In my other life, the one I never got to live, I’m a silver-haired woman with six grandchildren, and I love them all. Not in the precious, clinging way my daughter loves hers, or the office-manager love my son doles out in little chits, like badges for good behavior. I let all six pile into the back of my pickup, and no they’re not strapped in, and we drive the bumpy beach road to the ice cream shack and we stand in line, shuffling and jostling our way to the front, and if they shove or heel-kick each other that’s all right, I let them work it out, but if they mess around with other people, they get a shoulder shake and a behave!
Which they do, for the most part. I can’t control everything that’s going to happen to them, but I do what I can. The rest is up to them, and luck.
Luck was all that saved me. The chime of another traveler at the desk taking his attention from me for a moment, and I went to the doorway to get a breath of air, and something told me: Leave now.
Maybe it was more than luck. There I stood, in the weak neon spill of the parking lot, with dark night all around me. Maybe a shadow crossed the window in the house on the hill. Maybe an owl hooted. Maybe a mourning dove gave its sad, low cry. A room with flowered wallpaper waited for me, a soft bed and a hot shower to soak away all my sins, but I was never going back to that room.
My grandmother talked about “the sight.” I never believed her stories, but that night I smelled her perfume, the way I’d smelled it when I sat in her lap at the old, knife-scarred oak table and made crayon drawings. That smell, roses and old-lady skin and waxy crayons. And tired as I was, rainy night or no, I got back in that car.
And I’m still here, and my sister’s still here, and that detective, I suppose, but that sad, staring young man is gone, like his mother before him, and like the other girls who never came home.
And you ask if I repented and gave back the money, and yes I did. And you ask if I ever married my not-so-married lover, and no I did not, but after him there was another man, with no past to keep us apart, and another town, far from desert dust, with wide highways and ocean salt in the air, and drifty cotton clouds that move along quickly, at the speed of forgetting. On a clear day I can see the swallows coming back to Capistrano. On a less clear day I can see the Nixon compound in San Clemente, or used to, and once I saw Pat Nixon at a charity golf game. A lovely lady; I never blamed her for any of that mess.
I’m old now, spare and still strong, and I take a staff with me when I hike these ocean trails. For balance, and for something else. Something I don’t name, though it’s always there. I keep a phone in my bathroom, for the same unspoken reason. I take long baths, do crosswords that sometimes get damp. I could slip getting out of the bathtub, I guess, but I think my luck will hold. I never take showers.
Kathryn Kulpa is a writer and editor with work published in Atticus Review, Flash Frog, No Contact, and Wigleaf. Her stories were included in Best Microfiction 2021 and 2022.