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October 25, 2020


Amy Stuber

And so it was that Josie found herself at another cross country dinner in the family room of a new house designed to look old where the wife of an oncologist had amassed a collection of baskets. Jesus Christ, the fucking baskets. They were always arranged on the tops of cabinets, as if there was going to be a moment when the woman said aloud to a roomful of similar women, “If only I had seventeen differently-sized baskets on hand,” and the women would in satisfied unison point chins toward the upper edge of the cabinets where just such a collection of baskets was artfully arranged. Until that day, though, the baskets waited in quiet, baskety repose.

The children, if they could still be called that at 11 and 12 and 13, visible through the wall of windows, sat in a circle on the lawn, and then without warning ran after a blue ball.

“Oh, look at them, playing soccer with a volleyball!” the wife of the oncologist said, like the mis-appropriation of a sports ball could be categorized as scandal. The other women tittered, which was a 19th Century word, but it still applied.

The lawn was more park than lawn because it connected to a golf course, and kids like this probably didn’t think twice about using private land as their own. Josie had grown up like this, too, trolling golf courses, ordering lunches from country club snack bars using a memorized account number instead of cash. Her own son was growing up differently, in an old house where the furniture was all old and mainly broken and where the bathroom’s shower had visible mold around the grout that no amount of scrubbing could eradicate. Josie had stopped trying. All life was a slow process of decay anyway, she told herself every time she put the Soft Scrub away.

The oncologist himself came into the living room with a charcuterie board with swirls of cornichons and zig-zags of well-cut peppers and prosciutto laid out like tiny blankets.

“Oh, curing cancer and making lovely trays for the ladies?” one of the moms said, and the women tittered again and then sipped their rosé because it was still warm enough for it even in October, they had all agreed.

Josie had spent her life feeling a fraud in any group, and in this group, she was fine with it. She didn’t want to belong to this tribe of people who surely owned many brightly colored down vests and were frequent flyers on SignUp Genius. She could hear her husband’s voice in her head: don’t be so negative, Josie. Give people a chance, Josie. She wondered, was it just her, or did they all go home and hide in their bathrooms and look at the overflowing recycling or the toothpaste smears and think of themselves as failures? She doubted it, but you never knew.  

By  8:00, they’d downed the last of their wine and the hopeful functional alcoholics in the room had looked at each other like, “I could have another glass, could you?” but no more wine was poured, so they called their kids in, and Josie got into her car with her son whose face was red from the running. His face was so beautiful to her, and it was sad to admit it, but it was probably the closest she’d come in life to sustained love, to really tolerating a person over time.

He scrolled through Spotify and said, “Trap music is trash,” and then turned up Saba and sang under his breath, “The best song is probably on the B side.” She didn’t want to ask him “What’s Trap?” because it would out her as what she was: driving a VW wagon, finger nowhere near the pulse.

They lived north of the river, and the drive home took them past the railroad station where the trains rattled the overpass. At their usual turn, there was the biker bar where there were often twenty or thirty bikes lined up in a row. Years ago, she’d gone there with an old boyfriend—a gangly indie kid who was always drunk—and he leaned against one of the bikes and the whole row tumbled and they took off running into the woods behind the bar, across the train tracks, back over the river bridge to town.

Without saying anything to her son, she pulled into the parking lot of the bar and got out of the car. Two men stood outside vaping, and massive balloons of smoke extended out over their heads. A sign above the entrance read “ROCKTOBER!!!” in all caps that looked like flames, and she didn’t know why a rocking month would be on fire, but she guessed it made some kind of sense.

Her son followed her, complaining. “Why are we going in here, Mom? Mom, this is weird. Come on,” but she didn’t answer him. She sat at a stool and ordered a shot of whiskey and downed it and went to the Jukebox and put on “Crazy Train” by Ozzy not because she particularly liked it but because it was the first song that looked familiar. She willed herself to stand in the middle of the dancefloor where surely some middle-aged biker dudes had twisted and spun and gotten down, and she started to shake it like she’d never done publicly. Her son had his head in his hands. She shook herself until maybe she saw one of the down-vested moms walking toward her dancing just as maniacally as she was. Until maybe there were others, their vests a rainbow. Their names didn’t matter. They’d all been something and now they were only this. Was it enough? Did it matter? Josie put more money in the jukebox, and they all kept going, who knew how many moms dancing, their faces hair-covered and electric, doing their best and their worst for Rocktober, riding it out.