THREE GREEN PEARS by Catherine Shukle
THEY'D BUSTED THE WINDOW with three big green pears. Shards scattered over the cherry floors, rattled under the silver racks, settled into the nap of the North Face jackets—fleecy olives and taupes and teals pricked with kernels of glass. The window painting of the backpacking bear, an extinct California grizzly, the mascot of Mont Pierre’s Mountain Retail, remained intact, but the acrylic red lettering was gone; the flyers taped to the glass–announcing the latest Street Ratz’s Jazz Trio gig and Juniper Loom, the new hippy alpaca leg-wear store, located just a block away on Emerson—were gone. They’d flapped, perhaps, down the brick sidewalk. When the storefront glass was smashed, when the Bartletts were hurled by the hoodlums, the white flyers had been whisked into the bright September night.
The sky was still black when Margot got there, but the stars were fading. In the distance, the Sierras loomed white-tipped and gray. The boulevard was quiet; gone were the flashing red and blue, the wailing sirens. She’d heard them in the background when he’d called. So strange: his voice in her ear again. “Margot, please,” he’d said, and she could hear the catch in his throat. “You have to see this.” She tried to imagine him, she couldn’t, crying in front of officers, bearded men with badges, but she recognized, she thought, the ache in her husband’s voice. She pulled her sheet back up around her, sunk down into her pillows. “Okay,” she’d agreed. “As soon as I can. I’ll be there.”
By the time Margot arrived, over two hours later, the broken window had been replaced with thick plywood panels. On this street, with its iron light posts, its swinging geraniums, its fire-lit fountain in the shape of Topaz Lake, the manufactured plywood, spray-painted Do Not Touch, marked Mont Pierre’s Mountain Retail as an out-of-place ugly. “My god,” Margot whispered. The last time they’d been to their store together, in early April, it had been raining through sun. She’d stood beside her husband on the inside, looking for a rainbow through the pattering glass.
Now, her husband, Dart, was sitting on the sidewalk in front of the door, his knees pulled up to his chest. It was obvious that he’d been roused straight out of bed; he had on his flannel pants, his moccasin slippers, a yellow t-shirt from Yosemite National Park. His rum is good ball cap, the one his grandfather had given him on their trip to Laguna Beach, covered most of his dirty blonde hair. When he saw her, he flicked his cigarette butt and smiled.
“I was hoping you’d show,” he said, standing up. Margot thought he’d lost weight, maybe; his tan skin pulled tight across his forehead. Even like this, on the dark boulevard in yesterday’s clothes, his pants covered in Siberian Husky hair, his eyes red-veined, his nose running, her husband was a handsome man. A burning, like love, gripped her below the breasts.
“Can I go inside?” She slipped past him and turned the knob before he could answer.
He’d told her about it already, but it still shocked her: the thick smell of paint fumes in their little store. “It’s awful,” she gasped. The culprits hadn’t made away with much: a box of snowshoes, an amethyst paper weight, a stack of fifties and twenties from the store register. But, they’d ruined it all, splashed gallons of lime green and black paint on the High Sierra mummy bags, the Marmot tents, the Yaktrax Walkers. Margot ran her finger along the counter, smeared a bright lime fingerprint into the cool granite. “We’re lucky, I guess,” Dart said, quietly. “They could have burned the place up.” She felt his hand, briefly, brush the cup of her spine.
“I wonder why they didn’t,” she murmured. She wiped the neon paint on the hem of her blouse. When she’d hung up the phone, earlier, she’d stayed there, in the divot of her bed, remembering what she’d been resisting: the slide of his skin wet with Dove soap, his heavy-thigh weight on her own, the pale puff of hair above his groin. Tangled with him in his first car, the rag top down, the round lights rocking over bitterbrush and greasewood. And then, ten years later, their careful positioning during her fertile windows, his wilting moans, the pillow propped under her hips as he tried to come. When Margot couldn’t stand it anymore, she’d showered, changed into a violet blouse, gray linen trousers. It was after three on a Wednesday morning, but she’d pulled on heels.
“Maybe they forgot a match,” Dart chuckled. He flipped the lights on, but when Margot covered her eyes, he turned them back off.
