Shuttlecock

The last snow falls over the city like a reverent hush.  With their faces tucked into their collars, the people on the streets aren’t talking as much as they might.  Sharp and I move over the thin, white blanket just a little slower than usual.  It isn’t the weather alone.  We have our own weather between us, a soft, silent storm building.

We cross at MacDougal and cut into the park.  Beside me, Sharp is watching his shoes against the snow as he walks.  The shoes are old, but the laces are new.  We were together, two days ago, when he impulsively tossed them onto the counter at a store across town.

He shrugged as I caught his eye, “I need a new pair.”

I had glanced away to watch two women bickering as they pushed out through the revolving door.  Valentine chocolates, stacked near the counter, were going for half off.  I’ve had enough sweets the last couple of months.

The park is beautiful in the fresh snow.  Yellow urine and tobacco stains are all whited out, homely mistakes corrected to make a tidy page of the morning.   We come to our spot near the fountain and use our gloved hands to clear the seat.  The fountain is still today.

“We have to clear the air.”

Sharp frowns into the distance.  “I hate that phrase.”

“I know.”

“Well, here’s the thing,” he says.  He casts me a quick glance, the frown fixed in place.  I know Sharp all too well; there’s a gentle pity in his brown eyes.  “I know you feel like Fiona is hurting our friendship, but really I think it’s you and me doing that.”

“I love you.”

“Well, I love you, too.  But this is about stupid, old school jealousy.  All friends have it and it’s nothing but trouble, you know?”

I look out over the park, feeling the needles of tears starting.  He doesn’t understand me.  Taking a a breath, I try again.  “Sharp, I know I’ve been short with you a lot recently.  And you were right the other night: I didn’t forget to invite Fiona over.  I decided not to invite her.”

“We spend more time together than most friends I’ve ever had,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I’ve been bending over backwards to make sure we get time to do our thing – you know, people watching and putzing.  I hate those guys who forget their friends when they get a girl.”

“Sharp,” I say. “I fell in love with you two years ago.”

One time, Sharp and I were walking home from a bar and we saw a taxi hit a homeless woman.  It happened so suddenly that it couldn’t have been avoided.  She just sort of fell into the street.  Everyone who saw it stopped in their tracks.  Sharp had worn the open mouth of an astonished puppet and, queerly, it made me giggle.  He wears that look now, but I can’t quite laugh today.

“I thought I was over it and then Fiona came along and it’s been eating me up.  It isn’t just that friend thing.  I just think you need to know.”

“Oh, fuck,” he says.  His eyes search my face, looking for a joke, then fall to his lap.  “You’re crying.”

“I know.”

He stands and turns away from me.  We’ve become the awkward staging of a Neil Simon play.  That thought will make me laugh later on, I tell myself as I scramble in my coat pocket for something to wipe my face with.

“The plus side of allergies is you always have one of these,” I say, holding up a used tissue.  “Although I think this one’s spent.”

He doesn’t say anything.

I turn on the bench and hook an elbow over the back.  “Here is the plain, unvarnished truth.  I fell in love with you and then I decided I wasn’t anymore. Didn’t feel that way.  And I know that Fiona is a perfectly fine person, but when you already have a reason to want to dislike someone, it’s not hard to notice their faults.  You and I have made days of finding fault in people.”

“I know,” he says.  He lets his shoulders down a little and turns to look at me.

His auburn beard is scotch kingly against the white morning, but his eyes are those of a sad fool.  Love is an astonishing thing.  I’ve been on his side of this mess before. Easing out a breath, I say, “I told you this because I can’t keep it anymore.  If you let it ruin us, I’ll never forgive you.”

He lets out a surprised laugh like a bark; the jaded park birds give him mild, quizzical glances.  Taking his seat again, he says, “For the moment, let’s put this aside.”

“Okay.”

“Hear me out.”

“I’m all ears.”

He rolls his eyes and glances away.  “Well, no matter what the motive, you can’t be cold and distant every time she’s with me.  I agree that she name drops a little.”

“But how could you like someone like that?”

He shakes his head, “And you were right when you said she dresses too nice for me.”

“Oh brother.”

“Well, what I’m getting at is this: Probably the perfect woman for me is you if you had a vagina.”

“Thanks.”

He laughs again and I want to laugh, too, but I bite my lip and look away.  “Think about it this way. How many times do people who get along as pals still enjoy the same level of comfort after sex?”

