And now she was in deep, though there had been no hanging offenses as yet. They'd managed to be alone together for about ten seconds at a time behind some barn or metal shed, hiding around the corner from where her car was parked with the kids buckled up inside, arguing at full volume. If I can still hear them, they're still alive is not a thought conducive to romance. Yet the anticipation of him prickled her skin. His eyes, like the amber glass of a beer bottle, and his face full of dimpled muscles, the kind of grin that seems to rhyme with chin. His way of taking her face in both his hands, dear God. Looking her in the eyes, rubbing the ends of her hair between his thumbs and fingers like he was counting money. These ecstasies brought her to sit on the closet floor and talk stupid with him on the phone, night after night, while her family slept under sweet closed eyelids. As she whispered in the dark, her husband's work shirts on their hangers idly stroked the top of her head, almost the same way Cub himself did when she sat on the floor with the baby while he occupied the whole couch, watching TV. Oblivious to the storms inside her. Cub moved in slow motion. His gentleness was merely the stuff he was made of, like the fiber content of a garment, she knew this. Something a wife should bear without complaint. But it made him seem dumb as a cow and it made her mad. All of it. The way he let his mother boss him around, making him clean his plate and tuck in his shirttails like a two-hundred-pound child. The embarrassment of his name. He could be Burley Junior if he'd claim it, but instead let his parents and the populace of a county call him Cubby as if he were still a boy, while they hailed his father, the elder Burley Turnbow, as "Bear." A cub should grow up, but at twenty-eight years of age, this one stood long-faced and slump-shouldered at the door of the family den, flipping a sheaf of blond bangs out of his eyes. Now he would let himself be shamed by his wife's hardheartedness too, or fail to notice it. Why should he keep on loving her so much? Her betrayals shocked her. It was like watching some maddened, unstoppable, and slightly cuter version of herself on television, doing things a person could never do with just normal life instead of a script. Putting Cordelia down for early naps while Preston was at kindergarten so she could steal a minute for making intimate bargains with a man who wasn't her husband. The urge to call him was worse than wanting a cigarette, like something screaming in both her ears. More than once she'd driven past where he lived, telling the kids in the back seat that she'd forgotten something and had to go back to the store. She would say it was for ice cream or bullet pops, to shush them, but even a five-year-old could tell it was not the road to the store. Preston had voiced his suspicions from his booster seat, which allowed him a view of little more than the passing trees and telephone lines.
The telephone man, as she called this obsessionhis name was too ordinary, you wouldn't wreck your life for a Jimmy"the telephone man" was barely a man. Twenty-two, he'd said, and that was a stretch. He lived in a mobile home with his mother and spent weekends doing the things that interested males of that age, mixing beer and chain saws, beer and target shooting. There was no excuse for going off the deep end over someone who might or might not legally be buying his own six-packs. She longed for relief from her crazy wanting. She'd had crushes before, but this one felt life-threatening, especially while she was lying in bed next to Cub. She'd tried taking a Valium, one of three or four still rattling in the decade-old prescription bottle they'd given her back when she lost the first baby. But the pill did nothing, probably expired, like everything on the premises. A week ago she'd stabbed a needle into her finger on purpose while mending a hole in Cordie's pajamas, and watched the blood jump out of her skin like a dark red eye staring back. The wound still throbbed. Mortification of the flesh. And none of it stopped her from thinking of him, speed-dialing him, making plans, driving by where he'd told her he would be working, just for the sight of him up the pole in his leather harness. A strange turn of fortune had sent him her way in the first place: a tree that fell on a windless day, bringing down the phone line directly in front of her house. She and Cub didn't have a landline, it wasn't even her problem, but a downed line had to be reconnected. "For the folks that are still hanging on by wires," Jimmy had told her with a wicked grin, and everything that came next was nonsensical, like a torrential downpour in a week of predicted sunshine that floods out the crops and the well-made plans. There is no use blaming the rain and mud, these are only elements. The disaster is the failed expectation.
From Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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