By Susan Buttenwieser
Maggie in the shower shaves her armpits, the razor scraping against the fold of her skin, near her lymph nodes, the thing that killed her mother. She doesn’t do the breast exams, like the doctor tells her she should. She has to, he’s explained, patiently at first, but a slight edge entered his voice as he went on. It’s not really a choice, she’s so high risk and he wants her to get annual mammograms, even though she’s only 28. But she won’t do that either.
She moves onto her legs, lathering them up, and doesn’t forget her two big toes. The radio suctioned to the shower wall blasts Space Cowboy. Shaving cream swirling down the drain, she dances slightly as she washes between her legs, the place where Kevin just was, a few minutes ago. “Love me, love me, love me,” she sings along with the song, mocking the sound of the synthesizer. A warm breeze blows in the window, cracked open slightly, curtains blowing in catch a bit of spray from the showerhead.
She’d been looking forward to this day ever since Stu suggested it at Martin’s Bar and Grille, their regular Saturday night hang out, on a cold January night, when spring and baseball seemed far away.
But finally it’s here and Maggie felt like a little kid on Christmas when she first woke up, rolled over and stroked Kevin awake, straddled him. “Today’s the day,” she said afterwards.
They leave the house late than and bicker in the car.
“16 is gonna be a parking lot now,” she is saying. “We should take Rayburn.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m driving,” he says ignoring her, heading for Route 16.
“What are you doing?”
“Going the usual way.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind! It’s rush hour and we’re taking 16! We’ll never make it on time!”
He doesn’t say anything.
“This is just fuckin’ great! You know I really like all that ceremony shit and now we’re gonna fuckin’ miss it!”
“Fine!” he says.
They take Rayburn, get stuck in traffic and now they are both mad.
“How was I supposed to know? It’s never like this,” she stares out the window, like a sulking teenager. He can feel the temperature rise in the car, a pre-explosive moment descending upon them. He exhales.
“What?” she snaps.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“But you’re sighing, like it’s my fault there’s traffic. Like I’m the one that called all these people and asked them to all get in their cars at exactly the same time and drive.”
“It was your idea not to take 16.”
“I knew it. You blame me for everything!”
“I don’t. But you gotta admit that you were pretty insistent.”
“So everything’s my fault!” She’s seething and once again, Kevin wonders how exactly they got here. Are there more of these moments now then there used to be. It’s like he’s always doing a complicated mathematical equation in his head, to try to figure out this relationship, the joy versus the shit.
There was waking up and having amazing sex and now less than 90 minutes later, they hate each other. It’s this kind of thing that broke them up last year. A fight about fighting, with her accusing him of turning everything into conflict. It was after a family dinner. His family, of course, and she was drunk, of course. When they got home, he turned around and drove back to his brother’s, and the whole way over there, it was like everything was crystal clear for a moment, like a floodlight shining down on his life and he knew he had to get away from her.
“She’s a douche,” his brother had said to him years ago, after one of their early fights. They’d broken up then too, but only for a week. “She’s no Pauline, put it that way. And you’re fuckin’ whipped, little bro.”
No one in his family liked Maggie and he knew it, but it was almost like this distant anxiety that he tried to stifle, put on the sidelines. They don’t really know her, he’d tell himself. Or reason that it was a class thing, because she was a lawyer, had gone not only to college, but to graduate school. It certainly impressed him that she worked in one of the biggest corporate firms in Boston. And all her business suits, the meetings, the travel, the paperwork about things he couldn’t even begin to understand.
But his family thought she was a snot, no matter how many times he tried to correct them. She was a goddam orphan, he’d said on more than one occasion, had put herself through college and law school, was the only one supporting her sister, who lived in a group home for the mentally ill.
“She hasn’t had an easy life,” he’d tried to explain to his mother.
“You trying to convince me? Or yourself?” his mother snapped back, his aunts cackling in the background.
This was during last summer’s break-up, at his aunt’s beach house, the whole family as witnesses. He wasn’t even supposed to go because Maggie didn’t want to. But then they broke up and he asked if it was too late for him to come.
“Don’t be a bonehead,” Tommy had said. “We get you and no Maggie. It’s win-win for everyone.”
But they were back together again by the annual Labor Day barbecue at his uncle’s, and his family could barely hide their disgust. In fact they didn’t.
“What are you doing?” Tommy had said as he grilled chicken and hot dogs, peppers and onions bubbling on the side, Maggie playing tag with his little cousins on the other side of the yard.
She’s got that full-on angry look, Kevin notes when they park at the commuter rail station.
“Knowing your family, they’ll probably be late anyway,” Maggie spits out.
But Kevin knows better than to reply, to not throw fuel on the fire that is Maggie’s bad mood. The feeling of dread has come over him as she has fully descended into darkness. And she’d only had toast for breakfast and didn’t even finish it. He’s figuring a quick equation on half a piece of Oatnut mixed with numerous pints of Narragansett. It didn’t have positive outcome, it just didn’t.
They take the Red Line inbound, switch at Park Street for Kenmore Square, the car filling up at each stop with more and more fans and their requisite accessories: Red Sox baseball caps, T-shirts, jackets, flags, foam fingers, kids with streaks of red in their hair. By the time they reach their station, it’s so packed, they can barely move and are swept along with the crowd as everyone heads up the stairs, out on Comm. Ave, left on Brookline, crossing over the Mass Pike, down Lansdowne, past the sausage guys, people singing in the already filled bars.
Once inside the stadium, Maggie wants to stop at the first concessions stand to get beer.
“Might as well get two pints,” she says and he decides not to fight it.
They make their way towards Section 41 in the bleachers. There they are: his mother, aunts, uncle, his brother, kid sister who drove all the way up from Providence. And Stu, his best friend since grade school who practically lived with them his whole childhood.
After all the hugging and back-slapping and comparing notes on getting there, how bad the traffic was, how crowded the T was, they all stand for the National Anthem, the F-16 fighter jet flyover, the first pitch thrown out by Varitec, Jim Rice and Dwight Evans making an appearance. Maggie gulping the whole time, then the pinging sound plastic cups make when they are dropped empty onto concrete.
They sit down for the start of the game. Except for Maggie who is still vertical. “Anyone need anything?” she’s shuffling sideways past his aunts out of the aisle. She doesn’t even need to say where she’s going.
“Oh this is gonna be good,” his uncle snorts. “Game hasn’t even started yet and look at her.”
“Don’t think she’s going for a chicken parm,” his mother folds her lips inside her mouth.
Kevin tries to stay focused on what is right in front of him, the lush grass, fresh painted lines, the players walking out onto the field with last fall behind them. Despite the numbers, the statistics, the math equations, it was the start of a new season and anything was possible.