“I don’t know,” I say.  “Has this become a Nora Ephron script, may she rest in peace?”

I surprise another laugh from him.

“Besides,” I say. “I didn’t tell you to open up a hypothetical about us having sex.”

“Open up a hypothetical? Is that like a hypodermic?”

I bite back a grin.  “So what are you trying to say, shitbird?”

“I mean, dummy, that we’re lucky.  If I met a girl just like you, she and I would still never have quite the same friendship.”

“Because the sex?”

“Because the sex.”

I turn on the seat, my whole self aimed straight at the fountain across the way.  The snow flakes are getting big and feathery.  “They say that’s a sign the storm is almost over.”

“The snow?” he asks. “We’re talking about the weather?”

I look at him from the side of my face.  “Well, I’m not crying anymore.”

“So, you’ve loved me all this time,” he says.  “Whenever we’re out together, drinking and yukking it up, you’re undressing me with your eyes. I’m not even good looking.”

“I’m never undressing you with my eyes.”  I squint at him. “Not even now.  Besides, what do looks have to do with it? You think Fiona lets you have sex with her because of your abs?  Attraction is based on more than looks. You should know that.  You’re a smart person.”

“I do know that.”

“Well then?”

He straightens in his seat, too, so we’re both trained toward the fountain.  In our years, we’ve never had to look at each other to weave humor between us.  “But you think of me when you touch yourself?”

My eyebrows climb my face. “Actually, not at all.  Do you think of Fiona?”

“She and I have a great sex life.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“No,” he says. “I think of Julie Andrews.”

“I know. You told me that once.”

“And you still loved me?”

It isn’t hard to imagine that we’ll come out of this okay.  Even though I’ve been confronted anew with my feelings since Fiona came into the picture, in many ways I’ve had a long time to find a sort of peace with them.  This isn’t a new burden for me, but time will tell if Sharp carries it heavy or if he carries it light.  For the moment, we must do what he and I have always done and kick it between us, always keeping it in the air.

“I’ll make an effort to like her more,” I say.

“And I’ll try to tone it down, not be so charming around you.”

“You’re off to a great start.”

Ash

Bury me in the deep snow.  Lay my ashes where the sun and the wind will uncover me.  The same breeze that carries the yellow dust of the goldenrod will unwind my grey remains and send them whirling into eternity.  All cares will be long gone as I drift to rest on tomato leaves and bicycle wheels, clinging to the pores of bricks, then sailing far out over green rivers.  As ash, I will never grow weary on my travels.  Some fine particles of me will be swallowed by mud, never to take to air again until the earth is turned by hands not yet formed.

Image

When they come to the base of the tree, my friends will remove their gloves and use their fingers to make a hole in the snow.  The cold will needle their knuckles. They’ll pause now and again to make fists and kindergarten turkeys of their fingers, opening and closing their hands to bring blood to the tips.  Finally they will pour in the ash and cover it over, quickly, lest the flirtatious gale of a winter morning should send me off sooner than I would like.

Their boots will make a soft crunch as they wend their way back through the field, to the small line of cars parked along the fence.  Black coats and white snow.  If we are lucky, there will be scarves of color to remind us that life is for the living: turquoise and yellow.  A breathtaking flash of carmine, flying like a rampart against the sky, would be a joyful sight.

In the weeks before the melt, I would hear the ice loosen at noon and tighten at dusk.  The tree above me, holding out her long, lovely bones to the sky, would say nothing.  Yet we would be friends for all those days and long after the spring breeze came to lead me on my next adventure.

The Guest

We’re pleased to have you for a visit, Mr. Landau.  It’s not often we have a man of letters in these parts.  I hear your stories are quite popular in some sets, though I’m not much of a reader, I’ll admit.  You look tired, though. I hope the train ride wasn’t too long? Now, mind that step, bless you.

These stairs are narrow and a mite crooked, but I’m sure you’ll get the hang of them soon enough. Now, what is this?  I’m sure I told that girl to sweep up here. Well, old houses, you know. Now, this is the garret, as you can see, but we’ve given it a lovely sprucing up.  You like the color? Mother was worried that it was too green, but I said it made the place seem quite sunny, though I don’t suppose the rug goes very well now that I look at it.

The windows stick now and again, if we’ve had rain – which you know is often out in these parts – but if you give the casing a good whack, they’ll come open fine.  This one has the best view. Oh dear, mind your head, Mr. Landau.  It’ll take you a while to get accustomed to the ceilings, like as not. You are a tall one, I’ll say that, and willowy.

