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SPRINGFIELD
Day Four

Cabin Fever:
Day Four

Created by Robin

I've spent most of the day in the old cast iron bathtub, buried up to my neck
in hot, soapy bubbles with a soggy, half-read paperback slowly disintegrating
in my hands. My bathwater has grown cold and been refreshed twice so far
during my marathon soaking session, but I've read less than three chapters of
the book and managed to retain even less. Granted, the story isn't much of a
page-turner. It isn't, in fact, much of anything, except perhaps a
recitation of one improbable sex scene after another. Which--don't get me
wrong--under other circumstances would be okay.

Actually, it would be more than okay.

But right now, my 'other circumstances' are miles and miles away, and I am
stuck here, angry and alone in a bathtub big enough for two. Being in the
right place at the wrong time, the story of my life.

And the worst part of it is, it's all been for nothing. I left the comfort
of my home and family in order to be in an environment better suited toward
the all-consuming act of writing, but right now asking myself to sit down and
conjure up three chapters and an outline is like saying I should run out into
the woods and find proof that Bigfoot really exists while I'm at it. Both
are arguably within the realm of possibility, I suppose, but just barely.
The only time I even notice the legal pad and pen on the floor next to the
tub is when I reach for the pint of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia that's
melting into creamy soup beside them.

Not that it matters. It's not as if my editor would be interested in
anything I might manage to produce, anyway, not if the resounding refusals of
my last three book proposals are any indication. More and more, One True Love
is looking like a fluke, and my writing career is looking like every other
thing in my life which has ever brought me any happiness--too good to last.
Because whether the sector in question is public or private, if it can be
screwed up, I will do it. Where there is a Blake, there is a way.

Which brings me to Ross...

Rather, more accurately, brings me back to Ross. He's never far from my
thoughts, today even more so than usual, despite the fact that we haven't
spoken since I hung up on him yesterday morning. Or maybe because of it, I
don't know. What I do know is I still don't trust myself enough to talk to
him. I'm still worked up over that dream I had... the one with the wedding
ring. I wish I weren't. I wish I could just forget about it and go back to
sublimating all the doubts I have concerning our non-married status, but I
can't. Now that the doubts have been awakened, they refuse to go back to
whatever neglected corner of my mind they were fitfully dozing in, roll over,
and go back to sleep.

Until they do, however--until I can pretend they have, at least--I think it's
best if I keep my mouth shut. Don't say anything... just like Mom always said,
because I have a long, sordid history of saying and doing some pretty
damaging things when I feel frightened. And I have to admit, I feel pretty
frightened right about now. An image from the dream that started all this
drifts through my mind--the image of my baby girl pouting in an empty crib,
her anger spent and her toys scattered to the floor--and for some reason,
seeing it this time, I don't feel like smiling. Far from it.

No, I think I will just keep my frightened, angry, neurotic self to myself
for the time being. I have already damaged Ross Marler quite enough for one
lifetime.

He hasn't made any effort to contact me, either, a fairly telling non-act, in
my opinion. Though why would he? Being relieved of the burden of having to
hear the sound of my voice no doubt comes as a welcome relief to him. Hell,
if the whole unpleasant truth were to be told, he is most likely overjoyed to
be rid of me for a few days. Other than late at night, after the kids are in
bed and the lights are turned off, he probably doesn't even miss me at all.

The irony of the situation is, I don't blame him for that, any more than I
blame him for not wanting to make the mistake of marrying me again. I might
scream and cry and rail against it, but I don't blame him for it. He wasn't
the first to turn his back on our love, to reject our life together and act
as if everything we'd shared amounted to nothing. That particular mistake
was mine, and now I have to live with its consequences. I have to find a way
to somehow fix what I put wrong.

Only, I don't know how I might go about doing that, any more than I know how
I am going to write what needs written in the three and a half days I have
left to me at the cabin.

