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.
“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.