Cold Shoulder Mornings
By Pili Nathaniel
Mary had to get out of bed. She needed to get to her computer. She wanted to write. She pushed the covers off slowly and crawled out into the cold morning.
“Where are you going?”
Mary felt the blossoming bud of hope. She looked warily at him. “You’re talking to me now?”
He turned his head and shut his eyes, effectively shutting her out.
He came home last night from work, his eyes averted from hers. Didn’t want to talk, didn’t even want to look at her. Last night, Mary’s heart felt like it sat stewing in the acid of her rumbling stomach.
Mary tried to cuddle with him during the night but he just lay there like stone. She tried wrapping her smooth naked arm around his waist only to get shoved away. At one point he positioned himself just to make it uncomfortable for her to hold him.
He did not try to touch Mary once.
Today, her heart felt like it was being stuffed and squeezed into her small intestines. What was wrong with him? “What did I do? Did I do something?” Today, Mary refused to ask. She’d asked twice last night.
“Nothing,” he looked briefly at her, his flat brown eyes were empty.
This morning was much of the same. She got out of bed and left the icy bedroom, it’s frigidness had nothing to do with the dry California winter air. All hope that Mary felt was eaten away by the worms of self-doubt. “What did I do?” She made his coffee, made herself some black tea and went outside to water the garden.
The grass was wet with early morning dew. Mary’s bare feet were soon slathered in grass-sweat as she traipsed through it toward the garden lugging the bright green hose. She lost herself in her little garden. The lettuces were still very small and susceptible to the weather. “I think that we have a little furry creature taking it’s fill,” she mused. About a quarter of the tender greens were decimated or simply gone. “What a lucky little mouse.” she thought. “For now.”
Mary turned a jet of fresh cold water onto the corn, about a dozen in all. One or two hadn’t survived through the transition of transplanting. She had loved starting the seeds in the house while the weather was still frigid. The corn had been one of the first babies to poke its head out of the fresh earth and into the warmth of her home.
She let the water spray lazily over the remainder of the garden. The sun hadn’t come up over the fence just yet and she didn’t want to stun the little sugar snap pea shoots or bruise the cilantro. She would have to replant some tomorrow. The four or five delicious plants were already becoming tall in the slow warmth that was creeping up as winter turned to spring. The older romaine lettuces would soon follow suit, bolting as if to extend their lush green arms into the spring sun.
Mary wiped her wet brown feet on the welcome mat outside the kitchen. Her home was not quite as welcoming as her garden and the approaching sunrise. Instead of a warm, “Good Morning!” She was greeted by a stoic man making coffee.
“I already made you coffee.” She whispered.
“It was cold.” He grunted.
Mary grabbed the still warm cup of coffee from the counter and tossed its remains in the sink. Her head hurt with the need to release. Her hands itched for the safety of her computer. Instead, she got ready for yoga and read a half chapter of a ‘spiritual guidance’ book a friend in NYC had suggested. She dove into the book. Interesting, but not enough to restore her heart to its proper place.
She asked him something unimportant with the hope of maybe getting him to talk with her. No response. She made a cute comment about his stinky yoga mat, which he obviously didn’t find funny because she got the same averted eyes and no reply.
She didn’t say anything then. Her lungs felt too small for the breaths she was trying to take. Mary couldn’t get a full breath. She didn’t say anything as she put veggie-oil into her converted 1978 diesel Mercedes. She didn’t say anything when she came back into the cold house to wash the oil off her hands. She didn’t say anything when she started the car to warm it up or when he slammed the door after sitting in the passenger seat. Mary didn’t say anything.
She almost got into a couple of accidents on the way to yoga. Mary said something then. The first word was at a four way stop sign as a Prius decided to take his turn a little early.
“Fucker.” Mary said.
Then at the next green light she took a left turn. It was near completion when a grey Tacoma swerved from behind a large black SUV to come rushing straight at her car. Mary screamed then.
“Fuck you!” Mary stuck her longest finger out of her window as to make sure the other driver knew what a dick he was.
He said something then. “You knew that was going to happen.”
Mary spat out something in reply to him. Something of no consequence. Mary knew then that he would only speak of his own accord if he had to relate something that she had done wrong. She had spent the last ten or so hours in suspense of the dreadful thing she must have done to deserve this cold-shoulder treatment from him.
