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Maze Heart
by Clifford Henderson

Morgan sat at her favorite corner table at Marie Callender’s willing the busboy to come clear her plate. There were still two bites left of Heartland Chicken Pot Pie. One bite, really, at least for Morgan who had a tendency to gobble, but two bites for anyone else so it still counted. She’d read in a doctor’s-waiting-room magazine, some health rag, that a person could lose weight simply by imposing this two-bite regime.

The bit of flaky crust and chunk of tender chicken looked so harmless just sitting there, the fluting of the pastry, the slight sheen on the milky sauce…Damn her cataract surgery! Her new eyes made everything look so delicious. She took a sip of water. Then another.

The restaurant was far enough off campus that she could feel removed from work, which was a blessing. Especially lately. Her office in Human Resources was revamping the Campus Policies, Procedures and Programs, a bear of a job. On top of which they were dealing with a particularly sticky whistle-blowing case. Everyone in the office was cranky.

When had she stopped liking her life?

She signaled the waiter. “I’m finished with this,” she said sealing the deal by tossing her crumpled napkin on top of the pie bits.

He shot an annoyed look at the oblivious busboy and then swept up the plate himself. “Dessert?”

“No. Thank you. But I will have a cup of coffee. Three creams please.”

“Will do.” He glided off in his beautifully toned body.

Youth. They had no idea what they had.

She pulled her iPhone from her purse and punched in her brother’s number. He picked up on the second ring.

“Hey, Morgan. What’s up?” He sounded distracted.

“I just wanted you to know we got Dad all squared away.”

“I’m sorry. What was that?”

“I was just calling to say I got Dad all squared away.”

“Oh good. Good. Thanks for taking care of that.”

Did he even know what she was referring to? “In the retirement home,” she added, biting back a mouthful of resentment. Why was it her calling him anyway? Shouldn’t he be the one calling her? Asking if everything worked out okay?

“Right,” he said. “That was today.”

“Yesterday.”

“Oh. Right.”

“Are you in the middle of something? Would there be a better time to talk?”

“No. This is good. I’m just on my way to show a house—Stay in your own lane asshole!”

Morgan pictured him, Bluetooth stuck in his ear, zig-zagging through traffic. “I just thought you’d want to know. I’ll email you the address and phone number. I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.”

“Sure. I’ll get Lanie to send some flowers.”

Flowers. Was he kidding? “Mark. This is Dad we’re talking about.”

“I know. I know. I just have a hard time being around the old guy. I never know what to say.” He paused then added. “I’m not like you, Morgan.”

“Not like me in that I’m an excellent communicator or not like me as in I’m a spineless dishrag?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Mark, I haven’t been caring for Dad because I have nothing better to do with my life. I have a fulltime job, a relationship…” Morgan willed her voice to sound strong. “In case you’ve forgotten, Dad’s got macular degeneration—now in both eyes. And he took two bad falls. Remember? He also talks to Mom like she’s still alive. Oh, and let’s not forget he set my kitchen on fire.”

There was a pause on the line and Morgan hoped she was getting through.

“While we’re talking all things Dad,” he finally said, “would you tell the renters in his house they might want to start looking. I think I have a bite.”

Morgan punched the end-call button. It wasn’t worth it. Mark was a moron.

The waiter delivered her coffee.

She ripped open the three little plastic cream buckets and swirled their contents into the oily brew. Outside the window, a couple of kids in the parking lot were making out, the girl pressed up against the chassis of a pickup, the boy pressed into her.

She and Treat had once been like that, unable to keep their hands off one another. Not as openly, of course. Not in Fresno, Land of Homophobes, Mormons, and Right-to-Lifers. But in the early months of their courtship, Morgan was so sleep deprived she could barely keep her eyes open at work. It was irresponsible. Free. And yet somehow the world still managed to turn. The grass might not have been mown as regularly, phone calls not returned as quickly, but no one died, no empire collapsed. Recently though…

Morgan fought off visions of Treat and Marky Gottlieb, the athletic yet still annoyingly voluptuous consultant Treat hired to help organize an in-service sensitivity training for the men at the warehouse she managed. Ever since Friday night, when Treat didn’t get home until after two in the morning from her “strategy meeting” with the tantalizing Wonder Girl of Harmony Systems—add to that she was clearly boozed up and more than a little sheepish—Morgan’s mind had been spitting out painful images of them doing everything from gazing into each others’ eyes over a tasteful bottle of Cabernet to the two of them playing tonsil hockey in the backseat of Treat’s hybrid 4Runner.

Morgan took a sip of coffee. Was it too late to save her relationship?

She picked up her phone and punched in Treat. She would be in the throes of the in-service training, but so what? Morgan was her wife.