Margot watched her husband, from a leather stool behind the counter, as he swept up the last remnants of the broken window glass. In Mont Pierre’s Mountain Retail, the broom scratched the wood floors; the glass jingled into the dustpan. The plywood window cast a block of shadow on Dart’s back. He glanced at her from the side of his eyes, caught her staring, smiled. It was dark, but she could imagine the blush of his cheeks, the pink on the tips of his ears.
“So,” Margot said quietly, “what does this mean?”
Dart stopped. He propped the broom handle against a clothing rack. “It’s yours too. Still our store. I thought you’d–”
“No, I know. I mean,” Margot paused. She pulled her handbag into her chest. She didn’t know what she meant, really, but she didn’t know why she was there, in a dark muck of paint and glass, her body trembling, her estranged husband maneuvering around her, smiling at her like he knew her, rubbing his hands together like he wanted to touch her.
Dart turned his back. He yanked a pair of nylon pants from a hanger, shook them out. “We’re covered. I’m up with the insurance.”
Margot nodded. Her head felt light and fuzzy. She swooned against the counter, caught herself. “Dart,” she said.
But, her husband was on his knees in the corner of the store, crouched at the feet of a pine bear statue clad in red-plaid wool, hunter green shorts. “Look,” he said loudly. “Margot, they missed one.”
But, she could not look. She closed her eyes and inhaled the paint fumes, the sound of her husband’s voice, excited, happy. She did not look up until he pressed it into the palm of her hand, the cool smooth pear with its wooden stub, a third pear the police had missed, and, when she opened her eyes in surprise, when she forced her eyes open to see their find, she saw his eyes instead, his deep blue blink, the sway of his eyelashes as he came into her, eagerly. He cupped the pear in her hands and kissed her lips.
If the amateur photographer hadn’t gone missing, Margot and Dart would never have met. When the photographer, a man in his sixties backpacking the Sawtooth, photographing alpine glow and Indian Paintbrush, disappeared, a search party of forest rangers, local hikers, and Eagle Scouts panned up and out to look for him. Dart, just nineteen, joined the hunt. He was the son of a local bigwig, Dartmouth Monteith III, a real estate agent in Mammoth Lakes, and he’d spent much of his childhood living out of his pack. After a big sale, the entire family—Dart, his parents and his younger sister, Sandy– would spend a week above the tree line, hiking from one alpine lake to another. Dart knew the trails above Twin Lakes as well as he knew the inside of his own home; he could hike the four miles down from Barney Lake in the dark.
Margot was camping Barney Lake that June, alone; she was eighteen, and she’d run away from a square house on J Street in Sacramento, packed her high school backpack with chocolate chip granola bars stolen from the gas station, three water bottles, a rain-stained collection of Lovecraft, and a baggie of weed her brother, Jude, had given her before he was locked up for probation violation. Margot hitched her way east with a woman named Rosalyn who sang Johnny Cash with her and chain-smoked Parliaments. When Rosalyn dropped her off at the trailhead, she’d kissed her on the neck with her tongue. Margot had taken six hours to climb the trail up to Barney Lake, wheezing through the elevation change, but, when she made it, she was so goddamned happy she laughed out loud. She slept, that night, on a big flat rock above the lake, listening to a Christian youth group, camped on the cliff above her, sing songs about redemption. Someone strummed a guitar, sang low and deep.
The next morning, she awoke to the buzz of a helicopter and the smell of horse shit. Dart, her future husband, was with a group of scouts and a ranger on horseback, scanning the meadow around the lakeshore. Margot slid a stick of deodorant into her armpits, watched the ranger nod her way. A few minutes later, Dart was in front of her, his elevation-tanned face grinning, his blonde hair splayed around his ears.
“When did you get to this site?” Dart asked.
“This morning,” Margot lied. She didn’t have any reason to, really, but she wanted to see how the boy would react.
He laughed. “Well, have you seen this man?” Dart held up a picture of the photographer, taken by his wife, probably. It was blurry, glossy. In a family room, on an orange-flowered couch, a bearded man sat scowling with a Christmas present half-unwrapped on his lap. Margot took the photograph from Dart. In the background, a teenager in black, with hair down to her hips, leaned against a door frame.
“Never in my life,” Margot said, shaking her head. She’d followed him, then, the few hours up to Crown Lake, off the trails and onto rocks that crumbled under her feet. When they got to the snow patches, Dart held her steady, zipped his own down vest over her breasts.
