MY HUSBAND HAD A TALENT for putting the dick in unpredictable, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to catch him at an office party with his hand up the skirt of a giggly, jiggly redhead. Or that he had mistletoe dangling from his belt buckle. Even though it wasn’t Christmas. Suddenly eight years of wondering if I was paranoid or intuitive were finally answered. Richard was cheating on me, and I couldn’t ignore it any longer.
I probably should have left him sooner, but I was dumb in love, plus my mother thought divorce was tacky even though she’d been through one herself. Maybe she worried I couldn’t do any better. Turns out, I couldn’t have done much worse.
Exactly one year, six days, and fourteen hours later, Richard and I signed on the dotted line and our marriage dissolved, like margarita salt on the tongue, leaving behind the bitter aftertaste of something that started out sweet but ended sour.
The details of our sordid divorce prompted a feeding frenzy for the local Glenville press. Richard was the city’s favorite son, after all, and everyone wanted the juiciest morsel for their evening headline. His job as anchorman of Channel Seven news earned him a quasi-celebrity status and a sycophantic following. I, on the other hand, was painted in a single stroke as a gold-digging Real Housewife just after his cash. No one but me seemed to remember the incident with the redhead, and somehow I became the pariah, a one-dimensional villain trapped inside the reality show of my own life. So when my aunt Dody called to invite the kids and me to spend the summer with her in tiny Bell Harbor, Michigan, it was an offer too good to refuse.
“You need a good psychic cleansing, Sadie,” Dody told me over the phone. “It’s time to purge all of Richard’s nasty karma right out of your system.”
I had zero faith in her tarot-reading, angel-guided, crystal-waving nonsense, but I was desperate for a vacation. And a chance to hide. Her pink clapboard house, perched high on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan, was the perfect spot to rest, reboot, and figure out what the hell to do with the next fifty years of my life. Sure, I’d probably be dead long before that, but I hate leaving things to chance.
I guided my SUV along the narrow, elm-lined avenues of Bell Harbor. Lowering the window, I breathed in deeply. The scent of hot sand tinged with tanning oil and lilacs reminded me of carefree summers, back before I cared about damaging UV rays and toxins in the lake. The buzz of cicadas nearly drowned out the sound of waves splashing on the nearby shore.
What a drastic change from the shimmering heat and road-warrior mentality of Glenville’s asphalt raceway. Bell Harbor seemed frozen in a moment that never existed anyplace else, untouched by the tawdriness of life outside its borders. Like enchanted Brigadoon, except around here people didn’t randomly burst into song and dance. Or maybe they did and I just never noticed.
I drove on, past pale houses with spindly white porches draped with American flags. A scruffy yellow dog sporting a red bandana trotted down the sidewalk, his tail swinging high as if he had someplace important to be. Then around the last curve in the road, Dody’s yard burst into view. Like at a discount garden store, flowers were everywhere, some real, some silk, some faded and plastic. Overgrown azalea bushes crowded around birdbaths, iron benches, and assorted stone statues of angels and gnomes. My heart thumped unexpectedly against my rib cage like a firefly trying to escape a glass jar.
“Wow! Look at all the junk!” gasped my daughter, Paige. At six years old, she was a master at stating the obvious.
“There’s dorfs,” added four-year-old Jordan. “One, two, free, four—”
“Those are gnomes, dumdum. And anyway, you’re not supposed to call them dorfs because it’s rude.”
“So is calling me dumdum, stupid head.”
“That’s enough, you two. We don’t call anyone dumdum or stupid head,” I said.
My children had spent the better part of our two-hour drive from Glenville in heated debate over such inane topics as whether or not a pixie is bigger than the tooth fairy, if all giraffes have the same number of spots, and where one might find, and I quote, “the poop hole on a mermaid.” Jordan, being his father’s son, could not resist taking sides in an argument, no matter how arbitrary the topic. My head was numb from their banter.
I parked the car in Dody’s driveway and pulled the keys from the ignition. Paige pushed open her door and exploded from the backseat like popcorn, with Jordan fast on her heels. They sprinted into the dense growth of the overburdened flower beds and began running zigzag patterns around the sculptures.
“Be careful in that mess of weeds!” I called out. “There might be prickers in there!”
They went on, heedless of my warning. I’d be pulling slivers from their feet tonight for certain.
I climbed out of the car and headed up the faded wooden steps into Aunt Dody’s house. I hadn’t been there in more than a year, but I opened the door without knocking. The trusting folks of Bell Harbor didn’t knock—or lock their doors either. And they liked it when you called them folks, which is a word I don’t normally use, but since I was there for the summer I should try to fit in.
The moment my strappy sandal touched cracked peach linoleum, the wild disarray of mismatched everything landed a gut punch to my minimalist sensibilities. Clutter, both dazzling and unnerving, rendered me breathless. A macramé owl with beady wooden eyes peered vacantly from across the room. A ferret cage, long missing its musky occupant, overflowed with dusty silk roses. A memorial gesture to his passing, no doubt. Porcelain ballerinas competed for shelf domination with Elvis bobbleheads. And a moose head, with its enormous antlers spanning the distance of the mantel over the stone fireplace, had a Detroit Tigers baseball cap dangling rakishly over one ear. My chest squeezed tight. Dody’s garage-sale decor always disoriented me.
No one would ever accuse her of being a meticulous housekeeper. No one ever accused me of being anything but.
“Dody? Hello?” I called out.
The clickety-clack of doggy claws on the floor offered a brief warning before I was slammed unceremoniously against the wall as Lazyboy and Fatso, two burly, uncouth hounds of indeterminate breed and negligible manners, slathered me with wet, sloppy kisses. Their love was unconditional, their drool indiscriminate. I raised a knee to nudge them away, but they persisted as if I had bacon in my pocket. They quivered with adoration.
Oh, to be a dog and experience such uninhibited joy.