9 Chapters
Medium 9781574411850

the assignment

Rebecca Meacham University of North Texas Press PDF

the assignment

89

city’s inaugural marathon, and she was the hometown favorite, and as she bounced past each checkpoint—tiny, freckled, sinewy but not stringy, wearing an orange sports bra and her hair in a ponytail—he could focus only on her. So much so that his producer wondered, watching the tape, if any other runners had shown up that day. She had placed second, but told everyone, as she winked at Carter—a woman who winked—that she’d gone home with the real prize. Lately, she was running twenty miles on

Saturdays. But last weekend, she had been spooked on a long run through the park. She had been dwelling on it. For his part,

Carter was keeping an eye out, escorting her nearly everywhere, installing chains on her doors, staying over.

Still, attacking his girlfriend was a whole other matter. He said, “Jen, haven’t you had enough of that already?”

“That’s why I want you to do this, Carter. To condition me.

In case I need to defend myself, again.” She put her legs together and reached over her toes. The other night, he had painted her toenails, the only part of her that seemed to get kind of ugly.

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tom and georgia come over to swim

Rebecca Meacham University of North Texas Press PDF

t o m a n d ge o rg i a c o m e ove r t o s w i m

135

of boxed waffles and paper-wrapped T-bones. Lingering in the chill, she takes out an ice tray; she’ll have a quick Beam and Coke before Tom and Georgia arrive. She’ll mix it light, pouring almost all Coke: a little something sweet and cool on her throat, but with enough edge and weight to steel her insides.

Pauline was surprised to see Tom and Georgia at the 5-Star today, out and about, even shopping, like any other day. Since their daughter Carrie’s funeral a few weeks ago, it seems like their front door hasn’t opened, though cars line the curb all the way to

Pauline’s mailbox. Every time she drives by, Pauline is struck by how everything outside—the volleyball net and plump rhododendrons—looks exactly the same. But when she wheeled her cart into produce this morning, there they stood, Georgia touching the rough husks of cantaloupes, Tom staring at the grapes in the cart. Pauline chattered stupidly about the clumsy new paperboy, the slow mail this week, anything just to fill the silence between them. Pauline noticed their cart was absent of its usual fruit pops and cereal. Her own cart seemed too full of such things, garish with cartoon colors.

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hold fast

Rebecca Meacham University of North Texas Press PDF

162

let’s do

self-righteous. “Try stubborn. You’ve been a codger since you were twenty.”

He smiles, remembering Eloise, and loses track of what he is saying. Luckily, before things get too embarrassing, Grace picks up. “Hi, Daddy,” she says, her voice raspy, like she’s been asleep.

Grace is thirty-eight but calls him her Daddy, and Ted is glad for it. Joanne started calling him Ted when she was a teenager, which feels wrong, even now.

He had raised his daughters as he thought a father should, with love and sternness, but at a safe distance from their daily dramas. He provided a full table and advice about practical matters, like buying bonds and dressing appropriately on airplanes. When he was young, Ted would tell them, men wore ties when they traveled and women wore stockings, sometimes gloves. Eloise tended to the details. She knew which boy Joanne liked, which girl was teasing Grace, and consulted him only at a crisis. But while

Joanne outgrew the histrionics and is now a cheerful, married mother of two, Grace stayed edgy and dark. She is self-critical and grim and never wears make-up. Ted cannot quite read her.

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trim & notions

Rebecca Meacham University of North Texas Press PDF

2

let’s do

were denied their one shot all year to belt their guts out in wigs and boater hats. But they had a point, Alan admitted. “There were just nine characters in the show,” he told me. “And one of them was a mute.”

So this year, it’s back to crowd-pleasers, which is why Alan chose Guys and Dolls. Besides Geneva and me, two other people are helping with auditions—reps from the parents’ association, here to protect their children’s interests. Bob and Mary are their names, I think, or something equally upstanding. They’re both wearing patterned turtlenecks, one with strawberries, the other golf clubs. I’m nervous sitting next to them, since I’m sort of a scandal myself these days. It turns out that the last director left more than greasepaint in his wake. My baby boy is due in May, and I’m beginning to show under my smocks. The director ran off to Moab, Utah, to photograph the hoodoos. Which makes sense to me. He was the kind of guy you’d imagine would work best with giant rocks.

But that’s all over now and only Geneva and Alan know about my situation. Otherwise, I’ve kept it pretty quiet. Or tried to. I haven’t told my family, which technically is just two more people: my mother, who lives hundreds of miles away, and my older sister, Anne, from Albuquerque, who wants to visit in

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let's do

Rebecca Meacham University of North Texas Press PDF

64

let’s do

had hung low with angry black clouds and they were lost and exhausted, and when they saw the neon-lit “vacancy” sign, they both sighed. They had been young and in-love enough to laugh at the cobwebs, the fusty pictures of flowers outlined in yarn. They had slept under a quilt sewn from old dresses, curling into each other like puppies, or socks.

She had all but forgotten about that trip. A little sound escaped her throat.

“Good?” breathed the interviewer. His tongue probed her ear.

“So good,” Estelle said, raking her nails up his back. She glanced at her watch, though there was no reason to, nowhere that she had to be. By now, her husband was probably home from work, packing boxes, waiting for her to return so he could claim this lamp, that chair. Or he might be unpacking at his new apartment, the first floor of a Queen Anne in the crumbling heart of the city. She hadn’t seen it but he had described it in detail, the paint peeling like eggshells, the shutters askew. A fixer-upper, the kind of place she’d embraced when they first started out. Back then, Estelle had been the kind of girl who looked forward to things. There had been a voice in her head, the voice of countless

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