Monday, November 16, 2015
victor yañez-Lazcano “de”
writer Sahar Mustafah “Soccer Moms” Part 2
A free bi-monthly photography and creative writing publication
helley was unloading luau plasticware in the kitchen when Mark followed his clamoring daughters through the garage door. “We lost,” Alyssa said, hopping onto a stool at the granite island. “Three to two.” “That’s too bad, sweetie,” Shelley said, pulling apart a bundle of pink, orange, yellow, and green plastic leis. “I’m sorry I missed it.” She reached over and kissed the top of Alyssa’s head. “I wan’ this,” Kennedy demanded, pulling a green lei off the counter and placing it around her neck. “Beesan scored one of the goals,” Alyssa said. Mark heard the envy in his daughter’s voice. He looked at his wife and tried to imagine how Alyssa actually saw her mother and if she wanted to be like her. The prospect made him sad. “Are you just getting home?” Mark hated himself for asking the question, for trying to sound nonchalant. “About ten minutes ago,” Shelley said. “I didn’t realize how much stuff I needed.” She didn’t look at him, her lips freshly glossed like she’d just eaten something and reapplied a shiny coat. Everything appeared normal about her except she looked like she’d just been dropped into their kitchen from a whole other place, another house, or an unfamiliar room. Mark could see her trying to get her bearings again, trying to keep her voice level as she spoke with the girls. For a sympathetic moment, he knew it couldn’t be easy for Shelley. Having an affair required more energy than what you were capable of mustering after being drained by everyone else. There were sacrifices, like missing your kid’s soccer game. He wasn’t sure what disappointed him more—the cheating itself, or the cheating with Bob. No hard evidence had surfaced. All Mark had was a sensation of tightness in his stomach, spreading up through his chest and clutching at his throat. It seemed to hamper his breath, yet he found he could still speak when Shelley, who pretended she hadn’t just screwed Bob, evaded his silent accusation with lively and trivial questions. In bed that night, Shelley kissed his chest and his shoulders, his chin and face. He wondered about this sudden burst of affection. In spite of his simmering anger, he wanted her. She would sleep with him, he knew, out of pity—or maybe it was a diversion. Maybe she sensed he was on to Bob and her. Was she afraid of divorce? Or did she suspect what he did, that an affair could not sustain itself outside of secrecy and stealth? That as soon as it was revealed, it withered and crumbled like a fallen leaf. The reality of spouses and children and mortgages blew away its tiny particles, the once throbbing passion running through its veins gone. Even if he had been interested in anyone else, he couldn’t imagine building a relationship that had sprung from deceit and betrayal. You couldn’t build a house
on top of a fault line. And yet, Mark realized, you might have been living on top of a sinkhole and didn’t know it until it was too late. All you could do was watch the contents of your life sliding into oblivion. In bed, Mark wiped his mind clear of anything but his wife’s body. He grabbed Shelley hard and smothered her lips, keeping his eyes tightly shut, afraid to find hers wide open, scrutinizing him. She didn’t resist his hold on her, allowing him to kiss her for a long time. When he was ready, he suddenly thought of Bob’s mouth replacing his own, the other man’s lips all over his wife. Silently, he pushed Shelley away. Shelley lay beside him, staring into his eyes, her lips twitching in quiet bewilderment but she said nothing. She retreated under the covers, her back to him. The house settled in low and vibrating noises: the turbine fan of the air conditioner winding down, the dishwasher cycle in drying mode. He heard the tinkling sound from Kennedy’s favorite bedtime ragdoll when she moved in her sleep. Shelley pulled the covers over her bare breasts and closed her eyes. “Good night, hun,” she said. Mark was still awake when she had begun to softly snore. He closed their bathroom door behind him, sat on the toilet, and massaged himself until it was Salma on the floor in front of him, her head naked and luxuriant black-blue hair streaming over her body, concealing her breasts until Mark gently swept the strands away like a velvet curtain so he could see all of her. The next morning, Mark dutifully mowed the grass with his manual upright. He and Shelley had argued that a sit-down mower would be a waste of money when their property was not an end lot like their neighbors, the Jamisons. Mark could trim the lawn in less than two hours and happened to enjoy it. His daughters couldn’t take rides with him like the