The Youth Trap Ch. 02byangiquesophie©
Chapter Two: How a fallen tree saved him.
Had he ever known his wife?
I guess that this is what husbands think when they get in his position. It is probably the hardest question for a man to handle, too. The answer could mock your entire existence. Like ripping a tablecloth from under crystal and china.
Leaving a mountain of shattered illusions.
You may be amazed that he never saw it coming. Sure, he had seen her growing distant, this last year. But he thought it was the empty nest thing. And he thought she had dived into her job, going from a few days to fulltime.
But mostly, yes, he hadn't noticed.
You see, many men don't live in the now. They live around it. Their mind is on projects and dreams. On things to come, mostly. They love challenges - building, creating. They plan together and tell each other how important it all is. And of course they need to know how very good they are at it.
Obsession is the word.
It made John a poor judge of people. He hardly ever paused to look at them. And he was no exception. Men are like the boys at the beach, teaming up to build a sand castle. Or in the woods, damming a creek.
The world narrows around them. They can only see the project at hand. The challenge. And they know they are safe. Their back is covered. At least, they think it is. As they plan their exhilarating projects together, they trust that they are lovingly cared for.
Are they naïve? Or do they take it for granted?
Women have a hard time understanding this outlook. And a hard time hiding their disdain. At best they make mild jokes about it and shrug their shoulders.
Women live in the present. They own it.
They love to meet and talk -- to weave a collective web that spreads in all directions. It is the fabric of the now. It sustains families, communities, workplaces, even whole cities. It is an intricate labyrinth. And they know their way instinctively.
Men don't. They have no time to even see the web. That is why they get so easily caught in it, I guess. Women are sweet and beautiful spiders. They catch men. They cocoon them. And from that moment on the men leave the world to them.
John considered his thoughts and he knew he was rambling. His mind was not as neatly arranged as it usual was.
After he left the house, he parked his suitcase in an appropriately sad motel a few miles down the interstate highway. Then he walked. Or rather, he hiked.
He hadn't been doing that much since he married Sarah. She was a city person. Her idea of relaxation comprised of beaches and shopping malls, tanning and the general beautification of her physique.
John loved to hike as a boy. He used to devour country trails and mountain tracks when in high school. In college he used to find fellow devotees to hike through empty canyons and raft down the wildest rivers.
Then he started courting Sarah.
She was out of his league. I suppose that is how they call it when a serious guy falls for a party loving whirlwind. John knew he was the sturdy but beige colored rock to her frivolous sea surf. She was achingly beautiful. And she drowned him with her passion.
He loved it. He drank it up with giant gulps. He was like a lost traveler crawling in from a scourged desert.
I guess he never entirely understood why she wanted him. Maybe she did neither. It must have been love. After all, when you can't explain a thing, why not call it love? Or art.
They were so close those first years. They shared sweet and hard times. They found pleasure and fun in everything. Traveling, discovering.
And making Julie.
She was a godsend. More so because her birth was complicated. It never threatened her or Sarah's life. But it meant they should not have other children.
Sarah got a hysterectomy while in hospital.
Is loyalty a sign of true love? John thought so. If Sarah had to, he would too. So John shared her fate and had a vasectomy.
He didn't remember if she was pleased, back then. Last year she said he had been stupid. What if he found another woman and wanted children with her? He laughed.
He thought she was joking.
As he hiked through sand and tall grasses, John found out that he didn't recollect a lot of the more recent memories. They all seemed to have submerged in a grayish soup. But as he walked there, the high wind cleared his brain.
Maybe there is a kind of love that isn't healthy, he thought. The kind that eats away at your self-esteem. The kind that prevents you from seeing how your lover's love is seeping away And the kind that makes you forget how you've started discarding your self.
He sat down on a fallen tree, overlooking a valley. There he saw something else he'd forgotten. He saw how green trees are in May. How blue a clean-washed sky can be - how sparkling a meandering stream.
His eyes almost smarted from the overload of restored impressions. As did his brain from the influx of long forgotten memories. Their pain at last tore through the numbness that had become too familiar to notice.
