For as long as she could remember, Pam wished to hear the laughter of children. That desire faded one evening. It was unexpected, as most changes promised to be. In her mind, this was similar to the sun setting in west one evening and never finding east again. The darkness she was used to; its duration was new. She would somehow learn to live without the sun.
Today, a day of significant normalcy, she sat at a desk larger than the work she would do there. She ran her fingers softly against the grain; the only light in the room, an old lamp on the corner of the desk. It was melodic the way Pam brushed he fingertips along the edge of the desk as if discovering strings and frets for the first time. It once belonged to her grandfather and he once belonged to a world war. He rarely sat at the heavy block of flawless wood. The letters intended for this desk were instead made somewhere overseas. It would be him or her at the desk she decided, reverence a costly price for most.
It was silent the way evenings intended. There would be no supper prepared. There would be no wine to decant or flowers to arrange. Tonight, in all of its unknown hours, would host Pam to sobering memories and profound regrets. Thoughts, this evening, would be souvenirs arranged in the order of their most lasting impact. This would take time, a focused commitment to a process approached several times in the past; each attempt becoming its own memory to be added to the reordering of things.
With the window open, smells of summer ruled over sounds of spring. It was warm, but not too warm. She was melancholy, but not too melancholy. Those spaces in between where she was and where she longed to be were the most interesting. Pam heard once at a party she wanted to leave before arriving, that interest was an enemy to denial. Pam was growing tired of denial. Before long, she began investing in discomforts; commodities, she knew guaranteed returns.
One particular discomfort surfaced at that moment in the finest form of recollection. Another summer evening, some years ago, when walking close to midnight was the only way in which Pam could untangle whatever strings had been twisted inside of her. The smell of magnolia blossoms, another ritual of attraction. The moon was not entirely full, but full enough for her purposes. Like the moon above her, she was there even if not all the way. She would have been uncomfortable with a perfect moon. Anything perfect, she eventually concluded, would be an undoing of sorts.
As she strolled past expensive, expansive homes, she was most impressed with their inactivity. She held back a smile, afraid somebody might still be awake, concerned they would be able to see her inner delight breaking forth on a face seldom seen in town these days. Usually, when Pam walked theses streets, she would wonder what her neighbors, trapped behind decorative prisons of wood and handmade brick, were thinking, of her or in general. Tonight, she wondered what they were not thinking.
The whispers of the early morning were bidding. She knew well enough these voices were merely the nocturnal sounds pretending to be something else. The lawns were browning around their edges due to heat and drought; she knew this without having to see them. This is what happened in summer months. Predictability was how she had survived most of this half of her life. But, now, even the imperfect moon and a bullfrog’s symphony was not enough to rob her of uncertainty. She would not allow for this. It was all she had left, she thought. She knew this would seem dramatic. Consequently, she kept it to herself during short strolls to collect the newspaper or inspecting bruised fruit at the local market.
Her quest for the unknown had come to a temporary halt as the turned the corner on Cedar Street, the most pleasant in all the neighborhood. Although faintly seen during an hour such as this, landscaping was a sublime and costly art form; popular, like oil on canvas. Where there was art, there was a conspicuous lack of boasting. Art, Pam was convinced, is how the wealthy would speak when they had nothing left to say. She herself was wealthy according to most standards. But, standards had long ago become a blur. She had come to the realization that she was alone in her realizations. So were most, she decided on one of these midnight wanderings, who had rested from the labor of hauling societal weight.
She would often sit in the office, at her grandfather’s desk, and read. She read books now because she desired to, not because it was required. The more she read, the less she identified with the world in which she lived. Almost as if she was a character who had been written entirely wrong, trapped in a story not her own. She spent her later years with an eraser and a rocks glass in hand; tools she would use to make back-story vanish. With this accomplished, leaps from chapters of black, haunted words to pages of white emptiness were now possible. Or, at the very least, she thought ruefully, optional.
As she walked, the air cooled around her almost intentionally. She gained a keen understanding that life was ink on a page; not sure if it was the author of her story she most resented or the others she allowed to pick up the pen instead. Stories were being written around her. Most of them too short, most of them by scribes with no intention of staying forever.
This was all too much for Pam. So she put one foot in front of the other, continuing down Cedar, where she noticed a light on the second floor of the home at the end of the street. Uncharacteristic for this time of night, for this kind of neighborhood. She paused.
From where she stood, and for the first time in recent memory, there was symmetry. Rows of houses on each side, perfectly aligned and manicured, each beautifully indistinct. There it was, the largest house on the block, glowing from an upstairs bedroom, drapes peeled back ever so slightly, an uninvited peek into private lives. What was said in public was often very private, but what was done in private was rarely ever public. That was the rule; while unseen life took shape and form, it had to change back each morning when the sun began its thankless chore of painting porches and lawns with light.
She longed for a memories of a childhood not her own. Hers had memories, but mostly because of her father’s unrelenting love affair with gin. Standing there, another gust of wind took her by surprise, wafting thoughts of a pond nestled between rolling hills. Sprawling vineyards, flowers of every color pushing futilely against summer soil. The sun was orange and warm, but not warm enough to cause a sweat. The sky was blue and bright, but not bright enough to cause a squint.
It was a perfect day, the most perfect she never had.
Franklin Billingsley had four grown, successful children. He was popular, wealthy and commanded the room. He was a large man, full of bloated stories and tiny clogged arteries. He loved meat and potatoes, women and capitalism. It was legendary, his appetite, his benevolence, folkloric. Here he was, in the window, shirtless corpulence, face red, his arm, thick as a log, swinging and striking. It was so sudden, unexpected, Mrs. Billingsley, her shadow vanished as if light was switched on in dark room. The beast heaved for breath, sweaty hair asunder, his bloodshot eyes unable to glance at the cowardly reflection in the window, unable to watch his watcher in the summer black.
Back at the desk, back to what was now tomorrow, Pam with a rocks glass of melting rocks, a ring of forbidden condensation on the wood. Light broke above verdant foothills. Soon neighbors would pull cars from closed garages, momentary glimpses of the messes inside, and drive past Pam’s house on the way to a gated exit. She stared through the window, at a street she could not see. Tired eyes grew heavy waiting. Patience, a virtue, the expected time came . His large, luxury car turning from Cedar Street, toward and past the house. It was him, it was the husband, Pam muttered to herself, that got to start a new day, leaving the one before behind in the rearview mirror.
As Billingsley’s car disappeared from sight, she wiped her eyes with the back of her arm.
“My glass is empty, Bill,” her voice unexpectedly uttered; surprising herself by the rare, raspy request.
Some things would eventually defeat her.
Shaking the glass, she knew this would be one of them.
Not so much the lack of what she asked for but for the lack of whom she asked.