glares at Mick and yells teary-eyed, “You HIT something! OR SOMEONE!”  Mick, frozen in his seat, feels offended by the blame in her tone, although he knows she’s right. Shaking, he puts the car in reverse and carefully lifts his foot off the brake, allowing the car to drift backward.

They live just four miles from Bruce and Ann’s, so the ride home would have been just mere minutes. They’d driven this road countless times, during daylight, late evenings, through thunderstorms, heavy snow, thick fog, and the occasional beer buzz. Both Mick and Loretta know this backroad intimately, with its twists and turns, its minimal traffic signs and sparse street lighting. His ingrained knowledge of this road, however, didn’t make Loretta feel any better after Mick had downed six Heinekens earlier. She’d asked him to pace himself after the third, but he was having too much fun celebrating Bruce’s 50th.

“I knew you were too drunk to drive!” Loretta scolds. Mick is defenseless, and scared out of his mind. The thunderous blast is still radiating through them both. They are terrified and know that they must retrace the Camry’s path. As they continue drifting back, they observe the area looking through all the windows in the vehicle. Loretta, crying in disbelief, rubs her belly anxiously.

The fog appears to thicken, and within seconds, neither can see anything at all. Mick reaches for his phone to dial 9-1-1. Loretta, quick-thinking and completely sober, warns against calling the police. “You’ve been drinking, remember?!” Loretta reprimands sharply.  Mick concedes, shamefully, and steps out of the car briefly for a better look around. Cautiously, he walks past the front hood, bending down to note any damage to the vehicle. He is fully cognizant of a potentially gruesome discovery as he carefully assesses the entire front of the car. After a couple minutes, he straightens his torso, and exhales. No blood.

Mick checks on Loretta through the passenger windshield. He nods, giving her a thumbs-up sign. Loretta appears nervous. He wants to get back to her right away and just drive home.  But, he can’t.  Mick looks around the perimeter of where he stands, unable to see beyond the scope of his immediate location. The fog is denser now, whiter. He doesn’t give up, though. He doesn’t care that the Camry has not one scratch or dent or trace of blood. He hit something in the road and won’t abandon his efforts now, though he starts to reason that whatever was hit, must have been catapulted a far distance from the point of impact.

Several minutes pass as Mick continues to look for any evidence along the barren road. He is only about fifty feet from the car, but Loretta no longer sees him.  She grows concerned. Looking through the windshield, desperately trying to find Mick or anything else for that matter, Loretta sees an unusual image forming in the fog. She goes stone cold.  She stares, entranced, as the image shapes itself into a silhouette, a giant dark figure moving toward her, with a wingspan that stretches out just beyond the width of the Camry. Loretta is motionless, her mouth agape. “Mick! Mick!” she fails in her attempts to scream out Mick’s name. Instead, only a soft whisper is pushed out. Loretta rationalizes that she is dreaming. “This is not happening. None of this real,” she mutters under her breath.

Loretta shuts her eyes tightly, disregarding the image. Perhaps, she will awaken to find Mick snoring beside her in bed, his body warm and inviting, draped in cotton flannel.  But, her racing pulse jolts her back to the inside of the Camry. Her eyes open, reluctantly, and widen. The formidable figure quickly envelops the car. Mick, finally defeated by the oppressive elements of darkness, chill and fog, returns to find Loretta convulsing in fear. In that moment, the fog lifts, and the giant image suddenly dissipates.

Loretta folds and lets out a guttural cry, prompting Mick to rush in panic to her side. She clutches onto him, meeting his worried eyes with her own bloodshot eyes.  Her hoarse voice whispers to him that she has lost the baby.  Reactively, Mick asks, “What baby?”

Do Away For Today

My wish for you, is a true wish indeed

To do away with the thorns that make your heart bleed

Those thorns of pain, dressed in red roses

Hidden beneath the beauty and served in small doses

For what seems kind and presented in peace,

Unravels slowly and complicated to show its disease

Its method lures you with a simple, pure image of love,

Easily fools the cynic who knows the dragon before the dove

So be careful with your eyes to see beyond their view

And do away for today the damage done to you.

 

 

 

 

 

The Window

“Jeez!  He’s taking me to see a foreign film with subtitles!?” Adele frets in her mind, while feigning enthusiasm through her signature toothy smile. She quite honestly finds foreign films to be too heavy, too serious, and waaay too much work. “All that reading!” she fusses inwardly. “This movie won awards several years ago, and the director is genius and really quirky… a bit out of his mind, actually,” Jesse tantalizes.  Adele keeps smiling, with her blue-colored contacts gazing up at him, through spidery black mascara, and wispy platinum blond bangs that tickle her eyelids. She holds her gaze trying to be adult-like and cultured, and seemingly interested, but she’s secretly hoping the movie isn’t one of those 3-hour-in-dire-need-of-an-intermission type movies.

Jesse hands off the large basket of popcorn to Adele to carry into the theatre, while he totes their drinks and giant Twix bar, after having charged $28.50 on his platinum Amex.  Adele makes a mental note and is immediately impressed, sensing that he must be making a good enough salary to be a platinum cardholder. She quickly catches herself being shallow, and averts her attention toward a little baby in a stroller, looking directly at her all big-eyed with a gummy smile. She reacts with her own big-eyed, smiley expression, hoping that Jesse will register her natural inclination toward children and her ‘wifey’ potential.