Jamison kid, a toddler in a Bears cap who squirmed in his father’s lap as he maneuvered the steering wheel with one hand. But, it relaxed Mark and he refused to cave in to a sit-down mower. Their friends arrived at the same time, a cacophony of car horn greetings and slamming doors. Mark was already flipping a half-dozen hamburgers, carefully poking and turning drumsticks, a bowl of barbeque sauce poised on a plastic tray extending from the industrial-sized grill. It was the only thing Mark felt particularly proud of when the other husbands gathered around, ritualistically offering recommendations on heat temperature and thawing times as they sipped their Budweisers from buckets choking with ice. It was an American Grill Deluxe-36 and it was the mother of all suburban home grills and his patio was built to accommodate it. It used natural gas or propane and had a stainless steel rotisserie backburner, a flush mounted side-burner, and a sink
that could be connected to a garden hose. It cost him nearly two grand and it was the best purchase he’d made in the entire house. It was certainly better than a sit-down mower. Bob and his wife showed up late, and both looked flushed. “The baby kept us up all night,” Bob apologized, straddling their chubby son on his hip and sternly shaking his head at his wife. “And this one—“ He jerked his chin towards Jennifer. “She waits until the last minute to get ready.” “Well, I guess since you didn’t have any part in giving birth to our son,” Jennifer said, “you aren’t responsible for helping me get him ready to go out.” She brushed cheeks with Shelley and held out a casserole dish covered in aluminum foil. Unlike his wife, Jennifer had not shed the baby weight and it sat around her waist like the inner tube of a bike wheel. She was still very pretty, in Mark’s view, her naturally red hair hanging in thick waves around her shoulders, its bleached summer highlights fading away. Freckles sprayed her face, shoulders and arms. She was as tall as Bob and when they danced at their annual block party, she’d have to stoop a bit to rest her head on his shoulder for the last slow number of the night. What sounded like typical husband and wife banter took on a malignant tinge for Mark. Everything about Bob and Jennifer was amplified in the confined space of the kitchen. He noticed how little they touched except when Bob handed their kid off to Jennifer to hold. And he realized Bob hadn’t touched Shelley at all, defying his usual handsy embrace of his wife. “Oh, is he not feeling well?” Shelley asked. “It must be the change of weather.” She gently tugged the baby’s arm and he shyly turned away from her, hiding his small face in his mother’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine, right, big guy?” “He’ll live,” Bob said, smiling grimly. He wore Bermuda shorts with a tucked-in polo shirt and leather belt. His canvas shoes were scuffed at the tips. “Are we ready to eat?” Mark asked no one in particular. He held a platter of raw patties—the last batch before he could sit back and enjoy himself at his own party. By nine o’clock, most of their friends were tipsy. Wives sat in their husbands’ laps and their husbands pinched their thighs, eliciting squeals of outrage and pleasure. The children had tired of the trampoline and moved indoors to the basement to watch Cartoon Network and guzzle down ice cream floats Alyssa made. The citronella candles infused the air and mingled with the burning birch wood in the fire pit. The moon was only a sliver, upstaged by a ribbon of blinking stars. The Jamisons, still lounging with the other guests, had their deck lights on, and they illuminated the leaves of the red maple tree that had doubled in size since Dennis Jamison planted it last spring. Mark had helped him with the projections so the tree would not entirely obstruct the view from the bay window of the family room. Last weekend, Dennis latched an old-fashioned wooden swing
from its branches. Mark had watched Bob and Shelley avoiding each other the entire afternoon, steering clear at every corner like they were maneuvering around the place in bumper-cars. Until now. They sat around the fire pit and whispered to each other, uncaring of who saw them, as though this public closeness negated any suspicion. The firewood spit and crackled, its flames casting an orange glow across their faces. They huddled like primitive creatures. That spoilt taste lay thick on Mark’s tongue, and his stomach churned with dread. Mark wondered where they had screwed, if Shelley met him in the city or if Bob reserved a room at the Abe Lincoln motel—the only motel in their suburb—where families lived in between selling their old houses and waiting for their dream home to be constructed. Or maybe Bob could afford