Distancing by Anna Shannon
I flick on the coffee machine and open the fridge. Oh, right. I finished all the wine, ‘coping.’ I rub my eyes and tighten the belt of my pink satin robe. It has a tendency to slip, putting my negligee on display. Course that never bothers Lionel unless the drapes are open. As if anyone can even see my breasts from that far away, even if they were open.
I close the fridge and look past the kitchen island, past the extra-long white leather couch and matching ottoman to his liquor cabinet.
I loathe rustic design, but he had it commissioned and made with reclaimed wood from his family’s ranch. This immovable cabinet, an eye-sore on my white carpet, declares it will remain until the end of time, like the rusting pile of old tools on the ranch. ‘Reclaimed’ means mites, mold, and moss. Tiny insects munch through ancient knots.
I move across the room, kneel down, open the iron latch, and pry open the doors. The inside stinks of Scotch. I run my finger along the bottles and sink into the carpet.
Fine, I shout, my voice bouncing off the walls.
I start to read a label and decide I don’t care. I pick the least dusty bottle and carry it two-handed back to the island. I check the time on the microwave. That can’t be right. I look outside and see that the shadows of the lilac tree point east.
East means sunset.
I turn off the coffee machine and open the bottle. I suppress a gag and get Lionel’s crystal tumbler from the cupboard.
Would you darling? I say, mocking his drawl.
I hold the tumbler against the light, see a tiny water spot, and shrug. I fill it halfway, add an inch of water, and return to Lionel. I step, reliving the thousands of times I’ve walked this route, fingers gripping crystal, casting rainbows as I go. I settle myself at one end of the long couch, draping the folds of pink satin around my legs. I look up at the ornate frame above the fireplace and note, as fact only and not requiring action on my part, that the frame is dusty.
To your health, I say, motioning the glass at Lionel.
I look up at the portrait. My eyes always zero in on the moustache. I hadn’t minded it at the time, at the sitting all those years ago. Lionel and I have always kept up with fashion, evidenced in the cascade of my painted golden curls.
Now, a long, glossy mane is the fashion. With my free hand, I pick up a strand and examine the ends. Splits—but not a crisis. I take a hefty sip and feel it burn going down. I look at the pale walls and matching counters. I consider turning on the fireplace. Apart from the hum of the reclaimed wood mites, the only sound comes from an occasional neighbor’s comings and goings, although we’re not supposed to go out.
Wait, don’t I like ice in this? I get up and refill my glass, adding two ice cubes. I do the math, sort of. The cabinet has seven mostly-filled bottles. It should last two weeks, maybe three.
I fling myself back on the couch and drape my leg over the cushions. I sip and feel a confidence expanding with the warmth in my throat. I, Margot, can do this. I can be someone who drinks Scotch.
To you, Moustache, I say to Lionel.
Clang! Loud metal on metal outside. My hand spasms. I spill down my negligee. I stand up, disgusted, and set my glass on a coaster. I tiptoe, not for silence but from a lifetime of wearing heels, and peer through the peephole. Squinting like Clint Eastwood, I see it: a woman walking away from me down my front walk.
It’s Lynette. She always wears a white trench coat and her mother’s vintage Hermès, the one with the prancing terriers. Why didn’t she ring the bell?
I watch her until I can’t see her anymore. She must’ve put something in my mailbox. I better get it, but do up my belt first. I open the door and see a neon green piece of paper sticking out of the box. I pull it out and look around for her. She must be at Joan’s, next door. Yes, there she is. I can see Lynette through Joan’s new rosebushes.
Joan, I snicker. How Lionel and I have laughed, watching her from the window. She’s forever outside, fussing over those ridiculous rosebushes. Only the native wild roses can thrive here. She’ll find that out soon enough. She’s not from here, but she’s not British either for all her imitation of Downton Abbey, with her shears and basket. What’s next, a fascinator for getting the mail?
I see Lynette leaving Joan’s and I hurry back inside. I can’t let her see me in my nightwear this late in the day. I return to Lionel, studying the neon green paper.
It’s a pancake breakfast, I say. This Saturday. ‘Come hell or high water.’
I grimace and fold the flyer twice, creasing the edges with my nails. I pick up my drink and place myself in my seat, careful not to spill. Trust Lynette to be part of whatever this is, this sad attempt to keep rodeo culture alive.
Delivering flyers, I say, rolling my eyes at Lionel. So needy.
I drain the glass and stand up. The floor seems harder, or maybe my feet are stomping. I spill a little Scotch on the island.
Not like I could invite her in, though, could I? I say to Lionel. Why am I being so loud? Wait a minute; Lynette has never been over. That’s it. She doesn’t know we’re here.
I observe the cordless phone blinking in its charging station.
