Trysh Brown

Summer 2000

Chipped

 

It upset me when I looked down to see it. Yet there it was. My dad would have commented, but Frankie wasn’t the type to do that. No, he would see it and cover my hand with his, softly, tenderly, and I would enjoy it for a minute, then he would squeeze it tighter and let me know it was bad, then I would feel my bones move together, almost touch, and it would hurt and I would feel the pain move up my arm until the back of my eyes watered and I would look at him-maybe-and he would stop squeezing, but wouldn’t loosen his grip, at least not for another minute and when he finally did he would say, “Chipped nail polish makes you look like a slut” then get up and as he walked away slap the back of my head hard enough to cause my neck to snap forward.

And part of me would have hated him for this and the other part would have enjoyed the attention and been too scared to respond anyway.

Frankie and I lived outside a small town for three months. For a while we lived with his parents, but just for a short time since Frankie and his dad didn’t get along and with me there, in the middle, it only made things worse since I had an affair with Frankie’s dad that no one but the two of us knew about and long before I was married to Frankie, but once I was married to Frankie his dad thought we could start our affair all over again so he would come and visit me sometimes during the night when Frankie was out with his friends playing pool and his own wife, Frankie’s mom, was passed out from her nightly cocktail as she called it of sleeping pills and whiskey.

Before I met him, when Frankie would talk about his dad I didn’t realize he was the same Earl as my former lover, since Earl is a pretty common name so I was surprised when I met him the first time and saw it was my former Earl. Our affair went unspoken to Frankie and his mom, though right away Earl would try to get me alone with him which worked sometimes and not others. When Frankie had his friends over and they started playing pool and I would sit and watch, Earl would come and sit next to me and talk quietly to me and he would all of a sudden yell at Frankie-right as he was taking a shot-that he and I were going to town for snacks or beers or whatever and we would leave and in the car, after we were out of the driveway, he would reach his hand over and put it on mine or he would put his hand on my leg and massage my inner thigh and say how his time with me was among some of his happiest times. And I would be looking straight ahead, but when he would say that I would look at him and not say anything and he would kiss me in a way that seemed as if he was the loneliest man on earth and longed for me to fill that loneliness and how could I not respond?

So I did.

During the time we lived with Frankie’s parents, Earl saw to it that Frankie played pool in town at least one night a week. He always promised Frankie that he would take good care of me for the evening and Frankie would look assured and prefer to play pool anyway and make me promise to be good when he kissed me good bye. And when he did kiss me he would put one of his hands on my neck and squeeze ever so slightly and stretch my head up toward him and increase his squeeze until I looked him in the eye and promised and there would be tears in my eyes and a smile on my face and I always wondered if he knew about Earl and me. Earl would watch the whole thing but I could never tell if he was proud of Frankie and how he treated me or scared of him and his finding out about us because during these moments Earl just looked like any father does when he looks at his first born son proud and scared both.

Once when Frankie left I turned to Earl for comfort because Frankie had squeezed my neck harder than usual and caused me to choke which made me cry, but Earl couldn’t stand to see a woman cry and he said to me to straighten myself up because we were going out to pick up Chinese food for dinner and he left the room. Ever since that night I’ve never cried in front of Earl about anything Frankie has done and Earl’s never said anything at all to me about how Frankie treats me, even though I know he’s seem some of the marks Frankie has left on me.

Frankie said one day that it was time for us to get our own place and we rented this trailer out in the woods, just two miles from Frankie’s parent’s house. When we moved in Frankie said we had to have a party, so we had his family and pool playing friends and even my friends, who I hadn’t seen or talked to since our wedding, come over and the guys played horseshoes on the lawn while the women all made over how nice my trailer was and offered ideas of how to decorate and I listened very carefully because I didn’t know about any of that and they all promised to hold a house warming party for me and buy me a new cookware set and dishes and such that we didn’t already get for a wedding present.

And then I remember looking at the ring on my left hand and watching the diamonds shine in the light and feeling as if Frankie’s hands and Earl’s hands were around my neck all at once and then the women said I was white and my face felt as if there was nothing in it, but there was sweat on my brow and then I don’t remember anything until I opened my eyes and I was on my bed and had no idea how I got there and I saw Frankie and a few women friends and he said I was fine, I just had too much to drink and he was going out to finish his horseshoe game and the entire time he said this he had one hand over mine and he was squeezing and the bones in my hand were rubbing together like they did when he saw my nail polish was chipped and I said but I just drank soda and then he put his other hand on my forehead and ran it down my face to my neck and rubbed my neck harder and harder and laughed and said she drank so much she can’t even remember what she was drinking and then he squeezed my hand tighter until I looked at him with tears in my eyes and he laughed and went back to his game of horseshoes and my friends gathered around me and put a cold wash rag on my face and fussed over me, but never said a word about Frankie.

At the end of the party Frankie left with his friends and went to play pool and my friends helped me clean up and Earl stayed and helped us as well, and when everyone else had gone Earl moved toward me, but I said not tonight because of the fainting and all I was very tired and Earl’s eyes grew dark and he said he would let me tell him no this one time, but never again, and when he said this he put his hand on my upper arm and pulled me toward him and squeezed my arm tightly until I looked at him and then he let me go and he left without a word.

