Big Ayers stood in the kitchen, leaning against the magenta countertop. His inherent manliness against the color scheme, along with the fruits-and-veggies-themed wallpaper, gave the impression that someone had dropped a lumberjack into a Chiquita banana advertisement. Tipsy inhaled his presence, as she had for years, trying to read the vibrations in the air around him.
“Hey,” she said. “You doin’ okay?”
He nodded. He hadn’t shaved, but that wasn’t too unusual. He wore a baseball cap, and had for the past few years since his hair had started thinning. The visors of his twenties didn’t cut it anymore on boat days, what with the sun beating on his scalp. He’d lowered the brim almost to his eyebrows, but his height necessitated that she look up at him. She had a decent angle on his big brown eyes, so like his daughters’.
He crossed his arms over his increasingly round belly and scuffed his feet against the old tile. “Place looks good, but this kitchen needs a damn update.” He spoke around a wad of gum. Another habit that made no sense. Big-city taxi drivers chewed endless splats of gum, not the sons of genteel southern families.
At least I don’t have to try to explain his idiosyncrasies anymore. Or live with them. Aloud, she said, “I guess old ladies don’t care too much about granite countertops and Viking ranges.”
Ayers grunted his agreement. “I kinda always pictured us in a house like this.”
“You don’t like old houses. Too much maintenance.”
“Something like this. Not this house.” He rolled his eyes.
“Right.” Tipsy hadn’t argued with Ayers in years. There was never any point in it. Not about cleaning the bathrooms or universal health care, about the children’s aversion to vegetables or Russian collusion. Over the years she told herself, choose your battles, but truthfully, her internal army had dug deeper into the trenches and refused to engage, resulting in an emotional No Man’s Land between them. Even post-divorce, she preferred to stay safely on her side of the battlefield.
“We could have built. In a couple more years, on the water.” He grabbed a paper towel, spit his gum into it, and threw the wad into the sink. He took a pack of gum from his pocket and started the whole chewing process over again.
“Have you had any offers on the property?” As soon as she said it, she wished she hadn’t, but the mention of building on the water inevitably reminded her that Ayers had lost all their savings in a bad land deal. One fraudulent environmental survey, plus a few determined twenty-something conservationists and fifteen endangered nesting birds had equaled financial disaster for Ayers Lee Collins IV, and hence disaster for Tipsy. All well and good to have a financial settlement that said he owed her one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, but if he didn’t have it, she wasn’t getting diddly squat. He’d gotten out of paying her monthly alimony with his trumped up adultery charge, but she was still entitled to the value of half their assets. Unfortunately, their liquid assets had disappeared.
“I’ve told you. That land isn’t worth the grass growing on it. Can’t build a damn thing. No one’s going to buy it.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up. I guess I’m still hopeful.”
“Thanks for reminding me I’m a goddamn failure living off my daddy at thirty-nine years old.”
“Ayers—you’re not a failure.”
He covered his eyes with his hands, and Tipsy gripped the door handle of the ancient beige Frigidaire. He might yell, or he might cry. In the days of their marriage she would have guessed the former, but since she’d asked him to move out six months ago, she’d gotten more of the latter. When the land deal went south in March, she’d lost any ability to predict how he would react to anything.
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