See out there? Isn’t that nice? Just below is the lake, which I’ll grant you looks a bit bleak just now, but in a few weeks, it’ll be surrounded with flowers – purple and blue and little ones of yellow that you only see when you’re down walking through them.

Now that, out there, is Grandy Mountain, which’ll wear that bonnet of snow all the year, even in July, when we’re all broiling like pigs over a spit down here.  There’s paths up, but some safer than others, so you’ll need to ask around before you set off on any exploring.  But then, I suppose you might not be the sporting type.

Now, here I’ve been gabbing away and not telling you where to put down your trunk. Oh, but then so you have and over there, too, in that spot. Oh dear. Well, I don’t see why not. I suppose if it crimps the edge of mother’s rug, we can somehow smooth it out. Maybe over the kettle.

Oh and so you’re moving it, are you? Well, it might be for the best. I’d recommend putting it there, in the front gable.  That way you can walk straight up to it as you need and not bump your head.  Is it as heavy as all that, sir? You do look a mite strained, Mr. Landau.

In Dr. Dransfield’s letter, he said you were sick from exhaustion, so I imagine you’ll be needing plenty of rest. Well, as you can imagine, sir, we have a surplus of quiet out here in our little corner of the world. Mother has the preacher – and sometimes Anna, that is Ms. Galvistan – out for Sunday supper every week, but generally it’s just the two of us, so you shan’t have to worry about the noise of comings and goings.

Now, I’ve put this table here for your typewriter. It’s mother’s sewing table, but the contraption’s been on the fritz, so we sent it to London to have it looked at.  It’s quite a sturdy little table, though not very big.  You could open the top to make it a little bigger, but then there’d be the hole and what good would that do you, I ask?  I’d only request that you leave this bit of oil cloth in place, so as not to scratch the wood.  Mother thinks it’s walnut and very fine, though I suspect it’s only the finish.  Still, she’d be so heart-broken if it were gauged by your typewriter.

You look so fagged, poor Mr. Landau. I shall get out of your hair in just a moment, but first I ought to point out one or two more things, so as you’ll feel absolutely comfortable and need me no more to feel right at home.

I will admit to knowing a little something about you besides that you’re a writer, Mr. Landau.  A little something which has made mother and me very sympathetic to your plight.  It was Mrs. Whitticombe, who does over our bonnets, who told us about it. She’s a terrible gossip and that son of hers, Jimmy – the one who up and went off to work in the theatre – well, he’s the one who told her.  She says that Jimmy’s getting very important in London, but Mrs. Whitticombe likes to put on airs, so there’s no telling the truth of that.  She tried to sell me feathers for my autumn bonnet once; said they were ring tail pheasant, but I could tell she’d marked plain ones in with paint. It didn’t look natural, at all.  Still, out here in the provinces, when there is only one woman who’s any good with hats, you have to make do and put up with the prattle.  Isn’t that right, Mr. Landau?

Well, I only wanted to say, mother and I are very sympathetic, dear man.  I blessedly have never had the misfortune of falling in love – indeed, I think I’m missing the part that fancies men very much.  Not that I mean to say… Well, I mean, I think love is a rather foolish thing.  That is all.

I think people like you must take it all the harder, isn’t that right, Mr. Landau? I mean, artist, they say, are quite sensitive people really. Mother says they take things harder than other folks. So, we’ve made a pact – mother and I have – to be sure you’re not bothered by a soul while you’re up here. You shall have as much peace and quiet as you need and before you know it, sir, you’ll be right as rain.

Now, enough of that, Mr. Landau. I can see you’re getting all the more strained by the minute. I know I shouldn’t have brought it up, but I just thought you’d like to know you have our sympathies. It’s always the delicate ones who the girls throw over for men with charm and swagger.  We’re terrible, fickle creatures, mother always says, and not to be trusted. Oh, dear, you have got a look about you, sir. Quite pale, you’ve gotten.

But to business, sir. I’ve cleared out this wardrobe for your things.  It smelled of mouse, I worried, so I hung some lavender in it.  Then mother said gentlemen didn’t like to smell of sachets, so I had the girl take the lavender down and scrub it good with lemon oil.  It turned out quite nice, if a bit pungent.  I hope it’ll do.  Oh, I see you’ve found the bed. My goodness, you’re a quiet one, aren’t you?

