Friday, 4 December 2015

Guest Author Susan Toy of Bequia.

 
This week, I'm happy to have Susan Toy return with another of her entertaining short stories. Susan has been featured on the 4Q Interview (see here) as well as a previous guest author (see here). Drop by one of the previous pages to discover more about Susan and her artful writing. So many of her fellow authors are indebted to her kindness of sharing our work on her reading recommendations web site link

Here's another one for you to enjoy.




Family Jewels

By Susan M. Toy

 

Tracy lay on the hotel bed, fully clothed. With the window shut and thick curtains pulled tight, she was completely in the dark.
But she wasn’t asleep, just thinking, fast thoughts racing through her head, so jumbled, that she couldn’t sort out what to do next. Unconsciously, she had been studying a crack in the wall, one that began in the upper left-hand corner of the room, meandering its way down, almost meeting the window’s edge.
There was a tentative rap at the door. Tracy closed her eyes then covered them with the back of one hand. She remained silent.
            Tracy?” Doug’s voice tested the waters. “Trace, honey. I know you’re in there. Please open the door.”
A moment passed before he tried the handle. It turned, the door pushed open, and he entered the room.
“Why didn’t you lock the door? Anyone could have walked in.” He sounded more annoyed than concerned about her. Then softening his voice, he said, “And what are you doing in the dark? Aren’t you feeling well? I knew it. Why didn’t you say so at the restaurant?”
            Tracy waited a long moment then said in a whisper, “I’m fine.” She removed her hand, but kept her eyes shut.
  
          “Maybe you just need something to eat. Would you like me to order room service?” Doug hesitated. “Or maybe you’d like to go downstairs. You could get the same food, but it would cost a lot less in the café. Walking around might do you some good, too. Better than lying here on the bed, in the dark.” He walked over to the window and grabbed a curtain.
            “Please keep that closed,” Tracy said, opening her eyes to glare at her husband, who was dwarfed by the high-ceilinged room of that once-elegant hotel.
Doug turned when she spoke, dropping the brocade.
“What’s wrong with you, Tracy?” His face twisted with anger, any tender concern vanishing. “And what’s this about leaving? You amaze me! You don’t really want to leave. Where did you get this idea? You suddenly want to give up thirty years? And after all I’ve done for you, provided you with? And right now, too, especially when I’ve finally retired, you want to leave me? I thought we were going to spend our golden years together.” He waved an arm, ordering her to stand. “Now stop this foolishness, Tracy. Get up and we’ll go out so you can eat.”
Doug shrugged then shook his head as though in disbelief. He moved to the foot of the bed, and his voice softened again. “I already ate, after you left the restaurant; we can skip the gallery this afternoon, if you want. Maybe do something you’d like to do. Shop? I don’t mind. Really. But let’s forget we even had that conversation, and just go back to the way things were. Okay?”
 
 
*** 

Shut up! Just shut up!

Earlier, Tracy had propped one elbow on the café railing and, cupping her chin in the hand’s palm, gazed down the street at nothing in particular, silently willing her husband to stop pontificating. Bad enough she’d had to traipse around after him all morning in the museum. Now he was hell-bent on lecturing her about what they’d seen.
            The Parisian back street was moderately busy that sun-drenched day. The restaurant patio, a block from their hotel, offered welcome cooling shade, and a place for Tracy to relax her aching legs. Doug had plans to hit another art gallery shortly after lunch, so she would have little time to rest.
Not conferring with Tracy first, he automatically ordered café au lait, “Deux, s’il vous plait,” holding up two fingers in a V at the passing garçon.
Tracy didn’t bother to remind him that the French count numbers beginning with their thumb. Her lips set in a tight, silent line, she also didn’t mention she would rather have had something cold to drink, maybe a beer for a change. What was the point?
Doug launched back into his monologue, not showing any sign of letting up, so she continued staring down the street, nodding towards her husband every so often to give the impression she was paying attention. After thirty years of practice she had this routine down pat.
 
