O c t o b e r   2 0 0 2

Guest Writer

The retirement specialist
by Troy Eggleston

t had been years since she'd been still. Any thought beyond a self-imposed hypersensitive world, one that embraced magnificent spirals rather than the stiff corpse of a thin, frayed line, had long been daunted by the impasse of routine.

She gazed up at the flawless shade of blue that seemed to crystallize in random pockets in the sky. She studied their mystery, their connection, unable to derive any certain answer despite knowing how they made her feel. And after a while they made her uncomfortable, the way a newborn child sometimes makes you uncomfortable.

Her front lawn was a cracking brown, except for the green-and-yellow resilience of dispersed dandelions. It was a testament to nature's varied palette of life and all things consuming it. Summer had ceased the will of any exertion, and with its oppressive heat lay the foundation of sticky self-loathing.

The Australian pine that hovered above fit in the palm of her hand just yesterday, it seemed. If things had only been done right. The marriage, the anti-marriage. Elaine had always imagined a more glamorous lifestyle. A runway model was how it was pitched.

Her feet were tucked underneath the sprawling pages of her latest romance novel. She was always embarrassed by her unruly, stubby toes. She had near-perfect cheekbones, though. A kind of mistaken royalty, the kind they were looking for. But she had made it a point not to reminisce. Not to think of "they."

To try and relax without any excuses.

She leaned back on her elbows and closed her eyes in an attempt to imagine a perfect world. She wanted so much to believe that things happened for a reason. Good reason, because what may be considered bad will most likely become good with time.

It worked for her. Usually. Though a swarm of hitches always loomed close behind. The sunlight raced its way through curious planets straight down to the small circumference of her face, and then buried itself inside the small freckles surrounding her mousy nose.

She loved the feel of the sun on her face. It was one of the few things that assured her that there was indeed a God. Just as her mind began to ease, the shrill of the one voice she had tuned her whole life to came crashing inside her three-note symphony.

"You're dead," a small child exclaimed.

"No I'm not, you missed," Addison assured his assaulter, then turned and fired back.

"Not fair," the other child demanded, reiterating the rules of the game. "You have to lay on the ground and count to 10."

Knowing that the perception of life and death has far too many gray areas in between, Elaine quickly intervened: "Addison, I've told you that I don't like you playing guns."

"Mom, it's not called guns. It's called escape."

"Whatever. Now give that piece of plastic back to Brandon and come over here."

"It's not plastic, it's a laser-firing missile launcher."

"Addison Lee." The combination of those two words was intended to intimidate.

"It's just make-believe, not real, mom."

She looked directly into his eyes. They fit Addison just like they fit his father. They had a downward slope giving him a sad, wounded look. One that begged forgiveness.

"There are many things you could be doing on such a lovely day other than shooting imaginary bullets and faking imaginary deaths."

"Like what?"

"Like ..." She paused for a moment, feeling the scent of a slight breeze pass. It was always a revelation to her when one of life's elemental simplicities was reintroduced. "Like fly a kite."

"I don't have a kite, mom."

"Well, fly an imaginary kite. You shoot invisible bullets, don't you."

"Mom, that is stupid."

"Okay, then, go clean your room."

Addison avoided cleanliness at all costs.

"No, no, I'll fly a kite."

"Good, then." Elaine looked over at her son and smiled almost at the edge of tears. She felt guilty that there existed a time when she believed Addison was ruining her life. Now he was the one thing keeping her alive. "Try not to get it caught in any trees, though."

"I won't," said Addison, wondering if his mother was crazy. He wondered if all adults were a bit insane. But to him, contemplating such issues seemed far too time consuming and a bit disappointing as well. Like most children his age, Addison wanted someone to look up to without having to look further than the expectation itself.

Elaine had always known that he was self-absorbed. Denial often needs a swift, downright vicious blow to the core of what is being ignored. Such attacks usually offer two options: to confront a deep withstanding fear, or to cower even further into the recess of make-believe.

t wasn't until a cross-country flight to see her mother-in-law that Elaine decided to go with the intended plan. Chuck was having a difficult time coping with Addison, who was curled up in his mother's arms and shaking with the frustration of not being able to fully express his needs.

In his sandpaper voice, Chuck made various comments about ineptitude and regret, as well as revealing some blatant motivations towards the chubby, blonde stewardess.

"I need a stiff one," he said, pressing a square call button that sat imbedded in the ceiling beside a tiny fan. His curiosity then led him to turn the fan on high, and like a child who antagonized a smaller sibling, he aimed it right at the top of Elaine's head despite her recent request for a blanket. She looked over at him and scowled.

"Ah," Chuck began, "do you have to do that in here?"

Elaine had finally calmed Addison down and was breastfeeding him as inconspicuously as possible. "Could you please direct that fan elsewhere, I'm cold." Her voice was careful, calculated.

"Well, I'll turn the fan off when you stop embarrassing me with your exhibitionism."

Elaine reached up and turned the annoying mechanism off hastily. While in the process, a nipple popped out of Addison's mouth making him let out a prodigious scream that carried throughout the plane.

"Why don't you control that child?" Chuck wondered aloud, about to turn the fan back on when a generously endowed woman with an exceedingly large amount of makeup sauntered over to aisle seat 23-C. Chuck had been watching her since they boarded.

"Can I help you?" she offered with a drowsy smile.

