August 7, 2013 – This month is Web Serial Writing Month, an annual event that celebrates bloggers “going serial” and publishing a continuous story throughout August. “Unraveling” focuses on a couple trying to save their marriage, and at 16,000+ words, I’m pushing the limits and running the eleven-part story each Wednesday through mid October. Comments are welcome and always encouraged.
Unraveling, Part 1
Kevin Montgomery sprinted up the creaky steps of the old apartment building in Chestnut Hill, a once a well to do neighborhood in Philadelphia. Quaint specialty shops and art galleries now inhabited the tree-lined streets where wealthy, established families lived before a younger crowd pushed them into the suburbs. Over the last two decades, the area became a haven for local photographers, artists, and writers—and most recently, for his wife, Jess.
The inside staircase needed a reputable handyman like the rest of the building built over 150 years ago. The structure and foundation remained solid, so a fresh coat of paint and a few nails to tighten up loose floorboards and the banister would do. It was the trend in this part of the city to refurbish historic homes, turn them into upscale apartments, and charge steep rent to the creative types crazy enough to pay it. The old Victorian certainly had rustic charm and offered possibilities with its many gables and unique windows, but he hoped it was a temporary place for Jess and that she would soon be back home where she belonged.
Arduously, he reached the top floor without dropping the large manila envelope he carried under the sleeve of his faded denim jacket or the other pieces of mail he had for her. On his way out the door, he wondered if he should put everything in a bag or at least keep it together with a rubber band or something. He knew for certain, Jess, the organizer, would.
“What if you drop a piece and you don’t realize it?” he could hear her ask.
Nevertheless, he grabbed it and ran. He took it for granted that it would reach her without incident, and realized that their difference in handling many of life’s situations is why Jess moved here. Gone were the days when they would overlook each other’s quirky habits. Now, they just provided something else to argue about.
“Damn,” he mumbled to himself trying to focus on his breathing. Winded thanks to the steep, quick climb, he made a mental note to hit the gym. Running up three stairs should not have been such a chore at age 37.
Biting his lip, he took a deep breath and offered three quick taps on the door. Within seconds, Jess opened it, offering a slight, forced smile, and he reciprocated immediately thinking how beautiful she looked in the dark green sweater she draped over her slender shoulders. It was her best color, and he wanted to tell her that, but he didn’t.
“I’ll bet its fun carrying grocery bags up these stairs,” he replied with a grin instead. Sarcasm, his go to strategy, worked for him in uncomfortable situations. “No wonder there’s never anything in your refrigerator.”
Ignoring his comment, she scowled at the pieces of mail. The odd silence made him feel awkward and he wondered if she wanted him to leave. Perhaps she had a Saturday night stay over, and wasn’t alone.
Jess blinked once and came out of her momentary lapse. “I’m sorry,” she replied. “You should come in.” It sounded more like an order than a request, but Kevin obliged. ”Can I get you a cup of coffee? I made a fresh pot a few minutes ago.”
He loved Sunday morning coffee. They would often go through a full pot as they relaxed in the living room and read the newspaper from beginning to end. They even started to have two weekend papers delivered so they would not argue over the sections, and then they would race to see who could get furthest in the crossword puzzle. Now her newspaper came to another address and his lay untouched in the driveway of their empty house. The little things, like not doing the crosswords together anymore made him melancholy.
He declined the coffee with the shake of his head, and glancing at the half-finished puzzle lying on the sofa table he smiled. “How did you do this week?” he asked.
“I can’t finish it. I was almost ready to cheat and get the dictionary, but then I remembered…” She paused with an odd look on her face, and then shrugged. “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter.”
Should he tell her he came across the dictionary last week? It was the one she received from the bookstore on her five-year anniversary and it had her name embossed on the front in gold foil. It seemed funny that she missed packing it since she rolled up the carpets and took everything when she left.
Jess’s apartment was the smallest in the building and it sat alone at the top overlooking the rest of the neighborhood like a bird perched on a telephone pole. Despite its quaint size, the rooms were cheerful and comfortable. They should be, he thought. They contained all of the items from the house they shared together, the same house where he still lived with its large empty rooms and lonely solitude.
They settled on the floral silk sofa that sat in the middle of her living room, a piece they picked up at an estate sale almost five years ago. It looked new despite the many nights they spent on it cuddled together. No wear or impression could be seen at all, as if they never existed. Could it be a sign of top-notch craftsmanship, or was it something deeper like their memory beginning to fade?
“Thanks for dropping off the papers,” she replied. Funny how she said the words without showing a morsel of emotion. They were not just any papers, after all. They represented the end of their relationship.
Jess seemed like a stranger as he watched her, not like the woman he had been married to for the past ten years. He had seen her at her best and her worst, but he had never seen her like this before, so closed off from emotion.
After another forced smile, she added, “I think it’s best to file them quickly, don’t you?”
He loved her smile. Warm and comforting, it instantly lit up the room. The smile she presented now, the false one reserved for the pretentious book parties her job forced her to attend, did the opposite. He knew it well considering he escorted her to about a thousand of the rather dull events over the past ten years.
Kevin ignored her words and glanced out the window. “There’s quite a storm blowing up,” he said.
“It should pass quickly according to the weather report.” She opened the envelope and took out the papers. “Kevin!” she cried, snapping like the librarian from elementary school who used to scold him for talking, “What are you doing?”
Jess’s chocolate brown eyes locked on him reflecting her disappointment, and ashamed, he had to look away. “I couldn’t sign them,” he said in a calm voice. “I tried. I read them over a thousand times, but I can’t do it.”
Jess pushed her shoulder length hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ears. It was the color of gingerbread and smelled of vanilla. He wanted to bury himself in those thick strands and forget all of the trouble around him, yet he didn’t move.
“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” Jess said grimacing. With a sharp tone she continued, “I thought we both agreed to finish this now. Besides, I’m sure what’s her name is just as anxious as I am to end this. Does she know you won’t sign your divorce papers?”
Kevin groaned. This is not where he wanted this conversation to go. “We never agreed. At least I didn’t. Besides, my choice not to sign those papers has nothing to do with her. Nor do any of my decisions. I don’t understand why you keep bringing her up or why we need to rush.”
“We haven’t rushed. It’s been six months,” she replied, her expression pinched and harsh.
He knew how stubborn she could be, so she was not going to give in—at least not easily. However, either was he. Jess was accustomed to their life following her structured timetable, especially in their marriage. He let her have the final say regarding most of life’s minor details because they were not that important. He had given in about their wedding date, pushing it ahead to suit her, and her decision about not having a baby until she got her career off the ground. Not to mention the house they bought, which he thought was much too big, and that ironically he lived in alone now. Nevertheless, he wrestled with the decision to end their marriage, and he was not going to give in to appease her. He had to be ready. He deserved at least that much after the ten years he put into their relationship.
To be continued on Wednesday, August 14, 2013…