a lakefront studio apartment. Bob’s wife Jennifer reclined in a pool chair, her son nuzzled against her breasts, asleep. Another woman leaned towards her, speaking in a low voice. Jennifer listened, her face animated in surprise, her mouth opening wide in soundless amusement so she wouldn’t wake the toddler. Though she could be no more to blame than him, Mark was disgusted by Jennifer’s oblivion and felt even more alone. He considered charging over to their spouses, breaking the spell and reminding them whose bed they’d be in that night, and who they’d be waking up to. He grabbed a Budweiser instead—only his third one all day—from a tub of melted ice water and sank into a patio chair next to Dennis Jamison and his short wife. He nodded when someone asked him a question and wondered what Salma was doing. At the next soccer game, Mark and Shelley set up in their same spot. He noticed the other soccer moms just nodded and waved when they passed Salma, never stopping for small talk the way they did with Shelley. At their break, as Shelley helped distribute snacks to the team, Mark walked over to Salma. “Our girls are looking good,” Mark said. “Hopefully we’ll win this one.” “Beesan is very serious about it,” Salma smiled. The corners of her eyes crinkled in the sunlight, her olive complexion shimmering and smooth. “I don’t think the other team will have a choice when she starts running. Where’s your little one?” “Kennedy’s with her grandparents—Shelley’s parents—today.” Salma nodded and smiled. “So, you settled into the new house?” He wanted to linger as long as possible. From the corner of his eye, he saw Shelley walk toward the parked cars that lined the field. She was holding a leftover box of granola bars and speaking into her cellphone. “We had to tear up all the carpeting and re-stain the floors, but we’re almost there,” Salma said. “If I’d had my way, we’d have built instead of bought preexisting.” “No. You did the smart thing,” Mark said. “We
had almost a year of runaround with the builder, and closing dates were pushed back week after week.” He shook his head, remembering the months he and Shelley lived at the Abe Lincoln, never fully unpacking their clothes because they felt sure they’d be moving into their home any day. For a flash, he pictured Shelley sprawled across the quilted cranberry blanket that was standard in the rented rooms, Bob between her legs. He’d already called Richard from Accounts Payable and asked him for a good divorce attorney. It occurred to him, standing on the soccer field, speaking light-heartedly with Salma that it needn’t be a dramatic thing. He would stay in the house until it was over—Shelley would have to leave if she couldn’t bear it—and he’d do everything to make the transition easy for his girls. It was an awful lesson, but life was full of shit moments. Hopefully they’d do better. “Well, have a good one,” he told her, knowing he couldn’t stand there talking to her forever. Shelley was still in the parking lot, waving the box of granola bars in the air as she spoke into her phone. Before the players’ huddle, Salma’s husband showed up for that second game. He was only slightly taller than Salma, with the build of a boxer. His head was closely shaven and he wore Nike track pants with flashy running shoes. He held his daughter by the shoulders like a coach giving a pep talk to his most valuable player. At this point, Beesan was the MVP contender who would lead the team to eke out their first victory. When he was done, he lightly slapped her thigh and nudged her onto the field where the actual coach waited for the girls to huddle. Mark wanted to catch Salma’s eye, to nod or smile—he needed some small gesture of validation that they’d shared a moment away from their respective spouses, a moment that was theirs. She never turned to look in his direction until the second quarter of the game. The score was even. Her husband stood by the sidelines, swaying back and forth on his heels. Salma remained seated on a collapsible chair, which had replaced the blanket she brought when she came by herself. She looked over at him and cheerfully waved. He gave a quick wave back, happy. Shelley returned from the parking lot after the first whistle of the referee and plopped down beside him, giving him an absent smile. She squeezed his knee and called out Alyssa’s name. “Go, Alyssa!” Another whistle blew and the girls scurried to keep the ball skidding past their opponents. Beesan scored a goal before the end of the first quarter. In his peripheral vision, Mark caught a flurry of movement near the sidelines. But he didn’t look. Alyssa had taken command of the ball, moving toward the goalie who swayed on bent knees, her gloved hands curled into fists as she braced herself. In a matter of seconds, the ball was intercepted by a half-back a whole head taller than Alyssa. Disappointed, Mark turned away from the field. That’s when he saw Bob’s wife Jennifer thrashing out
