Layers ~ fiction by Pat Foran

Margot and I don’t go out much and we haven’t gone out in a while, given what we’ve got going at home, which may be partly why the sky, with its sunken treasure of a horizon, looked so different tonight. How the transition from light to dark seemed to happen like that. But there we were at the party, in something of a ranch house on a hill in what I guess was our neighborhood. Or maybe it wasn’t a ranch house on a hill, maybe it was something Joni Mitchell sang about on the sound system — we heard her, for sure, and she was there, The Hissing of Summer Lawns was very much there, floating in the foyer. Or we were. It was hard to tell in that light. The Daylight Savings deal made it seem later in the day than it was, or maybe we weren’t used to gauging things based on where the sun was or wasn’t. “Early sunsets make people sad,” said a man standing at the snack table and wearing a red-orange t-shirt with an orange-red tangerine on it. The tangerine on his shirt had Ray-Bans on and the tangerine was tanning under a lemon-yellow sun. Early Sunsets Man filled a plate with cod fritters and Fritos, sized us up, nodded at Margot, then nodded at me before giving us orange cards with a jumble of letters written in a tangelo-scented marker: “Call me,” he said as I poured Margot a Mr. PiBB while she filled a goodie bag with party favors: a tiny Tennessee Tuxedo plush toy, an I Heart Joni superball and a Polaroid of a rain-drenched, lantern-lit street captioned We’ll Sing in The Sunshine. A neighbor, a woman Margot sort of knew but not really, saw us making our way toward an unlit corner. The woman waved as she uncertainly made her way to us and when she got there, she said, “I used to see you out in the sun with your son. I have so much respect for caregivers.” We thanked her and Margot said, “He’s good — he’s doing well.” I said, “No major surgeries or anything on the horizon.” The neighbor smiled, or at least we think she smiled (it was hard to tell in that light), and she said, “I know you’ve done all you could for him. It must be so hard. You should be proud.” Back when we used to go out, and when we considered what AccuWeather had to say before we did, we’d expect an I am so so sorry or an if there’s anything I can do in social situations like this, sentiments for which we had a standard but what we hoped came across as sincere reply that it was: Thank you so much. Everybody’s got something going on if you peel back the layers. But on this day-lurching-into-night, our neighbor’s words, the P-word, especially, reminded us why we’d stopped thinking about what we had and hadn’t done for our son, what we felt or hadn’t felt. Why we’d put our hearts in a jar, hunkered down at home and — screw the sunsets — kept out of the dark and the light, period. How we’d heard Joni in the foyer earlier but hadn’t: Don’t interrupt the sorrow — darn right. We smiled at our neighbor or we think we smiled, thanked her for saying what she said, skipping the part about the layers, and turned to try to face the music. “Still Joni?” Margot said, finishing her Mr. PiBB and checking her cell to see if the sitter had texted. “It is, yes,” I said, looking out the window at the sullen clouds I thought I saw on the horizon. “Remember to call me?” Early Sunsets Man said.

Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in WhiskeyPaper, formercactus, FIVE:2:ONE #thesideshow, Unbroken Journal and others. Find him on twitter at @pdforan.

Show Pat some love via PayPal at pforan27(at)att(dot)net.