Myrah drove the SUV through the parking lot as Jill sat beside her on the leather passenger’s seat. The groceries were stacked in the cargo area in back. Even with the quantity of food that they had bought there was still room for more.
She exited onto a side road and headed back in the direction of Shady Acres. She passed dry cleaners covered in brick and stone, donut shops next to salons and gas stations. Landscaped planters set around the pumps and in between the exposed stacks of soda cans in front of the convenience stores. The median of the street was dotted with tiny saplings.
Myrah felt angry and discontented. The elation that she’d had while shopping for the party with Jill was now replaced with a general feeling of dislike. She didn’t like beer, she didn’t like the way that the Taj Mahal looked and she didn’t like the Suburban that she was driving anymore. She couldn’t wait to get her new Saab. Jack had promised her that they’d go to the dealership this weekend.
She didn’t like the endless routine of soccer practices. She didn’t like the bleak anachronism of living in a treeless place named Shady Acres. She didn’t like Jill’s new haircut and she didn’t like the fact that the woman had invited Wallace into her home.
She felt raw and violated at being psycho analyzed by the drunken astronaut in the grocery store. Being told that she felt unhappy and incomplete was an invasion of her sense of self. She was neither of those things. He was flat out wrong and ignorant. Just because he’d been into space a couple of times didn’t make him an expert on happiness and love. He had a lot of nerve to even pretend that he was.
At the first intersection, Myrah unexpectedly pulled off into the far left-hand lane and swung the giant vehicle onto the other side of the road, making a wide U-turn.
“Did we forget something?” Jill asked as they headed in the back direction from which they’d come.
“No.” Myrah said. She passed the grocery store. She got lucky with a light and crossed the freeway. The mall loomed large before them. It was framed with parking lots that were filled with glistening cars.
“Are we going to the mall?”
“No.” The builder’s wife answered. Gently she eased onto a southbound entrance ramp. “Let’s go somewhere different for a change.”
“Galveston.” Myrah quipped. “Just for a little while. We’ll go and get a look at the water. Maybe we can have a glass of wine downtown.”
“What about the food in back?” Jill asked, half looking behind her
Myrah pointed up to the vehicles temperature gage. “It’s forty-five degrees.” She said. “I think that it’ll keep while we have a drink.”
They drove, mostly in silence. They passed gleaming new shopping centers, built by the hand of her husband using all manner of design. There were ones made to look like old town squares, ones designed to resemble futuristic space ports, Mexican adobe, German mountain village, English Parliament, Mayan ruins and the Taj Mahal.
There were still reporters gathered off the freeway just outside the entrance to that last one. They were milling around outside of vans and trucks with satellite dishes hoisted on top of their wire covered masts. Beyond them, the scared edifice and the empty lots sat like a lost city.
They drove past the grocery store that Jack had built for her when they’d first met. It was a Foreign Market now. It sold exotic spices and whole animal heads that were wrapped in cellophane. She marveled at the way that it had changed over the years as it receded in her rear view mirror.
Closer to the bridge the linked the island to the mainland, the architecture became less whimsical and more utilitarian. There were metal storage units, huge oil drums, factories and refineries belching carcinogens into the air that were set among exposed drainage pipes. The foliage was brown and weedy. The road was white and sun bleached.
The city of Galveston itself was a contrasting picture of human resilience and despair. Homes that were built over a hundred years ago stood looking as good as they had on the day that they were finished while rusted tin shacks sold tacos and fried chicken next to them. The trees were constantly in a state of death or dying. Salt water floods, hurricane winds, water spouts, and drought had reduced most of them to stumps over the decades.
They drove along the seawall looking out at the brown waters of the gulf. The waves were choppy and rough today. People walked dogs along the dark beach sands that were spread out below the road. Collapsed piers crept into the ocean, their planks yielding to the elements in spotty places.
There was an elemental realism in these things that didn’t exist in the suburbs. The ocean splashed onto the shore and mankind’s presence decayed. Structures by the sea had seashells painted on them. They were being beaten and splintered by the wind and spray each second.