Well, I had wanted to point out that mother volunteered her favorite coverlet because it’s so pretty, but she did ask that I show you the lace along the edge, so that you’d be extra careful of it while you stayed.  No, no, sir. Not that edge. It’s here, under your boot. Oh heavens, and it’s so delicate.  I think it was rather extravagant of mother, poor dear.  I don’t think you’ll be able to relax at all, knowing that lace will be ripped to shreds by the time your stay is over. I have a nice wool blanket, plain but sturdy, that I shall bring up before supper.  Never fear, sir. We’ll have everything sorted soon enough.

I did want to tell you about dinner, because mother is very strict about sitting down, only because she’s rather cross if the cabbage goes cold.  When you hear the bell, it means five minutes until we sit down.  If you prefer to take dinner in your room, you may let me know earlier in the day.  I don’t suppose you’re much of an eater, but I hope our chilly air will enliven your stomach.  Hot meals are the best way to keep the bones warm.

Oh sir, I hate to see you getting up if you’re so tired. I told you I would tend to the coverlet later.  You are a dear.  Mother was given that coverlet by a very fine lady who stayed here many years ago.  A shy enough creature, delicate like yourself, who cut her summer short quite out of the blue.  She sent us a letter, weeks later along with the coverlet, apologizing for her hasty departure.  I think she was the type who enjoys the city more than the countryside.  It seemed her nerves only got worse the longer she stayed with us.  Poor dear.

Now, if you open the window today, Mr. Landau, it may get a bit chilly by sunset.  The draft is the devil.  Oh, my! What a whack you’ve got on you, but as I said, that is the only way to get it open.  That is rather a lot to open it, dear sir.  It may stick if you open it so far. I had wanted to have the girl take some beeswax along the case, but you know she said she needed to get home for supper and I thought perhaps that was a hint that she thought we ought to offer her some of ours and I hadn’t made very much that day.  Well, and the girl is a rather large creature with a big appetite. I think her people are Welsh and you know how they eat, sir.

Well, and so you’re putting your trunk on the sill.  Sir, is that wise? Well – oh my! There it goes! If I didn’t know better, Mr. Landau, I would have thought you sent that out on purpose. Mr. Landau, what in heavens name are you up to? Do you need air?  My goodness, you’re far too long legged to try to fold yourself through that opening.  My goodness, it’s like watching a spider coming out of the drain. Mr. Landau, have you quite lost your senses? Oh!

What madness!  I hope he hasn’t fallen on mother’s hydrangea.  She is terribly particular about them and they barely came back last year, what with all them mites and then the mildew.  Mr. Landau? Mr. Landau, what were you thinking?  Oh my, and now he’s up and over the hedge.  How peculiar.

Bloom

Side by side, they shoveled the snow.  The driveway was short, but the snow was high and heavy.  George took two scoops to clear each patch of ground, dividing the depth by half to lighten the load.  Sid dashed his shovel in here and there, just a little wild, sending his snow the farthest, a broadcast that showered them with sparkling powder.  The icy bits needled their necks but melted quickly along the edges of their collars and hats.

The clouds were still hanging low and now and again the snow began again, but they kept at their work steadily.  “It’s good we’re doing this,” George said. “Even if we get a couple more inches before dark, it’ll be so much less to move tomorrow.”

Sid paused and took his glasses off, tucking them into his coat pocket.

“They’re so beaded over, they’re really not helping,” he said.

George glanced back at the house now and again as they worked.  The low slung roof was lofted with almost two feet of snow, but it didn’t make the house look any prouder on the hill.  Rather, it gave him the impression of an old soul, huddled beneath the burden of too many blankets.  The chimney puffed a thin trail of smoke, a nostalgic perfume that made the afternoon seem cheery despite the storm.

Along the edge of the drive, where the plow had pushed by earlier on, the snow was dense and crusty.  They saved that for last and were finished in another twenty minutes.  Leaning against the shovel handles and breathing, they said nothing, two men glancing back over the results of their work.

“We’ll sleep good tonight,” George said. “That’s for sure.”

Sid smiled at the thought as he started back to the house.  They took their boots off at the threshold.  They beat their gloves and scarves and hats against the stone before stepping inside.  The warm front room was silent and shadowy, with an air about it which suggested it would always wait for them to come home.  The house, George thought again, was an old soul.

