The color of her dress was a cross between periwinkle and the dusty blue of a prairie sky just after sunset. There was a pattern of small white flowers infused into the fabric that swayed in time to the movement of her hips. She was strong and young still, years from the strain of farms at auction, of entire communities vanishing, tilting toward the promise of union wages. Her eyes were green, and her nails were painted Ala Carte Blue. The hue of her dress and the blue of the tips of her fingers provoked a kind of stupor, a trance of scalded milk and blurry edges. The hem of her frock fell to just above her knees, exposing a slim white scar, the result of a tumble off her bike on that gravel road just off the old Red Rock bypass. When she walked a cup of coffee across the café, every head turned to watch the sway of that blue skirt, the set of those shoulders, the cadence of the quiet hum of her heart. The all wanted that coffee. They all wanted to be the cup in the palm of that hand.
“Get lost,” she said, closing the door with a dramatic flourish, something she’d harbored fantasies of but had never actually done. “Bye-bye,” she said, to the oak paneled door, bowing and backing away as if to attest to the gravity of the moment. She hadn’t thought about it. They had been talking, then hotly debating, which evolved into a rant, an argument, several accusations, and ultimately, a crossing of a line in a sea of sand she hadn’t known existed until now. She had tolerated the small crises when they arose, and met them with compassion. Still, when he tried to sneak something in: a package, a golf bag, a box of detritus, she called him on it. “Please remove it asap,” she wrote in dutiful, polite emails, paper trails of the millennium. There was always an excuse, high dudgeon. So much drama! For a lawyer, she expected something more. Something somewhat more dignified. The debris of one marriage, two marriages. It was too much. “Storage was never part of the deal,” she said, when she found a rental van backed up to the garage, discovering a deceit he had hoped to conceal until the deed was complete and then what could she do but protest inertly? “My brother in law moved,” he lamented. “It’s only temporary!” he cried. How did he manage to pass the bar? How had he survived this long in a liberal hotbed of assertive women and sensitive men? His mother had coddled him. His wives enabled him. “I told you. This is not your storage solution.” Then it came to her that all the times when she said no, he had feigned concern but had ultimately rejected her protests. In his head he muted her voice, her opinions dismissed as irrelevant. She didn’t want to be that gorgon, but now she craved to be heard, to bear the weight of relevance. “Go now,” she said gently, to herself, bowing and backing down the long hall toward the kitchen. Go. Now. To that place of lost treasure.
If she had known there were only three wishes, she would have chosen differently. Obviously. But there had been no instructions, no bullet points. It was another example of the inefficiency of the system. Some opined that the system had grown too big for its own britches, that the safety measure and stop gaps had gotten out of hand. Cynics said the lawyers were behind the crack down. Others insisted the problem was created from a complete lack of imagination. Governor Moonbeam was retiring after eight decades of public service. Some said he would be missed. He told his successor, young Kennedy, “don’t screw it up.” She presumed he meant the ten wishes stockpile of surplus gold. But there were no guarantees, if the three wish rule was enforced. So far, everyone operated on the honor system. She was down to one wish. The books said choose happiness. The ads said choose gluttony. She was pretty sure there was some middle ground. One wish. Puppy breath. Snow. Public nudity. Art. Music. Zero gravity. Invisibility. Hemingway in his Spanish Civil War days. Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. The Columbia Gorge at sunrise in her living room every morning. Polar bears. Bumble bees. Tree toads. Wild salmon. Stories, stories, stories.
She wore Chanel No. 5. On nights my parents went out, she drifted out the door on a cloud of deep musky-floral pheromones, an accommodation of the sophistication she yearned for. Periodically, when we were old enough for them to leave the brood with a reliable steel-belted sitter for the weekend, they journeyed north to the Banff Springs Resort in British Columbia. There are photographs of them from one trip, souvenirs from a night club they had attended. My mother appears to be in her thirties, young, pretty, wearing a classic kind of Jackie O sheath dress. The photographer caught her smile and a sparkle in her eyes. She seemed happy then, and glamorous. I imagine that in that dress, in that club, she was enveloped in a cloud of Chanel No. 5. She later switched to a fragrance called Interlude – with the same base notes, a similar mysterious, musky presence. Other scents of my mother that I recall: Breck hair spray, spray starch, despair.
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