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LAce Posted Monday, July 26th, 2004
Missing
Robin Slick

Last night I tried to set my husband on fire.

Today I ran away.

No one realizes I'm missing. I know this for a fact because while I wasn't intelligent enough to bring cash when I left the house, I did remember my cell phone. I've been checking all day to make sure it's on because it hasn't rung once.

I sit on a cement wall in the park, swinging my legs. Sad. It's not really a park at all; it's what we optimistic urbanites call The Square - four sides of a city block fenced off in wrought iron with a few trees and benches.

It wasn't like it was pre-meditated or anything. We were sprawled out on our bed smoking and drinking beer when I reached over, flicked my cigarette lighter, and touched his sleeve. The polyester cuff went up in flames.

Luckily for us he was quick to react and snuffed it out with the blanket.

"What the fuck, Debbie!" he screamed.

"Oh my god, I'm so sorry!"

"What the hell were you thinking? You just tried to kill me!"

He jumped out of bed, ripped off his still smoldering shirt, and sprayed the room with air freshener.

"You hate me, don't you," he said, pointing the can at me.

"I don't hate you, Alan. I hate myself."

"Well then next time, set your fucking self on fire!"

"Okay." I pulled the blanket up over my face, leaving only my eyes and the top of my
head visible. He's going to retaliate by shooting me with peach blossom deodorizer.

"You need help."

"I don't suppose I can blame this on hormones?" My voice sounded strange, muffled from under the covers. "Look, I probably just had too much to drink."

He grimaced and started to say something but at that moment we were interrupted by the sound of a key in the front door -- our fifteen year old daughter, Cristina. He ran downstairs to say hello. She's his princess.

Sometimes Cristina hangs out in The Square. I worry she shouldn't be there but I have a theory that when you give kids too many rules, they break them all. Alan disagrees with my so-called revolutionary parenting but I notice he doesn't ever say no to her, either.

My daughter and I used to be best friends. Now she wants me to be invisible.

I stood next to her in the mirror the other day and was shaken by the vast contrast in our once similar reflections -- young innocent beauty versus an old shriveled crone looking like she'd just been given an enema.

Late last evening after my feeble attempt to cremate him, I tried to tell Alan how depressed I felt about this. He gave me his standard reply -- Stop over-analyzing everything and be thankful for what you have - a fancy townhouse and a healthy, normal family. Well, normal except for you, he added.

I sank down into the mattress and blinked back tears until I fell asleep. But when I woke up today, my first conscious thought was Fuck! I tried to set Alan on fire last night!

I slipped out of bed quietly and then ran away from home like a naughty child. And look where I came. The Square.

Next time I'll remember to at least take my debit card. I'm starving.

I check my cell phone again. I've been gone over twelve hours. Unbelievable. Where do they think I am?

All these years I probably could have gotten away with having an affair. What it would be like to be with another man now? Strange hands roaming my body; an unfamiliar scent. I decide I want him to be very tall and thin; dark haired, with five o'clock shadow, and deep brooding eyes.

Alan is fair and stocky.

"So. Brendan and I did it last night."

My head snaps up. I recognize that voice. Behind the wall on which I'm perched are thick hedges surrounding a bench. I turn around to have a look who's sitting on it and see two friends of my daughter - Sarah and Julia. I bring my knees up to my chest and wrap my arms around them, wishing I could be invisible for real now.

It's Sarah who did it with Brendan. Sarah, whose mother died of breast cancer last year. Cristina and I went to the funeral. We hugged each other throughout the service and sobbed so hard I thought our hearts would implode.

"No! You didn't! How was it?" Julia is breathless and I know I should be moving away; that I shouldn't be eavesdropping, but I can't help it.

"It was weird being naked with him. I was so totally embarrassed I kept my eyes closed the whole time. All I can say is it didn't hurt nearly as bad as I thought it would but it was over so fast I didn't feel anything. I'm really worried, Jules. What if I'm frigid?"

"My mother says it's like that the first few times and you just have to be patient," Julia says.

"Your mother said that?" Sarah asks quietly.

My telephone finally rings just as the ensuing silence becomes unbearable. I turn off the sound, and taking a deep relieved breath stare up at the sky for a few seconds.

The sunset tonight is spectacular.

Comments [post a comment]

Posted by Ellen Meister [ ellenmeister@hotmail.com ] on Tuesday, July 27th, 2004 at 4:59 AM
I love this story about a woman whose midlife crisis results in feeling like such a nonentity she has to set her husband on fire to test her presence in the world. It's wonderful how tenderly the characters are treated, and I especially appreciated the note of hope at the end. Splendid work!

Posted by Richard Madelin on Tuesday, July 27th, 2004 at 11:27 AM
I like the quiet strength of this story, the way it resolves in an understated manner. I like how the concern of the central character is shown through other children's needs. Wonderful.

Posted by Maryanne Stahl on Tuesday, July 27th, 2004 at 1:04 PM
Great opening line; original voice. Well done!

Posted by Craig Snyder [ headsfromspace@yahoo.com ] on Tuesday, July 27th, 2004 at 1:11 PM
Well thought out and executed. I know what I hate and I don't hate this! As Mr. Burns would say, "EXCELLENT." Did you actually resolve whether or not she set fire to him deliberately?

Posted by marvin emerson on Tuesday, July 27th, 2004 at 4:24 PM
Great opener and black humor. Smooth.

Posted by Kathryn Koromilas [ kaninaki@otenet.gr ] on Wednesday, July 28th, 2004 at 8:48 AM
Amazing opener! I couldn't stop reading after that. Great stuff, Robin. :)

Posted by Justine Wilson [ justinewilson@yahoo.com ] on Wednesday, July 28th, 2004 at 11:46 AM
Smooth, gripping, funny, moving. Loved it. Still chuckling over '...my feeble attempt to cremate him.' I want a book by you, Robin Slick.

Posted by Wendy Vaizey on Wednesday, July 28th, 2004 at 12:50 PM
Horribly blackly funny, but so real. I'm with this woman all the way. I love the contrast of her bored exasperation with Alan, and the unspoken tenderness towards the girls. A terrific opening, and the understated ending is just right.

Posted by Annie forbes Cooper on Thursday, July 29th, 2004 at 12:31 PM
Just a terrific voice. Very believable and poignant. Nother great story Robin! Annie Forbes Cooper

Posted by Elaine Little on Friday, July 30th, 2004 at 4:51 PM
Robin, I love this story. It was a five star story two months ago, and today it was even better, despite the fact I already knew the outcome. You rock - Really! Elaine

Posted by Dave Clapper [ editor@smokelong.com ] on Tuesday, August 10th, 2004 at 4:56 PM
This has come together so beautifully through all its drafts, Rob. Great work.

Posted by Saleh Razzouk [ salehrazzouk@hotmail.com ] on Wednesday, March 8th, 2006 at 4:14 AM
Stories of Robin Slick fall in the space of the little family structure, which is based on : you, I, and he, as Michel Butor noted once. On deconstruction you may recognize, after all, a male and female ( an erotic reference but not a social one). then the third person who allegedly signifies the existentialist deception. I guess we deal in here with an original creative gift with an affinity for development at large.. Saleh Razzouk salehrazzouk@hotmail.com journalist



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