Pamela J. Picard

In That Minute

Rory married Allan right out of college.  She met him in her English Literature class and liked him the most of all the boys who sat on the side of the lecture hall in a bunch.  They were never loud or heckled, rather they said nothing all semester, except for Allan who was clearly a reader.  In class she found herself writing the titles of the books he mentioned on her palm in black ink to look up later.

He was average height with his hair cropped into a boy’s eighties haircut, falling in the front just so over one eye. He smiled at her, and then grimaced to the sun sitting in the courtyard that day when he asked her out for bagels and coffee after class. She liked his voice, which went lower when he asked a question, and he lived in the apartment complex with the good parties.

They were married in his aunt’s backyard, which was big enough for friends and family.  It rained in the morning but gave way in the afternoon and everyone thought the small, but vibrant, rainbow was a good sign for a new couple.

The twins came quick, two girls identical to the other, two beds, two book reports, two college tuitions and two people to tell of the divorce. One knew and the other had no idea, they said, which was undoubtedly a lie, as they told each other everything.

The house would be sold, what was at first a quaint rambling old farmhouse house had become an oversized suit for Rory, ill fitting. Over the last few years the house was only a place to put a lifetime collected, as the girls were away at college and Allan had moved in with his girlfriend. It was now simply a dumping ground and a place to do laundry.

Allan and Rory ended in slow minimal steps. Rory never referred to it as a breakup but more of a breaking away. She always felt he knew about her preference for women, although nowadays he denied it. He was never a distracted man, like some of her other friend’s husbands, separate from the world and his own thoughts, so she felt strongly he saw it coming.

Girlfriends for Rory came and went, Janet was the longest relationship but her living in London made the logistics too tricky. It came to the point when the getting there was too much work and not worth the being there. It was hard for Rory to admit this, but over time it was true.

Rory was not used to being alone this much, even though Allan had his own life for years now, and the girls on their way to womanhood, there had always been a certain volume to her life that she was used to. Now, the silence sometimes gave her headaches.

The new coffee shop on the corner was noisy enough to think and was a good place to read the book she uncovered in one of the back closets, in the same box with the crochet Mona Lisa her Aunt Ruth made for her one Christmas. The book was an instruction how-to change your life in less than a minute, a remnant undoubtedly from Allan’s self-help phase. It was a welcome break from the critiques she needed to write for her photography students. She was getting tired of calling their work observational, her go-to comment when she had nothing else to say.

The woman Rory saw at the café on occasion was at her usual table in the corner. She nibbled on her pastry holding her fingers to her lips, a gesture Rory imagined undoubtedly aided her in thinking. Watching the woman’s fingers Rory noticed a small italic A tattooed on her index finger.  Rory looked at the tattoo and imagined her, this stranger, sitting sweaty in some far-off land while an obese man branded ink on her finger in a dirty tent in a marketplace.  She looked adventurous.

Rory came out of this make-believe, centering back to the reality of people around her, and considered a minute had passed, and in that time, she could have changed her life.

She could have walked over to this woman and said hello, asked about her tattoo, or made light conversation about seeing each other before. Perhaps this stranger also worked at the university and was new to town, Rory could offer to show her around or take her to the new faculty picnic.

Another minute passed, and she thought about all the other minutes when she wanted to tell Allan, but it seemed hard, and then impossible. She thought about the girl in high school who held her hand under the blanket at the footfall game, and the way they promised later in the bathroom to never tell anyone. And they never did. A promise that took less than a minute.

She thought about the minute that separated the birth of her girls, and the way she panted and swore, as the doctor and Allan said all the wrong words at that moment hoping to be encouraging, and then two perfect little pink people entered the world.

Fixated on the stranger’s tattoo, and the way her finger continually made their way to her lip, Rory hid her face back in her book, using it as camouflage for her gaze. Rory then found the courage to smile at the woman, and waved hello, subtlety just lifting one palm high enough for the stranger to see. And in that minute, the stranger waved back.

© Pamela J. Picard

Pamela J. Picard works as a television producer and media director in Boston. She has an MA from Emerson College in Media and Visual Arts. Her short stories have been published in MOON Magazine and Down in the Dirt. She has won three New England Press Awards for her work as a journalist. She is currently writing a number of short stories and a novel. Twitter @pamjpicard

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