No Reason Not To by Mary Akers

She’s got good days and bad days.

Some­times the days pass right quick-like, and she’ll go for hours, push­ing it down and for­get­ting. But even­tu­al­ly the thoughts slip back in, cen­tipede-like, through a crack in her con­cen­tra­tion. Then that bright pain hits inside her head, light­ing it up like a lava lamp, and she has to shake it hard to make the pain stop. That helps some. Like look­ing away when the nee­dle goes into your arm to give blood. Actu­al­ly, Eileen feels as if she’s giv­ing blood, or more that it’s being tak­en from her—drip, drip, drip—draining away her life. She imag­ines her body when it’s all over, skit­ter­ing around the floor like used tis­sue paper.

Even sit­ting here, her favorite time of day, with Oprah spilling her smooth voice all over her guest like hon­ey, Eileen can’t make her head quit.

Some­times it’s Lou­et­ta Weeks. Lionel took Lou­et­ta to the senior prom. They were vot­ed class cou­ple. 15 years wasn’t too long for some­thing like that to come bob­bing back up like a corpse in a flood.

Some­times it’s that new blonde, Tra­cy, in Lionel’s office. Eileen remem­bers how he sort of shoved them togeth­er at the office pic­nic, say­ing how much they had in com­mon. Like Him? He’d enjoy almost get­ting caught, watch­ing them sniff and search, and come up short at every dead end. Does Eileen sus­pect? Will Tra­cy blow his cov­er? Which path leads to the cheese?

Eileen knows what women think about. She knows Tra­cy watched her with the sharp eye of the oth­er woman, think­ing, so that's Lionel’s wife, no won­der he comes to me. Siz­ing Eileen up. Tch-tch­ing over her dull brown hair, I-see-now-ing over her three chil­dren. They clam­or for Eileen’s atten­tion, tug­ging at her pants leg, tap, tap, tap­ping on her arm. And the oth­er woman thinks why does he stay with her? And the baby cries blind­ly in the front pack, flail­ing his arms, while Eileen jig­gles her body up and down, up and down, extend­ing her hand, smil­ing. Nice to meet you.

These images keep Eileen awake at night. The one thing she nev­er want­ed to be was a fool. But there you go.

Lionel spent two weeks last sum­mer on reserve duty in Pana­ma. Maybe an exot­ic for­eign hook­er stopped him on the street. Gave him her busi­ness card from the broth­el. Lured him with her long black hair, olive skin, red lips. Took him to a room in a local board­ing house where she turned her tricks. It would have to be clean. Lionel might be unfaith­ful, but not in a dirty room.
His mom­ma taught him bet­ter than that.

She won­ders if they kissed.

Or was it when he got sent to Sau­di for the Gulf War? Maybe a Brit, with a sexy name like Sam, who whis­pered her accent­ed dirty words in his ear when they did it. Oh yes, Luv. Quite right. That’s the tick­et. In bed they would call each oth­er Sergeant and snug­gle togeth­er, with know­ing, throaty chuck­les. “My wife,” he would say, not using her name, “has fat thighs.” And they’d laugh togeth­er. The ulti­mate betray­al.

Dix­i­an­na was three when Lionel was called up. Eileen hugged him good-bye over the huge mound of her bel­ly while the baby kicked at him through the thin blan­ket of flesh. Mindy came ear­ly. Three weeks soon­er than she was sup­posed to, two weeks after Lionel shipped out. So Tam­my end­ed up in the deliv­ery room with Eileen, hold­ing her hand and pray­ing while Baby Mindy squeezed her­self out into the world.

Tammy’s hus­band Joe drilled with Lionel’s unit, but Joe wasn’t called up, on account of his back, so Tam­my helped Eileen when she could. They orga­nized a Christ­mas cook­ie brigade from Floyd Bap­tist Church so the boys over­seas could have home-cooked good­ies. They put up a hun­dred yel­low rib­bons till the sight of them made her sick. She wrote Lionel a let­ter every day to keep up his spir­its. Morale was a sen­si­tive thing and Eileen didn’t want to be the cause of him com­ing home all shat­tered and out of place like those Viet­nam vets did.

