LIVING IN THE OFFBEAT
“Well, I’ll be. Where in the world is she going in such a hurry?” Sam asked, as he watched his supervisor abruptly leave the office.
“To hell with this... I can’t do this anymore. Can’t hold my tongue and let this asshole run all over me. I don’t belong here. Forget Ralph and this damn job... I quit.” Ronnie quietly murmured under her breath.
She rushed out the door, jumped into her car, put it in gear, and peeled out of the parking lot. With no idea of where she was going, she just knew she had to get away and headed towards the freeway. An hour later, she sat inside her car at the beach, parked next to another vehicle filled with city workers having their morning cups of coffee. She observed the men laughing and telling jokes and realized she and they lived in two very different worlds. Any other time, she would have dismissed the men without a thought, but not today. Today she envied their carefree attitudes. The men nodded good morning. She did the same.
Ronnie plucked her phone from her bag and got out of the car. She exhaled this morning’s stress away, locked the car door, kicked off her pumps, and pulled out her spare set of sneakers from the trunk. She took off in a full sprint. Ten minutes later, breathless and sides splitting with pain, she was bent over attempting to catch her breath.
“You okay, ma’am?” asked a young bike cop who stopped by to see what caused a nicely dressed, middle-aged woman to take off in a full sprint on the beach.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just needed to get rid of some of this stress. I’m okay, officer. Really, I am. Thanks.” She straightened up to convince him.
“Well, alright then. I hope whatever’s bothering you takes care of itself. You have yourself a good day ma’am,” he replied and continued his patrol of the boardwalk.
Ronnie found a seat on an empty bench facing the water. She needed to speak to her man and let him know what was up. She dialed Ike’s cell.
“Yo baby, good morning. You a little late calling, huh? Hold on, why are you calling from your cell?” Ike was on his way to work after dropping his son off at school. He felt guilty about not spending the weekend with Ronnie, but he only had his son twice a month.
“Ike, I, uh, I’m not at work. I’m at Buckroe beach.”
“Buckroe beach? What in the world are you doing out there? And why aren’t you at work? Everything okay?” Concern filled his voice. She exhaled and said, “I had to get out of that office—away from that stuffy-assed building. The walls were closing in on me and I just left. I didn’t say a word to anyone. Just grabbed my purse and left Hold on a sec, got another call coming in. Never mind, it’s just that asshole Ralph.”
“What’s going on? Did he do something to you?” Ike turned into a convenience store parking lot to give her his full concentration.
“Yeah. No. Well, Ralph didn’t do anything other than be the prick he always is. He has me filling in for him on some workshop that was scheduled months ago. I didn’t know anything about this damned workshop until this morning. He already approved my vacation and knew I made plans. Baby, I’m supposed to be at work when we’re scheduled to be in the Bahamas,” Ronnie explained while hot angry tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Oh, well, my love that’s okay. We can reschedule the cruise for another week. I was gonna tell you later today that I’ll have Ike Jr. that week anyway. So if you need to cover your boss at that workshop, don’t sweat it.” Ike secretly prayed a silent “thank you” for an easy out from their planned cruise. “Ike Jr.’s mother has an important business trip that week and really needs me to keep him. So you see it works out anyway.”
“What? You were going to tell me today that we need to cancel the cruise? A cruise that’s been planned for months? A cruise to celebrate our one-year anniversary and you act like it’s no big deal. Uh, what the hell?” The day kept getting better and better and it was only 9:15.
“I’m sorry baby, but it can’t be helped. I just found out a couple days ago. He is my son and I am responsible for him too. I can’t leave him with a babysitter just so we can go on the cruise. I didn’t want to tell you this way. I planned on us having a nice dinner and my breaking the news to you gently. But since you have to work anyway, it shouldn’t be a problem. Right?”
“Shouldn’t be a problem? I walked out on my job today because I thought this little asshole ruined our trip. Now you’re telling me that you were going to cancel anyway because of your baby momma’s schedule?” Ronnie looked at the phone, very tempted to toss it in the ocean. “Un-fucking-believable! Uh, I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Ronnie, wait….” The connection was broken before he could say anything more. Ike thought aloud, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a win-win for everybody. I don’t know what she’s tripping off of. Women... I’ll never be able to figure them out.”
Ike tried calling Ronnie back several times. When she didn’t pick up, he eventually gave up and headed to work at the construction site. He was the lead and couldn’t afford to be late.
Ronnie stared off into the horizon. The cell phone rang incessantly, irritating her, so she switched it to vibrate. While watching the birds play in the surf, she reflected back on her life and the choices she had made. Nothing ever goes the way you think it will and even the best made plans go astray. Her failed marriage to Derek; not having children; working in a job she hated; and her shaky relationship with Ike, all proved no matter how much you give of yourself, in the end you only get rewarded with disappointment.
She walked towards the ocean, reached towards the sky, and raised her head to acknowledge the transformation taking hold. What would happen if I simply walked away from it all? Away from that awful job, from the mounting debt, from the materialism, and away from relationships that leave me feeling emptier than fulfilled? At what cost? What price must I pay to discover my authentic life?
Ronnie prayed aloud, “Lord, if you’re trying to tell me something, my eyes and ears are wide open. So is my heart. What is going on? Has the world gone crazy or is it just me? I’ve been working all my life, trying my best to do the right thing, staying in bad situations longer than any sane woman would, just to be treated like dirt? I poured my heart and soul into that job and my marriage. Look where it’s gotten me.” She searched the sky for answers.