of a knot of arms and hands trying to hold her back. She broke free of the other soccer moms and lunged in his direction. Shelley stood up before Jennifer’s shouts reached them. “You bitch!” Jennifer charged Shelley and snatched his wife’s cellphone from her fingers, whipping it across the residential street. It skimmed the heads of a few standing parents who ducked it. “Why couldn’t you leave my husband alone?” Jennifer’s face and neck were crimson, her freckles disappearing under her flaming skin. Mark instinctively planted himself between the woman and his wife, his hands and arms braced in defense like he was playing basketball. “Jen. Calm down,” he said. He was careful not to touch the woman. “Take it easy, Jen.” He glanced behind him. Shelley stumbled backwards, dazed. Several soccer moms had followed Jennifer and formed a semicircle around the three of them like a Greek chorus. “Tell your wife to stay the fuck away from my family!” Jennifer shouted over his shoulder, jabbing her finger in his face. “You whore! You ruined my life!” Jennifer grabbed the box of granola bars Shelley had laid on top of the cooler and threw it at Shelley, hitting her in the shoulder. “I didn’t…I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Shelley stammered. She clasped the back of Mark’s t-shirt, taking cover behind him until the other moms pulled Jennifer away. He jerked away from his wife’s hold. “This is not the time or place,” he said through gritted teeth. He settled back down in his chair, his face searing with anger and shame. It was as if a ring of fire had ignited around the two of them, cutting them off from the other parents who were gawking at them. “Let’s just watch the game. They’re about to score.” He was grateful Alyssa had not seen. A few of the girls not in the game stared with wide eyes and half-opened mouths. Like the other stunned parents, Salma had watched the spectacle. Her husband was now at her side. He was shaking his head. He squeezed Salma’s shoulder, and they both turned their eyes back to the field. Mark watched her unzip a plastic bag of giant strawberries and offer it to her husband. They watched their daughter as she glided across the field, fiercely guarding the ball like a plundered treasure. Shelley’s hands were in her lap, helpless and naked without the buzzing of her cellphone. Mark wanted to reach over and seize her fingers and hold them tightly. Tonight he’d pack a few things, sleep at the Abe Lincoln, and tomorrow he’d take his daughters out for some ice cream and while Alyssa softly cried into her waffle cone, Mark would try to explain to Kennedy what happens when a mommy and daddy divorce. For now, he sat in silence next to his trembling wife, turning his attention back to the field in time to see Alyssa gain control of the ball again. He followed her as she moved it closer to the goal, willing it forward, believing anything was still possible on a day like that.
Born in Wisconsin, Victor Yañez-Lazcano has spent the last 11 years of his life learning and working in Chicago. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2008 from Columbia College Chicago. Since then he has juggled a freelance career in the commercial and fine art worlds. For the last 7 years he has also been a teaching artist through the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s after school Picture Me program. He is currently developing a body of work, titled de, which investigates his family’s identity as first generation Mexican-Americans living in the rural Midwest. www.yanez-lazcano.com A child of Palestinian immigrants in Chicago, Sahar Mustafah is very honored to be a contributor to LDOC which helps in her mission to bring stories of “others,” Arab and Muslim Americans, to her hometown audience. Her short story “Code of the West” is a finalist for the 2015 American Fiction Prize and will be published by New Rivers Press. Her work has also appeared in Story, Great Lakes Review, Word Riot, and Chicago Literati. She teaches at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in south suburban Illinois and she’s co-founder and fiction editor of Bird’s Thumb. You can visit her at www.saharmustafah.com. LDOC is a free photography and creative writing publication distributed every first and third Monday at the following Red Line stops: Loyola Ave, Belmont Ave, Chicago Ave, Lake St, 69th St, and 95th St. LDOC features a new local artist and writer each month, creating an accessible installment-based art experience for the Chicago commuter.
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