Wednesday, March 2, 2011


by Sandra Carey Cody
It started out simple. I was sorting laundry, holding socks up to the light so that I could distinguish the subtle variations of navy and gray that make up Howard's wardrobe. When he came up the basement steps.
I asked him, "Wanna go to the boat show?"
"Today?" His response was so long in coming that I knew the real answer was No.
Then Todd, who, like most six-year-olds, hears better from another room, especially if the television is blaring, came running. "Hey, I heard about the boat show on TV. Let's go!"
Howard looked trapped.
I heard myself explaining, justifying, "I thought this was something we'd all enjoy."
"You know we can't afford . . ." Howard began in his most reasonable voice, the one I'd never heard before we were married.
"It could be fun just to look around."
Todd watched us, eyes bright, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"Bathroom?" I prompted.
"Oh yeah." He trotted off down the hall.
Howard did a U-turn in the direction of the basement.
"So? What do you think?" I asked, catching him on the third step.

"About what?"
"You know what."
"I didn't know you were interested in boats."
He had me there. I don't even swim.
"You don't want to go?"
"I didn't say that." Howard runs five miles every morning but the three steps back up to the kitchen seemed almost beyond his strength. "It's just . . ." He stood with one hand on the door, not looking down toward the workbench at the foot of the stairs with all of those perfectly aligned screwdrivers, wrenches . . . whatevers. He was looking at me, even smiling, but I wasn't fooled for a minute. "How long will the show be here?" he asked.
"I don't know. I saw the ad in the paper and I thought you'd be interested."
Todd was back. "I'm interested."
"Zip your pants," Howard told him, then turned to me. "Where is it?"
"Civic Center."
"Parking could be a mess . . . day like today."
"When is parking anything else?" I had him there.
He rubbed his fingers over his forehead, ironing away any sign of irritation.
"I've never been to a boat show," Todd pointed out, his eyes darting from one grown-up face to the other.
Howard tousled the flyaway red-gold hair, thought a minute, and said, "Okay. We'll go. But not today. We'll plan it."
"What's to plan? All we have to do is put on our coats, get in the car, and go." I hated the sound of my voice: absolutely level, even as a string stretched taut.
"Does it have to be today?" Howard prowled the kitchen, picked up the newspaper, and scanned the pages, "Here . . . let's see . . . until the end of the month." He held the paper out toward me. "We can go next weekend." He was not exactly gracious in triumph.
Nor was I gracious in defeat. "It would be nice to do something today."
"There are couple of things I'd really like to get done . . ." He pulled the ever-present list from his shirt pocket, studied the crumpled paper lovingly for a moment, then looked at Todd and me. "Why don't you two go?"
I thought of the week he'd just been through—deadlines, demanding clients—felt a brief flicker of sympathy, but brushed it away. "You're the one who's interested in boats."
I could almost see my words making their way through the intricate labyrinth behind the patient blue eyes.
When the last syllable clicked into place, he said (reasonably, of course), "You guys can pick up all the pamphlets, bring them home, and we'll look at them together."
"What's the point of that? We're not buying a boat." (In a pinch I could be reasonable myself.)
"I'd like a boat." Todd, bless his heart, tried to keep it alive.
Howard nodded, "I know." He put the list back in his pocket and smiled (reasonable still). "It's fine with me if the two of you go. You can tell me all about it."
Todd kept trying. "There's gonna be a singing dog contest. The guy on TV said so."
Howard smiled down into the small earnest face. "I'm sure Mommy will love that." He didn't look at me.
It seemed settled. I was stuck, going to the boat show, fighting traffic, parking the car, trying to explain a bunch of stuff to Todd that I don't know beans about myself—not to mention those singing dogs. Well, I did bring it up. Not fair to disappoint Todd.
But it wasn't quite settled. I heard my son's voice, ominously reasonable, "Next week's okay, Daddy. It'll be better if we all go."
So—that's it. We're all going to the boat show. Next Saturday. The newspaper article is neatly clipped and stuck on the refrigerator door, yellow highlighting at strategic spots. The doors open at ten. If we leave the house at nine fifteen, we'll beat the crowd. Parking won't be a problem. Howard and Todd are happily planning, laying the day out like a blueprint. I hear their voices humming in the next room, soothing and disturbing, as I reach for a dark sock.
Something bright catches my eye. I pick up the car keys and run my thumb along the pleasantly irregular edge.
"I'm going out for a while," I call over my shoulder.
Howard says something, but the door closing behind me cuts off his words.
I stride forward, lifting my face, defying the wind. The brisk air makes my cheeks tingle. I'm on my way. Somewhere. By myself. I can do that. I don't need an escort. Or a destination. Next Saturday is planned, but today is mine. Unplanned. Full of possibility.


Beate Boeker said...

I could so relate to that, Sandy! We never manage spontaneous outings as a family; we always have to plan them well in advance. I wonder why?
Thank you!

Sandy Cody said...

Neither do we, Beate. I think most of us have too much going on in our lives to leave room for the spontaneous things - a good thing in many ways, unfortunate in others.

Jayne Ormerod said...

Sandy, an great snapshot of everyday life. Conflict is part of every aspect of our lives, even if it's something as seemingly simple as to make a decision as to what to do on the weekends. Now, what's the rest of the story? Did they ever buy a boat? (as a previous boat owner, I can agree with the old adage "The happiest days of a boat owners life are the day the bought it, and the day they sold it." :)

Sandy Cody said...

As for this fictional family, I don't know about the boat. In my head, the story is whatever the young mother encounters on her own. I wrote it as a short short, but have since thought it has possibilities as a first chapter. I write mysteriies - maybe she decides to take tap dancing lessons and stumbles on a body in the dance studio above the beauty salon.

On a more personal level, our family used to own a boat too. Some of my best memories are of days/weekends boating. Some of my worst memories are too.