Andy Plattner ~ Selection

Julia needs a few things. It’s a Sunday morn­ing and she’s been up for a few hours. Sugar, baguette, Chapstick. Her hus­band Bobby, who is clos­er to her father’s age than her own, sits in the liv­ing room, watch­ing polit­i­cal talk shows. He’s already said to the TV, “This guy’s nev­er told the truth in his whole life.” Then, “Oh, my god, I knew this was going to hap­pen.” They’ve been mar­ried for more than nine years. He can do this all morn­ing. She checks on him before she leaves, asks if he wants any­thing. He says, “Heineken, sweet­heart. Thank you.”

Bye!” she says.

Love you,” he says.

After she clos­es the front door, she sur­veys the frozen grass of her front lawn, the qui­et street. She feels despair, which is not entire­ly unusu­al. Though this time she says, “I don’t love you, Bobby. I don’t. I nev­er have, and I nev­er will.” She walks for her Benz S-Class, feels the grass crack under her sneak­ers. If he had said some­thing besides Heineken; had asked for a Laurie Anderson CD or a Harvey Pekar com­ic, she might’ve smiled in relief at the effort. She might not have had to say I don’t love youwhile look­ing out on their neigh­bor­hood on a cold win­ter morn­ing. He could’ve spared her that. Outside of what she has to have, Julia doesn’t want much.

When Julia pulls into the lot at Churchill’s Convenience Market, she sees that her mother’s Lincoln is parked in a slot out­side the entrance. The store has a nice of vari­ety of pet foods and a better-than-anyone-would’ve-guessed wine sec­tion. There’s an open space next to her mother’s car. Julia hes­i­tates. She hasn’t planned on see­ing her moth­er, but now it feels like Julia’s been look­ing for her. She loves her moth­er but she’s angry with her moth­er over a good many things. Overall, it’s not sur­pris­ing that Julia has wound up liv­ing only a few blocks from her par­ents. Julia sits on the hood of the Benz in her not-quite-warm-enough pea­coat, dan­gles her legs over the wheel-well. She lights up a cig­a­rette, stares up at the gray sky. She exhales and watch­es her smoke float, van­ish.

In the cor­ner of her eye, she catch­es open­ing of the glass door to the mar­ket. She drops her cig­a­rette to the sec­tion of pave­ment, then she slides down, touch­es her sneak­ers to the ground. She turns, gives a forced-feel­ing smile in the direc­tion of her moth­er. “Hey. Everything okay?” her moth­er says, when she’s a few feet away. Her sil­ver hair is tied back; ear­muffs rest around her col­lar like a pair of Beats.

I just want­ed a cig­a­rette,” Julia says. “Before I went in.”

Her moth­er moves clos­er to the pas­sen­ger door, reach­es for the han­dle. “Of course.”

I don’t love my hus­band,” Julia says. “I nev­er have.”

Her moth­er hes­i­tates. Her back is to Julia. Her moth­er opens the door, places the plas­tic sack she’s been car­ry­ing on the seat. She has her head bowed when she turns and says, “Well, why’d you mar­ry him?” When she looks at Julia, Julia focus­es on her pale blue eyes.

Money,” Julia says.

My daugh­ter?”

Mom. Mother.” Julia feels a lit­tle stronger, and she knows she’s made her moth­er feel a lit­tle worse. She reach­es for her mother’s elbow to steady them both. Julia’s voice is qui­et when she says, “What’d you get?”

Cabernet, bat­ter­ies, Q-tips.”

For me, it’s usu­al­ly like three things, too. That gets me in the car, three things.”

Her moth­er pulls on leather gloves. “Julia,” she says. “What’s going on?”

I told you. I don’t love Bobby. Before I left this morn­ing, I asked him what he want­ed from the store … even when I could’ve guessed. I’ve been think­ing about it … I’m not get­ting him any Heineken and if he asks me about it, I’m going to turn off that TV set and tell him I don’t love him. And because I’ll tell him when he’s doing noth­ing, he’ll tell me he doesn’t love me, either. Later, when he’s start­ing to think about work tomor­row, he’ll walk in to where I am and say he didn’t mean it. He’ll say there are a lot of things on his mind. He’ll say, ‘Tell me you didn’t mean it, either.’ I pulled in here and saw your car and I almost drove off because I knew if I stopped I’d tell you all this. But maybe you already knew.  It was just a mat­ter of when I said it.” She eyes her moth­er, who regards Julia some­what cool­ly.

Feelings come and go, sweet­heart.”

I know that,” Julia says. “I knew you knew.” Her voice is qui­eter when she says, “Hey, you look kin­da cold there, Mom.”

Would you like to get a cof­fee with me?”

Julia watch­es her moth­er for a moment; she feels like hug­ging her but doesn’t. “No,” she says. “Too late in the morn­ing for cof­fee.” She puts on what feels like a defeat­ed-look­ing smile.

Julia … some­times. You can be … Look, I think Bobby has been good for you. He knows how to relax.”

He’s sit­ting in his chair right now, watch­ing TV, swear­ing at sen­a­tors.”

None of us are suf­fer­ing, dear. Goodness.”

Mom, I’ll see you lat­er, okay? It’s fine. Like you just said … emo­tions are tem­po­rary. Almost all of them. In a cou­ple of days, I’ll make a cake. I’ll dri­ve over to see you and Daddy.”

Well, I’d like that, we’ll look for­ward to it. Listen, take it slow today. It’s just so gray out. We need to plan a trip to Miami. Stay at the Sea View for a week. Let’s talk about that soon … when you come over. Julia, you’re a grown woman, I’m proud of you. You need­ed to say what you’ve said. Now, per­haps you under­stand some­thing. You real­ize … you should always talk to me first, yes? Shouldn’t you be wear­ing a hat, sweet­heart?”

I’m head­ing in right now.” She leans over, kiss­es her moth­er on the cheek.

From inside the door of the mar­ket, Julia watch­es as her moth­er backs out. Julia scolds her­self. Here was her moth­er just run­ning an errand and Julia hit her with all of this. But then Julia thinks, You can’t real­ly call me a bitch for telling her some­thing she already knew.

She steps aside when some­one says, “Pardon me.” A guy in jeans, wool jack­et, a child hold­ing his hand. They step out and when the kid turns and looks back at Julia, she gives him a wave. She takes in a breath, turns and faces the aisles. Now what did she come in here for? She knows the store, knows what they sell, so what­ev­er it is will be here. Heineken, she doesn’t want to get that, but she prob­a­bly will. If she for­gets, he’ll gripe. He’ll say, All I do for you and… It’s always bet­ter to just give him what he wants, espe­cial­ly if this is all it is.

First, she’ll shop for her­self. She winds up stand­ing in front of the sec­tion marked French Reds. The words are hand-writ­ten on an index card taped to the wall just above the shoul­der-high shelf. She spots a bot­tle of Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuisse. She swirls around, says in the direc­tion of the cashier, “Hey, Hazel, when did you start car­ry­ing this, the Pouilly-Fuisse?”

The woman behind the reg­is­ter adjusts her eye­glass­es, leans for­ward. “We’ve had that for a while,” she says. “Pretty sure.”

Man, you all think of every­thing.” She says this in a mur­mur as she faces the shelf. She draws in anoth­er mea­sured breath, then reach­es for it.

~

Andy Plattner’s sto­ry col­lec­tion, Dixie Luck, was pub­lished in April by Mercer University Press.