Playing It Safe

 

“…in a study from the University of Michigan in which it was reported that 56% of marriages end in dissolution within the first decade.  That’s one out of two in the first ten years!  Marriage rates have been declining…”

The man clicked off the radio and switched the windshield wipers to high.  Traffic was stopping in front of him, which he thought may make him late to pick up his brother, scheduled to arrive in the B concourse at 10:14 A.M.  He had been excited about his brother’s visit.  It would be a refreshing break.  The two would stay up late telling stories or discussing politics.  Friday night they would go to the Tigers game for a few beers, a good cigar and some male camaraderie.  Once they had their “boys’night out”, the rest of the weekend would be spent on more intellectual pursuits: the symphony or possibly an art gallery.  The great escape.  But now he was stuck in traffic and would probably be late.  His socks made his feet itch.

Deciding there was nothing he could do about the delay, he settled into his seat and tried to meditate.  He closed his eyes and thought, “One…   one…   one…   ”  It wasn’t working.  He thought about the ball game and how his wife would object.  She would want him to bring one of the kids, since she would be stuck with them most of the rest of the week.  It had the potential to be an ugly confrontation, but more likely they would each suffer in silence, as usual.  They would each play their perceived roles–she as the martyred caregiver, and he as the hen-pecked husband–and he would leave for the game feeling guilty.  How long had this sort of thing been going on?  Five years?  No, at least eight.  Their oldest child was eight and he remembered feeling quite lonely even then, thinking that the new baby would somehow heal their relationship.  He had to admit it filled in some of the minor cracks, but the wound was incapable of complete healing.  What had he been thinking of so many years ago?

The line of cars moved a few feet, then stopped.

He wasn’t such a bad guy, was he?  He was considerate to those he cared about.  It drove his wife crazy that he could be so thoughtful to his coworkers at the office and then ignore her direct questions.  It kinda bothered him, too.  He did work at giving her the kinds of common courtesies that he gave to other members of the human race.  Other women thought of him as a very sensitive, even romantic person.  Why didn’t his wife see him that way?  Although he was too modest to admit it, he knew deep down that he was blessed with more than his share of charisma, intelligence, and good looks.  He could infuse a group at a party with such energy that everyone felt moved to contribute opinions.  Then he’d come home with his wife and ask her if she’d had a good time, only to hear something like, “It was OK, but I wouldn’t have dared to express an alternate opinion.  You sure got them wrapped around your finger.”  And that infuriated him so much.  He wasn’t trying to do it.  Hell, he wasn’t doing it.  On these occasions, he was merely engaging in an open and honest conversation–something he found difficult, if not impossible to do with his wife.

Traffic was moving now, and he clicked on the radio.  “Now playing at the Gemini Theatre is ‘The Victim Thief’, a story of a New York businessman during the Depression who becomes a thief out of necessity to save his family from poverty.  Directed by Anthony Rikkens, the story develops into one to which anyone with a conscience can relate…”  He had thought about going to that play before, but was now getting tired of attending the theatre alone.  For him, the appeal of the theatre was to wrestle with the topics portrayed and then to compare notes with others who had seen it.  It was a combination of a game of wits–who could get to the innermost layer of meaning–and a sincere attempt to understand the human condition.  His wife thought it was pretentious bunk.  She would go only for entertainment value, and so they had not attended a play together for many years.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

On another stretch of highway a woman adjusted the rearview mirror and turned on the radio.

“The Victim’s wife Myra, portrayed by Kristin Lin-Jones, has a rare heart condition, and her medical bills are mounting…”  The woman stared at the radio.  It was the first time that she had actually heard a review of her role.

“…she is meek and loving to her husband, and her devotion to him comes through her eyes, not through her mastery of voice, which could use some help.  Still for the size of the role, her part works well.”  Right, for the size of the role.  That was the whole problem, wasn’t it?  She had never yet had a leading role, a thinking role.  They always took her because of her brown eyes and blonde hair.  “Those eyes!” the casting folks would say.  She was sick of it.  She had a mind, too, and wished someone would appreciate her for it.

That’s what she thought her first marriage was for.  She and her fiance’ would have deep discussions after plays or movies, long into the night.  Then they got married and the relationship turned violent.  It was so hard to believe that she had married a wife-abuser that she simply didn’t believe it for years.  Five years and two children later she got out.  She had been on her own for three years now and was beginning to feel lonely again.  Not so much for the sex or even the romance–though some romance would be nice–but more for the companionship.  After analyzing it thoroughly, she had decided that what she desired was a platonic relationship.  She wanted someone with whom to discuss the meaning of a theatrical work, or the trends in contemporary literature, or even the problems with the current political system.  Understanding what she was looking for and finding it were two different things.  She purposely avoided men who frequented singles’ bars, approaching strangers asking for the time, and “charming” men who offered to open doors and pick up things she’d dropped.  She tried to be open to all other potential contacts, but with her work schedule, such opportunities were few.

 

She parked the car and walked to the terminal.  Fumbling through her purse, she found the note she had written earlier in the week and double-checked the time of arrival.  Just as she remembered it: 10:14 a.m., B concourse.  Her favorite cousin and family were coming from Atlanta.  It was an occasion that she usually looked forward to, and yet this time she just wasn’t in the mood.  There were bigger things than to accomplish than to entertain relatives.  She would just have to make the best of it.