She doesn’t remem­ber that war, of course, except for sum­mer trips to the beach with her fam­i­ly, pass­ing trucks full of sol­diers going down Inter­state 64. For the big rigs she made a fist up, honk-your-horn sign, and for the sol­dier trucks a two-fin­gered peace sign. The truck­ers always honked, and the sol­diers always answered her peace signs with their own. If she clos­es her eyes, she can still see them, hang­ing out the back of the trucks, grinning—green can­vas flap­ping around behind them, hot asphalt slip­ping away beneath them. She thinks about them now, dying with a lit­tle girl’s peace sign in their heads.

I’m not a writer,” is what Lionel said, but he did call from Sau­di when he felt lone­ly. It was usu­al­ly three a.m. in Vir­ginia when the phone rang and the pan­ic rose up in Eileen’s throat so she could hard­ly say hel­lo. She was always cer­tain it was The Call, but then there Lionel would be on the oth­er end, laugh­ing at her wor­ry.

Usu­al­ly he want­ed her to talk dirty, want­ed to get excit­ed long dis­tance. “Tell me what you’re wear­ing,” he’d say, with the echo of a pause as his voice bounced across the moon. Grog­gy and crab­by, with the baby start­ing to wake, she’d strug­gle to find some­thing to say, reach down deep to think of some­thing that would get him going.

Eileen nev­er could con­front Lionel over the phone. She couldn’t han­dle the long, expen­sive silences that went nowhere. Actu­al­ly, she doesn’t think she can con­front him now, either. Maybe she just can’t deal with it. Any­way, she has to think.

Of course, think­ing is about all she’s been able to do late­ly, and she finds her­self doing stu­pid stuff like putting the fork in the trash and the nap­kin in the dish­wa­ter. Even Oprah can’t bring Eileen out of her funk today. She’s had the TV on for most of the show, try­ing to get uplift­ed, since Oprah promised her shows would be inspi­ra­tional from here on out. But the show is about liv­ing with AIDS. Try as she might, Eileen just can’t get uplift­ed think­ing about liv­ing with AIDS.

Eileen fin­ished high school. She was class vale­dic­to­ri­an, which ought to count for some­thing. She isn’t dumb, but she can’t account for the way things have turned out. Before all these kids she used to be a work­ing woman. If Lionel hadn’t swept her off her feet, she’d prob­a­bly be man­ag­er at the Kroger’s in Chris­tians­burg by now.

Lionel was so charm­ing back when they were dat­ing. He used to show up at Kroger’s the days she had to work late, and she’d see him at the back of the line, whistling, not look­ing at her. Then when he’d get up to the reg­is­ter he’d have some fan­cy cheese and crack­ers from the gourmet sec­tion, and a six pack of those wine cool­ers that were just get­ting pop­u­lar. It was his secret mes­sage to her. Or he might buy a red rose and some fan­cy for­eign choco­late. Lionel knew she’d get to think­ing, and he was right. She’d get all hot under her apron. One time he bought a bot­tle of baby oil and a cucum­ber. She’d spent the rest of her shift blush­ing and fret­ting. She always did, though. If a lady bought san­i­tary pads or a preg­nan­cy test, or a man bought hair col­or or Prepa­ra­tion H, she couldn’t look them in the eye when she told them their total.

Eileen can’t fig­ure how things got this way with her and Lionel. Did she get to the point where she liked being tak­en for grant­ed? Maybe she got sat­is­fac­tion out of being The Woman With The Most Incon­sid­er­ate Hus­band, sav­ing up sto­ries until she could top the best of them. Like her 30th birth­day when Lionel kept the kids and sent Eileen all the way out to Hoot­ers in Roanoke with the oth­er real­tors and sec­re­taries from his office. She was preg­nant with Lionel Junior at the time, and big as a house, in no mood to par­ty. Half the peo­ple there didn’t even know her name. The wait­ress­es, in their cropped shirts and short shorts, bounced
to the table with a piece of cake and sang and she was 30 and these strangers stared and clapped and told her to make a wish and asked her was Lionel com­ing and she chewed and smiled and tried to pre­tend that this was nor­mal and okay with her, too polite to name a skunk. She drove home after­ward with a sick pit in her stom­ach, parked the car with the lights off, sneaked out back behind the lilac bush­es and vom­it­ed. Then she walked in to see Lionel’s eager face, first thing, so pleased with him­self. He want­ed to hear every detail of her fun evening. Then he want­ed sex.

