preparing for our fourth of July barbeque, Jenn Vargas, Flickr
Driving back from dropping off her son at camp outside Hampton, Tennessee, she turned off onto the road leading to the cabin. It was the week of the 4th and frankly the time had been less than hoped for.
The cabin was tucked back in dark woods, remote, still. The inside paneling was dark. The cabin was equipped with a wood burning stove and an upstairs loft with a bed. There was limited wifi and not much in the way of cable.
Since her divorce she and her son had developed nocturnal habits with their electronic equipment – he with his video games, she her social media and movies – but in the dead of night here there wasn’t much to do and not much to entertain him. She knew she had contributed to this way of being, this spoiled way, and she had spoiled herself too in constant escapism. It had been the guilt that had perhaps entered in between them and made her a different kind of parent than she might have been.
She hadn’t noticed the gas gauge. She was almost on empty. It was growing dark and before long the car’s GPS fell off of radar. There had been flooding and she had to gun it across a flooded run running as rapidly as a small creek. She was scared and shaken. And alone. Her son had helped her find the cabin initially by using the map system on his phone. Luckily she started to recognize landmarks and used her memory to help guide her choices.
At the cabin, the leaves of the wood were the kind that becomes their most intense green right before darkness. There was a porch around the cabin. Along the front it was tiny and screened in, an airless room. Along the side it was open and big enough to house a small jacuzzi tub, the one compensation. She suited up and took the cover off of the tub and stepped in and was lulled for a moment. And then she worried about what may be watching her, what she couldn’t see – animal, human.
She went inside, locked the door, drew the curtains, and started a fire in the wood burning stove even though it was a warm night. She would sit on her towel in her wet suit and dry out. She was able to contact the dating site she just couldn’t stay on it forever. Only a couple of people had sent her messages but only the bare minimum of what had become the usual. Hi. or Hey. or sometimes Hey gorgeous. or worse Hey sexy. Would she ever get to the point of responding to Hey sexy. She hoped not.
She had planned to write her fiction. She wasn’t feeling imaginative. She was feeling dull and useless. In a little bit she would need to scrounge up dinner.
She took a few pictures with her camera phone for the site. Why not. Her hair was brown and short now because of the chemo. Only a few years ago she had what seemed like a more photogenic quality. Now she looked more her age. She wore heavy black framed glasses that even looked a bit stylish with their heaviness. She had done a series of black and white photos wearing her glasses and a necklace set she had bought when she was married, one from Talbots, a silver mother of pearl set. She was selling herself online now as Ugly Betty which sometimes netted her responses like You’re not ugly! and You’re hot why are you saying you’re ugly! Sometimes people were funny which made her feel better. Sometimes she wondered if that was her only goal.
She had even gone so far as to see if anyone living in the area would want to meet out, something she’d seen guys do. So many guys came to Orlando on business and wanted only a one time or short term dating situation. Or who knows maybe they said that and were actually married. These were the sort of behaviors she had become accustomed to.
A log fell. She propped it back up with the poker and put in a fresh one from the iron basket beside the stove.
There wasn’t anyone in proximity to where she was it seemed. With the difficulty of getting through the woods it was best. And as far as staying put, the cabin was not as comfortable as she’d hoped either with hard wooden chairs in the kitchen where she’d have to sit if she wanted to write at a table. She missed her padded high back chair in front of her narrow and cheap but elegant rustic Queen Anne writing table at home, hardwood and only stained. It was ironic to be away from home on vacation and miss the things you had.
As she had many times she reminded herself since divorcing she was here for her son, this had been the main goal. She had successfully dropped him at camp, though in a fashion typical for his age he hadn’t wanted her to hang around. She sensed this at least. She had brought the dog as an excuse, to save face for them both, so she could leave. She had not become one of those hot cool moms. She was chubs at this point and she felt he might be ashamed of her but she didn’t pursue it with him. Ugly Betty was an apt name. She could have done some things about her state. She couldn’t get motivated.
Really, all she wanted as an Ugly Betty was to meet a man who wasn’t so overly dependent on his ego that he could be a companion. She pictured him smiling at her and giving her a side hug when they were out. He would be proud of her even though she wasn’t perfect. He wouldn’t be perfect either – average looking too, average build or even chubs like her, it was ok, even desirable in some ways. She wanted to have the sense he protected her, or could if she needed this. He would have a bit of a personality combined with a kind of sober realism. He wouldn’t flirt too much with other women when they were out or stare because he understood her feelings and wanted to value them, wanted to be the man she wanted. He wouldn’t see her as a short term opportunity because she had been sick.
Had she had a man like that maybe he would want to help her with things. The day before, the day of the fireworks, she wasn’t sure how to use the celebratory explosives and her son wasn’t sure either. They had tried shooting them off in a tiny side yard that was barely a clearing apart from the trees and underbrush. She had registered her son’s disappointment. Some of the fireworks were faulty, the rest just simply lackluster. She had bought them somewhere. A discount store which is where she buys everything now, even clothes, canned foods, dishes, and towels.
Ugly Betty’s man would have rounded the fireworks up in Georgia on the way up, big, loud explosives that would take off the tips of fingers if you didn’t know what you were doing. The silence and stillness of the woods would be penetrated with their force. He would show her son how to do everything, letting him take over and feel like a man.
It made her feel good to imagine her man with her now. In fact she got up to make him dinner. When her son wasn’t with her she had to fight with herself to find reason to make the effort. In her imagination her man was sitting there, on the couch now, having fiddled with the television antenna. He was watching her backside appreciatively. He liked the way she looked, he had often told her. He liked her Rubenesque figure, her dark eyes, her full lips.
She stirred the garlic and anchovy paste into the olive oil warming in the pan. She had come with plenty of food in the cooler, plenty to feed her son, who ate huge amounts. This would be something her man would appreciate, be grateful for, her resourcefulness. She would make spaghetti and hot crusty bread.
She put the spaghetti pot on full of water. “You know you have to bring it to a boil first before adding the salt,” she said to her dog because her man was engrossed in something he was reading in the paper they had picked up on the way in. “That way you don’t get pock marks on the bottom.”
Never again had she thought she would meet anyone else who might be able to benefit from what she had accumulated over the years, an intimate knowledge of the kitchen’s secrets.
She felt invigorated now, enough to open a bottle of wine she had indulged in to celebrate the successful drop off of her child. She put it on the table covered with the red checked tablecloth she had brought from home, along with other festive décor for the holiday.
She fed the dog who was wearing her Fourth of July bandana.
Her man would hug her appreciatively when she was finished cooking, would smile at her with his twinkling blue eyes, and after dinner they would enjoy themselves in the hot tub under the inky night sky, listening to the few remaining fireworks, smelling the gun powder drifting through the trees.
She wouldn’t think about what was looking at her through the trees.
She would think about what she sees.