____________

The storm had started the night before, the thirteenth of February; they had no conceit that they would make it out for a Valentine’s dinner in a restaurant the next evening.  Eighteen years into a love affair that had begun with shy glances over a sandwich counter, they were not stuck on the idea that the romantic holiday needed roses and chocolates for decoration.

Long before the weather came, Sid had set himself the task of making a new dish for supper and last night had risked coming home late in the snow to procure all the ingredients.  George had roamed the house, worried until Sid’s headlights broached the drive.  Then he was so thankful that he’d made it in without trouble, he decided to simply relax into their snowbound holiday and let go of wanting to hold every cherished thing above calamity.  It was a goal he set for himself often, though it seldom stuck. In the back of his mind, it nagged him that he cared too much.

Those were the fears and thoughts of the thirteenth, gone on the breeze today like the snow Sid’s shovel had sent flying.  As the afternoon waned, George built up the fire and Sid began making dinner.  The recipe was more than he had reckoned on and soon there were heavy sighs coming from the kitchen and the percussion of bowls and measuring cups became somewhat frantic.  More than once, Sid popped his head through the door to ask for help converting measurements. His hair was askew and his cheeks were just a little red.  A moment later, George heard the kitchen window opening.

“You hot in there?” he called.

“A little.”

George found himself tightening up, absorbing his husband’s tension.  It seemed that goulash or sandwiches would have been much easier to pull off.  But he bit his lip and held his silence, not that they were above disagreement.  The house had witnessed many arguments and would witness more.  It seemed inevitable.  Today George was mindful of being a pest; it would be hellish to spend the holiday sulking.

Finally Sid seemed to get ahead of himself in the kitchen.  George came in and helped stir things in pots.  He caught up some of the dishes.  When he saw that Sid had pulled out special china, the plates with the gold edging and the turquoise band all around, he glanced down at his pajamas and thought maybe he ought to look a little more dressed for dinner.  He found a red sweater lying over the ironing board in the laundry room and put it on.  At least he’d look respectable sitting at the table.

Sid always told him he looked beautiful in red, though he felt a little more like himself in grey or blue.  When he returned to the kitchen, Sid glanced up from the stove.

“You cold?”

“No, just wanted to look nice for supper.”

He wished they had flowers.  When they were younger – when they had so much less – he always made an effort to keep fresh flowers in the house.  Now they came and went according to whim.  He eased around Sid, their kitchen being so small it made working side by side into something of a choreographed dance, and took the scissors out of the dish on the counter.  When he got to the front room, he couldn’t remember where he’d left his shoes, so he stepped out onto the front stoop bare footed. Leaning far out over the stoop, he snipped some of the withered hydrangea blooms they had not deadheaded back in the fall.  Careful to cradle them so they’d shed none of their snowy beards, he held them close to his chest as he eased back into the house.

Three bowls held the blooms nicely.  He put tea candles all around them, hoping the snow would sparkle in the light.  Sid seemed delighted with them as he put their plates down.  The dinner was wonderful, worth the late drive through the snow and the hour of high tension in the kitchen. George was mindful to give thanks, lest his earlier hesitations had registered.

He watched the white beards melting off the hydrangea as they ate, knowing that their sweet union, their years together were not unlike the snow.  No hour could be seized and held forever, just as warmth pulls water from ice.  His life would melt away, like the sparkles on the winsome bouquets of their Valentine dinner.

He glanced up at Sid, who was studying him softly.

“Just think,” Sid said. “In a few months, they’ll come back again.  Remember how bright they were last summer?”

George smiled back, reminded happily of the blooms that follow the melts, months chasing months, each with a lesson blessedly forgotten from season to season.

Tammi

The snow was packed a cold enamel on the leering grin of the exit ramp as he eased off the highway. It was late at night and the roads were empty.  The travelers who hadn’t taken refuge in wayside hotels had coasted off onto the ice-crusted shoulders of the highway hours ago. The people huddled inside their cars glanced out as he passed, their faces pale moons with surprised mouths and anxious brows. He kept his gaze slavishly on the road and dared not glance back.

At the gas station off the exit, he filled his car up with shaking fingers.  Driving on wintry roads all but undid him, remembering a long ago night when he landed his car in the river.  Icy water rose up from the floor of the car as sharp smoke trailed from the vents.  If not for a man who lived near the accident and heard the car ripping through the saplings on the bank, that drive through icy mist would have been his last.