Lionel had nev­er been what you’d call sen­si­tive, but Eileen couldn’t have pre­dict­ed his unfaith­ful­ness. He was her hus­band. He said he loved her. She believed him. She had no rea­son not to.

Eileen remem­bers the time ear­ly in the mar­riage, right after Dixianna’s birth, when her Pap smear showed chlamy­dia, and she was called into the clin­ic for a pri­vate con­sul­ta­tion. She thought it was a fan­cy word for a yeast infec­tion, and just stared at the tech­ni­cian when he told her it was a sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted dis­ease and no, you couldn’t get it from a toi­let seat. In a daze, she drove to her sister’s to pick up Dix­i­an­na, her breasts leak­ing milk in big, wet cir­cles on the front of her dress. Then she was so dis­tract­ed she for­got to feed the baby and she had to stop right there on 221 at a Dump­ster and nurse just to qui­et her down. When Eileen got home and called Lionel at the sales office, she cried and told him she had an S.T.D., and it was shame­ful, that’s what it was.

But Lionel put on his calm, patient voice and explained it all away. Left over from our sin­gle days …false pos­i­tives …what would it hurt to take the med­i­cine, just in case? He was so sweet and under­stand­ing. He said he didn’t even sus­pect Eileen of being with anoth­er man, he trust­ed her that much.

Stu­pid now. Stu­pid! Stu­pid! Stu­pid! Was this always the way? You toss away the obvi­ous until sud­den­ly it hits you like a ton of bricks that you’ve been blind, deaf, and dumb? And at risk. This is the 90’s and Eileen has watched enough TV to know that she could die from what Lionel might bring home to her.

Faith­ful. Trust­ing. Stu­pid. Dead.

She glances at the TV and there’s a guest from Oprah’s audi­ence stand­ing up at the micro­phone. She says she’s a nurse who works with new­borns who have AIDS. The nurse says they still don’t know if HIV can trav­el through breast­milk or not, so if a moth­er thinks she could be infect­ed she shouldn’t breast­feed. Eileen can’t breathe when she hears that. She has to do some­thing. She has to pro­tect her­self, her fam­i­ly.

She finds the bot­tles of for­mu­la from the hos­pi­tal, pre-mixed, on the back shelf of the pantry. Then she opens draw­er after draw­er in the kitchen, push­ing junk aside, look­ing for the nip­ples. Where could they be? Why was she sav­ing so many twist ties? And how many fast food straws did she real­ly need any­way? Trou­ble was, you just nev­er knew when those things might come in handy. And as sure as she threw some­thing out, then she need­ed it the very next day. Hadn’t Mindy need­ed that extra wire for her fairy wings? And actu­al­ly, Eileen kept mean­ing to string Hawai­ian leis with the kids using those straws like she saw in Fam­i­ly Circle’s craft sec­tion last month. Maybe even have a fam­i­ly luau.

Final­ly, there’s the nip­ple. She thinks she should ster­il­ize it or some­thing; but real­ly, there isn’t time if she’s going to save the baby. So she screws it on and puts it quick in the baby’s mouth. He sput­ters and chokes, and bites on the damn thing like he doesn’t know what it’s for. She tries again and again, push­ing it far­ther in, until he’s bawl­ing and retch­ing, and she’s cry­ing, “Here. Take it. Take it!” over and over, but it’s no use.

