Monday, June 22, 2009

THE RIVER'S EDGE

On three separate occasions Paula fought back the urge to tell her mother-in-law that she was considering leaving her son. She fought back the urge to present her case, to make a concerted effort to persuade Marge to see things her way. How futile the effort would have proven to be. Phillip was Marge’s baby boy, and naturally Marge would have taken his side immediately. But Paula was so enamored and fond of her mother-in-law, it hurt to think that they might some day be alienated from one another.

Paula knew very well that most women considered Philip quite "a catch", an architect with a significant income, and so damn tall, loyal as a big goofy puppy. Paula seemed to be the only one that could see that Philip Poundstone was only masquerading around like an advertisement for some sort of poster-perfect husband. In reality he was far too remote. Distant. Uncaring, and the truth be known, boring as well. If she had to sit and listen to yet another lecture about “mindful spending” Paula swore she’d explode. She’d spontaneously combust. 

What on Earth was wrong with changing the bed linens to suit her mood? The Spring-inspired damask duvet cover, pillow shams and bed-skirt just didn’t suit Paula’s summer frame of mind, it was that simple. When she’d spotted the bright and sunny floral print with bursts of yellow at Macy’s the other day, she just had to make the change. And, since the old draperies hadn’t matched, she had no other choice but to replace them too. Philip had taken her American Express card away. That overtly hostile act just might have been the last straw. 

Paula called a realtor, and went to look at a small quaint cottage uptown that she's spotted in the paper. She had no trouble picturing life in the cottage, away from Phillip and Marcus, her son. Marcus had grown into a moody teenager with volcanic pimples and plenty of attitude. She would leave them to each other. Why not? It was time she became independent, maybe she'd go back to school and study something. Just what, she wasn’t sure. Maybe interior design. Maybe nursing.

Standing at her massive granite kitchen island chopping veggies for a quick stir-fry, she pictured the cottage. Sure, it was pint-sized. And the kitchen cabinets had been painted so many times over in seventy-plus years that the doors would not close shut anymore, and some of the lovely period tiles were cracked, and the sink had been stained, but still, the house had felt so cozy, so cute, so feminine. Paula could go shabby chic and never worry about having a man around to turn up his nose at her choice of cabbage-rose-covered-wallpaper, or white slipcovers. Now, that kind of freedom might just be the ticket! Her imagination ran away with her. Paula pictured herself sipping tea and entertaining all the new friends she would make at school. No more dealings with Phillip’s business partner’s wives. No more listening to them go on and on about how lucky she was. What a great guy Phillip was. What a lovely house he had designed for Paula. How much they envied her bucolic life at the river’s edge.

When Philip waltzed through the door and announced that he was taking her out to dinner Paula pointed to the pile of veggies sitting in the bowl before her. “Just put them in the fridge,” he said. “They’ll keep.” Reluctantly, she slipped on her sweater and followed her husband out to the Range Rover. He drove to The Cheesecake Factory, which struck Paula as odd, since their son was fond of the restaurant, and Philip had declared the eatery too noisy and crowded each and every time he’d given in to Marcus's will.

Phillip ordered a martini and Paula ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio. Then she watched him reach into the pocket of his sports jacket and pull something out. As Philip ceremoniously presented Paula with her American Express card, he said softly, “I’m sorry Dear, I shouldn’t have acted like such a jerk the other day. The bedroom looks great. Forgive me? For being such a brute?”

Paula picked up the card in one deft move. All that lovely buying power reinstated. “I guess I was a little extravagant,” she declared.

“I flew off the handle over nothing,” Phillip said. “I’ve been stressed out about the firm losing several commissions. But that big job I told you about just come through. So, I’m feeling better about our finances.”

Paula slid the card into her Coach bag. Why had he chosen The Cheesecake Factory then, when they could have gone to that little French place she liked so much? The restaurant with the white tablecloths that served the Kobe beef with bĂ©arnaise sauce. Oh well, Paula didn’t really mind all that much. Life was back on track.






All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

13 comments:

Maggie May said...

Good story. Life is about compromise.....

(NUTS In MAY)

Chris@Maugeritaville said...

Wow, excellent, excellent writing. I found your site through my pal Suldog's blog.

And I am a big Cheesecake Factory fan. So there's that.

Take care,
Chris
cdmauger.blogspot.com

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Thanks Maggie and Chris. Paula is sort of shallow, I did hope that she didn't come off as too much of a bitch. I am wondering how the "spenaholic's" among us are faring in these bad economic times, so I wrote a little character study.

Irish Gumbo said...

An architect with a "significant income"? Now I know its fiction! (grin)

Nice stidy, liked it. And thank you for following Irish Gumbo!

And just so you know, I'm an architect by profession, the line about the income caught my eye...

Elizabeth Bradley said...

As a designer I have worked with quite a few "well off" architects, some were very good and some were not so hot but knew how to make lots of money. Thanks for dropping by my humble blogspot!

Kim said...

What an excellent grasp of humanity you have. This is how marriage is often - the last straw - then imagining a different life and then just the right words (which are so rare) to get you back to the safety of your life. Glad you're back and hope your unpacking is almost done!

God of Another World said...

Just spent last weekend working at a workshop that focused specifically on first sentences...this first sentence was well done - giving us a glimpse of Paula's conflict, her lack of conviction that proves out in the story, and the repitition that this story has happened and will happen to Paula again.

Great detail, a consistent trait in your writing with great food descriptions and tangible surroundings.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Kim, I have my two daughters coming tomorrow to help with the remaining unpacking! Yay! Help is on the way, at last.

Thanks for the praise, I am a fan of strong first sentences, God of Another World, (give me time to learn your name). Back in my archives you can read a blog I wrote about this very subject.

momcat said...

Its scary how close an unsuspecting spouse can sometimes come to divorce and how important communication and understanding are in a relationship. As an aside I have found that my teens need my input as a parent more now in many ways than when they were younger as they start facing life changing situations. What is scary is how many parents lose the ability to relate to their teens because they cant see past the cheek and attitude. If you can overlook some of these outbursts (and even I sometimes fail at this) you can develop an adult relationship with your teen without the bitterness of misunderstanding.

Suldog said...

Thank you for the very kind words over at my place.

I love this piece! Well done!

Marguerite said...

Fabulous story, Elizabeth! I really enjoyed the part where she is fantasizing about her own place. I must admit that I could relate to that. lol

Cheryl said...

I really enjoyed this story. A perfect and economic portrait of one of those moments when life can take you in a totally different direction, and the reasons why we stay.

K. said...

Oooh, VERY compelling! I can't wait to hear what happens!