Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finding Due North

The sound of the watch hitting the wall ricocheted in Scarlett’s memory. It was louder than all the memories she had of Chuck telling her he loved her, or promising he would always be there for her. After seven years of marriage, he had chucked the watch across the room in disgust, then in short order, he chucked their vows and all the promises he’d made as well. Then he packed his things and left.

Scarlett found the watch in a box she was packing to donate to the Thrift Store and decided to wear it. The watch was a sundial. Not extremely practical, but when she’d spied it in the Fossil store several months before, she’d believed she was acquiring the perfect anniversary gift for Chuck. Once, when they were dating, he’d told her a story about the sundial in his grandmother’s garden. Back then they used to talk for hours, and tell each other stories about their childhood treasures. They used to share their hopes and dreams for the future. Scarlett loved the story about the sundial: she could picture her husband as a young child, playing amongst the wild poppies and the scarlet red salvia. When Scarlett envisioned a garden, she almost always saw red.

Noticing the “For Sale” sign in the front yard had been over turned by the wind, Scarlett walked outside to put it to rights. After separating they’d realized they could no longer afford to keep the house, so Scarlett had been looking for an apartment close to Chuck’s. Initially she thought it would be good for the children to be close to their father. She stood in the driveway assessing the house they’d purchased together. Scarlett held her left arm out in front of her and began to rotate slowly, until the shadow on the dial reached two o’clock. At three o’clock her son would be up from his nap, so she really shouldn’t be wasting her time trying to ascertain something she already knew. But the February sun felt warm on her face and arms, and regaining her sense of direction felt momentarily empowering. She stood still for several minutes hoping to see the shadow on the dial move. Once her arm grew weary, she gave up on the idea and went back into the house.

As she entered the porch, Scarlett stopped to snap a dead bloom off the lone potted geranium on the porch. She’d always hoped to fill the porch with pots of geraniums, like the ones she’d seen in Italy on her honeymoon. And red poppies. Scarlett would have loved to have had a field of wild red poppies in her back yard. She thought of the view from the train they’d taken from Rome to Assisi - the wild poppies were everywhere. Scarlett remembered feeling as if she had come home, even though her honeymoon had been her one and only trip outside the United States. Chuck had never been fond of flowers, and in Arizona it was so hot that it’d seemed more practical at the time they bought the house to just buy one with the front yard already rocked in, a sea of beige. The back yard was covered in decking, weathered to a musty grey from years of neglect. It was a far cry from Scarlett’s dream house, to say the least.

Scarlett looked at her watch to check the time, and immediately realized her mistake. Maybe it was a silly idea, the sundial watch. You had to be in just the right place to use it. The sun had to be shining. It was of no use indoors, or during inclement weather or in darkness, not unlike Chuck, who plowed through each day in a cloud of self absorption that rendered him almost completely useless as a husband and father. Even with no lawn to care for, Chuck refused to help with any household or childcare duties. Those were Scarlett’s responsibilities. As were tending to her emotional needs and her loneliness. No matter how hard Scarlett worked to make their home nice and appease his temper, Chuck was always tired or angry or frustrated. She glanced at the half packed boxes in the family room, housing remnants of the family she’d tried to create, and realized she had always been a single parent. Looking once again at the sundial on her wrist, she began to tidy up before Chuck Jr. woke from his nap.

With the boxes packed, labeled and transported to the garage so they wouldn’t become steps stools or launch pads for her four year old son, Scarlett used her remaining few minutes of peace and quiet to catch up on her emails. She responded to her mother’s usual worried query. Her mother was a wonderful woman, but she had the ability to make Scarlett feel guilty even in print. She missed her though, and wished she wasn’t so far away. She missed her mother’s love of color, and the chaos of a busy household, and laughter. Even when they disagreed, they somehow ended up laughing eventually. Scarlett hadn’t laughed in a long time. She reluctantly checked the email from Chuck. It was his night to have their son, but once again he wasn’t up to his three hour shift. Scarlett sighed and closed the browser.

