“Milk”

Most houses are dark this time of night, and most dogs are barking. I don’t expect trouble, or maybe I do.  I slide my wallet between the seat and its cover just in case.  We have enough milk for two coffees in the morning but not for three, especially if the son of my wife’s cousin takes it with four fifths of milk like my wife.

We met him yesterday for the first time, since her cousin has lived in Australia for twenty years, and the boy is probably nineteen. Still, he’s family, I suppose, if I succumb to her judgment, and family requires commitment.

This is why we don’t have kids.

He’s sleeping as if sleeping at strangers’ home is a natural thing to do. It’s hard for us to tell whether he will join us for breakfast or not. Most travelers under twenty-five tend to sleep from late at night to near death in the afternoon, when they appear with trotted-eyes and finish our weekly supply of corn-flakes. In such scenarios, we need more milk before noon.

Two lamp posts have been hit again. The letter A of anarchy spoils the brightness of a newly painted wall. If anarchists are so fierce, let them laugh at the consequences instead of leaving their drippings and disappearing into comfortable beds. I saw one of them jumping down a wall and hurrying into a car. A car!

Milk has been my responsibility for the past ten years, but today my wife insisted that we can’t risk the lack of it. “We” in plural. Hence, I fetched the car keys and headed out without a word. Things only settle when they flow without obstruction. It’s like being motionless in a whirlwind in order to be spitted out after being sucked in. She is a no lesser force of nature, and not a random set of wants like most of us. Her brain is arranged in a controlled, well-mapped structure of compartments, like her teaching notebooks and our social life. Like our life. Like everything. It’s not an easy task to beat it.

She says that such order can be expected from a descendent of Germans like her, born under the sign of Virgin. Don’t believe it.  She is a phenomenon, and a phenomenon can’t be diminished into a systematic measure of rules and chance.  She says she can keep a distance and it gives her perspective. I am not sure this is good marriage advice.  Her mind clicks, registers, and goes into action like a guillotine. The regular is irrelevant.

I’m a common man.

The cousin’s son bears no family resemblance, as if he has no part in the family’s collective memory. Maybe this is why she fills him in so intensely. What does she tell him about me? Either way, if he needs milk, I’ll get it. But she’ll pay for it, as everything has a price, and I’m not talking about money.

The silhouette of the hills surrounding the neighborhood curves and opens around me, and isolated spots of house lights appear within what I know is a thick vegetation though I can’t see it. If the store in the commercial square is closed, I’ll drive to the chain store fourteen minute-drive away without traffic, or even further, to the gas station, twenty-two minutes away. The long beach ahead of me stretches to the horizon, dividing between the town and the wild ocean. Our town comes to life in the summer, but curls itself into sleep once the tourists leave.

The drive is usually relaxing, but something bothers me, and I am not sure what it is. I trace the traveler’s arrival back to my wife’s digging of roots and discovering our so-called family trees, with online branches spread over three continents. Of these three, ours is America, the south of it, where we live in a place I won’t name so we can keep our peace. She allows the arrival of too many tourists as it is. Other people consider a five-time removed cousins strangers. Not her.  Her minute design of relations and locations has brought us two sons and two daughters of people we used to know, a cousin of a cousin of a cousin, and finally, it brought her cousin’s son.

At first, he appeared to be a typical long-haired traveler bent under a heavy backpack, but his presence has been more palpable than anyone else’s.

I speed up and feel the road giving way under the tires the way my wife’s veins surrender to the pressure of my fingers over the upper part of her palm. I rarely get their purple burst into her milky skin. I strive to get there. Blue and purple mixed with milk is my favorite tone.

The young man offers minimum conversation and niceties, a refreshing change. Even so, he’s been very present, truly existing within my wife’s channeled lines among rooms and hours. He’s entered and lived our life by her maps. She seems ambiguous about it.

The gas pedal resists the pressure I put on it like my wife’s struggling foot under the weight of my own. Her determination grants her bones extra strength. She says she’s married a violent man redesigned with a molding education that sometimes slips away.  She recognized my temperament back at the university days, but she made the mistake of thinking I could change. Why would I? I am the most loyal follower of the tracks of her body maps. Cracks in her skin taste like home.

He came early in the year, before the high season. She has calculated that he wouldn’t stay more than a week. The place can get boring.

I’m finally more relaxed, leaning back into my driver’s seat, and then I’m not. The sweet feeling of the night gives way to a sudden sense of alarm. We haven’t even checked his identity.  She’s safe, though. In case of need, she’ll find the hammer in the labeled tool box, the knives in the knife-drawer, and the teargas spray in the defense box beside the key chains arranged by size and shape.  She has tried each of these against me, but gave in.

I see myself going out, car keys, kitchen, my slight resistance and quick surrender. In the meantime, she keeps him in the shadowed hall, then lets him slip out. And the car is always open.

She is following me through him, unstitching the embroidery of my map. I know what’s coming, and I recognize the end.

Inside the car a shadow lurks, the hammer, a knife, and the teargas spray.

 

About Avital Gad-Cykman

Avital Gad-Cykman's flash collection LIFE IN, LIFE OUT has been published by Matter Press in 2014. http://matterpress.com/press/life-in-life-out/ She is the winner of Margaret Atwood Society Magazine prize for non-fiction, and The Hawthorne Citation prize for fiction. She is also a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and her stories and novel were finalists in several contests, among them the Iowa Fiction Award for story collections. Her work has appeared in W.W Norton's Flash Fiction International, The Best of Gigantic 2009-2014, LitroNY, McSweeney’s, CALYX Journal, Prism International, The Literary Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Stumbling and Raging, Politically Inspired Fiction Anthology (McAdam/Cage,) Best American Flash of the 21st Century Anthology, The Flash, Descant, Sex for America (Harper/Collins,) and other publications. She was born and raised in Israel and lives in Brazil.