Mary pulled into the parking lot as safely as she could. God forbid he’d say anything about her driving skills. She just wanted to get out of her stinky old car and get up to yoga.
Not a very auspicious way to begin a spiritual yoga practice.
Practice wasn’t any better. He made it a point to practice on the other side of the room, even when there was a huge space next to her. That put Mary into the realm of the stinky lesbian chick (she really is stinky) and the “Ho-hum” woman (she hummed and grunted throughout her entire practice), both of which they’d tried their best to practice very far away from. On a good day he and Mary would have complained about and teased these women. Now, Mary was the woman that he didn’t want to practice next to.
She pushed through her yoga practice. Mary let the sweat drown her confused sorrow-anger.
After closing postures, she got up and got dressed when her body was willing. She said a small goodbye to the instructor. She could tell the instructor knew something was going on. Her instructor was wrong. There was nothing going on. Nothing.
Mary didn’t say anything as she waited in her stinky car for him. She didn’t say anything when the door opened to announce his arrival and when it shut to let her know that she could start the car and drive home. She didn’t say anything when he stuffed the earbuds of her little grey iPod into his already deaf ears. Mary didn’t say anything when he tipped his hat down in effort to drown out the world and her presence.
Not a word was spoken as she drove home. No almost-accidents. No swearing. Nothing except the tinny sound of music coming from an old set of Apple earbuds.
She pulled into the driveway. He was out of the car before she put it into park. Mary turned the car off and sat there for a while. The wrought iron door squeaked open then slammed closed.
“What was happening here? What did I do?” Mary sat on the faded and torn leather seats of her old Mercedes and let some errant tears go.
“Stop. Just stop.” She shook herself, grabbed her stinky yoga stuff and left her car. Mary let her free hand scrap along the rough whitewashed exterior of her small adobe-style house as she made her way to the clothesline. She hung out her ripped, sweat-wet yoga mat and took a cleansing breath. She looked to the garden. What looked so inviting in the early morning light now looked pale and dead in the afternoon gloom. She hadn’t noticed this morning but the kale had been ravaged by worms. Mary salvaged what she could, pulled the entire plant from the garden and threw the remains in the compost pile. It lay there. Worm infested and unwanted.
Mary took another breath. She would try to make this right. Whatever this was. She set out for the kitchen to make them some smoothies. He was taking a shower.
Mary was already half done with her kale/mango/strawberry/coconut smoothie when he came out, dressed. She tried again. “There’s a smoothie with your name on it in the kitchen.” She could hear the false cheerfulness drone out of her voice.
“I don’t want any.” He continued into the kitchen, avoiding her disappointed stare. He came into the living room with some apple-peach juice.
Shutdown again. She turned back to her computer screen and decided to tune him out.
He tinkered on his computer on one side of the living room while Mary checked the news at her computer on the opposite side. She read about people who’s lives were decidedly worst off then hers.
She decided to try one more time. She pouted, “So you’re gonna make me drink the entire smoothie by myself?” Mary tried for puppy-dog eyes, but it really didn’t matter what she did because he didn’t look up from his computer. He just shrugged a negative.
She washed the glass out and put the remains of the smoothie into the refrigerator next to the bottle of apple-peach juice. She sat back at her computer and let herself numb over. Mary made her heart return to its proper place and made her lungs function correctly. She turned her entire being back to her keyboard and screen. She created a new document and let her fingers speak. At least here she was wanted. At least here Mary could release her thoughts without the nuisance of expecting a feeling reply. She knew this conglomeration of wires and plastic wasn’t alive. This machine could not give human contact and for that she was glad.
The human man she was currently in contact with was behaving like a slow computer and she couldn’t log on because the password had been changed. Mary didn’t know how to get in.
He changed into his nicest work blacks, turned off his computer and said a terse, “Bye.” He was already halfway out the door. At least he said something.
Mary said nothing.
He slammed the wrought-iron kitchen door.
“Here I am,” Mary typed as tears trickled down her cheeks on to her fingers; wet like dew-drenched grass on a cold morning, “writing about it. I’m writing about nothing.”