The Second Circle
by J. Michael Keith
Part 2 and Part 3|
appear in this issue.
|part 1 of 3|
She sits next to me in the airplane with her face cast downward. I barely make out her languid voice over the blaring engines.
“There’s a seed in the ground,” she says, clutching my arm gently. “And it’s our seed, Thomas. Yours and mine. I know you don’t believe it yet, but we’re having a baby.”
I close my eyes. I want to tell her that she’s losing it, that babies don’t grow from seeds in the ground, and that she miscarried six months ago, and we need to move on.
She leans in close and I feel her warm breath rush past my ear. She whispers those words once more. “Thomas, we’re having a baby.”
I look out the airplane window, evading her gaze. I feel trapped, wanting to withdraw from everything. The blaring engines, the hot stuffy cabin, and mostly, her.
* * *
A year earlier my friend Charlie and I went to a singles dance at the St. Cosmos Church of God in Clifton. It was all his idea of course. Like my late father — always the shy and passive tag along — I would happily join Charlie on these, more often than not, fruitless quests with the opposite sex.
When the dancing started, however, we wondered if tonight would be different. For we both saw her. How could any guy not see her?
She looked to be late twenties; olive brown skin, a sleek figure, and silky chestnut hair that dangled down to her waist. She wasn’t pretty — not the word. She was stunning, flat-out brilliant. The head of every man moved in unison tracking her easy gait across the scuffed up tiles of the reception hall floor.
In his usual assertive style, Charlie pursued her immediately. He strode off in his black, sports jacket as if he’d just walked off Wall Street.
I, meanwhile, took a more pragmatic approach. I danced with her two friends.
The stunning lady watched us dancing from a distance; she even smiled a few times. Charlie put forth a hell of an effort trying to reel her in. Again and again I would see him talking to her, then beckoning her out to the dance floor. At one point, he even told me he landed her number.
When I finally saw them dancing, however, she didn’t seem too enchanted.
At the end of the night, a group of us stood in the church parking lot. It was there, amidst the shifting headlights and the chorus of car ignition, that Charlie introduced us. He mentioned that she was finishing up her masters in Library Science at Washington State.
I told her my name was Thomas, and she looked directly into my eyes and said her name was Betty Jo.
Wait a minute. Betty Jo? Wasn’t that name stricken from the baby-name books over a century ago? I tried not to laugh.
“Betty Jo,” I said grinning, “is that an accent I hear? You sound Australian.”
“You’re close. I’m from the Eversion Islands.”
I tilted my head perplexed, having no clue where that was.
“Thomas, brush up on your geography,” Charlie broke in. “Those islands are down in the Caribbean, right Betty Jo?”
“Actually no,” she laughed, letting her long hair fall back. “Maybe you’re thinking of the Virgin Islands. My homeland is way out west in the Pacific, about halfway to New Zealand.”
“Oh...” Charlie said.
As we said our goodbyes, she leaned in close and put her hand on my shoulder. She wiggled her eyebrows a little, giving me that, “well-what-do-you-think?” look.
Wow — I didn’t see that coming. But her being way out of my league and all, I figured I’d misread her signals. I only said, “Nice meeting you, Betty Jo.”
* * *
I remember the next Thursday getting home late from work.
I’m a Forest Ranger cadet for the Clifton State Park, a small park system south of Seattle. I gather all the forest statistics in the area. I’d arrived back at my apartment after a long day of field trips and I wanted nothing more than to take off my boots and go belly-up comatose on the coach. The telephone rang instead.
The voice started laughing. “It’s Betty Jo.”
I was too stunned to say anything.
“Your friend Charlie was nice enough to help me.”
“He gave me your number. Look Thomas, I thought about you all week.”
“Really!” I gasped, searching for something witty to say but coming up empty. “But what about Charlie?”
“Charlie’s okay. But the longer I stayed that night, the more I felt myself watching you. And when you didn’t want my number?”
“Ah, not used to that, eh?” I chuckled.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I was joking, Betty Jo. Most guys would do anything to take you out, believe me.”
“Well I liked you,” I heard her sigh, “because of the way you were dancing with everyone. Thomas, I think you see the beauty in people.”
“Look forget it, I’m probably sounding stupid.”
“No, no, I’m following you, Betty Jo. I’m just nervous.”
“So am I.” She paused for a moment, and then: “Look, Thomas, I’m going ice skating tonight. I called to see if you could come along.”
* * *
I played hockey growing up, so skating was like walking. I could skate backwards, sideways, spin and turn — all with my eyes closed.
Betty Jo, however, had never skated in her life.
She wouldn’t let me help her either. Not at first. She basically tripped and slid her way around the ice in her blue, Cashmere sweater. She clutched the guardrail like a toddler learning how to walk. At times, it was painful to watch; her sweater turned purple, all wet from the ice. But what endeared me, was that even after falling for the umpteenth time, she still managed to laugh at herself.
After an hour she was in the fold, skating with the pack, her long brown hair chasing her round and round the rink. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She’d gotten the hang of pushing with one skate and gliding with the other. I saw her farther up ahead, swerving to the inside lane so that I could meet up with her.
“Okay Thomas, now how do I turn?”
“You’re turning just fine, Betty Jo. How about we take a break? Want something to drink?”
“No!” she said, her gaze not on me, but on her busy skates. She grabbed my arm and almost fell over trying to stop. “I want to turn like you do.”
“Oh...” The tiny brown freckles on her nose and those deep green eyes were practically putting me under a spell. “Are you ready for that?” I asked. “You know, crossing your skates one over the over.”
She slid her hands up and around my shoulders, and whispered in my ear. “Show me, Thomas. I’m not afraid to fall a little.”
I laughed. “So I’ve noticed.”
