Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The River inside the Ocean (a short story)

The River inside the Ocean
(Betty Lee Demuth)

They walked down into the back of the housing project in Babenhausen West, Germany, carrying the bag of chicken and several coke cans, and their twin boys, three years old. Anyone passing might have thought, they had unfrequented the picnic area, which they had, she kept herself in the house pretty much; Glenn Demuth was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, stationed at Babenhausen.
The afternoon was hotter than expected, in the nineties. They walked around several of the apartment buildings, sat down by where a band was getting ready to play, it was the 4th of July, 1975, and there were perhaps two hundred other soldiers with their wives and kids. They put their blanket down, and rested a bit, the twins were sitting upright, waiting for the chicken. As Glenn looked into the basket, pulled out a dish full of chicken, he saw it was scorched black.
“Let me take them,” Betty Lee said. “The chicken ought to be eaten while it’s still hot. I’m sorry but I burnt them a little.”
He turned to the boys, moved the coke cans over to each boy, waited to open them, the pile of chicken looked dry and way too burnt to eat, but he also knew they were hungry. He closed the bag of chicken, searched for the less burnt pieces and handed them to the two boys. He could not believe she took all morning to cook burnt chicken. He had been calm and careful and restrained about it, lest she fly off the handle, go into a manic episode, or depression. It could be a disaster, and he knew it, possible that is what she wanted, perhaps she did it on purpose, and it was some ghastly joke, it would not be the first time. So empty and dead was the moment. He reopened the bag to find some more pieces of chicken eatable, and gave them to the kids, he ate one leg, it was all he could stomach, and then opened the cans of pop for the boys.
He grabbed the coke can before Betty Lee could, having seen a bee fussing about it. She became angry, grabbed it from him. The two boys were just watching.
“Don’t drink it; there might be a bee in there!” He told her. “I won’t tell you again,” Glenn said.
She turned away from him, looked at the band, then turned back and went to give the coke to the boys, and he grabbed it, before she could.
“No, you don’t,” he said. “You can drink it if you want, but not them.”
“Not them, but I can?”
“Don’t you remember I said there was a bee?”
“Cody has to go to the bathroom,” she said, and put the can down. Glenn stood up, and took his hand, “Me too,” said Shawn, and he took them both behind some trees, and they took a pee, and they went back to the picnic.
“The boys look like their burning up,” she said.
“I bought them hats, why didn’t you bring them along?”
“I know,” Betty Lee said. “It’s always my job. Where did you put them?”
“You mean, where did you put them?”
“I won’t tell you,” she said.
“No, just tell me and I’ll go get them.”
“I don’t know, go and find them yourself.”
“I should really go anyway, get some more coke.” Glenn said. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“That’s good,” Betty Lee commented. “It wasn’t my fault, dea-rr!”
Glenn started to stand up, turned toward the coke, was going to pour it out, when a bee climbed out of the top, and flew off.
“Look, look, the bee,” he yelped. But when she turned to see, it was long gone. Nonetheless, he grabbed the coke and poured it out onto the grass. The boys had seen it, and their eyes were big as owls, unblinking.
“Sure, sure there was,” she said.
“Where did you put the hats?” Glenn asked.
“You wouldn’t understand if I told you.” Betty Lee remarked. “That’s why I won’t tell you.”
“I know,” said Glenn. “You put them most likely in our bedroom closet.”
“Yes, I put some of their summer cloths there.”
“I’m sure you did,” Glenn said. “You stuff everything into that closet you don’t intend on using. I’ll just go back and have a look.”
“But you’ll come back, right?”
He had walked away, didn’t really want to come back, he would have preferred running to a bar, or guesthouse. She was getting worse, the doctor had put her on valium, and she hated the medication—sometimes she’d not take it, it made her feel like a zombie she said, but without it, she was hard to live with. Upon his return, the band was playing.

“Wasn’t it just where I said it would be?” Betty Lee asked.
“It was where I guessed it would be, yes!”
“But I really thought I ought not to tell you, have some fun, I was just kidding around, I would have told you, had you not guessed.”
“How are the boys?” he asked.
“Now you can go back to the apartment if you want, why do you ask such a question?”
“Sure, you’d like that, and go nuts again and hit the boys with a frying pan on the ass, when I’m gone, displace your anger.”
“You couldn’t know how bad I feel about that, about doing that, I only did that once.”
“I told you I’d not forget that.”
“I know,” Betty Lee said, “but not just now, you really don’t care about hurting my feelings.”
“Why did you do it?”
“I couldn’t stand their crying.”
Glenn poured the boys some coke, he had a beer for himself. He remembered the day he came home, and she was crying, she had told him what she had done, that was a year past.
“Let’s not talk about it,” she said.
“I’d like not to, but it’s a valid question.”
“Okay, the boys are fine as you can see; worst thing is they’ll have sun burnt faces tomorrow.”
“All I want to do sometimes is get away from you, you make me crazy,” he told her.
“You shouldn’t talk to me like that in front of the kids, Glenn.”
“No, I shouldn’t.”
“They can hear you, you know. And who says I want to stay married to you anyhow?”
Glenn drank another beer down, and the boys ate some burnt chicken, and drank the coke.
“Maybe I’ll stay married to you and never give you a divorce that would be pretty good. I should kill you?”
“You tried twice already.” He remarked.
“I’d not give you a thing if I left you, you know.”
“I’m sorry if you’re angry, I just never know why you are?”
“All right,” said Betty Lee. “I’m sorry also. I’m sorry I ever met you. I’m sorry I married you.”
“Well, at least we got that in common.” He said.
“Shut up please, you shouldn’t say that in front of the kids.”

He knew she was getting worse, as the years passed on, her condition, he realized he’d not be able to endure her for a lifetime. Perhaps the remark she made about the marriage, was a rhetorical one, it was obvious, his drinking was increasing, and her mental condition was increasing. He poured himself another beer.
“I’m sorry to be so oppressive,” she said.
“Yes, I want to keep the marriage, I need someone to do the laundry.”

No.752 (March 1, 2011)
Originally written in June, 2006
But revamped, for dialogue.