You see, when they filmed vain Hollywood stars in the old days, they used to coat the lenses with Vaseline. It eased the contours and in a magical way reduced the wrinkles in a woman's face.
I guess John coated his eyes with Vaseline as long as he had known Sarah. Call it love, call it stupidity. But there, on that fallen tree, the soft, familiar veil vanished.
It was torn away. And it left him with reality.
Can one overdose on reality? Oh yes. Just look at that man on the fallen tree trunk. Watch his shoulders shake. Hear his muffled sobs which even now he tries to hold back.
When a dam breaks, it is impossible to register all the separate logs and debris and flotsam that pour out with the roaring stream. Don't even try to. Just wait until the waters subside. Then get into your waste-high boots and sort out the damage.
It was what John did out there, on that tree. Sorting out the jetsam of his life with Sarah - weighing logs and chunks in his hands. He was amazed at how light they were. How brittle too.
Except for one, a sparkling gem that lay in his hand and smiled at him.
When he looked up, the sun was in his eyes. It almost touched the crowns of the trees. He rose on stiff legs to return to the sad little motel room. A long shadow preceded him.
He had to make a phone call.
"Julie! How are you, honey?"
Sarah Cunningham shook her painted fingertips in a blur of burgundy. She loved that color.
"Not good," the tiny voice inside her phone said. Sarah took care the mouthpiece didn't touch her freshly painted lips.
"Dad just called me. He said he has left you."
Sarah Cunningham groaned. Damn, did he have to tell her now?
"Mom? What's going on? He sounded sad."
Sarah pushed the button that would put the caller on loudspeaker. She carefully set the phone down against her vanity mirror. Then she resumed the painting of her left hand's nails.
"Honey," she said, sweetening all traces of annoyance. "Don't be upset. Let's talk about it tomorrow. Can you come over? Can I see you somewhere? This can't be done over the phone, don't you agree?"
Damn, she had made a smudge on her ring finger.
Julie's voice rang through the bedroom.
"Did the two of you separate, mom? Why didn't you tell me? What is going on?"
Sarah sighed. Stan would be there to pick her up in minutes and she wasn't even remotely ready.
"Please, honey," she said, trying to sound merry. "I really can't talk now. I have an appointment and I'm late already. Let's talk at the gym tomorrow. Lunchtime at the little coffee thing?"
There was a baffled silence.
Sarah leaned into the phone.
"Julie? There really isn't a thing to worry about, honey. All is well. It is just between your father and me. Nothing for you to be upset about. I love you. Daddy loves you. Please? Tomorrow at twelve!"
Julie tried to say something, but Sarah cut her off.
"Must run now, darling. Sorry!"
And she disconnected.
Sarah Cunningham rose. She stepped into her four inch heeled burgundy pumps and walked to the floor-to-ceiling mirror. She loved how the heels pushed her up. She tucked the white blouse deeper into her skirt, making her tits press into the thin material. Then she turned and looked over her shoulder down her ass and legs.
"Damn…" she whispered. "You are so hot."
The doorbell chimed.
Julie looked well, although a bit flustered.
He mused. Is it possible for a twenty-year-old girl to not look gorgeous, even when she looks worried? It must be that one ingredient: youth. Envied by the old, taken for granted by the young.
"Hi dad," she said and she kissed him. "You look tired." It was so good to feel her firm body press into his.
They sat down at the little table in the back of the tiny Italian restaurant. The smile didn't leave their faces. The silence was quite okay. He liked her simple sweater and told her so. Sky blue had always been her color.
"Did you call your mother?" he then asked.
"I did," she said. "But she had to leave. I'll see her tomorrow at lunch time."
"Yes," he said, toying with his napkin. "Your mother is one busy lady at the moment."
Her hand covered his. Her eyes seemed huge.
"Daddy. What is going on?"
The waitress interfered. They ordered. John held back till she brought their wine, bread and water.
"Julie," he started, turning the glass to make the ruby liquid catch the candlelight. "Your mother has no need for me anymore."
"What do you mean, dad? What…"
He shushed her.
