64 In the Middle of a 12 foot Rowboat

Georgia wanted to call Gina and laugh about Greg. A more personal feeling stayed her hand. Talking to Gina first would be an excuse; it had been a very long time since she’d allowed herself a reasonable thought concerning Greg. She’d nourished the moment when Greg’s veneer, in its passage from obscure and unintelligible through blurry and opaque, had became transparent from her angle. Was she now seeing into the depths, or was it simply the shallows of men, or of just one man, her ex-man? Banished into an opposing and alternate universe, he was far easier to manage. Did she really want to open that portal – to discover him as a denizen of the real world – and even if no longer her partner, to reason with him?Chapter 64 In the Middle of

Why couldn’t he just die? She might have often cheerfully murdered him herself, when vexed. No, it was for the girls, surely. Some vestigial hope that they might know a father, love a father. He didn’t have to be a wonderful man, though that might be nice. He just had to exist, be real for them, have a relationship with them. A relationship that would never be hers to control, however distressing.

He seemed to want this, now. Once again, she forced the anger from the hope. He’d denied nothing. He’d not expected, not asked for forgiveness. He’d made a reasonable request, politely. Could she refuse her daughters because she was still outraged? Her outrage was a self-imposed defense, she realized, that required tremendous effort to maintain. What might letting go of it be like? Where might that energy now go? Or with her attention elsewhere, would he slyly interpose himself after all her years of care, and attempt to estrange them from her?

She decided to give it some time. One, to get over the shock of the conversation taking place at all, and two, to consider what he had said. Best to wait and see how the reformed Greg, faced with actual children, would manage this first weekend of good intentions. His epiphany might prove a seven day wonder, not a metamorphosis. He might still change this tune. She would run it by Gina tonight, see how it sounded when she repeated it.

“So, he says he’s not a different person but a changed one?” Gina later interpreted, ever the sounding board, listening intently to both the content and the resulting resonance in her sister. “What part’s true?”

“How am I supposed to know?” It was a good question. She had no way of knowing other than through more contact with Greg. “If it were just me he was after, guess I’d tell him to go and pound salt.”

“Good riddance kind of thinking. And you’re thinking twice because?”

“It’s not me he’s after. It’s them. And maybe it’s wrong to stand in the way.”

“But if you think he’s a shit to you, why do you think he’ll be any different with them?”

“It sounds like he isn’t around enough to be anything to them.”

“Point is then, he already has time to be their Dad on the weekends, like it’s set up.”

“Yes, he does. He says that he can’t see them then because of work. Not my problem, his.Ā  I’ve been angry enough to have wished that he failed at his obligations so that I’d be right about him being a lowlife.”

“Are you aware that you refer to him openly as a ‘knave,’ in front of the girls?”

“It’s the nicest word I could think of.”

Gina grimaced and got up to refill their wine glasses. “Is this about you stopping being angry? Or about his claim to seeing things differently? There are men who do better with older children, apparently.”

“Think I should call Mrs. James, talk to her?”

“Why don’t you figure out what you’re thinking, first?” Gina advised. “Too many opinions and you’re right back in the soup. There is one thing, though. He says he wants to be some use, right? Then let him do some of the hard stuff we have to do, not just suppers and movies. If he’s going to do this, let him do a few hours of homework, or two book reports, or the four dozen, iced cupcakes for parties, or driving around to separate lessons – you get the idea.”

“That’s a good point. Though that means more conversation, organizing it. Not sure I can handle this being the new normal.”

“Well, I can do all that for you, if it helps. Who knows, maybe we’ll all be pleasantly surprised, especially if the girls seem to enjoy it. Maybe we shouldn’t be sentencing Greg before the verdict.”

“And the girls will be the best judge of that.”

“Look on the bright side. If it turns out to be a regular thing, say every Tuesday after school ’til bedtime, we’d both have a week evening free. I could start a hobby or take an evening class, bridge, perhaps. You might consider taking up smocking to pass the time.”

Boat passing under the Hoan bridge, and into Milwaukee's harbor.

Boat passing under the Hoan bridge, and into Milwaukee’s harbor.

“Maybe we can get boyfriends!” It was a standing joke between them that neither of them ever dated. Georgia remained disappointed after Greg, and Gina had always been dismissive, although having the better sense of humor. Highly pragmatic, she accepted life at face value and made the best of most situations, including her own single status. She’d just learned to do a lot of things on her own and preferred independence to the effort of unearthing a partner who might value this. She adored her sister and her nieces, and was devoted to them. She quite liked Greg, too, though she never admitted this to Georgia, and was very sorry that he had so royally screwed up his marriage.

This new home life, since she’d decided to move into their house to save all that back and forth driving time, though plain hard work much of the time, engaged her in ways she had never imagined and brought her into contact with more people than she had ever thought of bothering to know. Forever at the same dead-end job, she now enjoyed trying new activities, thinking things out in a different way. She was companionable but knew when to withdraw. Never much of a cook, though. That she left to Georgia. She liked that old joke about being good at making reservations.

If it did turn out that Greg would be spending more time with her nieces, and though her sister didn’t see this yet, Gina figured her role as go-between, not aunt, would intensify. Playing with warring adults, she’d learned, wasn’t nearly as much fun as playing with kids. But it did offer a chance to moderate both sides, especially for the benefit of the girls.

She remembered the story their own Dad used to tell about being in a rowboat with a fishing buddy, claiming that it was raining on the buddy’s end of the boat but not on his end. His buddy swore up and down while, at the dry end, he laughed until he ached. Gina would now be smack dab in the middle of this marital, or ex-marital boat, waiting to see where the storms would well up and douse, or the sun would blaze and burn one end or the other. She’d just have to stay squarely in the middle and keep rowing until they all reached the safety of some new harbor. No sinking allowed. Not this time.