July 16, 2018

Vacation
by Frederick Foote (short, PG-13)
Cover image.
Image credit: Sand Pilarski. More info.

We all wear masks. It's not always painful to wear one, but what happens when you forget what you look like without one?

~~~

Langston Baker pulls a rolling suitcase as he enters the main bedroom of the rustic cabin. His wife, Shelley, follows with her purse and the twin of Langston's bag. They pause and take in the log cabin walls and the simple wooden furniture. Langston sits and bounces his rear on the queen size bed. "Ah, a good firm mattress."

Shelley sits beside him and takes his hand in hers. "Langston, honey, thanks for the leisurely drive up here. I love the scenery. It reminds me of home."

"Yeah, it was alright. I dug it too. I did miss testing the S-450 on the curves."

"Oh, I bet you did. And I appreciate your self-restraint."

"And I appreciate your appreciation of my self-restraint. Shell, remember when we both used to live for the thrill of curves and switchbacks?"

"That was back in BC, the Before Children era." She gives Langston a wistful smile. "I think I'm going to like this vacation. It's so quiet here. I checked my phone, and just as Ronald said, there's no reception here."

Langston slips his arm around Shelley's waist and moves closer to her. "Babe, what will we do with no phone service, television or internet?"

She bounces on the bed, rubs hips with her husband. "I'm sure you have some ideas in mind." She kisses her husband on the cheek. "Thanks, honey I really did need to get away for a while."

"Okay, you thanked me twice in a row. What's up? Are you trying to seduce me?"

"Hey, are you trying to say I meter my appreciative comments to you? I thank you all the time."

"Okay, if you say so. I do find your flurry of thanks to be very seductive." He kisses her neck, working his way up to her lips. She leans away from his kiss.

"Langston, first, what were you and the two terrible teens plotting before we left?"

"What're you talking about? Your sweet and demure daughters were just wishing us well on our vacation."

Shelley shakes her head. "I know plotting when I see it. What are the mischief makers up to now?"

"You look tired. Your shoulders and neck are so tense. Why don't you lie down and let me give you a massage?" Langston rubs her shoulders.

"Honey, I would love a massage after you explain to me what's going on with your daughters."

She slides away from his renewed efforts to kiss her.

"Shell, it's nothing, babe."

"I thought when we had girls I would have allies. I really did feel a little sorry for you being in a house with three females. But, the little traitors side with you on almost every issue. I should have had sons."

"It's not too late. Women in their forties --"

"Never again. Tell me what game is afoot. Let me relax and enjoy my massage and vacation. I can't relax wondering what you three are up to."

"Shell, these are confidential matters that I --"

"That you will reveal promptly and fully if you expect any vacation sex."

"Babe, I'll never betray a sacred confidence for the sake of mere sex. I'm truly disappointed in your attempt at bribery and manipulation."

"Langston, out with it. We don't have secrets, especially in a marriage with sneaky daughters and a conniving husband."

"Okay, let's have a little log cabin sex, and I'll tell you everything."

"Tell me everything, and I might let you share this bed with me. You do know there's a sleeping loft. I think you might enjoy the solitude up there."

"I would have never married you if I had known you would be this evil. Okay, they want to go to Burning Man."

"Langston, absolutely not. They're fifteen and thirteen. Have you lost your mind? I would never allow them to attend such a raucous event."

"That's exactly what I told them. I mean, I didn't tell them that I had lost my mind. But, I asked them if they had lost their minds. I told them absolutely not."

"Langston, honey, sometimes you scare me."

"And then they suggested Coachella."

"What? No! What are you three on?"

"Of course, I told them in the strongest, most emphatic, terms that that was impossible. Impossible. That's the word I used. I think I said it twice."

"They're children. How could they ever expect us to allow them to attend these outrageous kinds of events?"

"They have friends from their exclusive private school, that you insisted they attend, who are going or have been already to one or both."

"Oh, that's a low blow, Langston. There'll be temptations whichever school they attend. I hope you put that music festival foolishness to rest for good."

"I have nailed the coffin shut and buried it twelve feet deep."

"Humm, if you say so."

Langston kisses her lips and fumbles with her shorts.

