« Chapter 2 ... in progress | Home | Chapter 4 ... in progress »

November 6, 2004

Chapter 3 ... in progress

The drive had been a good idea; it was just what Katelyn needed after a particularly stressful morning. Talking to her editor had not gone well and, as soon as the hospice nurse arrived, she jumped at the chance to go out for a drive. Using the excuse that she had run out of cigarettes, she pulled out of the driveway and began driving, determined to just keep going until she either got lost or ran out of gas.

It was a cool but sunny October day and Katelyn took the chance to put in her favorite Radiohead CD, something that her father, and her boyfriend, would have absolutely hated. While at the stop sign at the end of the street, she took a glance at herself in the rearview mirror and grimaced. It had been forever since she had gone to the hairdresser; her curls were getting thick and harder to manage and her gray streaks were starting to show. More often than not, Katelyn had been just pulling her hair back into a ponytail without so much as looking in the mirror and today it showed. She yanked out the elastic that held her hair hostage, opened the sunroof, and let the cold air lift her unruly hair off the back of her neck. Since she wasn't wearing any makeup, she put on her sunglasses and pulled out onto the highway, pushing down on the accelerator while turning up the stereo, enjoying the feeling of driving away, of leaving everything behind, of blocking everything else out.

The past month had been hard for the McKennas. Big Jack's cancer was taking its toll on both father and daughter and, more often than not, they sat in silence watching TV or talking about anything BUT what they were thinking. Last night had been a perfect example.

"I wonder how they do that." Big Jack had said aloud, not really a question, not really expecting an answer. They had been watching the local news when a commercial came on with a woman walking at normal speed, singing about how her full hair makes her feel sexier, while everything around her travels at warp speed. Car headlights and taillights streak by her as she walks down the center line of the road in a dress that looks suspiciously like a slip and ridiculously high heels. As she walks, shirtless men, who seem to fall into step with her as soon as they catch sight of her full, sexy hair, join her walking the center line, her own private army of admirers.

"They use a green screen, Dad," Katelyn answered, hoping that might be enough of an answer for him, that he won't know what she was talking about but that he would be too embarrassed to admit it by asking what a green screen is. She wasn't in the mood to talk, having just gotten the answering machine at her apartment for the umpteenth time, but she knew that if she didn't answer his comment, it wouldn't drop. He would turn to her and ask, "Do you know how they do that, Katie-girl?" and she would feel obligated to perform for him, to show that yes, indeed she does know something about something.

"You mean like the ones they use for the weatherman?" His voice sounded proud, like he was making the connection.

"Yes, exactly like that. She's not really walking down the street dressed like that." She added the part about the woman being dressed "like that" to show her father that she didn't approve of women walking down the street dressed in a slip-like dress and ridiculously high heels, that he did teach her some good morals. She had hoped this simplistic explanation would appease him and they could get back to watching the news, now that the commercial break was over.

"I wonder how they make the lights blur like that, though." He was again staring at the TV, half-listening to the talking head on the screen but still puzzling over the commercial.

Katelyn had taken a deliberate breath, thinking carefully before answering. As a photographer, she could easily go into a lengthy explanation of camera exposure, shutter and film speeds, how a slow shutter speed would make a moving light stretch the entire length of the screen, the but she knew she was treading in dangerous territory. If she spoke too technically about the process, her father would shut down, and be sullen for the rest of the night. He always thought she was trying to make him feel stupid, muttering for days about how "some people' are too intellectual for their own good and liked to lord it over other people. If she simplified the process too much, he would accuse her of talking to him like a child and launch into a speech about how, just because he didn't go to a fancy school or travel around the world on his employer's bank account, that didn't mean he was ignorant. She was trapped, as usual, and she hadn't even seen it coming.

"You know, I'm not sure, Dad, but it looked pretty cool, didn't it?"

"Yeah, never seen anything like it."

And so they avoided conflict after conflict like this. Each time she escaped, Katelyn felt both emotionally and physically exhausted, as though she had run a marathon through a minefield. She usually made an excuse afterwards to go outside, just as she had last night.

"I'm going to step out and have a cigarette before going to bed."

Her father hadn't answer, having already nodded off while the sportscaster was droning on and on about scores and statistics, something that neither father nor daughter ever paid attention to. Katelyn stood up, picking up the chenille throw that she kept on the back of the couch and carrying it over to her father's recliner. She had gently covered him, trying not to wake him, trying not to be caught doing something nice for him but knowing if she just left him there, he would wake and be angry that he had been left to get cold. She had taken care of her father long enough to know the motions and this was just a way to insure that he woke up in a more pleasant mood.

