Fiction

Almost Retired

By: Matthew Dube

Kim and David weren’t from Coaling. They hadn’t even lived in Coaling their whole professional lives. David had taught at another school, states away, long enough to earn tenure; Kim wasn’t just a bottle swabber but had managed labs before they had the boys. Their oldest, Rodney, was four when they moved into this house, and Richard was crawling. But even if it were true they’d lived full lives—several of them—elsewhere, they’d lived in Coaling, on the same quiet street for more than twenty years. That was a lot of past to pack.

The kitchen table was covered with boxes of stuff from Rodney’s room. They packed his room first because he wouldn’t be able to come and help them, however long they waited; it would be spring again in the Southern hemisphere before the ice was thin enough to allow anyone to leave the deep sea station. When they told him they planned to join the Peace Corps, his laughter echoed over the satellite phone, the only way to contact him.

“Are you laughing with us or at us?” Kim asked, but he reassured them that it was with them. It was wonderful, he thought, that the two of them were still so much themselves, to go on one more big adventure.

“Why just one?” his mom shot back with evident glee. Though she didn’t have a favorite between Rodney and Richard, he got her, and that was a lot. “This is just the next one.”

David turned away from the phone, confident his wife wouldn’t even notice. “If you need any of your models while you’re gone, your brother is going to have to be the one to get them for you.” It wasn’t really a concern; Rodney had spent two years building the famous monsters of filmland from kits they’d buy at the drug store, and then the obsession passed like a fever. It was David who kept them around, they looked to him like fossils of a former self. He’d drive them to the storage unit along with all of Rodney and those of Richard’s school books he didn’t already take to fill his fifth floor walkup and winter clothes and the VHS tapes of early Christmases. David suspected that when they came back from the Peace Corps, Kim would probably decide they needed to drive motorcycles cross country. “I’m going to get something for dinner,” David said.

“Would you check the tag to see if we need to get the oil changed? I don’t want to come back to a car that needs service the first thing,” Kim said, without even turning from the satellite phone.

“Of course,” he said, and took his keys from the bowl that was slowly emptying out of all the things they’d thought they needed to deposit there over the years. He walked out to his truck, which seemed to glow in the autumn light. David knew the luminescence was a trick; he’d taught a graduate seminar in optics just a couple years ago. But still, it matched how he felt about that truck. He loved it, old and broken as it was, and sat himself in the divot he’d worn in that bench seat over the years. He’d get barbecue, he decided. It was so good even Kim couldn’t deny herself the pleasure of eating it. They had a way of soaking the meat so even what should be gristle melted in your mouth. What was wrong with that, he wondered? With just letting things rest, to mature into their own sweetness?

He ordered and they brought his food out to him in a brown grocery bag that he set on the seat beside him and drove home. He kept the windows rolled up to trap the smell of the food; it was all he could do to wait, to not pull over and bolt down the food by the side of the road. Kim wouldn’t wait; she never could, was always onto the next thing before he was even able to enjoy what was in front of him. He loved Rodney more than life itself, but before Rodney was born he’d loved his work, and Kim. And then, when he was finding the sweetness in being a father, Kim told him she was pregnant again. It was always like that with them.  He never knew how to stop her; it was never important enough to him, and how do you explain that you want to stay just the way you are.

He remembered to check the miles till his oil change and compared it to the odometer and did the math in his head without even missing his favorite tree. It was perfect, a live oak, totally out of place beside the maples and hickory and at least a hundred years old. When they were little, David and Rodney and Richard tried, holding hands, to hug the whole tree, and they couldn’t reach. It was big and old and thriving, and David was going to drive by it to eat dinner at a table crowded with so much junk that he had Kim would have to balance the plates on their knees. David knew just how hard he’d have to hit the tree—p=mv –to lay himself out until after they were supposed to leave for the Peace Corps. He tried to imagine if Kim would go ahead without him and couldn’t guess. He pulled the car off the road, aimed at that tree, and mashed the gas pedal to the floor.

Categories: Fiction

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