Write a story that includes these words: orange, late, nosebleed, shoe
Its power was what tempted me into scheduling our family’s vacation to raft the South African Orange River. I would there surrender finally to the horrible fact that I was never cut out for the whole thing. Not the Orange River, mind you; but being the mother inside of my own family.
Neil never did anything unless there is some kind of danger in it; maybe that’s why he married me. I was the mercurial artist with manic-depression. All he seemed to see was a wild horse – a mustang with strength and beauty. Our wedding was after a whirlwind courtship with all of the beautiful eros that saturates courtship. In those days I didn’t think straight and I felt danger in the oddest of places, like breathing and eating. Neil’s adventurous spirit is what made me sign the license, say the vows and drink heavily all the way through it.
The scope and sequence of marriage is not written anywhere. While Neil cracked away at the corporate world, building his software company effortlessly with his childhood friend Dale, I painted and drank and drank and painted and drank. Some days he would come home and find me in a wave of passion, pulling every stitch of clothing off of him and going to my knees. Other days he would barely be able to wake me from the tattered couch where I had painted. I would look up into his blue eyes and gold ringlets and wondered who was waking me and where my mother was.
After the hospital stay, I took a deep breath and focused. Sobriety is not for cowards.
I got pregnant the moment we decided it might be a good idea to have kids and faithfully wore bland maternity clothes and made each doctor visit. Most days the smell of turpentine made me sick and I abandoned my studio, bequeathing it to the daddy-long-legs who nested there.
Two years later, I found myself in a monotony of children’s music and blocks and plastic cars. I had an infant son with colic who never slept and a set of eighteen-month-old twins prone to nosebleeds. Some days I would forget my own name, let alone what I used to be passionate about. Our unusual burst of finances and need for greater tax shelters forced us to move and as I packed up, I wept. It had been the first time I had entered the studio weeping. I needed a drink.
This is why five years later - with all of the kids in school and me breathing again – I decided sadly to seek solace in revenge. From my new office with all of my art supplies in the closet I researched the possibility of rafting a river with the children and Neil with the sole purpose of throwing myself out of the raft and drowning myself on vacation. Poetic justice for a husband who loved adventure and sentenced his wife to drown in a river of mediocrity.
The problem with the American rivers with any guts or turbulence was their policy not to allow children. The rivers that were safe for the kids and strong enough for drowning were all overseas. I gladly spent all of Neil’s money on the monstrous flights and accommodations with one click, never even bothering to ask him.
“Today I scheduled our family vacation,” I said above the din of clanging spoons at the dinner table. Very little was in focus. In the corner was a red tennis shoe that was small with no shoelace in it. Where was the other one? What happened to the lace?
“Really?” Neil looked up at me hopefully. On his lap, Trevor was pounding a spoon against a plate with a sandwich on it. I realized the noise was coming from him and the sandwich must have been Neil’s. I guess I had made them earlier….
I looked at the faces that were looking at me; Neil’s tired and hopeful. The twins, scared and hopeful. I needed a nap.
“Where are we going?” Neil asked, taking a bite and chewing with his mouth half-way open.
“South Africa,” I heard myself say. “There’s an African rafting company that offers white water rafting in the Orange River.”
Neil had stopped chewing. Trevor had not stopped banging. Neil took the spoon from Trevor’s hand and wiped his mouth with a napkin.
I looked at him and couldn’t wait. I couldn’t wait to feel the waves lift the inflatable raft from the rocks as our children squealed with delight and lifted their arms. I couldn’t wait for the invitation to fly out of the constraint of the boat and into the air, crashing down on foamy wet rocks, blood and unconsciousness meeting me on my landing, like welcome friends. I couldn’t wait for Neil to lay in bed late in the evenings, listening to the cries of screaming kids who could never be satisfied, reliving every mistake of the last 24 hours. I couldn’t wait for it all to be over and the sentence be passed down to him.
For now, there was only eyes. The twins, round and frightened at their mommy going away again. Neil’s eyes, tired of another round of the dance with death. And Trevor’s full of light because he didn’t know any better.