They spent the entire summer together, spooning pistachio ice cream into each other’s mouths, drinking vodka in a pup tent, making love in Dart’s Jeep, their bodies sweaty and eager and young. Dart paid for her room at the Ruby Inn in Bridgeport, with his father’s money, and he visited her nightly. Together, they watched television on the unwashed bedspread until the sun came up over the hills.
She didn’t think anything of it, really, when she started to get sick. But, a few weeks later, in late August, when Margot fainted on their trip to Mono Lake, Dart insisted she take a test. He waited for her outside the women’s restroom at the Mono Lake Visitor’s Center, and when she came out cursing, he started to cry. Later, they weaved their way through the tufa, watched the Red-necked Phalaropes sweep and tumble above the water. When Dart dropped to his knee, Margot laughed. “Jesus, Dart, we’re not keeping it,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m not crazy.” But, she almost regretted it when she saw his big blue eyes swell.
“I love you,” she said, pulling him up and into her. “I just don’t want this.”
They spent the next week screaming in the Ruby Inn over microwaved dinners, but, finally, Dart drove her through the mountains to San Francisco—she was not, she insisted, getting it done anywhere near her mother in Sacramento—and they waited in a white-walled room for four hours, watching the quiet women enter and exit. When her name was called, Dart grabbed her arm, “Please, Margot,” but she shrugged him off, went through the gray door without him.
That night, she dreamt her heart slid out between her legs. She woke sobbing, Dart sound asleep beside her. When she shook him, when she called his name in the dark hotel room, pleading for him to hold her, he didn’t even stir.
“Margot? Hey. I wasn’t sure you’d be home.”
Two days after the break-in, Dart was standing on the doorstep of her rental house in his blue and gold Berkeley sweatshirt; he tapped a manila envelope against his thigh.
“Can I come in?”
Margot held the door open for him. It was midday, and she’d just woken up. Her friend, Rita, had tried to lure her into town with the promise of a free lunch and shopping, but she’d refused, said she had too much to do. Instead, she’d stayed up late with her bottles of Seagram’s, painted a bad rendition of Hitchcock’s Calypso. She gave the woman an angled black bob and exposed her left breast, all jaunty and raw. When Dart knocked on the door, the following afternoon, Margot hid the drying painting in the bathroom.
“How’s the store?” she asked. She led him into the tiny kitchen and offered him a plate of stale mini-muffins. When he declined, she poured him a glass of wine.
“Window’s fixed, and the cleaning company’s in right now. Strip & Shine–out of Reno.” Dart topped his glass off. Margot noticed his trembling leg, his foot beating against the ceramic tile. “Floors may need to be replaced.”
The bright green pear they’d found that night sat in the center of the dining table. When Dart placed it in her hands, she couldn’t let go. She’d driven home with one hand on the steering wheel. Now, it sat between them in a patch of sunlight. Margot could see the little brown flecks on the skin, the start of a bruise near the stem.
“That’s bad,” she said.
When he had kissed her the night of the break-in, she’d let him. She did not pull away until her knees began to buckle, and then he led her out into the fresh air, into the lightening sky. With the pear tight in her palm, she’d driven herself back home. She’d placed the pear in the center of the dining table and stared at it until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer.
But—and this is what she could not tell Dart, what he could never know—after he’d called her, the sirens whirling in the background, and before she’d driven to Mont Pierre’s Mountain Retail, she’d called her fine arts instructor, Stanley. “I thought you’d want to know,” she’d whispered through the phone, “Dart’s store’s been broken into.” Stanley didn’t say anything. “Can I see you?” Margot whispered. In her ear, Margot could hear his wife’s voice mumble before he clicked the line shut.
She’d met Stanley in June on the shore of Topaz Lake. He was leading a three-weekend watercolor workshop, and she’d let her friend, Rita, talk her into enrolling. “It will be good for you,” Rita had said. “You look like shit.” She’d insisted Margot put on mascara and eye shadow. She held her hands still as she painted her nails pink. That afternoon in June, just two weeks after her marriage fell apart, Margot found herself painting wobbly lines on an outdoor easel, memorizing the gorgeous words that spilled from her instructor’s lips: Cézanne, Inness, Klee. Stanley positioned the brush in her hand, guided its bristles into the colors—pinks and oranges and grays–and onto the canvas. She liked the feel of him standing behind her, so unlike her husband. Stanley was dark, tall, thick, the kind of man who could grow stubble in an hour, who could cover her entire face with the span of his hand.