Shelley grabs her husband's hands, escapes his kiss and asks, "It doesn't sound like your daughters to just accept no. Are you sure there's nothing else going on?"

"Well, I'm trying to get something started. Your cooperation would be --"

"Swear on your grandmother's grave that there's nothing else --"

"Shell, please, just give it a break. Let's enjoy this vacation and forget about those two. Let's concentrate on the two of us for a change."

"Ah, okay, I -- my maternal instinct says there's more."

Langston stands in frustration and walks to the window. He sighs and turns back to his wife.

"Beyoncé. They want to go to her concert in Seattle. I said they could, if, if you approved."

"Langston, why didn't you bring this to me when they first asked? This is the kind of decision we need to make together. Now, if I say no I'll be the bad guy. Again. This is why we have so many arguments about raising our children. It is irresponsible for you --"

"Wait a minute, now. You didn't tell me about the girls going on birth control until after the fact. Now, that's exactly the kind of thing we need to discuss in advance."

"Langston, they had already made the first trip to Planned Parenthood. I thought you might have put them up to that."

"No, I didn't. The only time I discussed birth control with them was when the four of us talked about it."

"Well, I told you as soon as I found out. And I discovered their Planned Parenthood visit by accident."

"Okay, okay. I assumed that you three --"

"Langston, the girls were really pissed at me for telling you. They had planned to tell you themselves. I ended up with all three of you angry at me."

Langston returns to the bed, sits beside and kisses her. He puts his arm around her waist again. "I'm sorry, babe. We just let our assumptions take us down some bad paths."

"Yes. Yes, we did."

Langston kisses her shoulders, neck, nibbles at her ear lobe and starts unbuttoning her top.

Shelly suddenly pushes Langston's hands away. "Honey, the tickets for Beyoncé must have cost a mint -- You did purchase the tickets already, correct?"

"Shell! For the love of God."

"Correct!"

"Of course, I did. They sold out within the first hour."

"Honey, I'm in a really difficult position if I say no."

"Why? Right now, the tickets we've purchased are selling for twice what we paid for them. By the September concert date, the tickets will be worth five or six times that. It's probably the best investment of the year."

"Still, I wish you had discussed it with me first."

"Okay, alright. Here's the whole deal. The girl's tickets cost about three-hundred bucks each. They're in the cheap seats. Our seats are some of the best in the arena. Our tickets were supposed to be a birthday surprise for you. Your daughters insisted on using their trust fund money to buy those seats for us. My mother approved of the trust fund purchase. Now you have the whole plot laid out before you. I hope you're happy."

"Langston, I, I, didn't, I -- thank you. I --"

"Oh, one last revelation that the kids don't even know. They'll be sitting in the same section with us. My mother upgraded their tickets. That's it. That's our plot."

"Well, you three have done it again. Now, I'm the bad guy, again for spoiling the surprise. I just can't seem to get it right with you three."

"Bullshit! It was their idea to do something super special for you. It was their idea to spend their own money. And you know how notoriously tight our daughter Lavender is. They coordinated the whole thing with my mother. I'm here with my super-hot wife on what I want to be the best vacation of our lives. I mean, I wouldn't trade you for three trophy wives."

"Thanks, Honey." She gives Langston a kiss full of tongue and desire. "Did you say you wouldn't trade me for six trophy wives?"

Langston starts on the buttons again. "Babe, don't push your luck."

She helps her husband with the buttons. "Langston, I love you, and most of the time I love those two evil imps. Is that massage still available?"

"Absolutely."

"Husband, just one question. If you were going to massage my shoulders why were you trying to remove my shorts?"

"Shit. There you go again spoiling another surprise. When will you learn there're better things to do with your mouth then talk?"

They move on to exploring some of those better things.

* * *

Later, lying in bed facing each other, Langston says, "I think this is going to be a five out of five stars vacation. Thank you."

"Husband, thank you -- for the vacation and everything."

"Wife, are you happy? I mean, are you happy with our lives, our family, our directions?"

Shelley sits up with her back against the headboard. Her husband follows suit.

Shelley takes her time in responding.

"I'm a white, West Virginia hillbilly. I'm married to a black, Washington, DC city boy. We have two beautiful, precocious children. I have friends and work that I enjoy immensely. I love my husband and kids. But, but living with teenagers has unnerved and unsettled me in ways that I had never anticipated."