Once in the terminal she discovered that the flight was delayed 30 minutes, so she visited a bookshop and picked up a copy of The Village Voice.  Walking toward the B concourse, she took in a few of the sites at the airport.  There was a model of a new theatre complex coming to the city.  She imagined herself performing there, her name on the marquee.  Ducking into an upscale gift store, she caressed the abstract sculptures with her eyes.  One piece was made of polished granite with three points near the top and sweeping curves from the points to the base.  It reminded her of an angel with its arms extended upward, knowing no bounds.  She left the store and walked the short distance to gate 23 in the B concourse, arriving just ten minutes before the plane was to arrive.  There were only a few seats left near the gate.  She took a seat by the window.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

The man parked the car, donned his hat and coat, and rushed toward the terminal.  He was already into the B concourse when he read the screen announcing a 30 minute delay.  He slowed down and grabbed a cup of coffee on his way down to gate 23.  A new thought disturbed him.  He still had ten minutes left to wait and without a book to read.  How he hated to get into an inane conversation with a stranger only because circumstances had thrown them together.  He bought a paper and found a seat at gate 23 near the window, across from a pretty blonde woman.

After he sat down, intent on burying himself in the newspaper, he glanced up to a pair of big brown eyes belonging to the beautiful blonde.  She quickly looked down at her paper.  She wore a rather ordinary flowered print dress with a belt around the waist which displayed her slender figure to advantage.  He noticed she was reading The Village Voice and wondered what, if anything, it said about “The Victim Thief”.  He guessed she was not as young as she looked or dressed, probably closer to his age.

The woman considered her actions.  She had noticed him when he walked over to his seat.  He had caught her looking at him just after he sat down.  Embarrassed, she directed her attention to her paper.  She would not be drawn into this.  Any more encouragement would give him an open invitation to hit on her.  Somehow he didn’t look the type, but she remained cautious.  He became engrossed in his paper, so she watched him for a few moments.  He was a handsome man, slightly older than her, with kind, compassionate eyes.  How intently and deliberately he moved, his eyes scanning smoothly, but rapidly, over the page and stopping at the end of an article.  He seemed a man in control of his life, but one who could also adapt to a certain level of discord.  She chuckled within, realizing that she was reading far too much into the life of this complete stranger.  Still, she could not ignore the feeling that this man was somehow extraordinary.  She recited her motto for times like these, ‘Head, not heart.’  Just then they both looked up at each other nearly in synchrony.  This time neither could suppress the emotion.  They exchanged sincere smiles, feeling wonderfully stricken as if by the same lightning bolt.  Both of them began to part their lips as if to speak, when an announcement came over the gate intercom.

“Flight 234 has just arrived and passengers will de-plane shortly.”

The door opened and passengers started to pour out into the gate area.  Confusion reigned, and it no longer made sense to ask the woman whether she’d seen a review in her paper on “The Victim Thief,” his plan for breaking the ice.  It took the man a few seconds to remember who he was waiting for.  Then his brother appeared a few pounds heavier than he remembered.  They shook hands, but the man was only going through the motions.  He forced himself to be cordial.  He heard his brother say ‘I didn’t check any baggage, so we can go straight to the car.’  His brother began walking toward the exit.  The man looked around the airport, as if he had lost something.  Then he found her.  The blonde woman in the print dress was descending on the escalator with a group of people.  She managed one last glance around the main floor, searching the crowds, before she disappeared from his view.  The man sighed as if it was his last deep breath, and he moved on…

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About Cinnwriter

Scientist who enjoys writing fiction, but can hardly find the time for it.
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6 Responses to Playing It Safe

  1. Good piece. I enjoyed the exposure of internal insecurities and restlessness and how they were interrelated in each character. Good flow and I liked the untidy ending. Many thanks!

    • Cinnwriter says:

      Thanks much for your comments. I really appreciate it. You seem to have understood it well.

      • I think some of the driving elements of your story are often featured in mine as well. I like the openness and untidy endings, I think that often times presents a truer picture of real life. Of course, that’s not to say I don’t still believe in happy-endings, I do. But the former makes for better creative musings and reading often times; or so it seems to me.
        Keep up the good work. I’ll be interested to read more of your work.
        Oh, by the way, just curious, are you a P or a J? I would suspect a P, but you are a scientist, so J is certainly a possibility.

      • Cinnwriter says:

        Hi Timothy,

        A P or a J? Do you mean as in Meyers-Briggs classifications? If so, I am a J. INTJ, if I remember correctly.

        Ronald K. Freund, Ph.D.
        Pharmacology
        Univ. Colorado Denver
        Anschutz Medical Campus

      • Very good. I always test out INTJ as well, but my J and P are close, almost 50/50 . . . so I usually refer to myself as an INTJ/P! But, I think I identify more with P’s, so I’m probably a INTP.
        I was just curious because untidy endings seem to fit P’s well!
        Anyway, again, enjoyed the read.

    • Cinnwriter says:

      Thank you Timothy. I wrote this piece a number of years ago, but since I am just getting started on this blog, I thought I would put something out there. I tend to leave pieces “untidy,” since, as you said, that is the way life usually is.

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