Eileen pulls it out of the baby’s mouth. His face is all red-pur­ple from cry­ing and his lit­tle fists are clenched, flail­ing at every­thing and noth­ing. Eileen is shocked by what she’s done. She throws the bot­tle in the trash, nip­ple and all, and gives the baby her breast, sob­bing and breath­ing in big gulps of air. He gets real still then and paus­es mid-suck, star­ing at her, big-eyed, over the white mound of her breast.

Eileen knows what she must do, but the tasks ahead of her seem unbear­able. More humil­i­at­ing tests request­ed with a rushed expla­na­tion. Con­doms. (Law, that’s embar­rass­ing.) Con­fronting her hus­band. Decid­ing whether she can live with him, look­ing at his lying face for the rest of her life.

The rest of her life.

Even if he says he’ll give the oth­er woman up, can she trust him? Eileen sees her­self check­ing pock­ets, lis­ten­ing in on phone calls, call­ing hotel rooms late at night. She doesn’t want to be that woman, but she can feel a ten­drilled mass grow­ing inside her already. Malig­nant. A tumor of dis­trust.

When Oprah goes off, Eileen decides to call Tam­my, who’s been through this with Joe twice before. All Tam­my says is how the Good Lord meant for us to be for­giv­ing and after she and Joe worked things out it made her love him even more. Eileen makes sym­pa­thet­ic nois­es over the phone, but hangs up as soon as she can. Secret­ly she thinks Joe is a jerk and Tam­my is a fool, and vows not to call her again any­time soon. Joe got that 17-year-old wait­ress preg­nant, for pity’s sake. Thank good­ness the girl decid­ed to have an abor­tion, now at least they only have to see her every Sun­day after church when they eat at the Waf­fle House on the bypass. That’s pun­ish­ment enough for Tam­my. She could think of worse for Joe, though.

Then, since Eileen real­ly doesn’t know about any­thing any­more, she imag­ines Lionel in the same predica­ment. What if he has an ille­git­i­mate child some­where? She lets the mag­ni­tude of that sink in slow­ly, wal­low­ing in the pos­si­bil­i­ties, the future sce­nar­ios, the con­fronta­tions. Then the TV lights up all on its own and there’s Sal­ly Jesse Raphael smil­ing con­spir­a­to­ri­al­ly and say­ing, “Well, Eileen, I think you have a right to be angry,” while the audi­ence applauds. A baby’s pic­ture flash­es on the stage mon­i­tor. “Lionel’s baby by Crys­tal” cap­tions the pho­to. The audi­ence boos and hiss­es Lionel in his plush red chair, Eileen on his left, girl­friend Crys­tal on his right.

And Eileen’s moth­er is the sur­prise guest on the show. She strides out from back­stage, yelling, “Faith­less bas­tard! Infi­del!”

Some­how, these images are painful and com­fort­ing at the same time. Eileen is learn­ing to let them flash through her brain until they are gone. She’s decid­ed to go with it. Work through it. Ride the wave. It’s as if she’s on an amuse­ment park ride, like the one at Lake­side she rode as a child. Cloud Nine. They strap you in and you spin and spin until you can’t even lift your arm or leg—a giant one of those things that spin your blood. Only she real­izes too late that the atten­dant for­got to strap her in, and lit­tle pieces of her are fly­ing off in every direc­tion. She can’t stop them and she can’t get them back.

As a kid, Eileen would always imag­ine the worst pos­si­ble sce­nario and make her­self a plan. When she was eight, her par­ents took her to Vir­ginia Beach. She held onto her daddy’s hand and walked the long pier out into the ocean. When she looked down through the wood­en planks at her feet, she saw the waves below, rolling toward the beach, and Eileen knew with a child’s cer­tain­ty that she would either slip through a crack or the whole pier would give way, leav­ing her to grab the biggest plank and hang on for dear life. So as she walked, she planned out in her head exact­ly what she would do, which plank she would go for.

When they drove over the Chesa­peake Bay Bridge, her sis­ter Debi tried to hold her breath the whole way, but Eileen care­ful­ly planned how she would escape the sink­ing car after a big truck ran them off the bridge.