Katelyn had slipped into her denim jacket, making sure her cigarettes, lighter and cell phone were in the pocket. She stepped into the pair of Birkenstocks she kept by the back door, knowing that even with socks on, her feet would be cold but not wanting to take the time to put on her sneakers, just in case her father woke. She carefully opened the back door and slipped out onto the back stairs.

The harvest moon was high in the clear sky, lighting the fields with its silvery, over exaggerated light. That, coupled with a light dusting of frost, imbued the night with a magical quality that Katelyn hated to disturb. She quietly had walked down the stairs and to the edge of the field, where anything seemed possible in that moment. Taking a breath, she pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, flipped it open, aching to share this moment with Michael, to tell him to step outside, to look at the moon, to look at the stars, to think of her.

She pressed the 1 and then the TALK button, allowing speed dial to call the house, and held the phone away from her ear as it rang, almost afraid of what she would find. After 3 rings, she was about to flip it closed, not wanting to admit that he wasn't answering again when the voicemail picked up and she heard her voice, then Michael's, then both together, telling her that they were busy, followed by conspiratorial laughter. As they were taping the message, at that point, Michael had grabbed her breast, making her squeal a bit and, upon hearing that, Katelyn could feel an ache start in her breast, an ache of loss, of loneliness, and she flipped the phone closed without leaving a message. 11:35, where could he be?

Katelyn had pulled out her pack of cigarettes then, realizing with a slight pang of guilt that she was glad there were only two left, meaning she had an excuse to go out tomorrow when the nurse arrived. She lit one of her cigarettes and took a deep drag, noticing that she no longer got dizzy when she did that, that she no longer coughed, that she actually was beginning to enjoy smoking. She was addicted again, it had been that easy but she also knew that, once her father died, she would quit for good, that she wouldn't' have a reason to smoke anymore. About 6 more weeks to go, she thought. I better enjoy this while I can.

Before she finished the first cigarette, she lit the second one off of it, and, pulling her coat closely around her, stood at the edge of the field, staring off into the distance like her father would, but not seeing the crop in front of her. No, Katelyn only saw the world beyond the crop, beyond this farm, the world that was going on without her, leaving her trapped in this bubble of antiseptic and intravenous tubes.

The bass shook the windows of the Jeep as it sped down the highway. Katelyn realized she better stop at the store to pick up more than only cigarettes, perhaps the latest copies of her favorite magazines. At least that would make it look good when she got back. In her rush to get out of the house, she hadn't paid attention to how she had been dressed when she left, she was just focused on getting out and now she regretted it. She was wearing the same black yoga pants and black T-shirt she had put on when she woke up, adding just a green velour hoodie and her sneakers when she left for her ride. She could probably get away with looking like a slob since she hadn't lived here for just over 20 years. Hopefully no one would recognize her, though she had become somewhat of a local celebrity over the past 10 years. It would be just her luck that she would run into someone from high school, one of the cheerleaders that used to drive her nuts or, even worse, her old journalism teacher.

Unfortunately, she had run into Mr. Johnson at the bookstore last week and he went on and on about how proud he was of her and how he had seen her journalistic tendencies way back when. Then he went on to tell everyone that passed them who she was and how he had gotten her started. It was pitiful that she was the only one of his students that had ever gone of to do anything with what he had taught them but, really it wasn't Mr. Johnson that got her going. It was her urge to get the hell out of Dodge that drove her to become a photographic journalist.

Katelyn pulled off the highway at a small town a good 20 miles from the farm. That was one thing she always hated about this place. You have to drive at least half an hour to get to anything worth getting to. At the end of the exit ramp, she turned toward the mall, hoping that she would have better luck at at being anonymous in their bookstore than she had at the one closer to home. After finding a place to park, she checked herself in the mirror again, slicked on some lip gloss, deciding against putting her hair up again, just run her fingers through her curls before going in. This will have to do, she decided. I'm not a fucking supermodel, I'm an artist.

Getting out of her car, Katelyn slung her pocketbook over her shoulder and began walking toward the entrance of the mall that was closest to the bookstore. About 20 steps from her car, she held the alarm remote over her shoulder and pressed the button. Her car gave a farewell chirp at her as she kept walking, reassuring her that it was both locked and armed. She realized she could leave the doors open and the keys inside of her car in this neighborhood with a big neon sign on top that flashed "Steal Me!!" and it would still be there when she returned, probably having been washed and detailed for good measure. She kept forgetting she wasn't in the city anymore, she was in a community, but old habits die hard.

She pulled open the heavy glass and chrome door of the mall, feeling the vacuum packed suction trying to keep it shut, and was rewarded when the door opened by a rush of cool, stale, climate controlled air. The smell reminded her of her office back home and she felt a quick pang of guilt for not being at work, which was replaced just as quickly by relief that she wasn't back in the office or she and her editor would be arguing right now about loyalties. That was what the phone call had been about this morning, about when Katelyn would be returning to work.

"I have to be here for my father, Sydney, he needs me." Katelyn repeated during this conversation, just as she had during each of their other bi-weekly conversations.

"How is you father doing, Kate?" Sydney asked, obviously hinting but not wanting to be crass. She liked Katelyn, but she had a paper to run and she was missing her top photographer. She looked over the proofs of the next morning's papers while she waited for Kate to answer her.

Katelyn knew what Sydney wanted. She wanted her there, taking great pictures and winning awards for the newspaper. She felt a certain amount of security in that she was a recognized name in the journalistic photography profession. She also knew the reality that there were several other photographers working for the paper that were just as good as or better than her, that just needed a chance at the kind of exposure that Katelyn had gotten to gain the kind of celebrity that Katelyn enjoyed. She was getting used to the jealousy at the office and that part of the job, she didn't miss at all.

"He's on a morphine drip for when the pain gets too bad and the nurse said she thought he might need a feeding tube, since he can't keep anything down." She hoped Sydney would take that to be more final than Katelyn knew it to be. The nurse had told her the other day that he could live quite comfortably like this, for months even. Katelyn had tried to hide her disappointment and had changed the subject quickly, hoping the nurse would mistake her reluctance to talk about his impending death for denial rather than guilty avoidance.

"How is the chemo going?" Sydney asked absently, pointing to one of the advertisements that her secretary was holding up, showing her approval. She felt sorry for Katelyn having to go through this but she really needed to get back to work.

"He's about done with it. I think that will kill him before the cancer will." Katelyn replied, hoping she sounded sufficiently tragic.

There was a long pause on the other end of the line as Sydney was relaying, through hand gestures, what she wanted for lunch from the local deli until she suddenly realized that Katelyn had stopped speaking. She awkwardly tried to remember what they had been talking about and decided to switch gears instead.

"Listen, Kate, Brooks is pressuring me to make him permanent above the fold. He's been doing a good job while you've been gone but he's not you. He wants to be senior photographer. When can I tell him you are coming back?"

Now it was Katelyn's turn to be speechless. Sydney had never told her it was a matter of her job in the balance of her being here or there. When she had left last month, Sydney had hugged her, telling her that she needed to do what she needed to do and that she should take all the time she needed. She said what she thought Sydney wanted to hear.

"Two, three weeks, tops." lied Katelyn, knowing her father was too stubborn to give up that quickly but, secretly hoping that by saying it, there was a chance that it would come true and she could get back to her normal life.

They had hung up with the usual pleasantries and best wishes but there was a palpable tension that had never been between them before. As Katelyn walked past a store with headless chrome mannequins dressed in ill-fitting, low cut pants and jointed, mechanical midriff baring tops in the front window, she knew that she would lose her job if her father didn't die soon. Immediately, she felt guilty and she began walking with more purpose toward the bookstore that was just beyond the food court.

As soon as she walked into the bookstore, she relaxed. It smelled of fresh brewed coffee and living words. She stopped by a table near the entrance with all the latest bestsellers propped on it and perused the titles. Something rubbed on her ankle and she looked down to see Cecil, the bookstore owner's cat, purring up at her, hoping for a pat. She bent down to rub him, suddenly missing her own cat, lavishing him with an under the chin rub and sweet talk.

"Boy, you sure know how to treat a guy."

Katelyn looked up and saw the bookstore owner leaning over the counter, watching her interact with Cecil.

"He's such a sweet guy, I just can't help it" Katelyn quipped, returning her attention to Cecil, a bit embarrassed that her soft side was showing, and in front of such a cute guy.

Bernie watched Katelyn blush with amusement and just a touch of jealousy. Cecil was a surefire way to meet women but he got all the attention. He rubbed his hand over his shaved head, a nervous habit he had from when had grown his hair longer, which was probably why his hair had started thinning so early. He absentmindedly ran his fingers over his beard, hoping there were no remnants of Danish stuck in the hairs. This was a pretty lady, one he had seen in here before, and he knew she wasn't from around here. He had been hoping she would come back so that he would have a chance to find out more about her. Her shopping habits alone made her intriguing. Not many women bought National Geographic, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Art in America, PC World and Under the Radar all at one time. Bernie knew this was someone special, someone he had a lot in common with but he hadn't been able to open a conversation. Maybe Cecil was just the way to her heart. He made a mental note to pick up some catnip and fish treats for Cecil after work.

"You know, they say cats have good intuition about people." Oh, way to go, Shakespeare! Stupid, stupid line! Bernie berated himself. No wonder I can't get a date!

"Oh, I don't know about that. My cat is an idiot. She liked my boyfriend the moment she met him." Katelyn regretted the words as they came out of her mouth, wondering why she felt she had to mention Michael in the second sentence she had said to this guy. It wasn't like they were married, though they were living together, and he was just over 200 miles away not answering the phone. Anyway, there wasn't anything wrong with a little harmless flirtation and at least now he knew her status. As if he cares about my status, Jesus, what is wrong with me?

Katelyn stood up, regretting her sloppy clothes and lack of makeup, but she hadn't really expected to be talking to anyone today, especially not Bernie. He always seemed so intelligent and aloof when he talked to customers, hardly paying her any attention, but today, it was almost as if he hoped they would keep talking. Must be a slow day for book sales.

"Would you like a cup of coffee? I just finished brewing it." Bernie asked. Please say yes.

"I'd love one. It's been a while since I had a good cup of coffee." Katelyn lied, thinking about the pot she had finished off this morning. She didn't want him to stop talking to her, though. She was feeling especially vulnerable today, between her father and Michael and Sydney all expecting from her. Here was a nice guy that wanted nothing more than to give her a cup of coffee and have a little intelligent conversation, even if his ulterior motive was to sell more books. Katelyn preferred to think he did all this because he thought she was interesting enough to spend time with.

"I can't vouch for the quality, but I like it. How do you take it?"

"Black, one sweetener, or two sugars, or whatever you have." She covered, realizing that, as thin as he is, he probably didn't have any use for artificial sweetener.

"I have raw sugar, if that is okay?" Stupid! Bernie made another mental note to keep artificial sweetener on hand in the future.

"Oh, that will be a nice change. My dad doesn't keep that in the house." Did I really just admit that I lived with my father? This wasn't going as well as she had hoped. Katelyn began wandering through the book displays, making her way closer to the front desk while still trying to look like she was only interested in shopping, not the shop owner.

Bernie poured two cups of coffee and put one on a table next to the counter, along with a spoon, a napkin and two packets of raw sugar. "Milady, your caffeine awaits!" he quipped as he held out the chair for Katelyn.

"A thousand thanks, kind sir!" Katelyn said with an awkward courtesy and a slightly embarrassed smile. "Wilt thou not join me?" Getting bold, aren't we?

"I wilt, as long as we don't have to keep speaking like this" Laugher Bernie, obviously delighted to have been asked to join her. HE grabbed his cup of coffee and, scooting Cecil off the other chair, sat across from Katelyn, who realized that she still had her sunglasses on. Christ in a sidecar, I am such a dork!

Katelyn busied herself by taking off her sunglasses and putting them in her bag. When she looked up, Bernie was smiling at her in such an odd way she wondered if she didn't have something in her teeth or had sprouted horns without knowing it.

"Hi", he said, still grinning like an idiot. She had the most amazing gray eyes. They had a greenish cast to them today because of her sweatshirt but he could tell they were clear and light gray, almost silver, and so calm. He felt himself staring just a bit too long and looked down. After a few awkward moments and nervous throat clearing, he began making small talk about recent books that had come in and writers they had read. Just pretend she is an average customer was all he kept telling himself.

Katelyn didn't know how long she had sat in the bookstore but she knew after her third cup of coffee, she should probably be getting back. By then, she had told Bernie about her father and what she did for a living and the countries she had traveled to and Bernie was absolutely head over heels infatuated with her, as was Cecil, who had spent the better part of the afternoon curled up in her lap.

As Katelyn stood to leave, Bernie gave her a card with the name and number of the bookshop on it and told her that if she needed anything specially ordered, to just call. Katelyn tucked the card into her pocket and thanked him again for the coffee and conversation. It wasn't until Katelyn got out to her car and was putting her purchases in the passenger seat that she pulled out the card and noticed that, on the back, he had written his name and number, and not the store number either. Beneath the number was written one word.


Katelyn quickly tucked the card into her wallet, knowing she would never call him but secretly thrilled that he would write that.

As she pulled out from the mall parking lot, Katelyn realized she hadn't bought cigarettes, which was the excuse she had used for going to the store in the first place. She looked at her watch and realized that it had been 4 hours and she hadn't even wanted a cigarette but she attributed that to the excellent company and challenging conversation. She knew as soon as she was back at the farm, she would be climbing the wall if she didn't pick some up while she was out.

Katelyn pulled into a gas station on the next block, figuring she would top off her tank while she picked up cigarettes. She pulled up to the unleaded pump, shut off the engine and Got out to pump her gas. She was unscrewing the cap when an attendant came around the car and apologized, putting his hand on the pump as though he was going to pump for her.

"No thanks, I'm all set," she said. She forgot that around here women weren't expected to pump their own gas. The sign out front of this one read "We pump gas for Ladies", which always made Katelyn smirk. I'm a woman but I'm no lady ... I can pump my own gas.

When she had topped off her tank, she walked into the small gas station office to pay. She smiled apologetically at the attendant. "Sorry, I'm not from around here" she said, taking a carton of cigarettes from the display next to the counter and pulling out her credit card to pay. While her card was being approved, she glanced over her shoulder at the other people in the office, three men in overalls, work boots, flannel shirts and dusty caps, whose conversation had stopped the moment she stepped inside. She smiled, trying not to feel self-conscious as she bent over to sign her receipt. It was a relief to finally step out of the office into the afternoon light. Next time, I've got to remember to stop at the smoke shop in the mall.

Her ride home was all too short, her mind busy thinking about her afternoon at the book shop. Not that I'm going to be around here much longer, she thought and felt the immediate, familiar pang of guilt. By the time she had pulled into the driveway, her mood had come down from the delicious, relaxed high she had felt all afternoon to the quiet resignation she was more used to.

Katelyn just sat in her car a good 10 minutes in the driveway; she couldn't quite bring herself to go into the house. She checked her watch. The nurse was there for another half an hour and there was nothing she could do that the nurse couldn't do. Besides, the longer she could avoid going back in there the better. She opened the carton of cigarettes, putting one pack in her coat pocket and leaving the rest of the carton between the seats.

Radiohead still played on the stereo and Katelyn found herself singing along, hearing the words like a punch to the face:

"Sometimes you sulk
Sometimes you burn
God rest your soul
when the loving comes
And we've already gone
Just like your dad
You'll never change "

She pressed her forehead against the driver's side window, feeling the cool smoothness of the glass against her skull, gently beating in time to the music. She looked across the field and, though she had been here for every day of the last month, she noticed for the first time that it was a sea of white. The cotton bolls had opened. I need to get out more, she thought.

If her father could see this, he would be beside himself. It was a good thing he was pretty much confined to his hospice bed now. With no one to drive the humongous behemoth of a cotton picker, the cotton would stay in the field until the rain ruined it. Katelyn certainly couldn't drive it and her dad finally had to admit that he couldn't afford to pay a driver and a crew to get in the cotton, never mind getting it baled and to the gin. Taking over the business, the younger McKenna had just let the workers go last month so they could get jobs with other local farmers for the harvest.

In a desperate attempt to make sure the season wasn't a total loss for her father, she had also suggested that they sell the cotton to another farmer, letting him come on their land and pick their cotton for a fair cut of the profit. She knew several farmers that would jump at the chance to pick McKenna cotton, but Big Jack didn't want anyone else on his land, taking his crop. He would rather let it rot in the field than to let someone that didn't know his land farm on it. Unfortunately, at this point, he was only hurting himself by being stubborn but that was something that Big Jack knew a lot about.

Katelyn got out of her car, deciding to walk around the property before going back into the house. She needed more time to process this afternoon, more alone time. In a moment of guilt, she pulled out her phone, pressed 1 and TALK ... only to get a busy signal. At least he's home, she thought.

Katelyn's daily attempts to call home weren't helping her mood much. She knew she couldn't talk to her father about that or he would just feel guilty. Her life back home seemed to be going on without her. Even though Michael knew that she would be calling as soon as her free long distance kicked in every night at 9, he either wasn't there or the line was busy for hours. There was no way that he was working that late every night but he always seemed to have an excuse lately for not being there when she called. Somewhere deep inside her, she had hoped that he would be sitting at home, pining for her but, in her absence, he seemed to be keeping himself pretty occupied.

Normally, when Katelyn was on assignment in some anonymous hotel or another, she could go days before she remembered she should call home. The lack of activity here was beginning to get to her. Katelyn opened the fresh pack and, standing at the edge of the field, she lit her first cigarette of the day. It wasn't until she had smoked it down to the filter that she had worked up the strength to turn and begin walking toward the house.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Prosemonkey published on November 6, 2004 9:06 AM.

Chapter 2 ... in progress was the previous entry in this blog.

Chapter 4 ... in progress is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.