They seat themselves in the second to last row, near the entrance.  The trailers are about to begin, when Jesse realizes he’s forgotten napkins.  He darts out, and Adele quickly assesses if he’s worth remaining in her seat. She fantasizes about running out and never seeing him again. It’s only a first date, and she’s got the jitters for sure. Before she can decide, he’s back in his seat with the napkins. She unconsciously coos when he returns, flashing that toothy smile at him once more, and realizes that he’s a nice guy who seems normal… mature.  From what she’s learned of him so far, he’s well-traveled, was raised by both parents who are STILL married, and is a bit of a geek. He’s a far cry from other guys she’s dated, AND he does Crossfit!  She quietly commends herself for remaining in her seat.

The film begins. “Life Is Beautiful” is an Italian film. Adele does not speak any Italian, but tries her best to follow the story, reading along while watching the characters do their bit.  She’s initially suffering through it, fidgeting during the first thirty minutes, then she gets pulled in and is totally invested.  She surmises that it’s political, a charming tale inspired by historical events, it’s romantic and suspenseful, a story of survival and death, it’s happy, intense and heartbreaking. At the movie’s end, Jesse and Adele are both teary and gripping each other’s hands.

Adele makes a stop in the ladies’ room before leaving the theatre while Jesse waits for her in the lobby. She wonders to herself if she’s made a good impression tonight, with the jitters and all. She fixes her eye makeup, and confronts the fact that Jesse got teary-eyed over a movie.  “How sweet” she thinks, and reminisces about past boyfriends who never felt comfortable expressing such vulnerability. Adele finds this sexy about Jesse. She emerges from the restroom and finds him waiting for her with a tender expression. She hooks her hand into his and they stroll together out of the theatre.

As they approach her bus stop, a bus is seen just about a block away. Jesse asks Adele if she’s got her metrocard ready, and if she has her keys and phone, etc.  Adele holds up her purse and says she’s fine, she’s got everything. As she retrieves her metrocard, Jesse sweeps in for a kiss.  Not a ‘lip’ kiss though. Not a messy, tongue-in-her-throat kind of kiss, no.  Just a simple ‘brush her hair to the side, press a soft peck against her cheek in a respectful, gentlemanly way’ kind of kiss. It was sudden… and it was nice.

Jesse flags down the bus to be sure it stops, looking back at Adele with a warm smile.  He tells her “I’ve had a great time with you. I hope to see you again. I’m free this weekend. Can I call you?”  The bus stops and Adele steps on, giddiness reaching every cell in her body. She dips her metrocard to pay the fare, then turns around swiftly, realizing she has not yet replied to Jesse’s offer of a second date. She hasn’t even gestured a proper goodbye, when she observes the bus doors closing, completely separating her from Jesse.  The bus starts pulling away from the curb as she rushes to the window of a nearby seat, eagerly trying to find Jesse in the darkened evening, amidst a swarm of other pedestrians.

The bus is now turning at the corner and Adele literally has her forehead pinned against the window. She doesn’t see Jesse anywhere. All she sees is her own reflection staring back at her. But, it’s not her. It’s not ‘her.’  Adele was born Adeline, and went by Addie until she turned eighteen, the same year the singer Adele became a household name.  Addie took the liberty to align herself with the superstar by simply altering her name when she started freshman year at UCLA, and has gone by Adele ever since.  She continues staring at her reflection, bypassing the platinum streaks in her hair and remembering a plain, ordinary girl with raven hair, frizzy with curls. Addie used to view the world through deep and soulful, dark brown eyes. She was a nerdy kid in her elementary school before bullies toughened her, and before the cool girls gave her a lesson in getting boys to like her. Addie used to read books and newspapers, she used to draw and write poetry, and History was her favorite subject.  She dreamed of one day having a big family and becoming a meteorologist.

Adele is embarrassed by the facade looking back at her, and at twenty-four years old, vows to make changes. She is aroused by an emotion deep within her, and doesn’t understand why this is happening right now. Perhaps the movie has stirred something within her, as she suddenly finds the need to be more authentic.  “Maybe it’s Jesse’s effect on me,” she wonders.  “What must he be thinking right now?” She remembers their last encounter just before she climbed up the steps of the bus. “I hope he doesn’t think that I don’t want to see him again,” she anguishes. “What if he likes only ‘this’ me?  This dolled-up Barbie persona? What if he won’t want to see me again if I am plain and ordinary-looking? A dark-eyed brunette??” she cringes at the thought.

The bus window fogs from her warm breath, and when the bus stops at a red light, she hears her name faintly called.  She focuses her eyes on a tall man out in the darkness, waving his arms frantically in the air, yelling out “Adele! Adele! Listen to phone message!”  Adele is shocked by the sight. It’s Jesse! “He must have run all this way!” Adele feels elated.  She waves back at him excitedly, and blows him a kiss through the window.  Just then, the light turns green and the bus proceeds.  She pulls her phone out of her purse, which is still on vibrate since the movie. There is a voicemail message from Jesse.

“Hi it’s me, Jesse. Sorry I’m losing my breath; I’m chasing your bus. I see you looking out the window for me.  There’s something so angelic and light about your face now; beguiling, sort of. Please tell me you’ll see me again. I feel like there is more to learn about you.”

Ten years later…

Announcement appearing in Il Gazzettino dated 14th June 2017:

Jesse and Adeline Belladonna are the proud new parents of Adela.
Born on the sixth of June, weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces.
She has lots of dark wavy hair and big brown eyes, just like her mamma!
Baby Adela joins big brother, Guido 6, and older sister Dora 3.
The family is doing wonderfully and is grateful to everyone for their well wishes!
La Vita E Bella!