If you want Sam to make you a dinner table, you will need to wait longer than a year. I’ve ordered many tables from Sam for my kitchen, for my family. He’s never finished any of them. I’ve even met him at his barn, to ensure he would keep his promise.
I need a dark mahogany table, one with the sides extra sanded. Cynthia and Peter always rest their little elbows while eating. I practiced it over and over in my head, the exact words I would say to Sam. Straightforward. Direct. No emotion.
I climbed out of my navy truck and shut the door. I walked along his dirt path with the scattered white pebbles, the wind hitting my white cotton t-shirt and making the bottom fly upwards in my face. I quickly pulled it down, stuffing it into my jeans. I had made this walk many times. I had tried ordering tables many times. Go over the lines in my head. Get out of the truck. Shut the door. Walk. Feel the crunch of gravel under my toes. Relive his presence.
* * *
I stepped in through the front door to our home, setting Peter’s baby car seat on the ground. I stopped myself. “Why is there a bra on the couch, Sam? Wait . . . That’s not mine. That is not my bra, Sam.”
“Just relax. You’re tired, you’re exhausted, and you need to shower. You don’t look like yourself.”
“I just had a baby, Sam! You need to tell me why there’s a bra on our sofa. Answer me.”
“Marie, just put Peter into his crib and I’ll explain the whole thing.”
“Is this why you weren’t at the hospital? Is this why you missed all your calls when I needed you?”
“What are you talking about? You’re jumping to conclusions, Marie.”
“No, I’m not. You . . . You were at home, here, with that, with that . . . with that girl! That girl who used to babysit for Cynthia after she was born! I remember. Annalisa was her name. You always liked her. You . . . that’s not my bra, Sam. Stop making excuses. That’s hers and you know it.”
“Can you prove it? Maybe I just got you a new bra as a present because you’ve gained so much weight from being pregnant. Maybe I was being thoughtful and wanted to get you something nice.”
“Excuse me? I just gave birth to our child! I told you, Sam, and I’m not repeating myself after this. That is not my bra. You’re lying. You . . . you were sleeping with her all this time while I was in the hospital. Even my friends visited me more than you did when the doctor said I had early complications. You’re disgusting.”
“Get out.” He didn’t leave until after he hit me, pushed me up against the wall and called me a stupid, worthless mother. He pressed against me with all his weight until my body slouched down to the floor, crumpled. I glanced at his blue eyes, and then he left.
* * *
I slipped my hands in my pockets nervously, rubbing them up and down against the inner denim to create friction. It was colder than I thought. The leaves were changing and the air hit my neck fast and hard. I crossed my arms quickly from the next whip of wind but then decided to put them back into my pockets. Sam wouldn’t like if I looked defiant.
I had come to his barn a couple times since the day he left. Each time wasn’t any easier. He needed to make this table in under a year. I would convince him. My mother would be visiting soon, and I had to have a house that was ready. It was still unfinished inside. We had to have furniture. Cynthia and Peter needed somewhere to sit, something to lie down on instead of building a blanket fort every night in front of the staticky black and white TV that would drown them to sleep. You’re a stupid, worthless mother. We needed color. We needed a table to look like a family.
“Hello?” My feet rocked on the gravel as I knocked on the outside of his barn. It was red and splotchy, almost pink, like the cheeks of a newborn that had laughed once and then given up. There were holes. So many big, wide, and elongated holes with thatches of straw sticking out from the hen’s nests up top. I always heard them inside, laughing at me.
Nobody answered. Only one wooden door was slid across to the side—open, but not really. It was maybe big enough for me to squeeze through, but I wasn’t sure. There was a rusted nail right where the handle should have been. One of the light bulbs had burned out in the glass lantern fixture on the barn. The other one flickered as if it was shivering more than me.
“Hello?” No answer. I twisted the back of my stud earring anxiously. A large German shepherd came bounding around the corner of the barn, making me back up quickly. “Whoa, there. Easy, boy. It’s okay, I’m, I’m . . . I’m just visiting your friend Sam. Slow down, whoa . . . It’s alright, boy.” He was homely looking with hair sprouting in different directions, in all different shades of brown. One ear was slightly bent while the other stood at peak height. His teeth were yellowed and he had a chin that jutted out. A couple of his ribs peeked through his dark skin. He walked with his back arched and his head low. I turned my body away. He started barking nonstop, jumping up and down around me. “Get off! Just . . . just, go away!” I used my leg to try and push him to the side.
A sharp whir of metal sounded and made my head jerk back. The dog stopped jumping and stood there with drool dripping like rain. I could hear the yellow saw machine rev to life just inside those doors. I knew Sam’s hands on the saw would be a little off the perfect angle, positioned to cut the wood for his tables. Hands off center. Sam said he never made his tables perfectly square or even rounded at the corners. Crooked, he would say. That’s what family is.
I had to yell. “Sam! I’m here to talk to you about a new table! It’s for Cynthia and Peter! And my mother! It’s a real project and it counts! It’s important!” Nothing. Just saw.
“Sam, I can’t wait any longer! It’s freezing out here and I don’t have a jacket!” Then silence. Even the dog was quiet.
I took a deep breath. “Can you just . . . let me in? I don’t think I can fit through these doors.”