Waving my weightless legs back and forth through the steaming bathwater, I
steal a guilty glance at the canary yellow legal pad I filched from Ross'
attach?ase the day I packed. Except for a few water stains I made going
for the ice cream, the paper remains untouched, and I haven't picked up the
pen since retrieving it from my purse. Putting things simply, the little
voices which whisper in my ear from time-to-time and tell me what to write
have all gone silent. Even that scrap of an idea I had for a project based
upon Selena Davis' life story seems to have grown quiet, but that shouldn't
come as any big surprise. Sooner or later, they all do.

Of course, if Ross were here, he'd give me a sympathetic smile, pat my
shoulder or kiss my forehead to show me what a good girl I was for trying,
and tell me it's for the best, anyway. No sense spending the time or effort
on a project that was going to be such a hard sell to begin with--the
novel-reading public generally doesn't see ladies of the evening as the
heroines of romance. They prefer their women a bit more pristine. Sooner or
later, they all do.

I toss the paperback to the floor without bothering to mark my place.
Dipping my cupped hands down beneath the bubbles, I splash handfuls of water
onto my sweaty face. The sudden heat snatches the breath from my chest and
leaves me gasping for air. The parts of my body that have been submerged
while I've sat and brooded--my stomach, my arms, and my legs, most of my
chest--have been stained a bright lobster red. I'm not sure why I prefer the
water so hot... what Ross has referred to more than once as 'just-this-side of
infernal'... I just do. I guess I don't feel like I'm going to come clean
unless I'm a little uncomfortable.

Abruptly, I decide I'm tired of this, and I want out. Out of the tub, out of
this godforsaken cabin, out of my own skin... I'll settle for the first two.
Taking baths that last longer than some of my past relationships and
not-crying into a loofah sponge aren't exactly going to help matters any.
Sometimes, contrary to popular opinion, I actually think too much. I ask the
same unanswerable questions and punish myself with the same torturous
what-ifs until the sheer repetition alone is enough to drive me stark raving
lunatic- insane. Add to that the hungry, gnawing fear that flaps at my ribs
like wings against a birdcage, and that's the state of mind I've been in for
weeks now. But Ross assures me that it is all for my own good.

Fishing out the loofah sponge from where it hides amid the clusters of
bubbles, I lather it with soap until a heavy perfumed scent hangs thick in
the damp air of the bathroom. Then I scrub my pinkened skin until it stings.
A quick rinse and pull the plug, bathtime is finished.

I manage to step squarely in the middle of the canary yellow legal pad as I'm
getting out of the tub. Not on purpose, on accident, but one soaking wet
size six woman's footprint in the middle of a pad of paper, and it's ruined.
And ruined is ruined, whether it's on purpose or not.

I wander naked into the front room without bothering to towel off my body.
Small puddles of water gather on the hardwood floors and mark my progress
from one part of the cabin to the next. I don't know where I'm going, but I
am going somewhere. I just have to get out, to escape these four walls and
the exclusivity of my own thoughts for a while. I don't have access to a
vehicle--Ross and I both agreed that wouldn't be a good idea; quitter that I
am, I'd have scooted on home after the first night--so I suppose that means I
am going for a walk. Since I am stuck at a godforsaken cabin in the middle
of nowhere, I guess that makes my walk a hike. I choose my clothes
accordingly.

I end up pulling on more of Ross' clothes than I do my own. I'm not
precisely certain at what point in our relationship that I figured out just
how comfortable his clothing is, but I remember his wardrobe was one of the
hardest things for me to watch him move out of the Carriage House during our
separation. Especially his shirts... I recall standing in a corner of the
bedroom that wasn't ours any longer, my hands clasped behind my back so
tightly that I thought they might bruise, watching my husband remove neatly
folded shirt after neatly folded shirt from the dresser and place them into
an open suitcase. I was already missing them even then.

Today I'm wearing one of his t-shirts, the gray one with the words "LAWYERS
DO IT IN THEIR BRIEFS" stamped in big red letters horizontally across the
chest. It's one of my favorites. It has been washed so many times that the
cotton is starting to fuzz and its letters have faded to actually more of a
bright pink than a red. My fastidious Ross would most likely have thrown it
out a long time ago if it hadn't once-upon-a-Christmas been a gag gift from
his best friend, Ed Bauer. As it is, the shirt has long since been relegated
for wear only when performing yard work or home maintenance, but Ross loves
it just the same. I love the way he looks in it, so relaxed and domestic.
It's not a side of himself that he shows very often.