"Explain. How're they unnerving you, babe?"

"Langston, they make me feel white, obsolete, superfluous, and dirty. Guilty dirty. Guilty about my race, my background, my career, my marriage."

"I feel you. I do. Sometimes, every once and again, I see them looking at me, at us, as sellouts -- like we sold our souls for comfort and material stuff -- our bling."

Shelley grabs her husband's arm. "You feel that contempt too? I never thought you were aware of it -- you never told me that."

Langston gives her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Oh, I feel it alright -- scorching looks -- rarely in words. They don't even want to be seen in public with us."

"Yes! Yes. And anger at us, at me, for the advantages we provide them, our home, their schools, clothes, everything. Do they want to live poverty-stricken in a ghetto?"

"Not if it means living without their smartphones."

"Langston, are they ashamed of me because I'm white?"

Langston holds his wife's hands. "Probably, most likely. I know they wish I were blacker. I overheard that more than once. I talk too white for them. Ain't that some shit?"

Shelley kisses her husband quickly and furiously on the mouth. "Wow! I never knew. You three always seem so simpatico. I just thought --"

"Shell, that's your problem, too much idle thinking. These are teenagers. Pushing our buttons is their true calling. Come here, babe."

They try to make their five-star vacation a six-star vacation.

* * *

At breakfast, the next morning Shelley is saying, "Langston, I feel like a new person. I feel reborn. Thank you, husband. Thank you so much."

"What happened to us? How did we get out of sync? When did we get too busy to share, too busy to communicate?"

"I missed you, Langston. I missed you so much."

They hold hands across the table.

"Shell, we live in the same house, sleep in the same bed and, zoom, we just zip right by each other day after day."

They sit, sip good morning drinks, watch the sunshine flow through the kitchen window.

"Honey, I never felt I was white until I saw myself through our daughter's eyes. I always thought of white people as the arrogant flatlanders who believe that Manifest Destiny gave them title to the world. I never counted myself among that number."

"Well, when I first saw you at Cal, you were more odd than white. You're not a follower or a leader. You were a free thinker -- immune to what others thought about you and your ideas. Shelley, you were a serious, bold thinker about, real things."

"Oh, is that what attracted you to me? I'm so disappointed. I thought it was my stunning beauty, my unrivaled West Virginia charm, and my bodacious bod."

Langston laughs as he responds. "Yes! Yes, absolutely yes! Everything else was just white noise. Sorry for the pun."

Shelley joins in the laughter, "I love you. I do despite your puns. Langston, am I still a serious thinker about real things, whatever real things are?"

"I love you too, but you need to answer that one yourself."

They sat in comfortable silence for a good while until Langston asks, "Hey, you know what I never understood about you? I must have talked to you what, a dozen times. I must have asked you out about seventy times. You always seemed to be glad to see me and be in my company but why did I have to beat your door down to get you to go out with me?"

Shelley smiles, "In part, because you were a leading student radical on campus. The Chancellor knew you by name. You had a lot of people vying for your attention. I was startled that you chose to spend your time with me. I was trying to figure out what you were up to."

"See, there, what did I tell you, serious thinking about real things."

"Yes, and to set the record straight you only asked me out seven times before I said yes. Not that I was keeping count."

"Sure, you right, but my records show it was at least seventeen times. What made you finally agree?"

"You don't know? Your friend, Canada, said you were driving her crazy whining about me refusing to go out with you. Canada said she would give me twenty dollars cash to go out with you and if I refused that she would beat the living shit out of me. I took the twenty dollars."

"No way. No way. You just made that up. Didn't you?"

"Langston, you know the framed twenty-dollar bill that I keep in my office? Where do you think that came from?"

"You said it was the first money that you earned at Cal."

"It was. Husband, I'm going to get back to thinking serious thoughts about real things."

"Serious and bold, remember? Good. I hope you do. I hope you think about race, reality, and teenagers."

"I promise you I will." She kisses Langston's hands. "It's so mellow here in the morning with you. It's a good time and place to get our lives back on track."

"Did you really take twenty dollars to go --"

"Yes, but I made a big mistake."