“Lord, today I vow to live my life on purpose—to live my life as it’s meant to be lived. No more doing what’s expected and no more saying yes when I really mean no. No more following the crowd because it’s the in thing to do. My uniqueness and my desire to march to the beat of a different drummer--to find the path I’m supposed to be on, all comes from You. You made me this way, I know that now. So with Your blessing I intend to find that path and make it my own.”
I AM THE SHADOWMAN - GREATVIEW ISLAND
“Thanks for stopping by Mrs. Stallworth. We’re kind of busy right now, but maybe we can get together and have drinks later on.” Monique added just to get a response from the busybody.
“Oh, well, that will be fine. Uh, except we don’t drink. Um, I should go now. You two take care and remember this is a nice respectable neighborhood.” She hightailed down the stairs and across the street.
“There goes the neighborhood!” Alphonse joked. “Told you there was a reason we never visited these parts growing up. Watch how quickly the news will spread about us—the new owners.”
“Whatever. I don’t care because in time they’ll have to get used to us. Guess the other couple she talked about was a young respectable white couple. Humph, welcome to the neighborhood, indeed!” she laughed.
They returned to the chore of moving in. It was well past noon when they realized how hungry they were. The only food they had was in cans or boxes.
“Alphonse, what time did you say your mother was dropping off AJ?”
“She said around one. Why?”
“Honey, please ask her to pick up a pizza and something to drink on the way back. I’m starved and it takes too long to go out and get something to bring back.”
“So now you realize how far from civilization we are? They probably don’t even deliver pizza out this way. Gotta drive to Timbuktu and back just to get here. You better be glad I love you, woman,” he joked.
“Man, will you please call your mother before she leaves?”
Alphonse phoned in his order and called his mother to have her pick up the pizza on the way to dropping off AJ.
* * *
“Hellooo, is anybody home?” Called out Alphonse’s mother.
“Yeah Mom, we’re in the kitchen. C’mon in. We’re kind of tied up at the moment.”
“Hey Monique. Hi son. I’m gonna put the pizza right here on the counter. Your father sent a six pack of beer, too. Said to tell you it’s his house warming gift,” she laughed.
“Hello Mother,” replied Monique.
“Hi Mommy! Hi Daddy!” AJ ran up to give both his parents a hug.
“Hold on son! Mommy and Daddy are trying to hang this picture. Give us a minute. Okay?”
“Umh, umh, umh! This sure is a beautiful house! Do you mind if I look around?”
“No Mom, go right ahead. I’ll be with you as soon as we get this picture up,” replied Alphonse.
“Mommy, can I go outside?” asked AJ.
“Yes, but you stay on the deck.”
All of a sudden, they heard Alphonse’s mother scream. Both quickly lowered the heavy picture to the floor. Alphonse ran up the stairs with Monique at his feet. His mother stood in the game room holding her chest, covered in perspiration. She stared at the wooden beams that transversed the ceiling.
“Mom, what’s the matter? Are you alright?!” He went to his mother.
Monique ran to the linen closet and pulled out a washcloth. She wet it with cool water, ran back in the game room and dabbed the cool cloth on her mother-in-law’s face.
“I’m okay. I thought I saw something. Whew! That was strange!” She sank down to the floor and caught her breath.
“What happened? What did you see?” asked Monique, looking at the beams.
She looked at her son and his wife. They were so happy about the house she didn’t want to ruin it by putting an old woman’s fears in front of them. “Nothing dear, I must have been out in the heat too long chasing after AJ. I’m fine. Let’s go back downstairs.”
“Alright, if you’re sure you’re okay.” Alphonse took the cloth from his wife.
“I’m fine. Where is AJ by the way?” she asked looking at Monique.
Realizing she had left her son on the back deck, she quickly returned downstairs to check on him. She ran to the back window and saw a strange sight. AJ stood at the fence staring off into the marsh, chewing nervously on his shirt. It appeared he was deep in conversation. From the vantage point of the kitchen window, she didn’t realize how high the marsh grass was. It must’ve grown to at least six feet. Standing that close, her son looked tiny and helpless.
She went out to the deck and called out, “AJ? AJ, didn’t I tell you to stay on the deck?! Get up here boy! Now!”
He turned to face his mother and answered, “Okay Mommy, I’m coming.”
Monique watched in horror as her son waved to something in the grass. As he turned to run towards her, his little feet got tangled up and he tripped. The tall grass beyond the fence moved as if something were there. AJ turned from where he laid and also looked.
What the hell is out there? She ran out the French doors and bounded down the steps to where her son lay. She scooped him up in her arms and looked towards the marsh. The grass stirred again. She was about to turn and run when a flock of geese took flight from the spot where she focused. I have got to get a hold of myself! Getting spooked over birds!
“Didn’t I tell you to stay on the deck?! There are all kinds of animals in the marsh. Until we know exactly what’s out there, I don’t want you going in the yard without me. Understand?!
“Sorry Mommy, but I heard somebody calling my name. They said, ‘AJ, AJ, come here AJ’,” he whispered in his little boy voice.
“Baby, there are no people in the marsh. Only animals live out there.”
“Uh uh, Mommy, there are people who live there. They called my name,” he insisted.
She dismissed her son’s make believe story when she heard a strange clucking noise. “Do you hear that? Sounds like chickens.”
“Look Mommy, they have chickens in their yard. Can I go over and pet them?” he asked, already distracted from the conversation about the marsh.