After class the second Sunday, Margot had followed Stanley back to his workshop, a bright fifth-floor apartment space above the Month Pierre Savings and Loan. “You are Picasso’s Blue Nude,” he’d whispered in her ear. And, she’d just laughed. He showed her his wall of Topaz Lake paintings, bright primary smears of oils, abstract. If she squinted, Margot thought she could recognize certain landmarks: the picnic tables on the south shore, the tuft of Jeffrey pines to the west. Stanley spread out his funky rendition of Woman with a Fan. He’d painted it on the back of a white bed sheet, in red and green acrylic. Margot thought the woman looked like a Christmas tree. Her exposed breast hung like a heart-shaped ornament. “This is the most famous nipple in the world,” Stanley had said, and then he kissed her. For a moment, she thought she was with Dart again, because she hadn’t kissed another man in over ten years, but when she looked up at him, she saw his black eyes, his dark eyebrows that ruffled low on his forehead. She wanted sexy love, and so she let Stanley smudge her into his workshop floor, onto wet paint and sponges. When he came, he screamed her name loud and long.
It was over as abruptly as it began, but she called him, often. She whispered him whatever she was thinking: I want blue curtains without a valance. My mother never loved me. Coffee can cause breast cancer, I think. And, sometimes: I miss Dart so much it hurts. Stanley never said anything, but she could hear him breathing, and when she said goodnight, he said, “Goodbye, Margot,” like she would never call again.
Now, in her rented kitchen, sitting across from her husband, a man whose lips she had almost forgotten, Margot didn’t know what to say. Dart picked the pear up, tossed it in the air and caught it with both hands. He was shaking.
“Sandy’s dancing with Smuin now,” Dart said, placing the pear back between them. He blushed.
Margot had always had a soft spot for Dart’s little sister. Sandy was just three years younger than her, and a little wild. At sixteen, just a year after she’d met Margot, Sandy flew off to France with her twenty-two year old girlfriend; she came back transformed from a stick-straight blonde into a red-headed curlicue. Now, she was dancing the role of Stravinsky’s Firebird with the Smuin Ballet. Dart pulled a full-color promotion photo from the manila envelope he was holding. Sandy was costumed in a tight red leotard, black tulle; her leg extended behind her in a cocked arabesque. Her right hand rested, teasingly, on the flesh above her bodice.
“She looks good,” Margot said. “Really good.”
Margot hated the ballet: the elbow-to-elbow seats, the long intermissions, the perfectly choreographed movements timed precisely with the music. She’d seen Sandy dance in half-a-dozen performances, fairytale ballets with her youth company, before she and Dart had moved to Mont Pierre.
“She said she’d love to see you,” Dart said.
For some reason, Margot found herself nodding her head. “I’d like to see her too.”
So, she’d agreed. Dart would pick her up on Sunday morning, early, for the long drive to the bay area. They’d attend the matinee, be home by ten. “At the latest,” Dart assured her.
Dart smiled when he left her. Margot watched his car pull away. When he was gone, she pulled her painting out of the bathroom, walked around the house with it. She considered, briefly, hanging it in the foyer, next to the coat closet, but she couldn’t, she reminded herself, put any nails in the wall. This wasn’t her home, after all.
They were separated, she supposed, but no papers had been filed. They’d moved out within a week of one another, in late May, both leaving behind their cabin on Crawley Lane. They drove out of the bishop pines and quaking aspens and into their own little spaces: Dart into the third-floor apartment above Mont Pierre’s Mountain Retail, and Margot into a vacation rental, a studio clapboard fifteen hundred feet below their abandoned home. Dart paid the mortgage, her rentals fees, transferred money for her into their joint account. When he left her, dragging his last suitcase down their stone steps, into their gravel drive, he’d insisted, “It was lunch, Margot. It was only lunch.” She wasn’t even waiting for an apology.