"Honey," he went on. "You are young. Everything is new and exciting. Just as new and exciting as things were when your mother and I met. We fell deeply in love and it felt…unique. We were convinced that we must be the only ones in the world feeling such intense love for each other. It was…"
John had to pause. Finding words for the overwhelming memories was impossible. He smiled an apology.
"Darling. If you want to know how incredibly deep our love was, just look in the mirror. It was what made you."
His hand was now on hers. He felt a tear burn in the corner of an eye. Julie had stopped breathing.
"Oh, Daddy," she said.
"You were born and we learned you would be our only child. Ah well, you know that. But I now know that there was more that started ending then. I think from those years on your mother gradually stopped loving me."
Julie stared in horror. Then she shook her blonde head in protest. The rims of her eyes swam with tears. He raised his hand to stop her.
"You see, honey, I think I disappointed your mother. I think I ought to have been someone else. Stronger maybe - more ruthless? More ambitious for sure. Fond of showing off. But I wasn't like that. I never was. I thought she loved me for it."
John smiled apologetically, drawn into the sadness of his thoughts.
"I tried to pamper her with my love. I worked real hard to give her all I thought she needed. I believed I gave her all she asked for, but she kept asking more. And in the end it may not have been what she wanted at all…"
John guessed he confused Julie. She just stared, slowly shaking her head.
"Honey," he went on, wondering why his voice was so calm. "All considered there is no one to blame but me. And time. You can't understand that now. I guess I wouldn't have either at your age. But time is the great love killer. It drags and gnaws. It can change us into these giant, clammy slugs. We are condemned to crawl along an endless concrete road that has no feature but repetition."
"Please, Daddy, don't," she whispered. He smiled and tapped her hand.
"Sorry, yes. I should not talk to you like that," he apologized. "Because it doesn't have to be like that. It never was for me. I had two unique people in the world to love. They kept every moment new for me. They were worth every hour I worked."
He sighed as the thought came to him.
"I guess I was by then quite limited in the way I expressed my love. I worked. I put in hours, weeks, months of work. I thought it mattered. I was wrong, wasn't I?"
He felt Julie's fingers squeeze his hand.
Their appetizers arrived. A salad for her, antipasti for him. He was sure it was excellent - he hardly tasted it.
"I had all I needed, I guess. I think it was different for your mother," he went on. "And I blame myself now for not seeing it. You know…I had my love for her and you. And I loved the challenges of my work. Projects to do, things to create, mates to meet, journeys to make. My days overflowed."
John put down his fork.
"It was all very different for your mother. In the end the only thing that kept time from destroying Sarah, were you, Julie. But you are a child. You grow. It's nature's way. You have to find yourself, get into your own…"
He suddenly fell silent. The risk of where he was heading loomed over him. He saw how his words could make Julie feel the blame was hers. That was the very last thing he wanted.
"Anyway," he said, shrugging his shoulders as he tried to smile the clouds away. "These last few years I fell short. It should have been my love that kept the demons of time away from the woman I love. I failed…"
"Oh no!" Julie exclaimed. "You never failed. You…"
He once more silenced her.
"Oh yes," he said. "My love was nothing. It was a child's bow and arrow in the path of a roaring bull. Time's indifference entered our house. And it found your mother wide open. She never had a chance. And I did nothing to save her. Did I even see it?"
Julie now cried openly. John could kick himself for causing it. All he could do was hand her his napkin.
"She had reached forty. Time would make her an old woman soon. Her house would be empty. You'd be away. And I had already left long ago, in a way. Do you remember how she went from three days to fulltime at her job? How she started dressing sexier? Working out even more? How she had to travel a lot? Well, after you went to college there were times when she hardly came home at normal hours anymore."
Julie had turned pale. He hated himself for going on. But he had to.
"Oh, she always had good reasons for being late or away. It was work and who was I to deny her a career? I had been absent so much myself. You see, she had every right to at last think of herself. And if I might not agree, she was ready to explain it to me."
There was a silence, a moment where they both did not seem to have words. Maybe there were no adequate ones left.
Julie sipped from her water.
"It wasn't all work with her, was it, daddy?" Her voice was small, a carefully padded cradle for dangerous thoughts.