*** 

Tracy sat up on the bed and turned around, placing her feet firmly on the carpeted floor. She looked directly at Doug and, emphasizing each word, said, “What you’ve done for me?” She gulped. “What you’ve given me?”
Now that she had suddenly found her voice, though, there was no stopping, and she leaped right down his throat.
“I’ve had thirty years of boredom, of doing only what you wanted to do because I thought that was the way a happy marriage worked, what society wanted of me, and I was afraid to do anything different. Now a naked man has shown me there’s something more to life that I’ve been missing all along. I know it’s okay to do what pleases me–if I want to. It’s not just the gallery this afternoon, Doug.”
Her volume had risen to the point where it bordered on a scream.
“If I get dragged into one more museum, or have to do anything else because you want to do it, I might just possibly die. Walking around the streets naked would be preferable to this unrelenting boredom our life has become. At least I’d feel free, like I was doing something I chose to do.
            “Shhh. Keep your voice down.” Doug held out his hands, patting down the air. “There might be someone in the next room.”
            “They wouldn’t care about what we’re saying in English.” But Tracy lowered her voice out of habitual deference.
Doug paused and, nodding slowly, said, “It’s the money you want, isn’t it? If you think I’m going to let you go without a fight, allowing you to get away with this … or, wait a minute … is there someone else? You’ve planned this with someone, haven’t you?”
            “You just don’t get it–and there’s the problem. I don’t want your money, or at least no more than I’m entitled to. And there’s no one else. I just want to be allowed to find out who I really am. I can’t do that as long as you’re constantly calling the shots.”
            “I know what it is—you’re menopausal. You’re not thinking clearly, Tracy.” Doug looked concerned again and, leaning over, reached a hand out to touch her shoulder. She stood up from the bed, shrugging him off in one motion.
Doug continued, “Can’t we wait until we’re back in Calgary to talk about this? You could see a doctor there, or maybe talk with a therapist. Then we’ll both decide what to do.”
            Through clenched teeth, Tracy said, “I’ve never thought more clearly in all my life.” And if I don’t follow through now, I’ll never get away from this man. “I’m not sick. I just need some space.”
            “So what do you plan to do?” He became very business-like. “I might remind you that there are responsibilities you can’t just walk away from. We have tickets and bookings already paid for. You should at least stay and finish this trip.”
For the first time in her life, the novelty of not-knowing, not having a plan as to what was about to happen, was decidedly exciting, yet, at the same time, frightening.
“I think I’d like to go home.” She said, looking away from him.
“Okay, if that’s what you want.” Doug shook his head. “I don’t know why we can’t just go back to the way things were this morning. We were having such a good time.”
No, you were having a good time. I was tagging along, like I’ve always done.
Tracy glanced at Doug’s angry face before he turned away to walk into the bathroom. When he came back out she was still standing in the same position as though chained to the spot. “I’d better start seeing about changing our flight,” he said. “This isn’t going to be easy, you know. It’s probably going to cost a lot, too.” He pointed around the room. “You pack up our things. I’ll call from the lobby and let you know when I get through with it all. And, Tracy … ” He reached an arm towards her, attempting to drape it around her shoulders, but she slouched out of the way so the arm hit empty space before dropping by his side again. “Buck up, Sweetie. We’ll figure a way out of this.”
He let himself out of the room. 

*** 

Finally, some activity broke through Doug’s lecturing drone, catching her attention. Startled into close observation, she blinked hard, twice, not believing her eyes.
            Pedestrians were stepping aside, giving wide berth, pointing, and stifling laughter behind hands. An elderly man, squat, pleasantly plump, and totally naked, save for sandals and white socks, strolled out from the parting crowd along the sidewalk’s centre towards Tracy. With a full head of wavey-grey hair framing a Cheshire Cat-face, he resembled an odd mix of aged-cherub and manically grinning gargoyle, just like those carvings they’d seen in Notre Dame.
Tracy stared intently, then giggled, imagining a friend’s oh-so-British voice declaring, “His dingly-danglies are showing!” When the man came alongside Tracy, he turned his head and they made eye contact. He flashed her a big, self-satisfied smile, threw a quick wave, and continued walking. Tracy returned the infectious smile.
            “What the … ” Doug said, his consideration of the
Gauls and Visigoths ending abruptly.
            Tracy turned back to look at her husband, a smile on her lips. “You didn’t see his gem-encrusted penis ring. Gave new meaning to the term Family Jewels.”
Doug huffed, “Where are the police?” Craning his neck, he watched the man’s backside, adding, “Surely, even in France, one can’t walk around naked.”
            Tracy looked at Doug, her brow now furrowed. “Why not? He seemed perfectly happy to me.” She turned around for another glimpse, but the nudist had already disappeared into a crowd. “And harmless,” she said, more to herself, continuing to look down the street.
A moment later there was a scuffle when two police approached. They grabbed the naked man’s arms, plucking him from passers-by, and dragged him out of Tracy’s sight.
            “Good!” Doug said, settling back into his seat, pulling straight his jacket lapels. “That’s taken care of.”
The waiter appeared and disinterestedly placed two cups on their table, leaving immediately.
            “Merci,” Tracy said to the retreating white-shirted back. She reached for a paper napkin and, while sopping up spilled coffee from the saucer, she studied her husband’s face. “Why good? Why can’t we do what makes us happy, whenever the moment grabs us?”
            “What a question! Everything would become chaotic without rules. You know that. You’ve helped me raise three children.”
            “Helped?” Tracy said, catching her breath, her head shaking in anger. More like, we’ve always done as you’ve said, but she didn’t dare speak those words out loud.
             “People can’t do whatever they want, you know, not if it upsets everyone.”
Doug settled back into his seat, looking satisfied he had made his point and their discussion was over.
            Looking around, Tracy observed that life in the café had resumed as though nothing had happened. Or, what was more likely the case–a naked man walking down a Paris street was so common an occurrence that few had paid any attention at all.
She waved an arm at other diners seated on the patio. “You’re the only one who’s upset.” Laughing, she added, “Besides, if the man has an expensive penis ring, why can’t he flaunt it?”
            No longer in the shade, she cupped a hand over her eyes. Doug’s face, even still protected by the overhead awning, was turning a brilliant crimson; sweat beaded his brow.
            Tracy, this isn’t funny. He’s crazy. How long will it be before he hurts someone, or himself? Better if he’s locked up.”  
            Like me? Tracy pursed her lips, but remained silent. After a few moments, gathering courage, she looked Doug straight in the eye, and said, “I’m leaving.”
            “You want to go back to the hotel? But we just got our coffee. I thought we were going to eat lunch.” He searched around for their waiter.
        