A few weeks before, on a Sunday in May, Mother’s Day, they’d driven the five hours over the mountains into the city, Dart behind the wheel of a rented Tahoe, to attend the baby shower of their friends, Tim and Rita Holcombe. The couples had bonded fast, in Dart and Margot’s shop, just one year prior. Tim and Rita, transplants from Louisville, Kentucky, wanted it all: authentic ski poles, a two-person tent, down coats that would keep them alive on backpacking trips above the tree line. Margot had helped Rita into sweat-wicking underlayers, two-hundred dollar sweaters. Dart filled packs with gear for Tim—freeze-dried spaghetti mac, rolled pants, a portable stove—so that he could get a feel for the weight on his shoulders. Afterwards, Dart had locked the store up, and the couples had ambled down to Tanner’s Pub on the corner, joked over lemon slices and bleu cheese burgers and garlic fries.
So, when Rita had called with the news, just eight weeks pregnant, “It wouldn’t be the same without you two,” they’d said sure, of course, packed a basket with neutral onesies and gift cards, and driven together to San Francisco, over the bridge and onto The Embarcadero, weaved into the parking garage across from Pier 39, and looked at each other in the dim glow of the rented car.
“Are you ready for this?” Margot had asked.
Dart shrugged. “Just relax, Margot. Everything will work out fine.”
After avoiding for ten years, they’d been trying for ten months—normal, her gynecologist assured her, but Margot worried. She peed on ovulation sticks twice a day, monitored cervical fluid and position with her fingers. She read What to Expect Before You’re Expecting, convinced Dart that shower sex would wash his swimmers away, took cool baths after ovulation to avoid boiling any potential blastocysts. But, nothing. Margot nightmared her fallopian tubes twisted, her ovaries cracked avocado pits, her uterus a scraped triangle, devoid of vessels. And, when Margot got the call from Rita, “We weren’t even trying!” she felt a desperation, a yearning, she’d never felt before: now, now, now–please.
“We’ve done it before,” Dart said, their first month trying, but, after that, he kept his mouth shut. Margot felt him close up tight away from her. When she came home in the evenings—from trips to Corner Coffee, her nail appointments, walk-jogs with Rita and the Holcombe’s Saint Bernard—it was like he didn’t see her at all. She’d stand in front of him, unbutton her blouse, and sing him Bob Dylan and Beyoncé until he poured her a drink. When they were both buzzed, then, they were okay. They sat on the back deck together and threw popcorn kernels over the ledge.
Always, they shared Rita and Tim. When there was nothing else to be said, there was a Tim or Rita story to be told.
Although they’d been in California for a year, Tim and Rita still lived like tourists. They skied in Mammoth, photographed Bridalveil Fall, and visited the aquarium in Monterey Bay. Now, they were holding their baby shower in the Eagle Café on Pier 39, with its view of the blue bay water, the flopping sea lions, fuzzy Alcatraz in the distance. “God, Marg, you have to see this place!” Rita had said, breathlessly.
Margot laughed. “I’ve been there, Rita,” Margot replied. “It sure is lovely.”
And, the Eagle Cafe was actually lovely that Mother’s Day, draped in silver and sage ribbons, helium balloons hanging from satin bows. Margot held onto Dart’s elbow as they climbed the stairs into the top-floor dining room. A long oak table was laden with food: crab cakes and legs, oyster-stuffed mushrooms, a five-tiered cake covered in sugar pansies and fondant peapods. When Rita and Tim saw them, they threw their hands up in the air and whooped. “Maybe this was a bad idea,” Margot whispered, but Dart had broken free from her clutch. Margot watched him slap Tim on the back; he grabbed a juniper beer from the bartender. “What do you want?” he mouthed, but she just shook her head.
She spent that day by Rita’s side, watching the fog through the windows. After dinner, the guests walked down to the pier, and Margot snapped shots of her pregnant friend, her belly not yet bloated, posing in front of the rows of boats. “Tim wants to buy a sailboat,” Rita giggled. “But, soon I’ll be so fat I’ll sink it!” Margot rubbed her own empty belly, pinched the fold of flesh that hung below the waistband of her pale blue dress. “God, Margot, this is going to be hell!” Rita laughed.
When Margot found Dart, later, he was on the first level, alone, watching the twinkling carousel sing and whirl. She saw him before he saw her. His head was cocked; his eyes were drooped. The pandas and dragons and horses—flashes of color—carried squealing toddlers around and around and around.
“Dart,” she said, but he didn’t hear her. She was so close she could smell him, the musk of his skin, his spiced deodorant. She placed her hand on the crook of his arm.
“You found me,” he said quietly. His eyes were bright and wet and blue.
“Are you okay?” she asked. Her husband had his hands in his coat pockets. He looked back at the carousel.
