Portrait of Middle Age
by Christine Miscione
Tree branches blowing in wind. Running shoes. Sports bra. Spandex exercise pants. Blonde hair. Paved path. Lake Ontario. Mid-August. Hot.
Tree branches arcing over paved path above of her. South-easterly wind. View from behind. Neon blue sports bra. Acid-wash spandex exercise pants. Undulating hair — strawberry blonde, like my wife’s used to be. Lake Ontario, calm. Cormorants facing sun. Cormorant shit and smell of fish and fabric softener.
Tree branches arcing over half-woman, half-ass ahead of me. Lake Ontario, calm, to left. Cormorants sleek, facing sun, to left. Neon blue sports bra ahead of me, midriff exposed, sweat down back. Acid-wash spandex pants cradling so tightly magnificent ass. Round apple ass like my wife’s at that age, twenty-something probably. Foot hits pavement — she’s running — ripple up calf and thigh, ripple quaking across magnificent ass. Strawberry blonde loose in wind. But little wind, hot. South-easterly hacking only now and then, its last few breaths.
This is what I see every time I sleep, every time I wake up. It’s a hologram across the milk in my cereal bowl, my cup of coffee, the windows of my office at work. I have family photos on my desk: my wife, younger, firmer, our daughter as a chubby toddler on her lap. It phantoms across the picture frame glass. It cuts into me.
On that day I was fifteen metres behind her, rollerblading, my grey chest hair matted to skin, red bandana catching sweat from my bald head. Smell of fabric softener, smell of fish. Navy exercise shorts.
Ten or eleven months prior, autumn. Daughter at university. Empty nesters. Wife finished dying hair back to strawberry blonde. Smell of hair dye from ensuite bathroom. Flattened terry-cloth robe that makes wife look twice her size. Dyed hair limp and dog-wet. Want to? No I didn’t want to but I guess we should. Like waking up the dead. Jerky stimulation, hand glommed on, loveless. She tugged so hard I shrunk back inside like a snail.
When we were twenty, wife and I were on each other like rabbits — is that the saying?
Quaking. Bouncing. Round. Taut. Jelly.
My doctor told me to get active. Sitting too much at work. Cholesterol. So I started rollerblading three days a week. That day was my third time. Up ahead, hot strawberry blonde. Sweat feathering down back. Pants hugging magnificent ass. Pants tethered by sweat, spandex and firm curvature of fat.
Firm, but soft.
Our daughter volunteered in a third-world country over Christmas break. She stayed at university over reading week to work on research. She found a job waitressing near the university and wasn’t coming home for the summer.
Our daughter wore her hair in pigtails when she was young. She had a rock collection She picked her nose and smeared it on everything — her dolls, her clothes, the freezer door handles in the frozen food section of the grocery store.
There’s no tangible proof my wife and I have ever had sex. Something about my wife’s fallopian tubes being blocked. We tried and tried, then twenty years ago conceived our daughter like making casserole. Mixed her up in a dish and stuck her in my wife’s oven.
I love her the same.
Then it’s in slow motion. Tree branches slowly sway in breathless wind. Gravity yanking ass down momentarily, slowly releasing ass with a deliberate ripple and bounce. Acid-wash spandex pants stretching to accommodate, slowly retracting when ass does, tiny beads of sweat swelling in crook of back.
An urn of holy water.
Ten or eleven months? After one week I lost count.
Ten or eleven months of pornography for hours when wife works nightshift at the hospital. I turn over the framed family photos in the bedroom. I watch it on my big screen. Blonde with a tree tattooed to her curvy side is my favourite. I’ve seen all her videos. I know them by heart and sometimes mouth the man’s lines.
This is what deprivation does to you.
Licking, shimmery grease coating tongue. Peel down spandex and squeeze bulge of ass fat.
Being submerged in water, that’s what it felt like being inside my wife when we were young. Is that what glistening strawberry blonde sweaty spandex hot fucking ass feels like — inside as soft as outside?
I hate myself.
Ass filled with gelatin. Ass like I used to squeeze when my wife was that age.
Our daughter came out covered in mucus, howling like everyone else. I counted her fingers and her toes. She had all her parts intact. I cried when I held her for the first time.
Our daughter wore baggy T-shirts and jeans in elementary school. My wife had to instruct her on bras and deodorant. I taught her how to ride a bike and play T-ball. She peed her bed sometimes, right up to grade six. The song “Kokomo” on repeat coaxed her back asleep.
Then it speeds up. Trees shaking. Sun jittery across pavement. She’s running quickly. Ass like a bouncing beach ball. My navy exercise shorts shooting up like a jack-in-the-box. I have no time to tuck properly when she suddenly stops, bends over to tie her shoelace, when my rollerblades don’t break in time and I skate past her.
I pretend I don’t hear, keep rollerblading.
Louder: “Dad? Is that you?”
Our daughter had a large cyst on her inner thigh in middle school that she got removed. Our daughter pooped more than the average baby. She wore disposable diapers. She got diaper rash frequently. I had to rub thick white ointment across her bum to cure it.
I turn around. Cormorants and lake to the right. Tree branches swaying. August sun illuminates a woman standing in front of me. Breasts like dumplings pressed together. Both hands on curvy hips, ass still somewhat visible from anterior view. I squint and the woman smiles at me through wisps of strawberry blonde.
“Dad, you bladed right passed me!”
Stare at the cormorants. Mumble, “Oh, hey sweetie. I didn’t see you there.” Avoid with all your might skin-tight spandex pants like candy wrapper hugging two domes of saltwater taffy. Breasts like I’ve never seen before ready to burst. “When did you get home?”
Every time I think of this, which is all the time, I hate myself and want to die. I swear I do. I roll over to my wife at night. I reach for her and hope to god what I feel there is tight soft mountainous, like it used to be. Sometimes I don’t even care and let my hands sink into her yeasty cellulite.
It does nothing.
I look at baby pictures too. I keep the photo albums piled beside the bed. I have a miniature flashlight. Our daughter with snot running from her nose, two missing teeth, snowsuit, and a snowman she built. Our daughter during that awkward middle school stage with food stuck in braces. Our daughter slightly heavier in high school, smattering of acne across forehead and nose.
Our daughter wasn’t supposed to be home.
Christine Miscione is an Italian-Canadian fiction writer whose work has appeared in various literary journals such as This Magazine, Lemon Hound, and The Puritan. Her short stories have also placed in or won contests organized by PRISM International, Prairie Fire, Exile Literary Quarterly and The Antigonish Review. Her debut short fiction collection, Auxiliary Skins, won the ReLit award for short fiction. Recently, she was shortlisted for the GritLit Short Fiction Award. She is currently at work on a novel.