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Cavalier Ruminations

His eyes drift from the game on the big screen to the corner room, lit in fading winter sun, where his wife busies herself with a canvas and watercolors. She's unaware of her husband's preoccupation with another woman. 

Damned car is to blame, he reckons, recalling the white junker that nearly t-boned him in the liquor store parking lot this morning. The jolt triggered the onslaught, dredging up decade-old recollections; the two of them in the two door coupe, her blond hair flying wild across her face, the Cavalier's V-6 hum, Son Volt loud from dual Pioneers, neither of them anticipating the speed trap. 

"Hey ref, how much they paying you for that fucking bullshit call?" 
Tonight, from the couch next to him, his Pops cusses out the refs with the same mouth that will deliver the scripture reading in church tomorrow. The old man belches, helps himself to more nachos as his sweaty Pabst leaves a ring mark on the table. Momma hunches beside him, crocheting doilies for the church bazaar. He shifts uncomfortably in his recliner, imagining the hell to pay if his parents had found out. He increases the TV volume, drowning any attempts at conversation, and surrenders his thoughts to different penalties.

He conjures himself at eighteen, the blue and gold letter jacket, used car payment responsibilities and a spine not fully developed. The jock attitude that matched his ride's name. He sees her, the incandescent smile, the homecoming queen tiara sparkling in football field floodlights. Thin red lines on tiny test strips turned worlds upside down. He remembers the frigid December morning, snowflakes as big as half dollars, blowing sideways in the wind. Driving her to the clinic in the hushed, white Cavalier, he searched for words beyond his vocabulary and came up empty. Despite the cold, his palms were sweaty on the steering wheel, her knee nervously bobbing, innocence disappearing in the rear view mirror. She walked into the room alone, slim shoulders in an oversized white t-shirt, slumped with burdens for three.

Pops hollers at the screen, celebrating the touchdown with both arms hoisted straight up like goalposts, before turning his attention to his son. "That could've been you! You could've played college ball if you hadn't had your head up your ass your senior year." 

His hand white knuckles the arm of the recliner. He drains his bottle, swallows a rebuttal, refusing to meet the old man's eyes. Replenishing the beer supply is a convenient excuse, so he heads to the garage. 

A carton of Christmas lights sits in his path, a reminder of neglected chores. He swift kicks the box, frustrated by the season that encourages the flashbacks. He pulls a single bottle from the garage refrigerator. In no hurry to return to the living room, he takes a chug, then runs a hand alongside the parked Toyota. He can almost hear her throaty laugh. She'd think the SUV was a funny sell-out for the Cavalier. 

He leans against the Toyota, rehearsing his half of the imagined dialogue, if there were one more conversation on the front seat of that old Cavalier. He'd tell her about the Christmas Eve, after her family moved away, when he'd found her hair ribbon under the passenger seat and he'd cried. He'd say how he lingered outside the church, staring at the nativity, seeing Mary with new eyes, before ditching the candlelight service and never going back. He'd confess he still sees her in dreams, sometimes she's wearing the blue prom dress, sometimes she's wearing the hollow face she wore at the clinic when it was over. He'd take her hands in his, beg for unearned mercy, whisper the delinquent 'thank you', apologize for being a scared eighteen-year-old when she'd needed a man. In the frosty solitude of the garage, the words come easy. 

Returning to the living room, he hands his old man a cold one and slumps back into his recliner. Snow falls outside the window, flakes the size of half dollars blow sideways in the wind.  Come morning, a heavy blanket will cover the ground, like the weighty silence that covers the secret. He downs the last of his Lone Star, wondering if she ever told anyone. Lord knows she had the right. He likes to pretend she found someone worthy, someone who soothes her if the ache comes. 

His wife looks up from her canvas. Even at a distance, she recognizes his brooding expression. She sets aside her paint brush, assured of the only remedy that reliably cures his unexplained distraction.

"Look Daddy!" The five-year-old voice interrupts his guilty ruminating. Outstretched arms deliver her finger-painted masterpiece as his daughter clambers into his lap. Kissing the top of her head, he adjusts the ribbon in her hair. Grateful for second chances, beholden to an unpaid debt, he silently repeats the unspoken apology. 
LA Carson is a writer whose work has appeared in Thirty West Afterimages, ScribesMICRO, Bristol Noir and others. LA lives and writes in southern California.
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