Issue 226, Fall 2018
My husband, who loved festivals, who was a great fan of festivals, wanted to get to the square in time for the first band at eleven o’clock.
From bed, the dog and I watched him dress. He tried on various T-shirts, declaring some of them too tight and others too loose, before finding the perfect one. We watched him smear sunscreen on his face and neck and ears.
“Don’t forget your ears,” he said.
“I won’t forget them.”
“And don’t wear a gray shirt. You’re always copying me.”
I had already planned my outfit and had every intention of wearing a gray shirt. I thought of the other shirts I might wear, shuffling through them in my head.
When the door closed, I got out of bed to watch as he set off with the dog. The dog didn’t want to go without me. She was my dog from before. She sat in the driveway and looked back at the house. He tried to get her to run, thinking the farther he could get her from the house, the less she’d think about me. She ran for a few seconds and stopped to look back a second time, to the last place she’d seen me. I could have watched this show for hours. I worked from home and the dog and I were together nearly all the time, so I rarely got to see her love for me on display. Her usual state consisted of deep sighs, or nails skittering across the hardwood as she tried to escape my attempts to pick her up, flip her onto her back, and rock her like a baby.
I ate a granola bar, took my vitamins. I unloaded the dishwasher and put some clothes in the dryer, turned on the radio. But pretty soon my husband started texting me things to bring—his hat, cash from the cash drawer—so I tied my shoes and set out. I was on the phone with my mother when I stopped to chat with some neighbors who’d found a snake in their yard. They showed me pictures of the snake, were super excited about this snake, so I did my best to play along.
“It was really big,” the younger woman said, holding out her arms.
“Was it poisonous?” I asked, which was the only question I could think of.
“I looked it up,” she said. “It’s not poisonous, but it was huge—an eastern hognose.”
“I’ve never heard of that one.”
“It was really big,” said the other one.
They just wanted to warn me in case the snake made it across the street and over to our yard and my dog tried to get ahold of it. They were having such a good time telling me about the snake that I’d forgotten my mother was on the phone. When I put my earbuds back in my ears, my mother said she’d enjoyed hearing about the snake, too, which annoyed me. Probably what she’d enjoyed was my friendliness, how I’d been the one to stop the neighbors to say hello. She was a friendly woman and I wasn’t, and she didn’t understand why I wasn’t more like her. Whenever she pointed this out, I blamed it on the man she’d married, my father, and how he had ruined us with his cynicism.
“Remember to go by Jesse’s booth to look at his paintings,” she said. “But don’t spend more than fifty dollars—I only want a small one. And I don’t want you to go out of your way. Only if it’s not too much trouble.”
“It’s not too much trouble,” I said.
“I’ll pay you back,” she said.
“You don’t have to pay me back.”
“I’m going to pay you back.”
“We’ll see,” I said.
“No, we won’t see. I have the money right here.”
“You have it right there in your hand right now?”
“Well,” she said.
“We’ve had this conversation already,” I said, and then I told her I had to go, that I would call her later. I was busy looking at the college girls. High-tops were popular again, as were ripped jeans. Cutoffs. Crop tops. There was a group of six in front of me and I noted their similarities: three had on the exact same pair of tennis shoes. Five were wearing shorts so short you couldn’t tell they were wearing them. Two crop tops. Four had braids in their hair. They were all of varying degrees of very thin. The uniformity was mesmerizing. The girls were young and beautiful and proud to be young and beautiful in a way I’d never been at their age. Youth and beauty hadn’t seemed like anything special, and though I’d been young and pretty enough once, I had never been one of them. A few weeks ago, a group of girls had laughed at me from their car. It was clear they were laughing at me because they’d looked right at me and then one of them said something and the others opened their mouths and another pointed. But I hadn’t heard what they’d said. What could they have said? I was just a regular person in blue jeans, not fat or ugly or weird looking. I was plain. But being plain isn’t funny.
I was still disappointed I hadn’t given them the finger or told them to fuck off, hadn’t stuck a hand through an open window to touch a girl’s cheek or pluck a strand of her hair. I’d just stood there. It hadn’t occurred to me to do anything else.
It was hot out and I’d begun to sweat. I found my husband, and the dog was excited to see me, though not as excited as I thought she’d be. My husband told me the dog was very excited as he handed me the leash. Then the three of us stood and listened to the band, which consisted of two white men and two black women. I knew one of the men—the one on guitar, Glen—and had slept with him a number of times, had dated him for a month or so, though my husband was unaware of it. He thought Glen had a crush on me and that was the extent of it. It had been several years since we dated, but Glen still messaged me from time to time, had contacted me to ask if I’d be at this very festival.
Glen was attractive to me only when onstage. I reminded myself of this. Take him off the stage and it all fell apart. But he was onstage at that moment so it was difficult to remember what I’d found so distasteful about him. He was tall and thin and more attractive than most of the men I’d been with. And he was a very good guitar player—at least that’s what people said.
“Do you think he sees me?” I asked my husband. Glen was wearing mirrored sunglasses that seemed to be pointed in my direction.
“Oh yeah, he’s sniffed you out,” he said.
“I think he’s looking at me,” I said, though it was clear he was looking at me.
The song went on for a long time. I shifted my weight from one leg to the other, remembered how much I disliked festivals: All the people, how slowly they walked, how you had to walk with them in one direction, at their pace. And all the strollers and dogs and pretty girls and the boys trying to fuck the pretty girls and not me. The smell of meat and fried food. But this festival was particularly shitty because they didn’t sell beer so we’d have to go back and forth to my husband’s office, where he had stored a cooler the previous day.
My husband thought ahead. It was one of the things I liked about him. Glen did not think ahead. But the main problem with Glen was that he’d liked me too much. He’d liked me so much I’d gone mute, still. I recalled lying on his sofa, in his bed, on the swing set on his front porch. Even in his car, I’d reclined the seat.
When the song ended, we walked over to my husband’s office and poured ourselves beers in Styrofoam cups he’d found in the break room. The beer foamed up like crazy. I noted that my husband had not thought far enough ahead to bring plastic cups. I tried to get the dog to drink some water but she wasn’t interested, so I peed and called to my husband from the bathroom to tell him there were free tampons—how I had forgotten there were free tampons? His office also offered buckets of candy and tables full of magazines. We had plenty of tampons and magazines and candy at home, but that didn’t temper my excitement.