    “No, Doug. I’m leaving you.” Tracy reached to the ground, fingering her purse’s handles.
Doug turned back to her with a deer-in-the-headlights look. She’d managed to silence him more effectively than if she’d reached across and slapped his face. Composing himself, he harrumphed and, reaching for the sugar, fumbled with the coffee spoon, buying time to avoid the direction Tracy was heading. Finally finding his voice, Doug said with a hiss, “What will the kids think? What about the rest of the family, our friends, our neighbours? How do you expect me to explain this to everyone? Have you considered anything at all? You’re going to make me look like a fool!”
The balding spot where his hairline was receding had been sunburned an angry red; the skin would soon peel. A tear glistened in the corner of one eye. Quickly removing his glasses, he swiped the moisture away, not allowing it an opportunity to course down his cheek.
Tracy sighed and shook her head as if to stop any guilt from settling on her shoulders yet one more time. She grabbed the handles of her bag, lifting it from the ground and, pushing herself up from the chair, reached over and placed one palm on her husband’s cheek. She whispered, “Goodbye, Doug.” Then turning, she straightened her back and walked steadily through the café entrance, out onto the sidewalk, heading towards their hotel. If Doug had called out, trying to stop her, she didn’t hear.   
The sun shining full on her face caused her to squint. Or was that the beginning of a smile? Tracy opened her bag and pulled out a pair of sunglasses, fitting them on. Then flicking the blouse button high on her neck, she impulsively unfastened it, as well as the next, allowing a slight breeze to deliciously trickle down into her cleavage. 

***

Tracy sighed deeply. Where had her happiness gone, what she’d felt earlier when leaving the restaurant? She walked over to the window and drew back the curtains. The much cheaper room-without-a-view Doug had insisted on booking looked out on the blank wall of a next-door building. The large pane of glass still allowed in some light, although not that famous Paris light known to artists, and Tracy stood in the middle of its sunny warmth, trying to clear her mind of all thought. It hurt to think, but if she could just figure out which direction was best, now that she’d suddenly set things in motion. All she knew was that there was no going back to what they’d had, what they had been.
Reaching behind her head, Tracy expertly pinned up some escaped strands of hair into the usual tightly wound bun. Sighing once more, she walked over to the wardrobe, opened the door and, reaching in, pulled out her own suitcase. She hesitated briefly, just for a moment, before also grabbing Doug’s.



 Thank you Susan for sharing your stories. Dear readers, if you get a chance, pick up one of Susan's novels. You won't be disappointed.





Watch here next week when Rob Rayner of New Brunswick is featured as our guest author.


 

5 comments:

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting this story of mine, Allan!

P.S. Joshi said...

Sounds like an interesting read, Susan. Thanks, Allan, for bring us this preview. :) --- Suzanne J.

allan hudson said...

Always a pleasure anonymous!!

allan hudson said...

Susan is a talented author and it's always great to have her visit. Thanks for leaving a comment Suzanne.

Connie Flanagan said...

It's always a pleasure to read Susan's work. As always, she expresses so much with so few, but incredibly revealing, words.