It was three o’clock and she hadn’t heard a peep from her son’s room. Scarlett realized she should have taken a nap while Chuck Jr. was down. At almost five months pregnant she was past the nausea, but still needed more rest than usual. She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She thought of her mother’s garden and spring in Colorado. She thought of going to church as a family on Easter Sunday. She really wanted to go home. She wanted her children to grow up with her family and color, even if it was the whitest snow.

Chuck didn’t like spending the money on travel, so she didn’t get back home much. He certainly wouldn’t have liked going to church on Easter Sunday, or any Sunday for that matter. And color, Chuck hated color. When time had come to choose names for their first child, Chuck let Scarlett know in no uncertain terms that he did not care to have a daughter of his named after a color. Scarlett preferred names of full hue; Ruby was her favorite. She relented when she realized she was having a boy and let Chuck pass on his name to their son. She didn’t mind, but she would have preferred to call him Charlie, it sounded so much friendlier. She hadn’t told Chuck about the new baby, he left before she knew she was pregnant. She was barely showing and it wasn’t as though he ever looked at her when he came to pick up their son. The longer he was gone, the more she hoped this baby would never have to meet her father. And she hoped it was a girl.

She opened her eyes and the Google browser and began her search. Flowers in Colorado, red flowers in Colorado, and then she found something new. Scarlett studied and bookmarked her favorites until Chuck Jr. woke up. He noticed the sundial watch right away and was fascinated with it, so she gave it to him. They went to the driveway and she attempted to show him how to use it to find due North, but he was content to spin in circles until he was so dizzy he had to plop himself down on the pavement to regain his bearings. His joy was infectious. Scarlett eventually joined in, thrusting her arms out and spinning until she could no longer stand. Mother and son rolled on the warm pavement laughing until their stomachs hurt.

“Charlie, I think it’s time to go in for dinner.” Scarlett said as she pushed herself up from the driveway. Her son gave her a quizzical look.
“You’re a big boy now, and I’m going to call you Charlie. It’s a big boy name. Is that okay?” He made his adorable, “I’m thinking really hard face” before he responded.
“Then my name won’t be the same as Daddy’s.”
“No, you’ll still have the same name as Daddy. Both Chuck and Charlie are short for the name Charles, and that’s your name. But you are you, and not him, and I’d like to call you by your own special name.”
“Okay,” Charlie said as they entered the house. In the time it took to spin in a new direction, Scarlett had chucked the moniker and was glad she’d kept the watch.

After Charlie fell asleep for the night, Scarlett went back to the computer, where she chose to download a photo of a field of violets named “Johnny Jump Ups” that grew well in Colorado, and made it her screen saver. She emailed an old friend from her hometown and asked for names of good doctors for herself and her children and emailed her old boss to see about reapplying for her former job. She called her parents and asked if it would be alright if she and Charlie moved in with them until she could find a job and get settled. She knew it would be, but telling someone made it official. While talking to her mom, Scarlett gazed at her screensaver, which now reflected a sea of purple and yellow flowers.

“I’d like to get a place of my own, Mom, one that has a bit of a yard, when I get back on my feet. I’d like the kids to have somewhere to play and to have a small garden.” Scarlett felt hopeful as her mother rattled off neighborhoods she could investigate. She practically had the children enrolled in school before Scarlett could get a word in.

“And Mom, what do you think of the name Violet for a girl?” Scarlett tensed for just a moment: it was a reflex, waiting for her husband’s condemnation. But Chuck wasn’t there, and she was looking at a field of violets and imagining them bordered in red poppies with a fence of red tinted sunflowers that Charlie would love.

“Scarlett, I named you for the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and you fit the name perfectly. I’m sure my granddaughter will do the same.” Scarlett accepted the statement like a hug and said good bye. On her way to bed, she found the sundial watch on the floor where Charlie has discarded it. As she picked it up, she rubbed her finger along the stationary dial. When you live by the mountains, you can always find your bearings. The watch would prove useful after all.

As she headed up the stairs, she felt the baby kick for the first time. Instant exhilaration was followed by a stab of heartache - that residual loneliness that creeps to the surface when you realize you have no one to share the moment with. With a deft hand, Scarlett headed the thought like a dead bloom. From now on she would see her garden in an explosion of color. At the center, she would put a sundial for her children to enjoy and to remind herself that sometimes it was necessary to stop and reorient yourself, to once again find due north.

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