Archive for mid-life crisis

Two Bags Full

Posted in The Word: Stories with tags , , on 03/15/2014 by Janet Fitch

The Word: Home

Wendy picked her luggage off the carousel in San Jose. Two massive bags, all that remained of fifteen years in New York. It was a good ride, she kept telling herself as she dragged her suitcases out to the curb. It was a good run. That’s what people said about very old people when they finally died.  But to be honest, it had only been a fair ride. One good break, a speaking part in a Broadway musical. The rest just a long lingering death.

She’d stayed on, in her upper East Side apartment, living on fumes. The place was so small she could never invite anyone over, she had to meet them for coffee or an early dinner in local cafes.  She had expected things to pick up eventually—seesawing between hope and despair–and a few times, it had. For a month or so. Some voice-over work, a local commercial for waterbeds, only to drizzle off again into the fog.

There were men–one relationship had lasted three years.  But that too melted away, and finally, the news that her rent had been increased yet another $50–she had to admit it, she couldn’t afford New York any longer.  She’d taught English to non-English speakers, had taught night classes at City College, tried her luck as a vocal coach.

How could she give up? It was New York. Broadway, the Philharmonic, Lincoln Center. All those amazing little shops you could get a great handbag for $25, the Tunisian café with its terrific coffee…

But now she couldn’t even afford that. Forget Broadway, even off-off-off Broadway was more than she could manage. Yet she still went to the galleries and the museums on free nights, concerts in the park, auction showings.  Yes, she might as well be one of those little old women with a wheelie-cart and a knitted hat with a pompom.

If only she were ninety, she would at least be eligible for rent control.

Yet how could she give up New York? When she visited her mother in San Jose for holidays, class reunions, weddings and so on, she never envied anyone, no matter how successful they were. Because they still lived in San Jose.

Now, under blue skies, a slight wind, she waited for her sister Jill outside Terminal A baggage claim.  After fifteen years, she was coming home.  Now she would have to envy her classmates who had gone to law school, who had children already in fifth grade, who were tenured professors at San Jose State and complained (with a touch of pride) about their onerous committee work and interstaff politics. There would be no one alive who would envy her.

There, down at the end of the line, she saw her sister’s Lexus. She would put a good face on this. She would go to the store for her mother. She would do her own laundry. She would find work.  She would try every day not to seal herself in with duct tape and turn on the gas. She could have stayed in New York if she was going to do that.  “Welcome home, babe,” Jill said, kissing her, and together, they struggled to lift what was left of her life into the trunk of her sister’s car.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: PLASTER

Italian Movie

Posted in The Word: Stories, Writing Exercises with tags , , , , , on 12/10/2011 by Janet Fitch

The Word: SLIP

A youngish man with graying hair stands on the sidewalk of the elegant Via Ariosto, looking up. Across the street, an older woman follows his gaze, up the building’s third story to where a young woman stands on a balcony in her slip. A young brunette woman in a white slip, tall shutters half-open behind her.

Milan, summer, twilight.

Leaning over the art nouveau railing, lush dark hair full over her shoulders, the young woman drops a white handkerchief–no, something wrapped in a handkerchief–to the man looking up. He misses the toss. Leans over and picks the package up.

It is an Italian movie. A key. Dropped from the third story balcony to the lover below.

What she remembers are those slender arms, the flutter and flash of a white handkerchief, the white slip, the glossy brown hair, the smile, and how the youngish man unwraps the handkerchief, climbs the steps, lets himself in with the tossed key.

Now the older woman stands alone on the Via Ariosto. The youngish man with the graying hair is gone. The slender-armed, graceful, barefoot woman on the balcony, the woman in the slip, has disappeared inside the half-shuttered room.

The other woman feels it, a deep ache. That she would never drop a key in a handkerchief from an elegant balcony before shuttered doors, wearing a white slip, for a handsome graying youngish man, in a midsummer twilight on an elegant Milanese road.

She’d just come back from the leafy corner café, where she drank a vino bianco alone under the trees–elms? Her divorce already cold. She is 56 years old, and she would never stand on a balcony in a white slip… god, they’d call out the Carabinieri! Her ashbrown hair streaked with gray would make no appealing picture, her plump bare arms tossing a key–to no one.

And yet, the beauty of this movie is unmistakable, heartpiercing in the twilight. She is slightly drunk. The fierce heat has ebbed to sensuous luminous blue. A man stands on the curb reading a newspaper lying in the street. His hands remain in his pockets, he has no intention of picking it up. An older man, older than her.

It is too early to return to the hotel. She strolls along the leafy street, remembering the loveliness of the woman on the balcony. Wondering, did loveliness need to be one’s own to give one happiness?

And what if she were the woman on the balcony? That Giulietta or Giovanna. Would she even know how beautiful she was? No. Truly, she would not.  She would be thinking of her lover, of their evening ahead, the salad she would make, a light salad on a night like this. But not the beauty of this moment.

It’s all merged into one single thing–the woman, the man, the twilight, the street. How evanescent–life, beauty. But this, this is hers alone, this moment–she, with the eyes of a traveler, she is the one who caught the key more surely than the graying youngish man.

Part  of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

 Next week’s word is: PAN