The pump asked if he wanted a receipt, but then had no paper and prompted him to see the cashier.  This was one of his pet peeves and he rolled his eyes, glancing toward the store.  A woman with a frazzled ponytail and a dispiriting blue work apron stood behind the sales counter, looking out through the plate glass at him with bored eyes.  He decided her name tag would read ‘Tammi’ and he headed inside to get a coffee and prove himself right.  When he stepped into the warmth, she gave him a weak little smile before turning away to pull a box of coffee lids from under the counter.

The place smelled of pine and bleach in equal measure.  His feet squeaked on the floor as he crossed to the coffee station. Loosening his jacket, he decided he’d make the rest of the drive festive with a little pumpkin spice creamer.

“I’m surprised you guys are open,” he said. “Have you had much business?”

She shrugged, “Not for a couple hours.”

He busied himself pouring coffee.

“You’re not heading south, are you?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

She shook her head, “There’s a big accident about two miles up.  They’ve closed the highway. I just heard it on the thingamajiggy.” Dropping her gaze and taking a breath, she said, “The scanner.”

He felt his stomach tighten.  “Crud.”

“Sorry,” she said. “Thought you’d want to know.”

She seemed the type to like sharing bad news, he thought.  Something about her reminded him of a girl he went to school with back in Virginia, a girl who turned to him on the bleachers at morning assembly one day and asked carefully, “Are you a faggot?”  That girl had heavy eyelids, silvered with makeup, and her calm gaze had made his heart race more than the question itself.  The memory curiously amused him. Turning away now so the cashier wouldn’t see his smile, he fished out a stirrer and gave the coffee a spin.

“Well,” he said.  “I guess I’ll stick around for a little while and see if they clear it up.”

“We’ve got seating over there,” she said, flinging a hand toward a row of orange and birch Formica booths.

“Okay,” he said. “Thanks.”

They didn’t talk while he paid for his coffee.  He left it at one of the booths and headed out to move his car, steps careful in the freezing slush.  Pulling his bag from the back seat, he turned and glanced through the store window just in time to see the cashier spit in his coffee. She glanced up and their eyes locked. A moist string was still trailing from her mouth to the cup.  Slowly and unblinkingly, she lowered the coffee back onto the table. Time stretched out, thinner than soup at a homeless shelter.

He wasn’t sure what to do next.  He knew he should at least go in and demand his money back.  The dread of the confrontation made his guts clinch.  The mix of flakes and pellets continued to fall, sugaring his shoulders, pinging off his sneakers.  He looked away, squinting across the parking lot.

“Fucking hell,” he muttered.

When he glanced back through the window, she’d moved to the sales counter and was leaning against the register, face blank as she stared stonily across the store.  In profile, she had the awkward nose and chin of a cartoon character.  Maybe there was a reason for what she did. Did he say something rude?  Whatever the cause, looking at the round hump of her nose and the sly dip of her chin, he decided he hated her through and though.

He started toward the door and she popped up straight, rocking her elbows back to make her chest barrel out.  She squeezed her lips into a straight line, matching his gaze.  He faltered, stepping back.

“Well, Jesus,” he murmured, his foggy breath a vanishing bloom.

They held the awkward gaze for another long moment. Finally, he dropped his eyes and decided to get back in his car.  Maybe there was another route he could take for now. He might hook back to the highway farther up the way.  She watched him as he folded himself into his car.

He looked up again before steering out of the slot and saw her pick up the befouled coffee and sip it.  She turned to face him fully, rubbing circles on her belly.  Shaping her lips with clownish precision, she mouthed the words, “So good.”

He sat there, hand bones popping on the steering wheel, knowing if he left without squaring things, he’d never forgive himself.  Taking a bolstering breath, he drove over to the pumps and put the car in park.  He opened the door and sprang out.  With deliberate steps, he crossed to the trash barrel, lifted the lid and pulled out the bag of trash.  He turned it upside down and, obligingly, a cold gale carried the trash across the parking lot.  A confetti parade of wrappers, bottles and napkins swept toward the store, as if each piece of debris delighted in his revenge. Perhaps they were just glad to be free.

As she bolted out the door, face red and ready, he ducked back in the car and spun out of the parking lot and onto the road, fishtailing madly, laughter filling the car, surprising and wonderful.  In the rear view mirror, she pointed at him, shrieking curses he could only imagine. Some miles away, he realized he’d never checked her name tag.  He was still pretty sure she was a Tammi.  He’d never liked the name.