Field of Attention

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December 22, 2021 by The Citron Review

by Mary Grimm

 

When Louis woke that morning, he saw the shadows of birds passing over and heard the noise of a plane flying low over the house. He felt as if he were held fast in the grip of the sun, as if sunlight were a translucent liquid or gel spread over the world which had spilled into the window and filled up the room. His cat, June, was sitting on the radiator, looking at him as she often did, as if she knew something about him which could never be revealed. It took him a moment to shake these feelings and intuitions. He put on a shirt and went to brush his teeth. The toothpaste smelled like cinnamon and rain.

He had gotten an email from his ex-wife the day before, and in the night had dreamed about it and about her. There was no hostility between them, but in the dream they had fought and he had struck her with a sword, which did no real damage.

Her email had said that their former math teacher was dying, which she thought he’d want to know. He hadn’t wanted to know, but now he couldn’t stop himself remembering Mrs. Deal, and how she’d looked standing in front of the blackboard, filling it with numbers and signs. The blackboard had appeared in the dream, numbers spilling from it in a waterfall.

His ex-wife reminded him that they had fallen in love in Mrs. Deal’s classroom, which was not exactly true. She liked to rewrite the past to make a better story. They had started dating that year, and perhaps he might have first asked her out when in that classroom, passing a note when Mrs. Deal’s back was turned, a substantial back, usually clothed in flowered cotton and a pastel sweater. She had worn her glasses on a chain around her neck which swung when she turned dramatically from the board, as she liked to do at the end of an equation.

His ex-wife had had long hair then, straight and shiny. Her seat had been in front of his and in the next row, so when he thought of her in that class, he mainly remembered her hair hanging down, long enough to be caught and crimped by the desk seat. He had been mesmerized by her hair for some reason. Before they started dating, he had thought about stroking it, imagining that it would feel like water, smooth and almost wet under his hand.

The first time he asked her out, she had said that she couldn’t go because she had to wash her hair. If he had known more about women, he would have recognized this as a brush off, but he didn’t, so he had tried again the next week. Much later, he had asked her why she said yes the second time, and she had said that she supposed she was feeling nicer that day.

By the time he had thought and remembered all this, he was in the kitchen, still in his pajama pants, waiting for a cupful of water to boil for his coffee. The kitchen too was full of sun, but it had thinned so that it was more of a vapor or a mist, bright and insubstantial. He moved through it without difficulty. He gave June a hardboiled egg chopped into her dish, which she pretended to be offended by. His ex-wife had wanted to know if he planned to go to Mrs. Deal’s wake. He didn’t want to go, and so he hadn’t answered her, because he had a hard time saying no to her. It was possible though that she would text him or even call him, and if she did, he would probably say yes. He would probably meet her at the funeral home and they would stand together in the company of Mrs. Deal’s family and some of their classmates talking about those old times when they had had to learn the quadratic equation, which for some reason he had been unable to forget even though it was perfectly useless in his present life. The future then had been shapeless and distant, irrelevant. Then, his ex-wife’s hair was like a waterfall, a stream that is clear and brown and smooth over the rocks. Her every glance a hint that he should go further.

June gave him a look that he chose to interpret as one of solidarity, and then jumped to the floor and ran out of the room.

 

Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection)-both by Random House. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Antioch Review, and the Mississippi Review, and her flash fiction in places like Helen, Berlin Fiction Kitchen, and Tiferet. Currently, she is working on a historical novel set in 1930s Cleveland. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.

 

 

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