“Sure,” he said. “You? How’s Rita taking it all?”
Margot watched a black-haired boy drop his sugar cone onto the platform. A man, his father, perhaps, wagged his fat index finger in the boy’s face.
“She’s happy, I think.”
The little boy rammed his feet into the undulating dolphin he was riding. He let go of the pole with both hands.
“Tim thinks it’s all a big mistake,” Dart said. “They were supposed to climb Half Dome in June.”
Margot grabbed her husband’s hand out of his pocket. “Let’s go home,” she said. They’d reserved a night at the Hilton, but all she wanted to do was curl into her husband in their own bed. She wanted to wake up with him in their home, hear the sounds they heard from the back deck every morning: the slap of Crawley Creek, the rustle of the aspens, the strange leaps and cracks of beetles unseen in the brush. Margot wanted to make her husband smile like he meant it. “I’m exhausted, Margot. I’m not driving tonight,” Dart sighed.
She pulled him away from the carousel, led him into a souvenir shop selling magnets and shot glasses and cheap I heart SF t-shirts. “Put these on,” she said, tossing him a pair of foam Golden Gate sunglasses. Dart put them on, and Margot laughed. The bridge spanned from ear to ear. She slipped a child’s trolley t-shirt over her sundress. It clung tightly to her breasts, cut into her arms. “Come on,” she said.
They paid, and Margot led them out to the dark marina. They hung their legs over the pier and kissed each other clumsily, Dart’s foam glasses still on his face. Margot had watched her husband’s eyes deepen over the past ten months; their black and blue grew wider. So, she was glad she could only see his chest and jeans, could feel the familiar pulse of his lips. She imagined herself a young girl again, dirty in the Ruby Inn, rubbing the inside of Dart’s thighs until he begged her please.
“Why are we here, Margot?” Dart said, pulling back from her. He flicked the foam glasses from his face and threw them towards the water. Margot watched them bounce off a white hull and float. For a moment, she wanted to jump in after them.
“For Rita and Tim,” Margot said, tugging at the neckline of her trolley shirt. “You know they–” She didn’t know what to say.
“You’d do anything for them,” Dart said, standing up.
“I’d do anything for you, too,” she said quietly. But, he walked away from her.
After she said goodbye, Margot found Dart in the parking garage, behind the wheel, rapping his fingers to a saxophone riff on the radio.
“Dart, please,” she said, but he turned the radio up and put the car in reverse. They drove the five hours home that night, listening to the music fade into static.
When Margot woke the next day, a little before noon, the house was empty. She called Mont Pierre’s Mountain Retail, but Jason, the former florist who manned their cash register on Mondays, answered. “He’s at lunch, lady,” Jason whistled.
Margot drove the fifteen minutes into downtown Mont Pierre, parked her car in the alley behind their shop. She breezed through the back door, waved at Jason, slammed through the front door, jingling the bell. It was May, and the summer season wasn’t yet beginning. In a few weeks, when school let out, tourists would flock to Topaz Lake with their swimsuited children, but, for now, just a few early fishermen skulked around the brick streets and lakeshore. Although Margot and Dart kept their store open year-round, most of the restaurants traded weeks during the off-seasons. That Monday, only two eateries were open: an Asian bakery and a tapas bar, Maza’s Mediterranean Grille. If Margot knew her husband at all, she thought, he would be under the flat-screen television in the tapas bar, eating lamb croquettes and drinking pale ale.
She stopped short on the sidewalk when she saw him, outside of Maza’s, his blonde hair tossed and shining, sitting with his back to her under a green market umbrella. A pretty brunette sat across from him, eagerly. Her face was white; her cheekbones were sharp. Under her little bob of hair, her brown eyes gleamed. Margot saw their arms stretched into the center of the table. Their hands were clasped loosely, their fingers entwined, next to a purple bud vase. She thought she heard her husband’s laugh, but all she could see was the pretty woman’s frown, her eyes creased in concern. And, then, the woman she did not know took her hand from Dart’s and lifted it towards his face. Margot couldn’t see him, but she knew the gesture: the woman who was not her wiped her husband’s tear from his cheek.
