Regrets, I Have Them ~ Diana Rohlman
Sometimes I hate him. My husband. I’ve never told anyone -- who admits to hating her own husband? But those times, those times he morphs into a sniveling, pathetic creature, who delights in shooting sharp barbs my way just to see me wince -- my usual disdain turns into true, gut-wrenching hatred.
I hate our life together, our glamorous, carefree lie of a life. The only reality in our marriage is that final vow; till death do us part. He saw to that. Everything else was a beautiful sham. ‘For richer or poorer.’ I would laugh if I could. Richard begs pitifully when he has run through his weekly allowance; his handsome face scrunched as he attempts to cajole me. The bastard. He took everything.
When I was a little girl, I spent hours planning my life. I would have a garden, a dog. I would make blackberry jelly and strawberry preserves. My dog would be spoiled with home-baked cookies. I would make vast quantities of soup, freezing little aliquots to last me through winter. I would be happy. Above all, my childish self believed that I would be happy.
I was at the neighborhood book club last week, and one of the girls, her blond hair perfectly coiffed, her eyes hidden behind clumpy mascara, dithering nonstop about some article she had read. Even with her inane explanation, I caught the gist. No longer is death sacred; even now companies form to insure your presence lives on in the form of social media. Electronic messages from the afterlife. Absolutely morbid.
The damn girl twittered on. “Imagine what we would learn, the secrets people have held!”
To her, it was all a gag. Nothing was serious; secrets were glittery glimpses into someone else’s reality, nothing more. She lived in a world were clouds were fluffy, puppies were everywhere, and men were knights in shining armor.
I didn’t use to be a bitter person. I used to love life; I was such a gay little child, my mother would always exclaim. That was, of course, before the word gay was reclaimed, redefined. Of course had my mother known it was still applicable, the very word would have turned to ashes in her mouth.
Now, I find that none of that matters. My failed marriage, my horrid mother; I spent years straining after useless relationships. What could have been, I wonder. The thought staggers me, for I do not immediately know the answer.
If I were given a second chance, what would I change? My first kiss, my first quarrel, my first failure of a relationship? I could have written a novel, eaten better, exercised more, taken cooking classes. I could have been a connoisseur of fine wines, or a purveyor of glorious works of art. My feet could have roamed the rolling hills of Tuscany, or wandered the sad history of Germany. And yet, I do not regret the lack of these experiences. They were passing fancies, at best.
It was the moments, the moments that opened a world of alternative possibilities, the moments that I did not take, that I so deeply regret. I would have kissed Yolanda, there in the dirty hallway of our high school. I would have marched beside Erica, my clenched fists raised in opposition. I would have run after Jessica. I would have laughed in Richard’s face. I would have defied my mother. I would have been proud. I would have had a garden, and a dog named Liberty. I would have had children, beautiful, naughty, exuberant children. I could have been happy. I could have done anything.
But Richard, the bastard, had stolen all my dreams, my fading regrets, from me. I can still see him, even as my vision fades inevitably to black, standing over me, wiping his bloody hands in a towel. I would sigh, if I could. The bastard beat me to it. And perhaps that is my biggest regret.
Diana Rohlman lives in the Pacific Northwest, invariably spending the rainy days inside, writing with a glass of wine nearby, and her dog offering helpful critiques. Visit Diana at https://sites.google.com/site/rohlmandiana
Montmartre ~ Jennifer Courtney
It was raining, a capricious affair. Liquid mirrors dotted the cobbled streets. Puddles swelled. Silvery, moving of their own accord, they reminded me of the mercury I’d played with as a child in my parent’s shop. Milliners both, they’d gone mad. Often, I caught shadow-sketches of them screaming at me from inside diminutive curbside pools like these.
Henry was working on a story, striving to paint reality. He demanded new material. So out we had gone, arm in arm, in the fog and the rain, to people watch. For an hour along the lower banks he trudged, looking for a little bourgeoisie color. He was distant, bothered by some plot contrivance, or maybe a character flaw in his story.
After an eternity of people and puddles, we headed to the cabaret district. The fog off the Seine, thick and weighing down lower Paris, couldn’t make it up the hill. My face bobbed along, repeated in the canvas of a hundred gas-lit puddles, pale and distorted. Somewhere in those waters my parents lurked. I could hear them screaming.
Henry was hoping that the cabarets of Montmartre would give him something erotic to work with. I was hoping to get him drunk enough to earn a commitment.
He wasn’t courting me. Still, Henry would bring gifts, and say the most outrageous things. His hand on my arm seemed overly familiar, almost possessive. I’d seen him handle three boyfriends, and at least that many girls - not counting myself - with the same sure grip. I hadn’t managed to get him into bed yet. To the best of my knowledge neither had they.
The rain failed to wash away the smell of piss in the streets and the garbage in the narrow alleys. The damp air weighed down the stench of the cigar that Henry insisted on as we walked. He should have enjoyed his smoke in a parlor, like a proper gentleman. Instead we walked through fragrant tatters of it, a burnt-hair incense that mixed with the refuse of the streets.
In our first bar my drink rested on a coffin instead of a table, and I on a bench of rough stone. The staff kept calling Henry “M. James”. Dark, cold, and unpleasantly moist, it was hardly a place to inspire courtship. No wonder Henry adored it. Chandeliers of yellowed bone leaked sick glows, their half-light jaundiced the walls and tables.
There were murals, the twenty-one major arcana of the tarot. I wanted to lick them, to see if they tasted of life or death. Perhaps I made some motion, and gave myself away, because before I could touch tongue to lead paint Henry winked and stationed us beneath the wheel.
Seated beneath that lurid grind of cogs, the rise and fall of king to pauper, I thought perhaps my parents, swimming in the puddles outside had found something better to do. Their wailing vanished as a black-robed choir assaulted us with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
The bar was grim, the bock was cheap. I drank several, propriety be damned.
On our way to the next attraction, a bar modeled after heaven, Henry pawed me a bit. I returned the favor. Strangely, my parents weren’t around to object.
We didn’t stay long in heaven. St Peter’s beard was ratty and the divine never had suited Henry.
Besides, one door over, hell’s mouth gaped.
As we passed from heaven to hell, a woman with three faces grabbed my arm, pressed a card into my hand. Major arcana, the star. It fell away, landing face-up in the damp. The lady blurred, old-young and heavily pregnant. Smiling, she watched me stare between her and the fallen star until those triple faces shrank. She became a spider.
Henry picked up the tarot card and crushed her with it. Then, with an adventurous grin, he pulled me headlong into the cabaret’s gaping maw.
It was cold in hell.
Sometime later in the night, I crouched naked in the street beside a small pool of diminishing ripples, where eight stars danced. A bottle in my hand was empty. Silvery streams trickled away at my feet. I half-remembered dumping the drink when my last bout of vomit had roiled the waters.
Reflected, one star far brighter than the others shined hope. It kept shining - even through the next volley of sickness.
Jennifer Courtney is the aging mother of two toddlers and currently enjoying her last semester as an English Lit Major at the University of Maryland University College.