A Florida Man, Episode 6

A Florida Man, Episode 6

(New around here? Read Episode 1 first)

Suggested Listening: The Cocteau Twins. “How to Bring a Blush to the Snow,” Victorialand, Album, 1985.

Thinking back was a way to remember. Thinking back was a way to escape the dinner conversation, a respite, a repeat of what Evelyn had heard earlier in her private study. She listened to Diego recount the moment he faced what he’d thought was certain death at the base of a Venezuelan mountain slope. 

Pained, Evelyn thought of Lucky, her Labrador mix; such a kind and gentle dog with long, black fur she would run her manicured fingers through. Fur, soft as silk. A white patch on the breast, a white tuft protruding from one gray digital pad. Lucky’s eyes were the color of rich mahogany. Kind eyes. Gentle eyes, pleading while Evelyn stroked the cuddled beast. 

But the rescue’s rambunctious spirit would always reemerge without notice. Bolting from a reclined position, she would run the longest corridor, a hallway never long enough for her size or inherent desire to herd. 

The farthest wall was always too close and looming fast. Front legs extended, her paws would grip the hardwood floor, two legs unable to break the inevitable. Her flank against the barrier, four legs would scramble to regain balance beneath seventy pounds of muscle before dashing into an adjoining room.

That rambunctious spirit jumped, too, at the sound of every doorbell or knocker. Howling at the stucco ceiling, she would bolt for the door. Stark-white teeth bared, she was always ready to defend the woman who saved her from the pound. 

And then the darkness returned, blanketing cherished times. Darkness was the day Evelyn peered through a patio door to see Lucky sprawled beneath the garden hedge. 

“Lucky?” Evelyn had whispered, taking one ginger step outside. “Lucky?” Evelyn’s voice had quivered, but Lucky didn’t respond or come bounding to greet her savior on command. “Lucky?” 

By way of a miracle, the dog sat upright, eyes dazed and confused, shaking off a stroke. The dog was determined to comfort until the very end. Life, though, was fleeting, every precious stroke of silken fur a precious gift. Days later, another stroke, a dog’s legs stiffened, back lags dragging across the lawn.

The final corridor had come. 

But Evelyn couldn’t bare the thought of ending the life of a friend. She called her ex, who arrived without question, red leash in hand. His cold, hazel eyes pleading, he closed the door between them. Moments later, a black Chevrolet Blazer backed out of the private driveway, a black dog barely responsive in the back seat, the same seat she’d sprawled across so many happy times en route to summer homes and lakeside camps. 

Now, Evelyn gazed across the dinner table, where her girls sat, listening intently as the Venezuelan man recounted his tale, self-edited for polite dinner conversation. 

How could I have lied to them? Evelyn thought. How could I have done such a horrendous thing? The family dog didn’t die of natural causes. Their father and I made a decision to end her suffering. That is not a crime. 

Weak in her own spirit, Evelyn couldn’t bare to look into mahogany eyes one last time that afternoon so many years before. No one could be certain if Lucky was clinging to her last breath or wishing to dash into some adjoining afterlife. How can I parent? How can my girls believe anything I’ve ever said? 

“I am going to die,” Diego repeated because ten years earlier he’d stood at the base of that mountain, his eyes shut tight against the constant South American wind. Lifelong dreams were set to disintegrate, shattered by the crack of a gun, echoing against the mountain range, echoes swallowed by the rumble of cars along La Cota Mil highway. 

How could I have lied? Evelyn tortured herself again. What dreams did I offer my precious girls while I slaved over scripts? They want for nothing but my valuable time. 

Dining poolside, four decent people were trapped at the dinner table, held captive by Diego’s tale, however concise yet circumspect. They were enslaved by malfeasance, trapped by memories and regrets. That vicious cycle of remembrance haunted with guilt and with shame.

And at some defining moment, Evelyn realized, one freezes, unable to move forward in earnest.

“Unwilling,” others would argue, offering sound advice. At other times, Evelyn was certain, they recalled their own forks in the road, met with decisions the experts dared not face. 

Evelyn pushed herself away from the table and grabbed a fresh bottle of wine from the bar steps inside the house. Returning, she popped a cork with violent abandon. She poured, filling Diego’s glass, liquid splashing. Careless drops trailed the tilted bottle as she moved to replenish her glass as well. 

“You could have turned,” Evelyn began, “and said, ‘Look: I appreciate the dictatorship thing you all have going on here. I do. Snaps for effort and all. But that paradigm doesn’t coincide with my agenda. Okay? Is everybody gathered on board?'”

“It doesn’t work that way, mom,” Claire reminded. 

Evelyn held the half-empty bottle aside, a nonchalant offer to pour conveyed. Claire shook her head from side to side, dismayed. Diego took one hearty sip of the bruised wine. Olivia slurped iced tea through a wide boba straw. 

The careless comment was meant to deflect. Four people gathered were thirsty for Diego’s story. Yet, there was a niggling desire to remain blas√©. Allowing curiosity to swallow the inquisitive was in order. To press would be an admission of connection the current climate of the well-connected did everything to quash. 

“Pack your bags.” Evelyn plopped into a strapped chair. “We’re going on a road trip.”

“I have never seen America,” Diego confessed. 

“Yes,” Evelyn grinned. “I’m aware.”

The time had come to recapture a nostalgic era. There was guilt to rectify. The time had come to pinpoint four precise moments when innocence was abandoned without just cause. 

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