What had come to me before I fainted when I looked at my wedding ring, with all its diamonds was how little was known to the outside world about Frankie, Earl and me and the feeling that I had really married Frankie and Earl, not just Frankie. And I felt like I was sitting under a heavy, wet blanket and I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t move and if I looked outside everywhere I saw Frankie and Earl, laughing at me. After Earl left, I took off my ring and put it back into the box from the jeweler and closed the box and put it on the kitchen table and left.

I didn't much think about how Frankie would feel or what he would think when he came home and found I was gone. What I did think about was the first time Frankie saw my nail polish was chipped. It was just a small chip, on my nasty finger, and I must have done it when I got in the car because I had painted my nails just an hour before we left. To tell the truth, I didn’t even notice.

But Frankie did. He saw it and grabbed my wrist with my one hand and my finger with the chipped nail polish with the other and put my finger close to his face and looked at my nail and then, still holding my wrist and finger he looked at me and started to push my finger backward and said he hated the way that looked and now we would be late because I had to go in and fix the nail polish and he kept pushing on my finger until I thought it would break and I started to protest, to tell him it hurt me, but when I did he told me to shut up or he would break it then he let me go and I went back into the house to fix the polish and when I came out he inspected all my nails and told me that was better and he rubbed my cheek gently and said that as pretty as my hands were they deserved good nail polish, especially when they have this on them and he gave me a diamond engagement ring and asked me to marry him.

And I looked at the ring and at him and said yes and wondered where the word came from.

Frankie had swept me off my feet without promising me anything.  He paid a lot of attention and for a time was very nice and then when I met his friends and they started to notice me he was both flattered and jealous and he would keep me by his side and if I spent too long talking with Lou or Dave or Harlan or any of the others he would come over next to me and put his arm around my shoulders and pull me close to him and press his fingers into my upper arm until I felt as if he had reached the bone and then he would hold them there for just a minute longer and then loosen his grip on my arm but not let me move away and he would join the conversation and accuse the guy I was talk to of trying to steal me and then laugh and say he was just kidding because I wasn’t worth stealing.

Frankie made certain I knew that he hated to lose. He hated to lose anything-- a game of pool, a bet on a football game, a girlfriend. He had lost girlfriends, but one in particular was especially bad. Her name was Mandy and she was “something else,” as Earl told me. She would flirt with his friends and when he would walk over to stop things and before he got a chance to pull her away she would be snuggled up next to the friend so that if Frankie wanted to pull her away he would have to put his arm between Mandy and the guy and Frankie wasn’t about to do that--touch another guy on his chest or look jealous in front of his friend. Then they would go home and Frankie would start in on her and she held her own. She yelled. She threw things. She even took a swing at him one time. Then they made up and all was fine until the next time. He told me he proposed to her and that she laughed at him and assured him she would never marry him or any other man since she wasn’t about to become a slave and a whore to a guy. When I came along he was more determined than ever to keep me once he decided he wanted me and that led to the squeezings, as I called them. And still, I felt things were right for me with him and I wondered if I had made up my mind to leave too quickly.

When I stopped to buy food I called Earl and told him to tell Frankie that I left and that I was sorry I didn’t leave him a note and I meant him no harm and while I was talking to Earl I looked at my hand and my nail polish was chipped and I started to cry, but without a sound because I didn’t want Earl to hear me and Earl said I needed to come back because there had been an accident and it involved Frankie and things did not look good for him. I thought at first that Earl was lying, but then I realized that he was crying, or trying hard not to cry, and I said I wasn’t certain it was my place to come back since I was just barely his wife and Earl cursed and said it was my place and that my husband and his family needed me so I better come back and he slammed down the phone and I stood for a minute and looked at the quiet receiver and dropped it and walked to my car and drove back to the trailer I had left just a few hours ago.

When I arrived, Earl was waiting for me, as if he knew I would come back. The ring was still in the box on the table. If Earl saw it he didn’t say anything and when he left to go to the car I put the ring back on and avoided looking at the diamonds.

Earl drove me to the hospital and told me on the way that Frankie and his friend Harlan had been playing “truck chicken”with each other and that neither moved at the last minute and their trucks crashed and one rule was that you couldn’t wear a seat belt and when they crashed Harlan’s truck exploded and he was burned and Frankie was thrown out of his truck and landed so that part of his skull was pushed in and the doctors didn’t think he would regain consciousness and now I had to decide if he should be kept alive with machines or not.

Earl also said there was a woman with Frankie when the trucks crashed, his old girlfriend Mandy, and she was killed right away and I could feel him look at me to see what I thought about some other woman being with my husband, but I didn’t look at Earl I just kept looking straight ahead and I felt like someone was telling me a story but I had a hard time understanding that it was my story I was listening to.

A week later we buried Frankie. My nail polish was bright red and perfect, except on my nasty finger, the finger that Frankie bent back the first time he saw my polish chipped. On that finger it was chipped. I had chipped it that morning when I was getting ready and even though I had time to fix it I didn’t. During the funeral I sat in the front of the church, listening to the words the pastor said, but not hearing them. I never looked at the pastor, at Frankie’s coffin or at Earl. I looked at my hands and chipped the nail polish off each finger.

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