"Maybe at first it was," he answered. "Maybe at first she thought that her new freedom might be found through a successful career. I don't know. But I do know now that she needed more proof."
Julie looked up. "Proof?"
"Yes, proof that she was still young and attractive. That she still was visible - a force to be reckoned with. I'm sure there were enough men around her to massage her ego. And to convince her of the usefulness of certain ehm…female qualities."
He hated the squeamishness of his words. Julie no doubt lived in a world where directness was a way of life. But to him she still was the little girl. She always would be, he guessed.
"Did the two of you talk at all about this?" she asked.
John had to admit that they hadn't. He told her that it hadn't seemed necessary. They lived alongside, ships in the night. He guessed he didn't even look. She seemed happy, he was busy.
"Maybe it is a one time thing?" she tried. "Maybe she'll be sorry?"
Their pastas were brought. The waitress took his almost untouched appetizer with her. He smiled apologetically. He feared the newly brought plate would share its fate.
"No, honey. I don't think it is a one-time thing. Nor do I think she'll be sorry. Or that she'll stop, eh, seeing men. Because, you know, seeing the men is only an expression of her real need to prove herself. She won't give that up."
"You must talk with her, dad."
"I, eh…I don't think it will be of much use, honey."
Her eyes flooded again. Damn.
"But if it means anything to you, I shall, Julie."
"Oh god, dad. This is all so sad."
"Yes, it is. But now you must eat."
Sarah Cunningham had found a table in the shadows. Her hair was still damp from the shower, and her skin glowed. Maybe it was from working the machines. Or from the ultra violet bath she had taken. Mostly, however, it glowed from the dollar-a-drop cream she had rubbed into it.
At her age she knew better than to risk her delicate skin to the rays of the real sun.
Going to the gym had started after Julie had been born. She'd had to exercise added pregnancy pounds away. Ever since those days she had been ruthless to her body. She went to the gym at least three times a week.
These last years she even went every other day.
She knew it paid off. She saw it in the eyes of the young men who kept hitting on her. She saw it in the mirror when she tried on the same tiny sized dresses she had worn in her twenties. She felt it at work, at parties, at pool sides and malls. It even paid off here, where so many much younger hard-bodies paraded their assets.
She had no need for surgical help -- yet. Her tits were firm, her belly flat. Her toned legs still did the trick marvelously. And the few spidery lines around her eyes were an advantage over the empty, soulless botox masks of her competition.
Sarah Cunningham sighed contentedly. She sipped the tall fruit juice cocktail in front of her. Her world was perfect. Then her pink bubble burst.
From across the terrace came a young woman. She had the same blonde, dancing curls. The same spotless skin and blue sparkling eyes. The catlike walk too, smooth and effortless. The legs.
But her blonde hair was real. It took more lustre from the sun. The bounce came easier. Her skin glowed deeper. Her eyes had the inimitable shine of innocence. And her walk betrayed no guile. There was no calculation. The girl seemed not even aware of the many eyes following her.
She was just Julie and it seemed enough to her.
Sarah saw her daughter weave through the chairs and tables. A pang of jealousy hit her chest. Ah, surely not jealousy! Envy, maybe? Just a pinch of envy? She rose to hug her daughter. Her lips only kissed the air.
Pleasantries were exchanged, the latest news followed and a second juice was ordered. Then a silence fell. Julie knew her mother never had much small talk. And it had never bothered her before. But now it did. Now she felt the indifference it was based on.
The dinner with her father had changed the way she thought about her mother. It didn't change her as in altered, it was just as if Sarah had moved from the shadow into the sun. New details showed, soft outlines became sharper.
Julie saw her mother as she would see most people around her. With a clear, analytical eye. The eye of a grown woman, no longer a child. Still a loving daughter, maybe, but no longer unconditional.
She put down her glass.
"Mom, you know why I'm here. What is happening?"
Her mother closed and opened her painted lashes.
She cleared her throat.
"Ah honey, it is such a pity, but it happens all the time nowadays, doesn't it? We have grown apart, your father and I. These things happen. I am really sorry. I always thought we'd grow old together."
"It is not to be."
Then she stretched a hand out to Julie.