I am also wearing the navy blue Springfield University sweatshirt he bought
when the marching band went door-to-door a few weeks ago, raising money for
new uniforms, and a pair of his sweatsocks. The sweatshirt is warm and
cuddly and at least two sizes too big for me. I keep pushing the cuffs of
its long sleeves up around my elbows, but still they fall below my hands
every second breath or so. Hidden beneath the legs of my jeans, the
sweatsocks are steadily sliding down my limbs as well. The blue jeans are a
good fit, though. They belong to me.

Stepping out onto the front porch, I take the time to yank up the socks once
more. If I hadn't promised Ross I'd wear them on the off chance I decided to
venture out into the woods, I would ditch the annoying things. I didn't,
however, have any knee-length socks of my own, and while it appears that my
darling ex-husband is not particularly worried about the psychological
effects of raising small children in a household in which the parents'
relationship is not clearly defined, he is, apparently, quite concerned with
the dangers of Lyme disease. Men...

Although evening is yet a few hours away and a burnt-orange, swollen summer
sun is still sprawled out over the horizon, the wind rustling the trees
carries a distinct chill. It pulls at the hair I didn't bother to let down
after my bath and presses the material of my clothes flush with my skin. The
sky is a little darker than I am normally accustomed to at this hour, too. I
think a storm may be on its way.

I don't allow that to deter me. On impulse, I sprint off the porch and
through the yard, careful to avoid the potholes Kevin and Jason dug while
scavenging for worthy rocks. It seems impossible that it has been only a few
days since my little two-man wrecking crew did their number on the lawn.
Almost as if on one of these long, lonesome nights I have pulled a Rip van
Winkle and slept far longer than I intended. But like I told Ross on the
telephone, now I am wide-awake.

Wind whistles through the branches of trees overhead, a hollow, forlorn
sound. I picture the small pink stone setting beside the box of TicTacs on
the nightstand, and my throat tightens with unshed tears. I don't allow them
to deter me, either.

Across the yard, down the path, and toward the woods I go. I have absolutely
nil interest in neither flora nor fauna, but what I am interested in is
maintaining my sanity, such as it may be, for at least a little while longer.
For that to happen, however, I need to put some space between that cabin and
me as quickly as possible. Without stopping to inform anyone first, without
heed of direction, without hesitation of any sort, I just go.

In fact, my footsteps break the rhythm of their easy sprint only once. It
occurs as I near the line of trees marking the edge of the Bauer property. I
hear something that causes my steps to falter--something high-pitched, like
the ringing of a telephone. I almost just keep walking. Almost. I would
have, too, if I weren't a mother of three and superstitious enough to believe
that every phone call is the potential bearer of bad news.

Spinning on my heel, I am about to make my way back up the incline to the
house when I notice that the sound has already stopped. I tilt my head and
cock one ear to the sky, listening closely, but whatever it was, the noise is
gone. A current of air rises up and slams into my back. I smell the damp,
earthy scent it brings with it and realize that if I really intend to do
this, I must do it now, because a storm is most definitely on its way. A bad
one too, by the looks of the clouds which are beginning to gather. Besides,
I reason, the sound I heard was probably just a trick of the wind, anyway.

I turn and resume my sprint, but after a few out-of-synch strides, I come to
understand that even that brisk pace is no longer sufficient. The wings
battering at my insides are stronger than ever, and something unspeakable has
begun to inch along my spinal column. My only hope is to outrun them. Maybe
if I do it fast enough, I'll leave them behind somewhere between here and
wherever it is I'll end up.

So I take my chances. I run. Away from the mysterious sound, away from the
holes in the yard, away from the small pink stone and the TicTacs on the
nightstand... The first few cold drops of rain fall as I follow the path down
into the woods, and still I run. Away from the silent telephone, away from
the empty bed, away from the whole damn cabin and all its memories...

Away from everything...

Just away.