By the end of the night, I had to admit, she was a decent skater. And that’s what allowed everything to happen.
The rink was emptying out; most of the skaters were gone. I practiced my turns in the center of the ice, out of harm’s way. Betty Jo skated nearby and began moving in a circular path as well, but in the opposite direction. Soon we were skating in two, side by side circles and where the circles joined, we would skate right past the other. At first I would poke her and laugh, prodding her, trying to make her lose her balance. But I soon found myself picking her up, looking into her eyes and letting those mysterious brilliant eyes bore right into me as I embraced her. Then we’d push each other away, awkwardly, skating off in opposite directions, returning to our circles so that we could join again.
I finally got the nerve to kiss her. My hand stroked her long brown hair, pulling out the cold bits of ice she’d collected that night. But her cheeks and lips were so warm, so enticing, I only wanted to wrap her up in my arms and carry her off somewhere.
* * *
About halfway through her last semester, she told me I would meet her parents, and her niece and nephew as well. Sure enough, the very next weekend they flew in from her homeland, the Eversion Islands, and Betty Jo brought them all to my apartment.
When I opened the door, her smile was as wide as ever. “Thomas, this is my family.”
Her parents, Jake and Sylvia, seemed old. There was no sagging skin, but they had to be early seventies at least. They grinned whenever I looked at them but didn’t say much, probably because their accent was so thick. They called me “Domas.” They each carried a large book and held them out to me as if they wanted me to read for them. “Read ‘merican story, Domas.”
Surprised, I glanced over to Betty Jo who giggled at first, but then nodded for me to go on. And so I read. I sat down between them on the couch and cleared my throat. I began reading the big words with my louder voice. And her parents loved it. As I read, their faces would light up as they pointed to the pictures. Afterwards, I was amazed at how they had such a odd appreciation for what seemed to be just children’s books.
Her niece and nephew, Robin and Rodney, were even more intriguing. In fact they were uncanny: smart, cute, ready to talk about anything. Little Rodney, with his short brown hair and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses on his little button nose, asked me to play chess. He scurried over to his carry-bag and pulled out a mini chess set with small ivory pieces. He warned me how he had been playing for years, and how he played the airplane pilot after they landed, and actually won.
Robin rolled her pretty brown eyes. She laughed as I beat Rodney in two straight games. Little Rodney was a funny kid. They both looked like Betty Jo.
* * *
We got married. I guess you could say that.
She said where she came from, formal ceremonies, signed papers, and churches — all that meant nothing. What mattered was the “pulling.” She said there had to be a definite “gravity” between us.
We said our vows one night when summer neared its end. We sat on a blanket at the edge of a hill in Clifton. A gathering of ash trees surrounded us, and if you looked through the branches you could see the city lights in the far distance. In her vows, she told me what she’d already told me before: that she needed me, that she needed to be around me all the time. But then she told me that she was full of emptiness that I could fill, but only if I wanted.
When Betty Jo said those words, I got all choked up. I felt like I’d seen right into her heart. I was shaking, telling her that I was so crazy about her that it scared me. I told her there was something about her, something I might not ever understand.
We made love on that hill in the shadows of the moon. She was in motion, moving with the wind and the gentle sway of the branches. Later, she sat up on her knees and the wind blew her hair back horizontal. She looked so damn beautiful that I couldn’t breathe. She just stared at me for a long time.
When I finally met her gaze, she smiled and said, “We’re married now, Thomas.”
* * *
So you see, this beautiful woman in the airplane is my wife.
I’m feeling bad. The flight is not agreeing with me, and yet I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to ever reach her islands. I see her eyeing me and I’m afraid.
Quickly, I put on the headphones and look back out the airplane window, past the engines tucked under the gigantic wing. I notice how the clouds have vanished, replaced by the endless blue of the ocean below. Painfully, I realize we’re getting closer and closer to her homeland. She leans over and gently takes off the headphones. She whispers their names softly.
“Robin and Rodney,” she says.
“Yeah, cute kids.” I say. Thinking of Rodney after everything that’s happened brings a weary smile to my face. “How’s the little chess player doing?”
“So you liked meeting them?”
“Yes of course, Betty Jo. Why?”
“They’re my parents.”
I close my eyes again, swallowing my anger. I want to tell her she needs professional help. I want to grab her shoulders and shake the craziness right out of her. But I know it will only make matters worse.
She stands up then, and my eyes instinctively scan down to her waist. She’s so different, maybe even delusional, but she’s still so damn beautiful. Her stomach, however, wasn’t always flat like that.
* * *
One Saturday morning, I came strolling down the stairs to the kitchen. We were renting now, an old Cape Cod at the edge of campus. She was slaving away in her robe, making pancakes as the bacon sizzled away, spitting up tiny bits of grease in the air. I kissed her on the side of her neck and sat down.
“Morning,” I said.
“Thomas, I’m pregnant.”
She said the words just like that: no eye contact, no emotion. I jumped out of my chair and hugged her, but her body felt stiff. In fact, the damn pancakes concerned her more. She continued with the spatula, flipping the cakes so they wouldn’t burn.
The days and weeks passed and she kept her emotions reeled in. Strangely, after five months, she wasn’t showing at all. What bothered me more was how she would always change the subject whenever I tried to talk about it.
She had planned a trip back home in the spring, and I wanted to go with her, but Charlie had also invited me on a hiking venture with his sister, Katie.
“You should go with them,” Betty Jo said one day before one of her last exams. “Thomas, I’ll take you back home soon enough, don’t worry about that.”
This surprised me, not to mention that I was worried about her. Worried that something had gone wrong with her pregnancy and she didn’t want to tell me about it.
I decided to give her some space.
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by J. Michael Keith