They need to do something about the VW bus. The woman says they can donate it to Kars-for-Kids or a leukemia foundation or something. Those places will come and tow it away for free, plus they can get a credit against their income taxes. Her husband says nobody’s going to want that thing—everything that’s worth anything was stripped off it years ago. And since when did they have enough income to use a tax credit?
Still, the woman does not want that old VW sitting in the side yard anymore. She’s had it up to here. She does not want to be the kind of people who live in a house with junked cars in the yard.
He doesn’t know what she is talking about. Get real. They are those kind of people. The VW hasn’t moved since 1996.
Well, people can change. It’s never too late. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Has he ever heard that saying? Has he ever stopped to think about what those words really mean?
* * *
The VW is visible from the street because they don’t have a fence around the yard. Fences are built to keep people out. Or in. She knows that, but it would have been nice to have a fence when the kids were little and she was the one who had to watch all the time so they didn’t wander into the street. And then there was the incident with the puppy. She bet that traumatized the kids worse than getting run over themselves would have done. But the woman and her husband both agreed a long time ago not to have a fence. So if someone is looking at the house, they see the VW.
These days thistle-like weeds surround it, but the weeds don’t grow high enough to hide the thick black eyelashes she painted around the headlights. When did she do that, 1975? Those are some funky eyelashes. They were always painting the bus when they were high. Of course the only time it seemed like a good idea was when they were high. There are magical creatures and rainbows and daisy chains that she did on her side, and gray factories blowing pollution into the sky and faceless robot cops with machine guns that her husband painted on his side. Plus guest artwork by some of their friends. None of it is very good. The bus was white to begin with, and now only the roof is. On hot summer days like today, little squiggles of heat emanate up from it—angel mirages, her kids used to say. The VW was better than a swing set. The kids spent hours inside it; it was a fort, it was a spaceship, a submarine. They’d get in and pretend they were going someplace. And now they have gone someplace, and it’s just the woman and her husband left with a rusting hulk in the yard. The grandchildren, when the woman and her husband see them, have outsourced their imaginations to the tiny screens.
The woman will definitely be getting rid of that bus. She will see to it. She brings a brown grocery sack out to the yard and she fills it with old magazines and papers that she’s been storing on the floor in the back of the VW. There are a lot. One bag will not be enough. She’ll look through this first lot, then come back for more. Nothing can go directly into the trash. She’s saved these magazines for a reason, a recipe perhaps, or a household tip, or an especially illuminating phrase that at one time she meant to use during a dinner party conversation. Had they ever even been invited to a dinner party? Did barbecues count as dinner parties? She brings the bag into the house and spreads the magazines out on the kitchen table. She will thumb through them quickly. It won’t take long. Only, she needs the scissors. Or what she needs is that coupon; somewhere in the junk drawer, there’s a Michaels crafts store coupon for a clipper made just for this purpose, and the coupon might not be expired. Her job would go a lot quicker if she ran down to the store to get that special coupon clipper.
What the hell? Where did this all come from? her husband says. These papers are full of earwigs. She’s got dirt and bugs all over the kitchen table.
This is so typical. Can he help instead of complain? No, of course he cannot, because that is what he does. He watches everyone else do the work and then complains that it’s not being done right.
Can she just do something without making another mess, her husband says. Can they just not have a proliferation of crap throughout the house today?
He doesn’t need to yell.
He is not yelling.
He is, but as usual she’ll be the peacekeeper. She is always the one to back down. She puts everything back in the paper bag and, see? There are not so many earwigs. There is not so much dirt. Her husband doesn’t have to roll his eyes.
* * *
Now the woman is on the porch, and she has to sit on the top step rather than in a comfortable kitchen chair. Once she’s down like this, sometimes she wonders if she can get back up by herself, but does anyone care about that? And even if there aren’t that many earwigs in the papers, there’s enough to make the woman feel kind of itchy, so she picks up each magazine and shakes it out as far away from herself as she can, which isn’t very far. She’s shaking out a brittle Mother Earth News when a folded piece of paper flutters out along with two dead silverfish.
It’s a pink paper, thin as tissue. The woman leans to pick it up, but it’s fallen just out of reach, so she heaves herself to her feet, cursing. She knows what it is without even looking at it. Having to stand up and chase after it, to bend over, grunting, to pick it up, fills her with an ancient rage. How dare he do this to her?
In faded ink, that elegant handwriting—Ben is out of town until Friday. Can you get away?
* * *
In the living room her husband is watching television.
Found the little memento you were saving, the woman says.
What, what? Oh, for crying out loud, can she not see he’s watching a game? What is this? He picks up the pink note she’s dropped in his lap, glances at it, and crumples it in a ball. This again? They are going to do this again?
She doesn’t know. Are they?
It’s not a memento. He didn’t save anything. Come on. It’s been, what? Thirty fucking years. Over thirty. They are not going to do this. Oh, don’t start crying.
She’s leaving. He won’t have to worry about seeing her cry. Maybe after she leaves he can call his girlfriend, start that up again. That’s what he wants.
He doesn’t even know if she’s still alive.
Why would he say that? What is he saying? Is that the reason he’s not with her?
He can’t talk to her when she’s like this.
She hates him, she says.
* * *
Outside, the stale summer breeze that always picks up around four in the afternoon has blown her loose papers everywhere. She won’t pick them up. He can pick them up. He can call his old lover and she can come over and they can pick them up together. Forty-seven years of marriage and she’s done. It’s over.
The woman stomps through the backyard with her purse. She is going to get in the car and just drive, maybe get a hotel room in Winona or Gardnerville, maybe go to a hotel with a casino, maybe call one of the kids and tell them she’s coming for a visit, but she gets winded so easily these days, it’s hot, and her knees hurt. She takes a break for a few minutes in a plastic chair to catch her breath. Her side of the VW bus faces her, and she notes the detailed feathering on the wings of Pegasus as he glides over a rainbow. Of course one of his legs looks more like an elephant’s than a horse’s, and his head is too small for his body, like one of God’s first drafts. Also the supposed-to-be indigo line of the rainbow is a muddy brown. The woman remembers mixing the paints together trying to get the right color. This was in those sweet years before the kids came along. She’d spilled paint on her jeans, so she took them off, then shed her top and her bra and panties too and painted in the nude. Her husband had undressed and their old college friend had as well, and the two men pressed their bodies against hers, the friend behind her kissing her neck and her husband holding her breasts, his tongue swirling in her mouth. Paint all over her hands as she touched both of them. Crickets. A yellow crescent moon. The warm light spilling out the kitchen door. The memory of it makes her lightheaded.
Two men at once! Nobody would ever believe that of the woman she is now, she thinks. How generous she was. How generous her husband was.
Well. The past is past. She looks in her purse, but she forgot to pick up the car keys on her way out and now her butt is stuck in the arms of the plastic chair. If she stands up, she’ll have to waddle, bent over, to the house, so undignified, and ask her husband to pull the chair off of her. Why can’t she remember this happens every time she sits in one of these cheap things?
But she’s not uncomfortable, and the warm breeze against her face is actually quite pleasant. Her side of the bus looms like a drive-in movie screen before her. She can just stay where she is for a little while.
L. Babb has been a teacher at the Writers’ Studio San Francisco since 2008, mentoring and working with over 400 writers. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cleaver Magazine, West Marin Review, Sixfold, The MacGuffin, Rosebud, Signal Mountain Review, and elsewhere. She was voted first in the fiction category for Sixfold Magazine’s winter 2018 issue and was a finalist in the 2016 Epiphany Spring Fiction Contest. She has been nominated several times for a Pushcart.