The baby has fall­en asleep at the breast. She tries to dis­lodg
e his lips with­out wak­ing him, but he shifts around and opens his eyes. When he looks up at her so trust­ing, Eileen has a moment of pan­ic. He starts to squirm and she makes a quick deci­sion. She’ll give him ice cream. It’s made from milk. All kids like ice cream.

He shrieks when she tries to set him down, so she shifts him to the oth­er hip, puts two spoons in her mouth, grabs the car­ton with her free hand, and heads for the table.

Eileen is just hook­ing the straps on the high chair when Lionel comes in with Dix­i­an­na and Mindy. He says Eileen had bet­ter get her shit togeth­er. Wouldn’t he like to sit around all day eat­ing ice cream? Maybe Eileen would like to go to work and sup­port him for a change?

Over the buzzing in her head Eileen offers to fix him a bowl, but no, he has to go back by the office. He can’t stay.

Can you drop the kids by Momma’s on your way out, then?” Eileen asks. “She’s gonna sit them so I can get some house­work done.”

I’m not dri­ving. Wes is pick­ing me up in five min­utes.” Lionel is sud­den­ly charm­ing, chuck­ing the baby under the chin, smil­ing, kiss­ing Eileen on the top of her head.

Grate­ful for the kind­ness, she over­looks the fact that Wes has three ex-wives, a big black Harley, and a drink­ing prob­lem. He’s been with Buf­fa­lo Real­ty about a month now, and he and Lionel have become best bud­dies. She’s pret­ty sure Wes made a pass at her the first time they met.

Can I have your keys then?” she asks as she offers the baby her spoon with just a dab of ice cream on the end. “The Ply­mouth won’t start again.” Lionel drops the keys into her lap with an exag­ger­at­ed sigh, and she’s sure the car would start if only she were smarter, thin­ner, bet­ter look­ing.

The baby sucks on the end of Eileen’s spoon, gives her a tooth­less grin and smacks his lips for more. He opens wide like a baby bird and Eileen spoons in a whole bite. Shocked by the cold, he holds his mouth open, makes a pan­icky noise in his throat, and shakes his head back and forth. He won’t spit it out though, because it tastes too good. Eileen laughs out loud and gives him anoth­er spoon­ful. Then Lionel starts laugh­ing, which brings Dix­i­an­na and Mindy in to see what’s so fun­ny, and pret­ty soon every­one is laugh­ing.

The baby loves being the cen­ter of atten­tion and keeps on being sil­ly until the whole fam­i­ly is laugh­ing wide open, gasp­ing for breath, and Eileen cries, “Oh my God, stop. Stop!”

In the mid­dle of it all, the phone rings. Eileen answers it with the laugh­ter still in her voice, breath­less. “Hel­lo?”

Hel­lo?” a woman’s voice says in return.

Yes. Hel­lo.” Eileen chuck­les, mug­ging for Lionel as he pan­tomimes the baby’s sil­ly face for her, and she gasps, try­ing not to laugh, and thinks this is it. This is fam­i­ly at its best. They were still a fam­i­ly. No oth­er woman could give him this. She sees it clear­ly in that frozen moment with her ear to the phone, Lionel ush­er­ing the girls upstairs, blow­ing Eileen a smil­ing kiss over his shoul­der as he leaves through the front door.

Hel­lo?” says the woman again as if she can’t hear. “Hel­lo?”

So Eileen says it slow­ly, “Hell-lo,” and the woman hangs up.

Con­nec­tions are bad some­times. Eileen knows this as well as any­body. It just seems odd that Eileen’s end was so clear, and that woman couldn’t hear. If it’s impor­tant she’ll call back.

Sure enough, not a minute lat­er, the phone rings.

Lionel runs back in. “For­got my wal­let,” he says with a grin, tak­ing the steps two at a time, bound­ing up them while Eileen watch­es him and lets the phone ring an extra two times even though she’s stand­ing right there with her hand on the receiv­er.

Hel­lo,” Eileen says. She makes it a state­ment not a ques­tion, and she’s get­ting a bit annoyed. The floor needs mop­ping, after all. She doesn’t feel like talk­ing to any­one.

