Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Change is always possible

By Cynthia Ringer

Change is always possible.
She says that to her husband one night
at dinner.
He looks up from a puddle of
thick yellow polenta on his plate.
He blinks.
Sure it is, he mumbles.

She brings her goblet of wine
to her lips
in her two hands.
Steadying her eyes on his,
She sips.
The air around them turns warmer.
Almost like the table is burning.
Almost like the sun has gotten closer.
Or more focused.

I mean it this time.
She nods a little as if to make her words
Stand out. Sharp. Like the sauce that covers the polenta.
A red splash. Spicy.
The sauce he doesn’t eat
because it gives him such heartburn.
He scoops the corn mush up onto his spoon,
And for a while he busies himself
bringing the spoon back and forth to his mouth.

I wonder sometimes, he says,
mashing the polenta over his tongue,
enjoying the warm comfort of it.
When we stopped being nice to each other.
He swallows. And why. Sometimes I just wanna know.

She shrugs. Her lids slither slightly lower.
I might wonder that too, she says in a hush.
But then I just know.
We just stopped. A long time ago.
And so what?

She hasn’t touched her plate
the polenta he fixed
the polenta she hates
just sits there now
as round as yellow
as that noon day sun
on that day
in August so long ago
when she stood
beside the laundry basket
gazing at the diapers
and the socks and sheets and
the T shirts with the mud spots
still in them.
She washed
that laundry
she hung it out to dry.
Just like every other morning.
But then, that day, she stood
it flapping in the back yard
in a steady hot breeze.

She knew
that day
a hard fact:
life isn’t easy.
It’s a study in unhappiness
where change is always possible
but as unlikely as it is

She inhales now. She gets up and
crosses the room
her bare feet slapping the wood floor.
She searches a kitchen drawer for her cigarettes.
She comes back to the table.
Bends one knee. And sits on her foot.

She lights one of the cigarettes
She had promised she wasn’t
going to smoke anymore.
On her plate
on the polenta
she hates.
Is that splash of sauce
he ladled out of a jar,
he thought she might enjoy.

The sight of it now
makes her shudder.
It brings to mind
Plain and simply,
blood. An animal, no, a man,
lying on the side of the road,
a carcass struck by a careless car
roaring by.
She sees him now, sees the pain
Twist in his face. Sees his eyes.

The cigarette dangling
from her lip,
she stands,
hurries her plate
to the sink where she forks
the mess on the plate right into the sink.
She runs the cold water. A fleck of bright ash
Falls into the water, goes out.

I’ll do those up, he calls out to her.
No matter, she says.
I have time. She reaches for the apron.
And ties it behind her waist.
And sets the cigarette in the charred shell
she uses as an ashtray.
She sets her hands to the sink.
And he carries his plate to her.
And he burps.
And she thinks,
Change is always possible.
I think.

Cynthia Ringer is a pseudonym for a writer living in upstate New York.

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