Treat here,
the voice mail droned. But I can’t get to the phone right now. You know what to do at the beep.

“Hey, honey. Just calling to say…well…I hope everything’s going okay with the training. And that I love you. Call if you get a second.” She punched the end call button, wishing it were as easy to put an end to her problems. Then she picked up her napkin and blew her nose. She was acting ridiculous. Feeling sorry for herself! How could that help anything? Acting the sniveling martyr obsessed with her partner’s whereabouts. But that was all about to change. Today. She’d moved her dad out of their house. They could make love with the bedroom door open if they felt like it. Hell, on the dining room table for that matter. If it would hold.

She checked her watch. If she left now she’d have just enough time to run by that new store in the mall whose ad she’d seen in the circulars. All About Romance boasted “everything you need for your boudoir and more.” She paid her bill, got the waiter to bring her a to-go cup for her coffee, called into the office to tell them she might be a tad late, and headed for her car. Time to be proactive.

The store was huge, a Bed, Bath, and Beyond of courtship, sans the florescent lighting. Pulsating colors, textures, and aromas beckoned you into its depths. A young salesgirl with heaps of curly blond hair and wearing a flattering low cut tux-like uniform acted as greeter. “Welcome to All About Romance. Can I help you find anything?”

Morgan stammered, “I’m fine. I just need to…well…which way is the alcohol?”

Rapunzle pointed with a blood-red fingernail. “Just follow the little cupids to your right.”

Morgan looked up. Sure enough, little cupids hung from the ceiling saying things like: This way to the libations! Follow me to the naughty/nice corner!

She had to pass through acres of lingerie. Impish pink and white lace nighties were set apart from garish black and red lace-up corsets as if they might contaminate one another. Leather had a section all to itself.

It had been eons since Morgan had purchased lingerie. Timidly, she stepped into what was called The Lingerie Lounge. She had no interest in the Miss Muffet or Dana Dominatrix varieties, but thought a nice black satin robe could work. But did they carry plus sizes? She scanned the rack and found not only 1X but 2X and 3X. Which made sense. Youngsters couldn’t afford prices like these. Nor did they need the wares. Their lust was so strong the backseat of cars or underneath bleachers did them just fine. No. This place preyed on middle-aged women trying to revive the passion in their relationships. No matter. Morgan picked up a tasteful black lace camisole with a plunging neckline and a pair of matching silk pajama pants, and strode over to the dressing room. The girl working there didn’t look old enough to drive. “Just the two things?” she asked, averting her eyes briefly.

Morgan tried not to take it personally; the girl obviously couldn’t wrap her mind around the thought of a middle-aged woman being sexual. “Yes. Two.”

The dressing cubicle was painted rose and had mirrors on all sides causing lines of mini-Morgans to shoot off into infinity. Doing her best to ignore them, she slipped off her linen slacks and cream-colored cotton blouse. The sight of herself in bra and panties was jarring. Cellulite dotted her thighs and belly. Her breasts bulged from the armpits of her bra.

She slipped on the camisole and pajama pants. They had a nice cut and fit her beautifully. More importantly: no camel toe. If she ignored her woogity-woogity upper arms and too-pale skin she almost felt voluptuous. Running her hands over her body, she imagined how the lace and silk would feel when she wasn’t wearing panties or bra. She tipped her head back and let her eyelids droop. Treat loved her eyelashes, said they gave her bedroom eyes. She gazed at the mirror seductively, embarrassing herself, then changed back into her sensible work clothes. With a final pat of the hair she was ready as she would ever be for the outside world. She marched past the girl working the dressing rooms using a silent mantra as armor: This will be you one day, sweetie.

 

Listen to Clifford talk about her novel in progress on YouTube.


Clifford Henderson Photo Photo by Dixie Cox

Baffled by reality, Clifford Henderson has fashioned a life where she can spend most of her time in make believe. Author of three award-winning novels, The Middle of Somewhere, Spanking New, and Maye’s Request she is currently working on a fourth. When not writing, Clifford and her partner of twenty years run the Fun Institute, a school of improv and solo performance where they teach the art of collective pretending.

Contact Clifford at http://www.cliffordhenderson.net

 

Winter 2012 Issue

Essays
Wallace Baine
Don Rothman
Karen Ackland

Poetry
Carolyn Burke
Farnaz Fatemi
Gary Young

Fiction
Clifford Henderson
Micah Perks
Paul Skenazy

Interview
Julia Chiapella

Love Letters Project
Wallace Baine
Lauren Crux
Stephanie Golino
Neal Hellman
Cheyenne Street Houck
Erin Johnson
Wincy Lui
Elizabeth McKenzie
Alyssa Young

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