"Of, course, you --"

"I took her first offer. If I had been in my right mind, I could probably have doubled that."

The Bakers sit there for a while smiling, laughing and just sitting.

* * *

Shelley carefully guides their new Mercedes down the narrow private road to the county road that connects with the state highway.

"Shell, you said on our first date that we should step back from our ideas of revolution and social change. You said we should examine the 'idea of power' and find ways to deconstruct power relationships. You said that without a careful examination and exploration of the ideas and concepts of power we would just be replacing one power abuser with a new set of power abusers."

"Honey, I, I was nervous. I was babbling."

"Why were you so nervous?"

"Because you had lust on your mind as clear as all get-out. You had a little love light in your eyes. But, what had me the most nervous was that all around you was this aura of like. You liked me. You liked listening to me. You liked looking at and being with me."

"Oh, okay. I just thought that was the way courtship talk went in West Virginia."

"I wanted to change the subject, but you kept encouraging me, asking me questions, looking interested until you got me to your apartment."

"I was interested. I'm still interested in what you say and do with your amazing 'bodacious' bod."

"You make me blush. After, twenty-four years together you can still do that to me. Did you think I was a wanton, promiscuous woman?"

"Yeah, I did. I thought you were my wanting, promiscuous woman, at least for that night."

"I think my body betrayed me. It still does."

"I hope that betrayal never ends. Langston places his hand on her thigh. "And you gave your final lecture that morning as we were getting dressed and racing to class. You said that we should explore power relationships on intimate levels, between siblings, friends, and lovers and use our insights and lessons from those explorations to find new approaches to power in larger groups."

Shelley brings the car to an abrupt stop.

"Langston, holy smoke, you remember all that rot?"

"You said, and I'm trying to quote you here, 'that you could not empower others. At best we can only show others how power operates on some specific level. Being in power is not necessarily the desired state for many."'

"Damn! You were listening! And you still remember. Oh, I never imagined that you would remember after all these years."

He slips his hand under her shorts. "Babe, it is much more than remembering. I practice what you preached. With you, the girls, my colleagues at work and all the people I deal with on a regular basis. I have tried to help them see the power relationship. I don't encourage or discourage. I just watch and see if they try to move the levers of power, ignore them, or run away."

"Shit! Langston Baker, you believe in me more than I believe in myself."

"And I have twenty-four years of findings to relate to you, but I need more room in which to express myself. I think the back seat --"

Shelley beats her husband to the rear seat and is shimmying out of her shorts and underwear as he closes his door.

* * *

Early the next morning after the laughter and lovemaking Shelley sits in the dark, in a chair in the bedroom watching and listening to her sleeping spouse.

Where did I get lost? When did I stop being me? Who the hell am I now? Wife. Mother. Employee. Am I a shadow of who I'm supposed to be? Am I supposed to be anybody except who I am?

The problem was you, Langston Baker. I think you were my downfall. You looked at me with love and like and kindness and desire, and it was overwhelming. No one has ever looked at me like that. And you have kept it up for over twenty-four years.

You seduced me with that look and held me with that lust and your attention and devotion. I wanted to be with you and bask in that admiration forever and ever. I gave up on rigorous thinking. I stopped trying to look behind the ideas of the day. I was happy. I wanted to fit into your life. I never minded when people thought me odd and strange because of my ideas. But, I didn't want my ideas to make people look at you like that just because we were together.

So, I gave up one of the attributes that attracted you to me to be with you. Wow! I betrayed us both.

And when the babies came, I did not have my real and true foundation. They have never seen me as I should be seen. No wonder I'm just a leaf blowing about in the hurricanes of their emotional storms.

Shelley writes, "Langston, Shasta, Lavender, you are my hearts and my greatest loves. However, I'm going to take a vacation from you to return to my real skin with my real face. I don't know how long it will take for me to be who I need to be, but I'm going to take as long as necessary. I will keep in touch just enough to let you know that I am safe and well.

"Please take care of each other as I know you will. And I beg of you to show kindness and forgiveness to the odd-looking woman who will walk back into your lives one day.

"PS: Honey, somehow, I will get the car back to you today. Please drive carefully but enjoy the curves and the switchbacks.

"With love and affection, Shelley."







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Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.


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