Lionel, when was the last time I talked to Lynette?
No response. I look in his eyes and, for the thousandth time, wish the artist had made them a little less cloudy and mine a little less bright. But Lionel, the great businessman, wanted to look stern. Powerful. But right now, he looks different. Instead of ferocity, I see fear. I see it in the creases around his eyes. Maybe the paint’s cracked. I stand up to see, hanging onto the mantel. I turn my head, tilting my ear at his mouth and whisper:
All I hear are the mites munching the cabinet. I finish my drink, re-evaluating my own face. Besides the permed curls and bright eyes, all I see is blankness. Or is it blurriness? My face has no remarkable features. I could be anyone.
The phone rings, boring down my eardrums. I spasm again, but this time I’m holding an empty glass.
The display reads: Joan Bennett. I don’t recognize the name, and then I do.
My English Rose! Queen Victoria! Martha Stewart!
I let it ring and ring, and make another drink. I don’t have to pour with two hands anymore. The bottle’s not as heavy. I sit down and press the button to hear:
Hi, Margot, it’s Joan. Are you going to the pancake breakfast? I thought we could go together, if you like.
Absolutely not, I say, laughing and pressing the button to stop the message.
And then I hear through the phone: Hello? Margot, are you there?
I hold it up, vowing to have a good look at the buttons later.
Hi, Joan, I say, my eyes wide. Yes, sorry, I pressed the wrong button.
I hate this phone.
It’s alright, she says. So do you think you’ll go?
No, I don’t think so, I say. Still feels too risky, even with masks. Then, remembering my manners, I ask, Do you think you will?
I’m not sure yet, she says. Then, with a slow, careful tone, she asks, How’s Lionel?
I hold the phone away from my head, realizing for the first time that the entire cul-de-sac would have seen it out their windows. Of course, Joan saw too. She saw what I saw: Lionel on a stretcher, taken away by men in protective gear, as if he were a bomb about to go off.
I can’t. I press all the buttons with both thumbs.
I feel a bit cloudy, but somehow he’s here, sitting in his chair. His belly is puffed up like an over stuffed scarecrow. He’s scratching at his arms. He’s so itchy. His face, even more yellow in the firelight, looks waxy, and his mouth opens and slurs:
Margot. I’m not leaving, got it? I’m. Not. Leaving.
The cloudiness is gone. He’s gone.
I’m sorry dear, but I had to, I say, letting the phone drop on the carpet.
I remember how he fell in the closet, lost on his way to the bathroom. He peed himself, soaking the carpet. I couldn’t lift him. I had to call. I remember how I stood back as the plastic-coated men came in the house and extracted him from the closet. I watched from the door as they closed the back of the ambulance. I thought for sure they’d wave, or nod, or give parting instructions, but they just left.
I don’t spasm. I don’t spill. I set my drink down—ta-daaaa— and walk to the door. My feet move in uneven rhythms. The palms of my hands slap against the wall of the hallway. I look through the peephole: it’s Joan.
Margot, please open the door, she says. I just want to see how you’re doing.
I open it a crack and whisper, I don’t think so.
She says, Please, can I come in?
Fine, I say.
I open the door wider and hold onto the knob for balance. Joan comes in, perfect in her denim shirt and bobbed hair. I’m worried about her, though. Her face keeps moving. She doesn’t seem quite permanent. She should get that checked out.
She says something, and I can’t understand it. The door closes, then I close my eyes for a second, and somehow we’re in my bathroom. Me and Joan— in my bathroom! The bathtub is filling, and now I’m in it. Joan tips my head back, and pours water down my hair, just like mom used to. I close my eyes, and then my legs feel so heavy, like I’m being sucked down the drain. I’m standing. I’m impressed by how strong she is. I let her towel-dry my hair and pull a nightgown over my head. She helps me get to my bed and tucks me in. I open my eyes to see her setting a glass of water on my night table.
Take these, she says, putting two pills in my hand.
I swallow them and lay back down. She sits on the edge of my bed. I frown at her, trying to make sense of how anyone could be here, in my house, and how it’s Joan, the English Rose.
Joan, I say. It’s you.
I know, she says.
I don’t think he’s coming back.
I feel a warm pressure on my hand. I move my fingers and feel skin that’s not mine. I bend my fingers around it and close my eyes.
I hear: I’m here.
Anna Shannon (she/her) is an emerging writer with short stories and essays published in Book of Matches (forthcoming), Existere Journal of Arts & Literature, NōD, Past Ten, and Regulus Press. She is currently writing a novel that teeters on the edge of historical fiction and creative nonfiction, and revels in the ambiguity of ‘history.’ Anna lives in Calgary, in the Treaty 7 region of Southern Alberta in Canada.