Chuck looked into her dry, red eyes. "You can get my kid to stop crying and if at all possible get me a seat in first class so I don't have to pay for the drinks I so desperately need."

She laughed uncomfortably and looked down at Elaine, who was busy consoling Addison.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but our airline does not allow that." She spoke with a deep Georgian drawl.

"I tried to tell her. I tried to let her know that not everybody appreciates public nudity, but she's a stubborn lady." Chuck cupped a hand over his mouth. "How do you get any milk out of such small machinery, anyway?"

The stewardess concealed the amusement she derived from the comment as best as she could. It was difficult for Elaine to refrain from losing her temper in such situations, but she somehow always collected herself, careful not to implement herself in any way. Chuck craved reaction and she was well aware that any expression of anger would fuel the beast that sat salivating inside of him.

"Could you please get me that blanket I asked for 20 minutes ago, so that I can conceal my offensive behavior?" Elaine's mind was too busy plugging options to get caught up in a fight with her husband.

"And a double Cutty Sark for me, doll," added Chuck, before flashing the pearly whites that hid just beneath his Tom Selleck mustache.

The stewardess assured Elaine that she was making an exception just this once, then smiled at Chuck, who gave her a confident type of wink. She walked away accentuating her movements, knowing she was being watched from behind.

t is often told that no decision is spontaneous, that those of us who are able to make faster external commitments have measured their worth, their damage, for a significant amount of time so that the internal commitment has already been established.

The subconscious can manifest itself through various forms of conditioning, and one way of conditioning it is to ignore it. Eventually it will assume a voice of its own, forcing one to analyze its curious form or become so dichotomous in thought and behavior that the self is lost completely.

Elaine had recently been listening to this voice. For years it was pushed aside, but such as the voice of truth dictates, it is inevitable that once deciphered, things will no longer be the same.

She had decided on the plane that once in Boston, a city she knew nothing about, she and Addison would take a stroll downtown to do some shopping and never be seen or heard from for at least six months. She had always wanted to go live near a lighthouse somewhere in Maine, and chances were that Chuck wouldn't pursue it much beyond a police report.

This gave him the freedom to agree to call it a kidnapping or any number of big-city mishaps and, with a minor amount of grieving, continue on with his life until the phone would ring in his untidy little office one day – perhaps a Friday, when he had made plans to go out to dinner with an unsuspecting waitress he'd met on one of his many lunch breaks.

"Chuck Pickover, retirement specialist."

The voice of his deceased wife would send chills down his moldy spine, and once he realized it wasn't a hoax, the accusations and cursing would begin.

By then, Elaine would have arranged the thoughts in her head into words – words with which even someone like Chuck couldn't find fault.

He would, of course, ask for the money back that she'd filtered out of their savings account. But again, once Elaine described her reasons in those beautifully sculpted words, he would be unable to do anything but hang up the phone and, perhaps for the first time in his life, look within his tied and gagged voices.

ddison was too young to even care about his sperm donor then, but he does ask occasionally now. They end up in Florida, four blocks from the beach and near a retirement home. Elaine always tells him that his father was a fisherman who went out to sea one day and never came home. She figures that symbolism isn't exactly lying.

As far as Addison knows, he was born in the pink hospital just off A1A in Palm Beach.

Elaine sometimes wonders if her decision to leave so abruptly was at all appropriate – if it was nothing more than selfish, since Addison now has no father to speak of. But today she's decided not to reminisce, not to dwell on the past, regardless of how it so haunted her.

She stands up and dusts off the dry soil from her dirty elbows and takes in a deep breath. She smells the salt from the ocean and the rain that accumulated in bruised pockets of the sky. She walks out back where Addison has his head turned toward the sky. There is an imaginary spool of string in his small hands. His muscles are flexed as if the wind from a hurricane is wrestling with his kite. She startles him as she approaches.

"Hey mom, see my dragon kite up there?" His voice is excited, his eyes never losing focus.

"It's beautiful, honey."

"Beautiful?" Addison has other impressions.

"It's going to rain soon." A storm has rushed in from the east, covering the sun like a greedy kidnapper.

"I know."

"I heard some thunder earlier, and what follows thunder?"


Addison's kite takes a dive, barely missing a tree.

"Well, did you know that lightning can electrocute people who fly kites?"

Addison's hands drop to his side. The tail of the dragon was last seen burrowing into the neck of a cloud. He turns to his mother. His sloping, sorrowful eyes offer very little reprise.

"It's just make-believe, mom."

"I know, honey, I know."

Without trying to give way to all of the mistakes, the struggles, the regret that have accumulated in her weary soul, she grasps Addison's hand as she leads him inside to safety.

"Mom, do you think lightning hit dad when he was out on his boat?" Addison asks as the first drops of rain touch his brow.

Elaine never thinks about developing an elaborate spine to the story.

"It's possible, honey, very possible."

"Do you think it's possible that dad lived through the accident and is on an island right now?"

She ponders the metaphor.

"Honey, your dad was a fisherman, and fishermen usually drown or get eaten by sharks when their boats tip over. But that's usually and usually isn't always. So to answer your question, yes your dad might very well be on an island right now. Anything is possible."

"Mom," says Addison after mulling his mother's response, "I want to be a fisherman."

E-mail Troy at leonchester@cosmo.com, and see his previous efforts in our archives.

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