Growing a New Tail

by Lisa C. Taylor

So there we were, ten years after the honeymoon, and him clomping across the caf´┐Ż in his steel-toed boots to find a seat near the front window, cluttered with taped-on flyers advertising church bazaars and yoga lessons. Outside a few zinnias flapped limp petals in the humid puff of air they call a breeze around here. He pushed over a stack of Time magazines and newspapers to make room for his macchiato, double order of bacon, and sketchpad.

I sat on a cast iron chair near the back, by the espresso machine. There was a painting of a woman in a gauzy dress kissing a man under a red umbrella even though I swear it didn't look like a speck of rain was falling, her dress all billowy and the blue-white of those tiny flowers that dot fields back home in May. Just how it is with us, we prepare for rain where there isn't any, a damn hurricane or one of those funnel clouds that the airbrushed woman on Channel 55 says there's a thirty percent chance of it hitting somewhere, tearing up roads and picking up pets and even cars. Sometimes ten years can make a woman feel like life has caught her in a headlock, and she's choking on all that monotony.

Clem's the quiet kind. He eats too much and smokes those Maduro cigars so I'll probably be a widow someday though God's a fickle sort, taking my Auntie Viv at forty-two and letting my bastard Grampy Murray live long enough to gamble away the family money. I order up an egg over easy and iced tea, pretend not to see his extra bacon though Doctor Song warned him in April about fat. Clem doesn't believe in anything but fate. If it's my time, it's my time. Fine. I'd like a guarantee that his time won't drag on for years, draining all our meager resources.

"Anna, you're gonna marry me. You'll see."

And I did, in a recycled dress from the Goodwill, deli platters from Shop 'n Save. Our cake was donated by someone's mother-in-law, the flowers came from a funeral of a friend's grandmother, and Ricky and the Wildcats played their eighties disco music since Ricky was my friend Sara's boyfriend.

Beginnings don't matter, Clem said. We stayed in a Motel Six off the turnpike with a neon sign that blinked V-CAN-Y. No cable and a bed that sagged in the middle. I pulled up the edge of the bottom sheet to look for bedbugs, saw the yellowing mattress cover. Some honeymoon. None of this made a difference to Clem. We defined ourselves by what we lacked. No house, no kids, no pets. Nothing to lose.

"We're free, Anna. We could move to Florida, New Jersey, California."

But we didn't move, stayed in a four room apartment until I finished the Licensed Practical Nurse program, then we rented a two bedroom bungalow in the east side of town. Clem worked, I worked. We hated our jobs and spent everything we made on meals out so we didn't have to look at the rose and ivy wallpaper peeling away from the edges in the kitchen or the grayish-yellow tinge of the ceilings from all that cigar smoke. Until now, we hadn't even taken a vacation unless you count that weekend in Atlantic City.

Clem was crunching his bacon now. I could hear him from across the room.

I felt the car keys in my pocket. Tim had told me to walk out. He would meet me at the Dunkin Donuts in Port Orange to start our new life together. Just text him. He had a sweet house near Daytona Beach that his grandmother left him, was going to sell surfboards and I'd get a job, maybe in a little café like this one, people in shorts and tropical prints having coffee, reading newspapers. I could learn to make those fancy drinks like cappuccinos and mochas, would greet the regulars by name, have their drinks ready when they walked in the door. Warm all year round, he said. I'd wear brightly colored sundresses and sandals. We'd have to spray for the mosquitoes though, I get welts from those suckers. Tim says the lizards are like mice, wriggling in your house through the smallest gap. I wonder if they can grow new tails like salamanders in the northeast. Once my cat caught one and it wriggled away, leaving just the tail in Blinky's surprised mouth. In a couple of weeks, that salamander would grow a new tail. We used to overturn rocks to find them, some with the stub of a new tail starting, like the nub of a finger I saw on the ultrasound before I miscarried.

My phone chirped but I ignored it, thought of my backpack in our car, just earrings, shorts, jeans, and make-up I bought but never wore though I'm thinking I'll start soon; coral lipstick, blue glitter eye shadow and maybe some black eyeliner.

I'm going to have gold highlights streaked through my hair and wear those strappy-heeled sandals I saw in Elle Magazine.

Clem caught my eye and winked. I took my time walking over to his table, sashaying my hips and tossing back my brown curls like the Victoria's Secret models do on TV when they saunter down the catwalk in their silky underwear.

"Excuse me, mister. You look familiar," I said in a husky voice.

"Why don't you join me? Can I buy you a coffee?" Clem smiled, and I noticed his straight white teeth and smooth skin.

"Name is Maribelle," I said.

When I sat at the table, Clem offered me his big hand.

"I'm Timothy but you can call me Tim, young lady. I'd be honored if you'd share my table."

He shoved over the pad and bacon strips on a plastic plate.

I nibbled on a slice of his bacon, told him I'd like a double espresso over ice. No kids, no pets, no house. Maribelle and Tim. We could go anywhere.

BIO: Lisa C. Taylor is the author of four collections of poetry, most recently, Necessary Silence (Arlen House/Syracuse University Press, 2013). She's been the recipient of a Surdna Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize nomination, and was named, along with Irish writer Geraldine Mills, the Elizabeth Shanley Gerson Lecturer of Irish Literature at University of Connecticut in 2011. Lisa holds an MFA in Creative Writing, and teaches at Eastern Connecticut State University and Nichols College. Her work has been widely published in national and international magazines and anthologies, and two of her collections were taught in local college classes. She offers writing workshops in the U.S. and Ireland. Currently, Lisa is completing a collection of short fiction. Lisa also enjoys cooking without recipes, and hiking in out-of-the-way places, preferably near the sea.