Lionel has grabbed the upstairs phone before her and his voice echoes too loud­ly in her ear, “Eileen, it’s me. They hung up—wrong num­ber or some­thing. Any­way, I’m gone, Baby, okay?”

Yeah, sure,” she says, dis­tract­ed, then hangs up and waits for the third call.

When it comes, Eileen puts her hand on the receiv­er and says out loud to no one, “Answer­ing the telephone—take three,” then lifts it up, paus­es an extra moment and says, “Hel­lo?”

It’s her again. After a long moment the voice says, “Is this Eileen Que­sen­ber­ry?” The words are slow and delib­er­ate.

Yes it is …”

Anoth­er long pause. “And are you mar­ried to Lionel Que­sen­ber­ry?”

…Yes I am.”

Eileen thinks it could still be a sales­per­son. Please be a sales­per­son.

All right, then,” says the woman, pro­nounc­ing each word dis­tinct­ly, not run­ning them togeth­er the way any­one from Floyd would.

The click of the receiv­er seems slow and delib­er­ate, too, and Eileen stands there with the receiv­er to her ear, lis­ten­ing with­out breath­ing, hop­ing to find some clue in the still­ness. She lis­tens as hard as she can, will­ing the woman to come back on and be an old friend look­ing for Lionel, or a sales­per­son, or even a col­lec­tion agency. She lis­tens until there’s only an insis­tent beep, beep, beep, echo­ing in her ear and she could just scream.

The baby starts to fuss and squirm in his high chair so she puts the whole car­ton of ice cream on his tray and sticks two spoons deep into it. Let him play with that. She needs to think.

That woman’s voice, her words, her delib­er­ate­ness. Eileen keeps try­ing to replay the calls in her mind, remem­ber every word, dis­sect every nuance, but she’s wind­ed, knocked off her feet, noth­ing to grab hold of, noth­ing to stand on, no air to breathe. All she real­ly wants is some secu­ri­ty, some sure­ty, some steady love. Even the abil­i­ty to admit to the inabil­i­ty to stay faith­ful would be some­thing. The hon­esty might actu­al­ly be refresh­ing. Per­haps she would smile and throw her arms around Lionel if he final­ly admit­ted to being a thought­less, faith­less jerk.

Instead of con­fess­ing, though, he always pulls out some expla­na­tion that sounds so log­i­cal. Or even bet­ter, he offers none, and pre­tends to be just as baf­fled as Eileen by the whole thing.

That’s real­ly clever.

The more Eileen thinks, the more she’s cer­tain what the phone calls were about, and the mad­der she gets until there’s this great burn­ing anger inside her. If she raised her shirt, she’d see it glow­ing, illu­mi­nat­ing her from with­in, her belly­but­ton a dark cir­cle against the glow­ing, puls­ing radi­a­tion of her anger, her hurt, her fury.

Lionel must thank his lucky stars every night. He got a woman with­out a brain. Does he think she doesn’t know? Oh, she could cut his thing off like that Bob­bitt woman did and not even look back. For­get run­ning down the street with it, she’d just flush the damn thing and be done with it. She wouldn’t want some­body putting it in a cup of ice and sewing it back on lat­er.

Although, a Vel­cro attach­ment would be good. That way, when­ev­er he left the house, she’d just say, “Oh Hon­ey, you for­got again,” with a big toothy grin and then scri­i­ick, off it’d come, and she’d lay it out in a cig­ar box until he got home. A big, fat sto­gie and she’d be in charge of it for a change. Teach it some man­ners.

Eileen’s stom­ach is boil­ing. She’s absolute­ly starv­ing. She’ll nev­er get any­thing done on an emp­ty stom­ach. Cheese­cake. That’s what she needs. Cheese­cake to dull the ache, blan­ket the agony. The thought’s hard­ly reg­is­tered before she’s in the kitchen drag­ging out the Sara Lee box. It doesn’t even mat­ter that it’s frozen. Eileen attacks it with the fork, stab­bing into each bite, launch­ing it into he
r mouth rapid-fire. Her cheeks are bulging, and each swal­low is real­ly more of a con­tained choke, but things won’t get bet­ter until she sees the bot­tom of the box.