They drove to the eastern side of the island where the ships lined up for entrance into the port of Houston. Marshy fields led to high-rise condominiums. Fishermen stood on the rocks casting their bait nets into the waters. Beer coolers, oil tankers and vacation homes shared the landscape, none of them being more special or impressive than any of the others.
The women went downtown and parked. They got out and walked around the old streets admiring the history that was present on the surface of such things. They wore new coats given to them by their husbands as Christmas presents. A cruise ship loomed large over the tops of the red bricked buildings. People were milling back and forth across the deck. A large TV could be seen as big as a movie screen. It played images of the meteors crater by a fake waterfall and a pool that was on board.
“Let’s try this place.” Myrah said, pointing towards a wine bar that had been carved into a crumbling old bank building.
Jill smiled. “You realize that if that astronaut see’s us he’ll think that we’re stalking him.”
“Screw him.” Myrah shot back pushing open the door.
They ordered their drinks and sat at a table near the back of the darkened room. Yellow and red artwork covered the exposed walls. Wines of every kind were lined up on shelves which stretched to the ceiling.
“Why do you think that guy would say that I was incomplete and unhappy?” She asked as she scribbled a new design for the sign onto a napkin.
Jill shook her head. “I don’t know.” She said. “He’s an expert so I wouldn’t feel right even guessing.”
“You think he’s an expert?” Myrah laughed. “He’s a drunk! He passes out on peoples lawns in the middle of the night and drinks wine in the morning by himself out next to the harbor.”
“It’s what he does.” She shrugged. “People pay him money for it.”
“You’re the one that’s unhappy and incomplete.” The builder’s wife said pointing her pen at the girl. “I’m fine.”
“Yes!” She said. “Why do you keep changing your hair?”
Jill pulled at one of her pigtails. “I like to try out new things.” She answered, frowning.
“And maybe I want to paint my nails a new color and eat Greek food once in a while.” The woman spat. “Why should I have to be judged for it?”
“I’m not judging you.”
“But Wallace did!” Myrah argued. “He basically said that I was buying those things to make up for some sort of void in my life. Why do you keep buying sports equipment for Thom?”
“I bought him Spanish lessons.”
“And a guitar and a telescope!”
Jill shrugged. “I was just trying to take his mind off of whatever was upsetting him.” She said looking down at her glass of wine. “I guess I know now that it was his dad.”
“Thom!” Myrah said, pointing with her pen again. “He’s the one that’s unhappy!”
“Not anymore.” Jill smiled. “He’s like a whole new man since he found out that his daddy wasn’t the man in that tower.”
“Well I’m sure as hell not incomplete and unhappy.” Myrah snapped. “If you can change your hair every month of the year and buy all sorts of new toys to distract your husband from his preoccupation with his father’s mass killing then I can sure as hell try out new nail polishes and Greek food.”
“His father didn’t kill anyone though.”
“That’s beside the point.” She quipped. “He thought that his daddy killed those people so he was truly unhappy. I’m just fine!”
Jill sat there in silence for a second. “Maybe you just think that you’re happy and complete when you’re really not.” She said after a while.
“What’s that suppose to mean?”
“Well,” She continued. “if Thom could make himself unhappy by thinking that his daddy killed all of those people when in fact he really didn’t, then maybe you could make yourself think that you were happy when you’re really not.”
Myrah drew a boat over the words on her napkin. She liked the way it looked. “Why would you even say that?” She asked. “What’s that supposed to mean even?”
“I don’t know.” Jill said absently twisting her glass back and forth. “Maybe he was wrong.”
“You’re damn right he was wrong.”
The girl nodded. She looked around the room. There was a leather couch in the corner and a table littered with magazines. “This feels cozy.” She commented.
Myrah smiled. “We should call the other girls and have them meet us down here.”
“You think so?”
“I know so!” The builder’s wife said grinning from ear to ear. She pulled her cell phone out of her purse holding it up. “Clara can tell us which wines to buy for our party!”