On the Saturday before the ballet, Margot sat in her car across from Stanley’s house and watched his daughter, Penelope, ride her tricycle in circles around the driveway. His son, Arnold, bounced a basketball off the side of the house. He was the age, she thought, of her unborn child. Margot remembered the grip of Dart’s hand on her arm, over ten years ago, the look in his eyes. She was just a kid then, and she didn’t know love, but, at that moment, she thought that if she did know it, if she had it in her at all, she would have given it to him. She’d told him she loved him, hadn’t she, before she walked through that door? They’d said it to each other before, of course, under blankets, in the sage, jokingly, with pool cues in their hands, their bellies burning from rum. She hadn’t meant it, yet, but, that day, had she said it?
“Rita?” she said. Through the phone, she could hear her friend’s shallow breathing and Tim in the background, butchering Clapton.
“It’s so good to hear from you, Margot,” Rita squealed. “I’m sending you ultrasound pictures today. Like, I’ll put them in the mail an hour ago.” She laughed.
“Where are you now?” Margot asked. She rolled her window down. The curtain on the left upstairs window of Stanley’s home fluttered, briefly.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Rita said. “Can you guess?”
“Barstow. Can you believe it? The middle of freaking nowhere, Margot,” Rita laughed. “But, they have an outlet mall!”
“I’m at Stanley’s,” Margot whispered, but Rita must not have heard her.
“I’m getting you some Frederick’s so you can seduce that husband of yours.” Rita paused. “Have you heard from Dart?”
The upstairs curtain parted, and the window opened. A pretty forty-something blonde leaned her head out. Arnold hugged the basketball in his armpit. “I wasn’t,” he whined.
“No. Yes. I have to go, Rita,” Margot said.
“But, the store. He needs you, Marg.” The phone was quiet. Tim had stopped singing.
“Well, we all need something,” Margot said. She hung up the phone, quickly, and drove away. When she looked in the rearview, she thought she saw Stanley’s dark body, his white tunic gleaming, his big arms lifting his daughter off of her tricycle, throwing her—precariously–into the air before catching her in the expanse of his chest.
“Did you see that, Dart?” Margot gasped. She was sitting next to her husband in second-terrace box seats overlooking the stage. In the pit, the orchestra screeched out Stravinsky. Margot could feel the violins in her chest, pulling and ripping. Her cheeks flushed.
Dart grabbed her hand from the armrest and squeezed her fingers. “I think so,” he whispered.
Below them, princesses in gowns of white spun in blue light. Behind the dancers, a heavy drape of painted rocks and pines wavered.
Margot looked at Dart. He was smiling, shyly. “I saw her nipple,” she said.
And, she had seen it: the slick brown cup of a breast with its plum nipple. The dancer was stamping her feet in a curve of white bodies and dresses. The princesses pounded the balls of their feet into the dull gray floor. Their torsos heaved. Margot watched, mesmerized, and when the woman flung her arms to the ceiling, circled her hands above her head in despair, her right breast slipped out and up—a sweaty, fleshy flash of brown and purple, erect—before disappearing, quickly, back into her bodice.
“Wardrobe malfunction,” Dart chuckled softly.
Around them, no one else seemed to notice. A man in a scarf coughed. A woman rubbed the back of his neck with her fingertips.
Margot felt Dart’s hand entwined in her own. It was warm and dry. For a moment, she saw the green market umbrella, the purple bud vase, but then the fog lifted and the stage lights filtered into a pale red. The orchestra rocked sideways. The princesses rushed into the wings, and Sandy, the Firebird, crept out on the tips of her toes. Prince Ivan lurked behind a cloth tree, in his silver pants, but Sandy leaped and sliced the air with her legs. Her flat tutu flounced. Margot and Dart watched her together, their fingers grasping, everything in them longing for the transformation they knew was coming: the bewitching would end, the egg would be destroyed, the Firebird would disappear, and all of the ordinary people would become ordinary again. And that would be happiness.
Margot and Dart had promised each other: They would not mention the nipple. “Don’t say anything to Sandy,” Margot had whispered as they waited for the curtain to fall. And, it felt good to have a secret again, a little something that only the two of them understood.
Under the stage in her bright dressing room, Sandy looked worn. She pulled off her pointe shoes and showed Margot her blistered feet. Pieces of lamb’s wool flicked out from between her toes.
“I’m so glad to see you both here,” she’d said when she saw them. “How’s the shop?”
Dart told her all about the cleanup and the new merchandise orders he’d submitted. Margot helped pull the pins from Sandy’s bun and unwound her hair. Dart looked at Margot and winked. She smiled.