The saw revved up again. You need me. You need me so you can make money. You need me so bad but you just won’t admit it. I came all the way here for you. And this is how you treat me? I came, and I’m here for you. And the table . . . You know what, maybe I could even help you make it. Just cut a square for me and some legs, Sam. I’ll do the rest and glue it all together with the good stuff that dries fast. You carve and cut, and I’ll piece it into one sturdy thing. I’m back for you, Sam, and you need me. I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud.
He stopped the saw and grunted twice. “Does that mean you won’t let me in?” I asked. He said nothing. I peeked into the crack between the one barn door that was closed and the other that was six inches open. He had on overalls and a long white t-shirt with a gray dandelion. The t-shirt covered up the straps. “Wooden Farms,” it read. It was like the life was sucked right out of him. He still had the same red hair that curled behind his ears and that dusty appearance. Hard cheeks. Long neck. Forceful arms. Freckles on his nose. Thin body. Thick shoulders. I just needed him to do this one thing for me. I needed this table or —
He slid the six-inch-open-door all the way to the right, and the hens cackled up above in their nesting boxes. The dog followed, swishing his tale back and forth and looking towards the hens. There were straw bales everywhere, stacked in rows like cartons of eggs. A ladder was propped to climb into the rafters where Sam could check on the hens and get his woodworking supplies. The barn was a mess. Tools were scattered in every direction on the ground: hammers, screws, wrenches, nail guns, doweling jigs, rulers, and chisels. Spiralized pieces of wood littered the dirt floor. There was a clock hooked onto a wooden beam but the minute hand was stuck. It was plastic and beat-up; it had probably been there for generations, its numbers etched by hand in ink that was now faded. The number four was crooked.
I looked at his eyes. The same blue. They were like a river that nobody visits or a heavy cloud that wants to open into a downpour but can’t. I wanted to touch his eyes so bad. He was still my husband after all. We had never brought ourselves to officially divorce despite what had happened.
“Marie.” He sat on his work stool, took off his gloves, and looked down. I stood standing, biting my lower lip.
“Sam, I haven’t gotten those tables I ordered from you. Or the one last year or the one before that. Or the one in the middle at the beginning of the end when we met or the table last month. I haven’t received any tables, Sam. I asked you if you could make me one table.”
“You came back.”
“I came back because I asked you to make me one table. I still haven’t gotten it, Sam.”
“You came back.”
“I didn’t want to.”
“You came back.”
“I had to.” I sat down on a gray metal bench. “My mother is coming and we need a wooden table. I know you make tables full of sweat and tears and blood and love. I need your table. My mother needs to see that Cynthia, Peter, and I are a family. We need to have a table. We need to have a surface to eat dinner on other than the hard floor that makes us numb. I want to be able to sit and eat and eat and sit and talk and sit and eat and laugh without being on the ground. I want to be higher than the ground, Sam.”
“I don’t understand why you came back again.”
“I just told you, Sam. You’re not listening.”
“You don’t need a table.”
“I do. I just told you why I need a table. I need this table or —”
“Or what.” He kicked the dirt and spit, then walked over to the clock on the wooden beam and punched the plastic frame. The minute hand started spinning. The number four stared back at me. I couldn’t meet his eyes. Those eyes. One of the hens cackled. The dog started panting. Sam got up off his stool and stood facing me, weaving his thumbs in and out, in and out.
“Or what,” he repeated. I averted my eyes. Anywhere but his eyes. I looked towards the saw machine instead, then towards the white pebbles outside that I could barely see from in here. Anything but his eyes.
“Huh? I’m talking to you, Marie. Meet my eyes, Sweetie.” I was shaking. He was towering over me with his gray dandelion t-shirt and his teeth full of fresh spit, his pale and sweaty hands drawn back and ready. I remembered his hands. I remembered his callused palms that wouldn’t stop bleeding. My callused back that wouldn’t stop bruising. You’re a stupid, worthless mother.
“I think I know, Marie. Or what, huh? You need this table or your own mother will think you’re a failure? That she’ll remember you had kids when you were sixteen years old? That you pushed me away? That we had a fight on the day we brought Peter home? That fight over our stupid babysitter and a bra? That fight in our old house instead of this goddamn barn that’s falling apart? That fight over Cynthia and Peter and who gets to keep who and who is more important than who and who is stronger than who and who isn’t falling apart more than who and who belongs to who and who loves who and who stays and who leaves?”
He was breathing hard now. I closed my eyes and tried to stop remembering. Not his hands. Not his eyes.
“I remember it so well, honey, and if I’m honest I think your mother will have no problem recalling the circumstances.” He flipped over his stool.
His tall figure followed me as I ran out, bolting towards the truck to get away from his hands. I dug around for my keys as my fingers shook. I revved up my engine and gunned it in reverse while his hands waved back and forth on the other side of the glass. He was yelling. I kept driving in reverse, his head getting smaller and smaller like those white pebbles. He ran back inside of the barn and I winced. He was getting something to hurt me again. He was going to end it once and for all. But I was almost out of there. I could do it. I was almost to the mailbox. Keep going, Marie. You’re worth so much more than this. He was in the barn for a long time. I stopped the engine, waiting. I needed to see his eyes again. He ran back outside of the barn, holding something big up. Blue. I saw his eyes. Blue. I revved up my engine and was about to drive forward. I was almost past the mailbox now. I was almost gone.
Out of the corner of my eye as I left his pebble road, he held up my finished table.