The Tradeoff


Ezra grabbed his pipe and headed out the door. He walked behind the garage and out of the wind.  Holding the bowl of the briar pipe, he filled it with Cavendish from a pouch. The flame of his lighter bent into the bowl as he inhaled in short gasps. The glowing tobacco soon released a familiar otherworld aroma that pleased Ezra at times like this.

Only moments before Delores had been yelling, nose to nose, at Ezra, her white spittle flecking his face.  “You’re a mealy-mouth pea brain,” she told him.

Now no matter how he figured, Ezra was never sure about what it was that added up to make Delores so furious almost every night. She did find him once looking at a woman posed in a two-piece bathing suit on the internet.  And that night she accused him of adultery. And after that night Ezra wouldn’t be allowed to ever to forget the error of his way. Delores’ slurred ‘reminders’ of that day were so often and so vivid that Ezra became a serial “adulterer” by proxy.

But Ezra was sure that the Margaritas and wine Delores had been drinking before he came home from work had taken possession of her. There would be no reasoning with Delores that night. Time and a safe distance would be required to maintain Ezra’s sanity, but face to face rebukes and then a full-throated rejection would have to come first.

Burning with alcohol fueled anger Delores would declare, on more than one occasion, “I am going to my mother’s house for the night!”

And so off she went. And each time she did Ezra wanted to call the police and tell them that Delores had been drinking and shouldn’t be driving. But he did not call. What if she accused Ezra of abuse or something else just as crazy as what he was hearing night after night? Her amplified “righteous” indignation seemed to know no bounds. And though he hated himself for not calling the police he also wanted to be rid of the madness for a few hours. In the still house Ezra thought of his kids, asleep in the car, and cried.

Though Ezra couldn’t define what ignited Delores’ anger for days on end, he did know what irked him. When asked by a marriage counselor what each of them wanted from the other, Delores said “words of affirmation.” Ezra took this to mean “show Delores that he loved her.”  And though he awoke early and had taken her coffee and chocolates to her bed in the morning before going to work and had often given her flowers, he wasn’t verbal to the extent Delores was. He had to work out the words of love.

In the same counseling session, Ezra had asked Delores to have coffee with him in the morning before he left for work. The afternoon return home would be filled with the kids and Delores wanting attention from him. But time spent with Ezra in the morning would never happen. Delores’ late night wine drinking and movie habit had her sleeping in past the time Ezra went off to work. Ezra never did work out the words to say what bothered him, though each day came and went as before. But Ezra didn’t need words for a pipe in his hand and the smell of pipe tobacco in the air. On his fiftieth birthday he had bought a pipe.

Reflecting night after night with pipe and a briar of glowing Cavendish and at a distance from the incendiary, Ezra soon came to realize that his fallible existence was Delores’ problem.  Delores had come into the marriage hoping that Ezra would make all things new. She wanted someone to take her in, to cover her mortality with a cloak of look-the-other-way love and be the transcendent one – a kinsman redeemer. But the Fallible One turned out to be a “mealy-mouth pea brain” that could do no right. The Fallible was to be put out, the embers dumped and scattered. After a year of paralyzing quarrels and unrelenting verbal abuse, Delores told Ezra that she wanted a separation. “Get out or I will force you out!”

Upon hearing these words, Ezra grabbed his pipe and headed out the door. He walked behind the garage and out of the wind. Holding the bowl of the briar pipe, he filled it with Cavendish from a pouch. The flame of his lighter bent into the bowl as he inhaled in short gasps. The glowing tobacco soon released a familiar otherworld aroma that pleased Ezra at times like this.







© Sally Paradise, 2016, All Rights Reserved

Driftless By Design

When John gave her the ring he hoped that marriage would follow soon after. It did. Mary said yes. His unspoken question was answered with her unspoken assent on the same day. She simply nestled her head against his neck in silent agreement. They were married in June of that year, 1957.

The couple spent much of their time together in nature. There were yearly camping trips to lakes, mountains and forests. Twilight and sunrise often shared the light of their campfires. By way of nature’s vast expanse, the couple became closer. For them, there was never a thought of sitting in front of the television set night after night, pining for something more. They chose what they wanted: the panoply of the natural world; the broad-shouldered earth.

Wisconsin’s Governor Dodge State Park became the site of an annual destination for the couple. The state park, located only three and a half hours from their home, is demarcated in southwestern Wisconsin. It lies within driftless area of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The Mississippi, Chippewa, Kickapoo and Black rivers flow through this area, dissecting the uneven landscape and forcing the weaving of man-made roads.

The park offers two lakes: Cox Hollow and Twin Valley Lakes. The couple’s favorite campsite, near Cox Hollow Lake, is nestled among oaks, white pines and hickory trees. Through a clearing at the edge of their campsite the couple viewed a gently sloping field blanketed with goldenrod and sunflowers. At one time Mary told John that the Monarch butterflies that silently fluttered among this dappled setting were faeries. John told Mary that the Hummingbirds that hovered in their camp sought only the sweetest of nectars – his Mary.

The road trip to Governor Dodge was easy. The ride became a time to talk about nothing and about everything, a means to embrace the other. As was their way, they would pack on Thursday evening. Then, On Friday morning they would drive up in hopes of getting their favored spot before the weekend campers arrived.

When they arrived at Governor Dodge they paid their campsite fee, found their site and unpacked the car. Everything would be in its place within an hour. They prepared well.

Their first afternoon was usually spent sitting on the grassy hillside looking down on the sandy beach of Cox Hollow Lake. The scattered oak trees blocked the high afternoon sun, while a cool lake breeze ascended up the hill. These surroundings made it easy for John and Mary to nap, even though children whooped and wailed when splashed with lake water. Later in the afternoon the air would become filled with the cacophony of weekend visitors greeting each other.

When dinner time came around John and Mary had cooking down pat: Coleman stove, cast iron skillet, freshly caught walleye fried in butter with tear-prompting onions and brought-from-home herbs sizzling alongside. Dessert was an ice cream bar bought at the camp store just up the hill from the lake. And, a cup of Thermos coffee.

The undiluted sprawling sky above Governor Dodge State Park provided the couple with an open air observatory. At night they would drive out to an isolated ridge road that passed through an open field. They would park in the grass, get out and sit on the hood of their car. It seemed to them that the darkened heavens published dot-to-dot pictures: Ursa Major with its asterism The Big Dipper affixing north.

John and Mary would trace the points of light with their fingers. Occasionally, the celestial array of distant lights became cloaked by screeching bat swarms flying in high speed pursuit of blood thirsty mosquitoes. Mary liked the bats, but only for this reason.

After midnight, the couple would return to their campsite. They would make one final inspection of their food storage. They knew that robbing raccoons were on the prowl. When they were both ready, they quickly entered their tent hoping to keep the uneaten mosquitoes on the outside with the bats. Once inside, they replayed their favorite memory.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

The List (The Legacy of Denny)

What he asked her for, what he wanted more than anything was to have a cup of coffee in the morning with his wife before the day’s work. There was nothing more.

She: wanted things handled, intangible things, things of the heart. She said, my needs are not met and these are things you should have thought of and you’re a man you should know these things and I don’t feel loved. For the record, there was more: “You didn’t feed the dog.”; “Your son needs changing.”; “The dishes need washing.”; “When are you going to cut the grass?”; “Did you leave the toilet seat down?”; “Did you put seed in the bird feeder?”; “Your son needs a bath.”; “Get your daughter ready for church, I am leaving soon.”; “Take me away for the weekend, I need to relax.”

What he asked for
And nothing more
Mattered little
Because he snored.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved