Tom Noyes Pink Elephant

When she emerged from the bathroom, her wet hair wrapped in a towel, he was sitting at the kitchenette table, an open beer in front of him. He’d undone his tie and unbuttoned his shirt but still wore his tuxedo jacket.

“What gives?” she said. She stood behind him and rested her hands on his shoulders. “Opening gifts without me?”

“Just the envelopes,” he said. “Want to make sure we’re good.”

“For tomorrow? I thought we were doing the Thousand Islands because that was a trip we knew we could afford.”

“Plus you wanted to go there. You said you did.” He tore the corner off an envelope and ripped across the top with his thumb. “I think we’ll be good.”

She moved her hands from his shoulders to the back of his chair. “I didn’t know there was a question.”

He reached into the envelope, took a quick look at the check he plucked from the card, and added it to the small pile at his elbow. “I think we’ll be good,” he said.

She crossed the kitchen to the refrigerator, opened it to scan its contents, and then let the door swing closed.

“Have a beer with me, wife,” he said. “Should be one more there.”

“I guess I don’t want to,” she said. “If I do I’ll have to wake up to pee.”

“Mind if I have it then?”

She re-opened the refrigerator, grabbed the can, and rested it beside him on the table. “All yours,” she said.

He sat back in his chair and took her hand. “It’s just I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t know for sure,” he said.

“You’re just trying to take care of things,” she said.

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.

“I guess we’ll have to stop off at the bank tomorrow on our way out of town to deposit the checks?” She moved to the sink and picked up the dish sponge, sniffed it, and dropped it in the trash. “Also, we need to remember to take out this garbage before we leave.”

“That’ll be me,” he said. “I’ll remember.”

She wiped her fingers on her bathrobe. “It’ll take a couple days for the checks to clear, right?”

“I guess that’s true,” he said. He sat back in his chair, opened the fresh beer and took a sip. “Anyways, worst case, we’ll be good with the overdraft protection. I’m pretty sure we have that.”

~

“And then you said, ‘Don’t remember this, OK? Don’t remember me counting money on our wedding night.’”

“But, of course, you did remember,” he said. “Of all the things you could remember. You forget all sorts of good things, but you remember this. Says more about you than me.”

“Don’t think of a pink elephant,” she said. “By telling me not to remember it you insured I would.”

“That’s not how that works,” he said.

“You don’t get to choose,” she said. “You don’t get to choose what you remember and what you don’t. Not consciously. Memory just happens. And you certainly don’t get to choose for other people. You don’t get to choose for me. Anyways, you’re making this into something it’s not. We’re in our new house reminiscing about our old dump of an apartment. Your harvesting our families’ and friends’ checks as you guzzle beer on our wedding night is something I remember about the place. I’m not saying it’s a bad memory necessarily. Not a bad memory in a bad way. I’m saying look how far we’ve come.”

“I remember things, too, you know,” he said. “I probably remember some things that you’d have me not remember.”

“This isn’t a good game,” she said. “This is where we go wrong a lot of the time when we go wrong. Making things into other things.” She stood from her lawn chair, picked up their highball glasses, and dumped the wet ice cubes into the lawn off the patio.

“Let’s stop then,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said.

He walked over to the grill and put his hand on the closed lid. “This thing really holds the heat. I can’t believe they left it behind. It’s in pretty good shape, right? It really radiates. It’s been like forty-five minutes since I turned it off, and it’s still warm enough that we could do marshmallows if we wanted,” he said. “Come here and feel it.”

“Maybe their new house has a fancy patio with one of those built-in ones,” she said. “Anyways, we don’t have marshmallows.”

“You’re assuming where they’re going is a step up, but who knows? It doesn’t always work like that. People get laid off. They get divorced. They accumulate gambling debts. They get sick. Maybe they’re downsizing out of necessity. Maybe they’re on a downward trajectory.”

“They’ll be fine,” she said, “just so long as they have the overdraft protection.”

“Are you kidding me?” he said. “You said you wanted to stop.”

“I’m making a joke,” she said. “Making a joke is a way of stopping. Come on. Lighten up.”

“You know,” he said, “you remember me as the pitiful, unromantic, distracted new dolt of a husband—you paint me with that brush—but you know what you should remember?”

~

“And then you said, ‘Visiting Boldt Castle.’” She waited for him to respond, and when he didn’t, she opened her window and hung out her arm. “We never visited Boldt Castle, though.” She had to talk loudly to be heard over the wind. “We were going to, but we missed the ferry, and you were hungry and didn’t want to wait for the next one. Which, whatever, fine. But we never visited Boldt Castle on our honeymoon, and you thought we did.”

“I have the air on,” he said. When she didn’t respond, he turned it off. “On the highway you get better mileage using the air than you do opening the windows,” he said. “The drag is why.”

“Just for a minute,” she said.

“Sure. As long as you want. Just give me a heads up so I can switch off the air.”

“My opening my window was the heads up,” she said.

He folded up the windshield visor and took off his sunglasses. “So you’re saying I forget things and get mixed up sometimes. Guilty,” he said. “As for back there at the gas station, though, I don’t understand what I did wrong. I think it’s unfair for you to expect an apology when I don’t think I did anything. I’m not saying you did anything, either. Other than expect an unwarranted apology, I guess. There is the guy who goes around apologizing for everything. You want him? Obsequious guy? That guy isn’t an honest guy, though, is he? The guy who apologizes to his wife for everything just to placate her? You want placating guy?”

“What are you talking about?” she said. She pulled her arm into the car, closed her window, and hit the A/C button before he could. “I just want you to take responsibility for stuff. The last time we drove to your folks’, we stopped at that same gas station, and we had a whole conversation about how there were no family bathrooms there, and we talked about how old-fashioned and frustrating it was that only the women’s room had a changing table, and then, just now, knowing that she needs a change and it’s your turn, you decide to pull into the same place. You can’t see it from my perspective?”

“Alan from your work. That’s who I picture when I picture placating guy.”

“You’ve lost it,” she said. “I knew the day would come, and here it is.”

“She’s waking up again,” he said, glancing in the rearview. “Wonderful. Fabulous. Goddammit.” He straightened his arms against the steering wheel, pushing himself back into his seat. “You opening and closing your window is why.”

“Here’s all I was saying: we never visited Boldt Castle. You said that was the thing I should remember about our honeymoon instead of you counting money on our wedding night, but we never got to Boldt Castle. My point isn’t that you forget and misremember things, it’s that you forget and misremember in a self-serving way. There seems to be strategy involved.”

The baby squirmed in her seat, whimpered, wrinkled her nose and forehead, but her eyes stayed closed.

“She’s going to be a mess tonight,” he said.

“You think?” she said. She undid her seatbelt, turned, and stretched out her hand to cup her daughter’s head. “Go back to sleep, sweetie,” she said gently. “For the love of God, go back to sleep.”

“You want me to play her music?” he said.

“By the way,” she said, “Alan from my work? He has a husband.”

“So you two have something in common,” he said. With one hand he opened the case and slid the CD into the player, first upside down and then the right way.

“Watch the road,” she said. “Keep us alive.”

“Do you remember what we did that afternoon after missing the ferry, by the way?” he said. “If you did remember, you’d have to change your tune about me being selfish. You’d have to admit to yourself that you know better than that.”

~

“And then you talked about buying me the kite at that toy store and going to the beach to fly it, but it was weird,” she said. “The details you included. Made me feel weird.”

He lay stomach-down on the carpet, inspecting the bottom of the patio door. “Try to slide it now,” he said, and she pushed the door slowly until it squeaked and hung up. “Yeah, the track is warped,” he said. He rose to his knees. “How did she say she did it?”

“She said they were in here dancing and lost their balance and fell into it. I was in the basement doing laundry.”

“Who’s they?”

“She had a friend over,” she said. “Kiki.”

“Kiki from softball?”

“There are two Kikis. There’s Lego League Kiki, too. Today it was Kiki from softball.”

“That’s what I said,” he said.

“They were dancing, sharing one pair of earbuds, and got their legs tangled up. That’s the story I got. I heard the crash, and when I got up here, they were giggling so hard they couldn’t breathe. Kiki had to run to the bathroom because she thought she was going to throw up. She said it happened to her before from laughing.”

“Well, they really crunched it.” He turned into the kitchen, opened the basement door and descended the steps. When he re-emerged, he had a hammer.

“I remember, by the way,” he said.

“Remember what?”

“How weird you acted. You say I made it weird, but you were the weird one. You didn’t like that I mentioned the kite shop girl and then you got weird.”

“That you chose to remember so much about her was what was weird. I felt weird and maybe acted what you considered to be weird because what and how you remembered was weird.”

“You don’t choose what you remember,” he said, dropping again to his knees.

“What you remember reveals you, though,” she said. “It can.”

“What are you saying? Come on. What does it reveal? I said something about how the girl could’ve been your sister. The two of you had a similar look. The way you wore your hair at the time was the same as her, and the shape of your faces was the same. We were on our honeymoon. It was like wherever I looked I saw you. Whoever I looked at. I was struck by it, so I said it. I shouldn’t have, I guess. Excuse me for being romantic.”

“You said, ‘She looked like you if you’d had a tan, but you could never wear a top like the one she was wearing.’ Something along those lines. What you said wasn’t romantic. You weren’t seeing me everywhere.”

“You’re changing it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have said that. Maybe the tan thing, but about the top, I probably said, ‘You wouldn’t wear a top like that.’ ‘Wouldn’t’ is different than ‘couldn’t.’ She was behind a counter working a cash register wearing a bikini top. You would never do that.”

“If I worked near a beach I might. If everyone else was.”

“Not in a million years,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s bad that you wouldn’t, but you wouldn’t.”

She watched him size up the door. “You sure this is a hammer job?” she said. “What are you going to bang?”

“I want to restraighten the track enough so the door can slide. Otherwise, we’re going to have to get a guy in here to replace the whole door.”

“I’m not sure this is a hammer job,” she said. “Maybe rather than bang you could pry. Want a screwdriver?”

“I guess my point is: forget we had a nice time flying the kite,” he said. “Forget how we laughed after confessing to each other that neither of us had any prior kite-flying experience. Forget how we worked together to get it up and then how, when the string broke, we both cursed, and that mom on the beach with the little kids stared us down like a prison guard, and forget how hard we laughed at that. Forget all the happy stuff. Forget all the good energy. Instead, change my ‘would’ to a ‘could,’ and remember the girl in the bikini top who sold us the kite.”

“Exactly,” she said. “That’s what I’m saying to you. Remember the cashier girl instead. That’s what you did.”

He lightly tapped the track with the hammer a few times, inspected it, and then hit it harder. “I need to budge it, but I don’t want to over-budge it,” he said.

“That’s why I’m saying maybe a screwdriver,” she said.

~

“And then you conflated two memories,” she said. “You bragged about how you fixed the air conditioner at our bed and breakfast in the Thousand Islands, but we didn’t stay at a bed and breakfast. We stayed at a regular hotel. The Cassidy. The Kennedy. Something like that. We did the bed and breakfast in the Finger Lakes for our fifth anniversary. That’s what you were thinking of. That’s where you fixed the air conditioner. I was pregnant.”

“You were miserable. The sweat was pouring off you. I came to the rescue and fixed the air conditioner. I told the owner what I did, expecting some sort of thank you, maybe even a few bucks off our stay, and she argued with me. Said if I fixed it, then I must have first broke it because it was fine before we got there.”

“I remember,” she said. “That woman was a piece of work. My point is, though, that this was in the Finger Lakes, not the Thousand Islands.”

He rose from the couch, walked to the patio door and rapped on the dark glass. “If she doesn’t get home in the next ten minutes, she’s losing her phone. She has the phone so we can keep in touch with her when she’s out, but if she doesn’t answer the phone, then what good is the phone? So, fine. Then no phone.”

“Maybe that’s why you think she has the phone,” she said. “That’s not why she thinks she has the phone.”

“Are you going to back me up on this?” he said.

“You should text her instead of call. The odds go way up.”

“I did both,” he said.

“Did you leave a voicemail?”

“I couldn’t. Her box was full.”

“I think she does that on purpose so she can play dumb,” she said.

“Anyways. This stops tonight.”

“You talk a big game, but when she gets home, you’ll just give her a look and then go to bed. You’ll leave it to me to deal with her.”

“You’re better at it,” he said. “You keep an even keel. And when she gets mad at you it’s temporary. When she gets mad at me it’s for keeps.”

“I don’t know about that,” she said.

“So if we didn’t stay at a bed and breakfast on our honeymoon, where did we stay?” he said.

“I told you. The Carnegie. The Coxsackie. Something like that. Don’t you remember the marble pillars in the lobby? Our executive suite with his and her Jacuzzis? The refrigerator full of complimentary champagne and the call button for the masseuse?”

“Right. Our honeymoon was terrible. You deserved so much better.”

“I’m joking,” she said. “Our honeymoon was fine. The guy at the desk telling us, ‘There are eleven Finger Lakes. That’s more than two hands’ worth.’ You remember that?”

He turned away from the door and walked back to the couch. “Here she is, folks,” he said.

The patio door slid open, and their daughter walked in. “You guys still up?” she said. “Why are you still up?

“Why are you chewing gum?” her mother said.

“I chew gum sometimes. Why does anyone chew gum? It’s a simple pleasure.”

“Were you drinking?” her father said. “Who drove you home? I hope they weren’t drinking.”

“Come on. You guys are spiraling.”

“Just tell the truth,” her mother said. “This isn’t about getting in trouble or not getting in trouble. It’s not only about that.”

“What it’s about is you guys don’t trust me.” She took her gum out, balled it between her thumb and forefinger, and then put it back in her mouth. “I wish you guys would trust me. June and Nikki’s parents trust them.”

“Suckers,” her father said.

“We need to know,” her mother said.

“I’m sorry,” the girl said.

“Sorry for what?” her father said.

“Sorry for doing whatever or sorry for getting caught?” her mother said. “There’s a difference.”

“What did I do? What did you catch me doing?”

“That’s what we’re asking you,” her mother said.

“I was doing meth. I shot a porno. I’m dating a couple of my teachers. I’m sorry for all of it.”

“Trust is earned,” her father said.

“How do I earn it? By never experiencing anything that I’m allowed to keep to myself? You guys don’t let me have any secrets. You think you have to know everything.”

“Now who’s spiraling?” her mother said.

“What’s the difference if I tell you or not anyways? Either way you won’t trust me.”

“There’s a difference,” her father said.

The girl’s hands disappeared into the sleeves of her sweater, and she hugged her shoulders. Her parents watched her begin to cry and then get angry at herself for beginning to cry and then spin around so they couldn’t see her face.

“Can we do this in the morning?” the girl said.

“I’d rather we clear up things now,” her father said.

“Maybe talking in the morning would be better,” her mother said. “If that’s what you need, we can give you that.”

“In any case, you need to answer your phone when we call,” her father said.

“From here on out, I promise,” the girl said.

“We’d appreciate that,” her mother said. “That would go a long way.”

“OK,” the girl said.

“OK,” her father said.

“So maybe we don’t need to talk in the morning?” the girl said. “Not about this? Maybe we just not remember tonight at all?”


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