Later, after Sandy had stripped the makeup from her face and changed into her belted shift, they’d walked together to the sushi joint a few doors down from the theater. Margot snuggled next to her sister-in-law in a steel booth, across from Dart, and she told her stories about Rita and Tim, listened to Sandy kid Dart about his new puppy, a Siberian Husky that he’d named Mike. “Who names a dog Mike?” Sandy laughed. Margot hadn’t seen the dog, but Rita had told her all about it, how Dart bought it the day after he’d moved out, how it peed on the heirloom rugs in his third-floor apartment. Dart pulled out his wallet and showed Sandy a picture of his puppy. He had the dog’s picture printed on computer paper; it was folded into a plastic sleeve where a picture of his child should have been.
It was hard to say goodbye, but they’d promised to make plans. “I mean it, Margot,” Sandy had whispered in her ear as she hugged her. “I want to see you again. Soon.”
Dart drove her back to Mont Pierre with the windows down and the radio off. The cool September night rushed into her ears and raised the hair on her arms.
Dart slowed down when he got to her drive and lit a cigarette. In his headlights, the clapboard rental was an ugly yellow. She pictured the dark interior, her deformed Calypso on the bedroom floor, the pear sitting on the kitchen table, ripening. She would need to throw it out soon; it was going to spoil. Margot looked at her husband. He was rubbing the steering wheel and staring down at his hands.
“The store looks good, then,” Margot said.
Dart looked up at her quickly. “You can see it if you want to. It smells fine now.”
“Okay,” she said. “Sure.”
Margot closed her eyes and listened to the grind of his tires backing out of the gravel. When she opened them, they were parked on the brick boulevard in front of Mont Pierre’s Mountain Retail.
The street lanterns and moonlight lit the store up bright. The new window was shiny and clean; it made the front door look dusty. “Where’s the bear?” Margot asked. “They had to take it?”
Dart nodded. The grizzly painting was gone. It was better this way, Dart explained. They’d replaced the entire 1920’s storefront with a stronger, thicker-paned glass. “Theft-resistant, supposedly,” Dart said. They’d upgraded the alarm system as well, replaced the ruined floors. They would repaint their mascot, hire a local artist. Their old store would look even better in the end, he assured her.
“Come on,” he said. “I want you to see it.”
When he unlocked the door and held it open for her, Margot thought she smelled, maybe, the faint scent of paint. “My god,” she said, breathlessly. “It’s so empty.”
The silver clothing racks were stacked up behind the counter, and the pine bear statue was leaning against the restroom door. The entire floor of the shop sat wide and bare. The new cherry beams gleamed.
“Jason did the foxtrot on it the other day,” Dart chuckled. “Said it looks like a ballroom.”
“It’s beautiful,” Margot whispered. Her throat tightened. She saw her body, nude, on the floor of Stanley’s workshop. She felt the rub of her belly against the cold tile floors. If she told Dart, it would be over; she knew that. Maybe they were over already.
“I thought about throwing a match that night, before you got there. Just watching it burn.”
Margot nodded. She didn’t know what to say.
Dart turned his back to her and pressed his body up against the window. He spread his palm prints into the new glass. They stood together, for a moment, in their empty store. Outside, a car drove by slowly. It bumped over a sewer cap.
“I’m sorry, Margot,” Dart said. She watched the back of his head and remembered what his blonde hair felt like between her fingers.
“Sometimes, I just hate you so much,” he said.
Margot’s chest ached. “I know,” she said. And, she did know. She’d known it for ten years, even when she felt him love her. Even when he gave himself up to her—wholly–in their bedroom before sleep, on the back deck of their home as the sun leaked through the trees.
“I can’t even help it.” He turned to look at her.
“I know,” she said.
When he kissed her, when she pushed her lips into his, she felt the weight of the space above her legs. She felt the unlatching burn, like love. She imagined it this time, her heart sliding out from under her, the warm sad throb of it all on their pressed-up legs, the thumbprint of blood, a vessel, left on his cheek as she wiped away a tear.
CATHERINE SHUKLE is an English Instructor at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, Indiana. She holds a B.A. and M.A. in English from Purdue University and is currently a M.F.A. student at Butler University. She lives with her husband, John, in West Lafayette, Indiana, and is currently expecting her first child, a son.