Eldred heaved a broken rocker high onto the pile of scrap wood. He’d seeded the heaped pallets with rags soaked with fire-starter. He’d stay for the flames, for orange sparks riding air-currents skyward. The crowd would cheer his exploding fire. He walked away from the circle of light, night blind.
Eldred and his friends were work fit, not gym fit. They wore plaid flannel shirts over plain tees like they’d never in all their lives gone to a concert or listened to music. Except for footgear, everything they wore looked soft from wear and washing. Eldred’s ponytail skimmed his collar.
Rosie Married Down
“You’ll live to regret it,” her mother said, pumping lotion into a cupped palm. “In ten years you’ll be me.”
“I could do worse,” Rosie said, picking up the lotion. “It’s light,” she said. “You’re almost out.” She set the bottle down without taking any. Fading bruises braceleted her wrist.
Rosie liked mowing their lawn with the push mower with no motor—she ‘d bought cheap at a yard sale. She said, “I can see where I been and where I got to go, and it’s real plain what I missed. Nobody to thank or blame, anyway, but me.”
Rosie said her husband takes an interest in what she wears. He tells her what looks good on her and what she should take back to the Bon Ton shop. “Remember how I wore all that yellow? I loved yellow,” Rosie said, “Now, anything yellow – stays right on the rack.“
When Eldred was 12, his cousin bought tobacco and papers and taught him to roll unfiltered cigs without a machine. He still smoked RYOs, a couple a day, some days carried one behind his right ear. Rosie kept the ashtrays clean. Every couple of weeks she smoked one he rolled.
Rosie had breakfast conversations with the black cat wall clock. She liked to watch its big white eyes swivel and its tail swing. Regular as a pendulum, she talked, and the clock ticked. It kept good time and was good enough company. At supper, Eldred mostly would let her talk.
Rosie asked Eldridge why he’d married her. He said he didn’t know. Then he shrugged, adding, “The only reason was I thought you wanted it.”
If he’d wanted to make her happy, that was a pretty good start. She wondered how she’d spoiled it. The kit-cat clock rolled its eyes.
Rosie kitchy-kitchy-cooed toddlers in shopping carts. Sometimes Eldred grabbed her wrist, wrenching her away. Once she lost her balance and fell. He kept going, left the store, and drove away. She waited, repentant, near the checkout, until he pulled the car into the loading zone, windows down, radio blaring K-ROC.
To Save Money and the Planet
Eldred scowled and poked at the bowl of tomato-sauced spaghetti, dramatically lifting large forkfuls. “No Meatballs?”
Rosie explained Meatless Mondays.
The following Monday, Eldred set a bag of MacDonald’s next to his dinner plate, unwrapped his two Big Macs and tucked in. Rosie promised that next Monday she’d make meatloaf.
Eldred snored, but he couldn’t help that. Day and night his chest rose and fell, his mouth open like a door left ajar. Rosie asked—and sometimes told—him to breathe through his nose, but she stopped short of telling him he looked stupid. How embarrassing—she’d married a mouth-breather.
Rosie was always on him about something. She didn’t like this, and she hated that. She couldn’t stand it when he… anything. Even her kiss was a reproach. Eldred would’ve lost track of what was outlandish, or forbidden, except for her scolding him for his surpassing wickedness every blessed day.
Rosie came into her mother’s kitchen shivering. She hated heavy coats, and Eldred said
she looked fat in her puffy jacket. Fat? Her mother shook her head and wound a red scarf around Rosie’s neck. “Your Christmas present,” she said. “But no sense waiting for Christmas when you’re cold today.”
If they were in the kitchen when Eldred called Rosie stupid, she’d look up at the kitty clock. She’d watch it roll its eyes, and she’d pretend kitty was mocking him. She had to be careful not to smile. He didn’t like her to smile when he called her stupid.
Eldred cracked his knuckles and said he’d “stepped into marriage sidewise—it fit no better than wet borrowed boots set to dry on a hot wood stove.” He shook his head and said he’d like to dispatch Rosie. He’d trade connubial hard time for another life sentence in a heartbeat.
With the old-fashioned motorless push mower, the revolving blades whirring, Rosie could go any which way she pleased .She loved the sound the blades made. As long as she kept pushing, she could pretend she was one of a flock of mourning doves, all of them invisibly in flight, leaving.
Rosie asked Eldred why he’d married her. He said, “The only reason was I thought you wanted it.”
She was quiet. I still do, she told herself and pressed her lips into a crimson line.
Eldred turned away from her silence and squinted, facing straight into the blinding afternoon sun.
Miriam N. Kotzin writes fiction and poetry. Her novel, Right This Way will be published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2022. It joins Country Music (Spuyten Duyvil Press 2017), a novel, The Real Deal (Brick House Press 2012), and a collection of flash fiction. She is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently, Debris Field (David Robert Books 2017). Her fiction and poetry has been published in a number of anthologies and publications such as Shenandoah, Boulevard, Eclectica, Goliad Review, Mezzo Cammin, Offcourse, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Her micros have been published in or are forthcoming in Blink Ink, 50-Word Stories, and Five Minutes. She teaches creative writing and literature at Drexel University.