She uses the flat side of the fork after the cake is most­ly gone, smash­ing the remain­ing crumbs through the tines, bring­ing them to her lips, greasy from the crust and the cake and the fury of it all. On the last bite she chews and chews until it’s mush. Still she chews, mak­ing up for all she swal­lowed whole.

Hang­ing on the wall in front of her is this Seren­i­ty Prayer her mom­ma cross-stitched for her. God, grant me the seren­i­ty to accept the things I can­not change, the courage to blah, blah, blah. As Eileen reads it, she’s star­ing at it, lick­ing her fin­ger and press­ing it into the crumbs, think­ing, God, grant me the seren­i­ty to eat the things I can­not change …

The girls are at the door, coats on, fight­ing. The baby has ice cream every­where. Eileen told her mom­ma she’d have the kids there by 5:30 and it’s after that already. Clean­ing is out of the ques­tion, unless it’s the mess of her life she can mop up, spray off, dust away. Instead she grabs the ice cream baby, pulls his shirt off, and turns on the tap while he fid­dles with the sprayer. As Eileen grabs a dishrag the phone rings and she reach­es for it, one arm towards the phone one arm towards the baby. She’s pret­ty sure who it is this time so she says, “I’m on my way, Mom­ma,” and sets the receiv­er back in its cra­dle.

While she’s wip­ing his face, the baby fig­ures out the sprayer and shoots a long arc of water down the front of Eileen’s shirt, then squirts him­self in the eye and starts cry­ing. She pro­nounces him clean enough, throws him into a dia­per, and puts on his lit­tle red sleep suit and coat. She gives the girls the rest of a bag of cheese puffs to stop them from bick­er­ing, then loads every­one into Lionel’s truck and heads off to her momma’s house.

It’s ear­ly, but the win­ter sun is long gone, dropped behind a moun­tain, shroud­ing route 221 in eerie twi­light. Eileen tries first her high beams, then her low, but noth­ing cuts through the strange half-light. Dix­i­an­na and Mindy fight over the cheese puffs, yank­ing the bag back and forth with loud crum­pling sounds. The truck fills with noise. Eileen reach­es over and turns on the radio to drown them out while the baby wipes orange fin­gers on his car seat. She starts to yell at him, but decides she has enough on her mind any­way, what with this stink­ing truck and its impos­si­ble gear shift that only Lionel can work with­out grind­ing and Lord she’ll be lucky if she doesn’t wreck the thing.

That’s about the time Eileen rounds the big curve at El Tenador, the old skat­ing rink, and sees the deer, but doesn’t see it, too. As in, oh, a deer. Isn’t that nice. The buck ambles across the road and Eileen’s head­lights catch him halfway across. He stands there, trans­fixed, frozen in the head­lights. Eileen keeps dri­ving, frozen in her thoughts. She tries to count the points of his antlers the way Lionel taught her back when they were dat­ing and she pre­tend­ed to like hunt­ing just to be around him. Ten points? Twelve? She sees his haunch­es quiver as he stands there mes­mer­ized, like in some part of his brain he knows he should run away, but can’t make his mus­cles work. Eileen is just decid­ing that she is The Deer in the Head­lights, imag­in­ing the thud of his mag­nif­i­cent body against the fend­er, when Mindy screams, spew­ing orange spit every­where.

Eileen yanks the wheel hard, hits a patch of grav­el on the side of the road, and does a 180. The deer bounds away while the road dust dances in her head­lights. The baby claps his hands and Mindy sobs while Eileen tries to make her shak­ing hands work the gearshift.

She drops the kids off at her momma’s with­out get­ting out of the truck. Dix­i­an­na car­ries the baby. Eileen’s mom­ma stands in the door­way, sil­hou­et­ted by the porch light. Her breath puffs out indig­nant­ly into the night air, cast­ing its own long, dis­ap­prov­ing shad­ow. Eileen lets the truck idle at the end of the dri­ve­way until she sees the kids safe­ly inside.

She backs out, acci­den­tal­ly spray­ing grav­el from the unfa­mil­iar clutch, and heads back to the main road then turns onto the Park­way. The Blue Ridge Moun­tains could always clear her head. She dri­ves to a scenic over­look and parks.

She could leave Lionel. But in such a small town she’d nev­er real­ly get away. She could make him jeal­ous, hurt him like he hurt her, but that wasn’t real­ly her style and any­way, who would want a Moth­er of Three? She could take a Grey­hound bus to Char­lotte, or New Orleans, or Tam­pa, and start a new life. That was tempt­ing. But there were the kids to think about. She could pray for Lionel to change—Tammy’s solu­tion. Or she could sim­ply wait it out; she’d already been doing that for 10 years.

Eileen sits and stares at the lights in the val­ley below. They pulse and throb and beck­on to her. Who would miss her if she were just to dri­ve right off the edge of this big old moun­tain? It seems like an easy solu­tion. So very, very easy. And rest­ful. Except Eileen begins to pic­ture the car flip­ping over and over, then devis­es a plan in her head for sur­viv­ing the crash. Her mind inter­feres even in this.

When she real­izes her fin­ger­tips and nose have got­ten numb sit­ting in the cold, she starts the engine and heads back toward town. She pulls onto 221 near the sign that says Ray’s Rest. (The sign mak­er had run out of room, but it was more of a bar than a restau­rant any­way.) Eileen slows to check out the park­ing lot. Just as she is almost past, she pulls into the lot, sur­pris­ing her­self. She sits in the truck until she musters enough of her new go-with-it atti­tude, gets out, and slams the door.

Then she stands there, sud­den­ly inde­ci­sive. As she reach­es for the han­dle to climb back into the truck, she hears her name called.

Hey, Eileen! Ain’t seen you around late­ly. Where you been keep­ing your­self? You com­ing in?”

Why Daryl Agnew,” she yells across the lot. “I wouldn’t miss the chance to play catch-up over a red­eye. How’s that wife of yours?”

Afraid you’ll have to ask my lawyer.”

Well, now, that’s a shame. You just give me a sec­ond. I’ll be there direct­ly.” Eileen slips off her wed­ding band and holds it in the palm of her hand, feel­ing the warmth of the gold. She hasn’t tak­en it off once since the day Lionel slipped it on her fin­ger 10 years back. For effect she lets it fall through the air into the coat pock­et she holds open with her oth­er hand. There’s some­thing sat­is­fy­ing in the extra flour­ish, and she pats the out­side of the pock­et for good mea­sure.

Once inside, Eileen sits on a barstool next to Daryl. Ray gives her a nod. “Red­eye?” he says, ges­tur­ing with the glass.

When she nods he pours a shot of toma­to juice into a glass mug, then holds the mug on a slant at the tap, and the beer slides into the toma­to juice, mak­ing a faint­ly orange head of foam. He slips a nap­kin under the bot­tom of the mug and sets it in front of her.

As Eileen reach­es for her red­eye she stares at the white place on her fin­ger. It looks obscene, like a dead fish bel­ly, and she thrusts her hand into her pock­et. She locates the ring and slips it on awk­ward­ly with her thumb and pinkie.

When she grabs her mug, it clinks against the glass.

Mary Akers' work has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Belle­vue Lit­er­ary Review, The Fid­dle­head, Pri­mav­era, Xavier Review, Brevi­ty, and oth­er jour­nals. She was raised in a rur­al, one-stop­light town i
n south­west Vir­giniawhich she will always call homebut cur­rent­ly lives in west­ern, New York.

This entry was posted in Fiction, mary akers, no reason not to. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to No Reason Not To by Mary Akers

  1. Antonios Maltezos says:

    Won­der­ful read. So many mem­o­rable pas­sages, but I think it's the scri­i­ik made me sit up. A great sto­ry for either sex to read. Thanks for this, Mary.

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