Volume 2 , Number 10
October , 1997
A Few Small Repairs
by Dean Shutt
The old hatchback wound it's way up the mountain, protesting at every turn. The occupants of the whining car rode in silence, broken occasionally by the crackle of the radio as it attempted to find a station powerful enough to override the seek feature. Steve stared ahead, making it a point to concentrate on the road. It wasn't that the road was bad of course, he grew up driving on much worse, but driving was as good an excuse as any not to talk. The object of his disinterest sat in the passenger seat staring out the window, Beth knew they should be talking right now. "That's what couples do," she thought, "they talk about what's going on in their lives and the world." Even as she thought it, Beth knew that that idea was crazy. Neither one of them cared a whit for what was going on in the world at that point in time, and they were both far too aware of what was going on in each other's life.
"Should be there soon," Steve said, never taking his eyes from the road. Beth nodded absently, not saying a word.
"Be nice to get out this damned car," he said, "feels like I've been driving for days."
"I offered to drive," she snapped.
"I'm aware of that."
"It's not my fault you're so anal about driving."
"I never said it was."
"Well then don't complain about 'driving for days' if you won't let me drive."
Let it drop, Steve thought, this is not the time, place, or reason to get into this. We can do all the talking we want when we get to the cabin. Beth took his silence for anger and returned to staring silently out the window. As he drove, Steve let his mind wander When exactly had it all gone so wrong? When had they become this spiteful, sniping couple in the car? Steve thought of the movies. You always know when things go wrong in the movies, the music swells up and someone has a tearful speech and everybody watching knows that it's over. Pity it can't be like that in life, he mused, that way you could immediately go back and fix whatever it is you did. He immediately kicked himself for the thought, "This isn't the movies," he thought, "If this were the movies, we wouldn't be on the way to the cabin to divide our worldly possessions and say good-bye." He couldn't help it though, he kept hoping that somehow the music would come up and they would look into each others eyes and realize what they were giving up.
Beth continued to stare out the window, hoping to find some distraction in the fast moving scenery. "I can't believe this is really it." she thought, "I can't believe he's so damn calm and rational about this whole situation." Beth wanted a big tearful scene, she wanted the relationship to end amongst screaming accusations and recriminations. "This is just so typical of us," she realized. "Five years together and I've never heard him raise his voice about anything." Even when she would scream at him during an argument, he wouldn't yell back, he would just stare calmly into space. Then after a while he would apologize, no matter who was at fault. It had finally gotten to the point that she would do things just to make him angry, just to make him show some sort of emotion. It had never worked though. Even after he had learned of her affair, his only concession to emotion had been to smash the glass he had been holding at the time (he then immediately began cleaning it up). At first she had been attracted to that quality about him, how nothing seemed to faze him. Now though, she realized that it was just that he didn't care, not about her, not about them, not about anything. "He's off in his own little world," she mused, "and he's left me all alone in this one."
Now the road leveled out and the cabin came into view. Steve swung the car into the narrow driveway and pulled up to a rather dilapidated little shack. The cabin had been a gift from her parents when they had gotten engaged. They had planned it as a wedding present, but as the wedding still hadn't taken place four years after the engagement...well now it was just a present. Out there in the gray area with the rest of their lives. Not quite married, not really engaged, so much more than friends or lovers, yet not quite mates. They had been going on like this for four years, so many wedding dates come and gone without an actual wedding. It had finally become something of a joke between them, "Just a few more years babe," Steve would say, "Then we're common-law and it's all a moot point." Marriage by pocket veto he called it. Now though the joke was getting old, Beth had a job offer in another city. It so happened that it was in a city that Steve despised. They had come to cabin ostensibly to decide what Beth was going to do about the offer. In reality, they both knew that they were here to say good-bye. Beth had already said yes to the offer, she planned on telling Steve this weekend. For his part, Steve had decided that Beth ought to take the job, but that he wouldn't be going with her. The only thing that really remained to be decided was the sort of good bye it would be.
Steve and Beth gratefully climbed out of the little car and began unpacking a weekend's worth of clothes, books, food and so on. They were both happy to be out of the confines of the car and each other's silence. In very little time their provisions were all neatly stored as they had been so many times before, the two of them were once again left uncomfortably alone. Beth tried, Beth always tried, she asked Steve what he had planned for the weekend, and he mumbled into his chest and slouched away from her. Steve couldn't help it, whenever he was in a new place, even a place that he had been to a thousand times before, he needed to acclimatize himself. Unfortunately Beth didn't have this need and he had never told her about his, so she read it as a bad mood. Steve realized that he could probably have fixed this particular problem with Beth in a fairly simple manner. For some reason though, he had never told her about his need for "decompression time" as he called it. He pondered that for a moment, he wondered how many other things he had never told her, would never tell her after this weekend.
Beth fumed in silence in the little kitchen, though "kitchen" was something of an overstatement, more like "the corner with the hot plate". She had never gotten used to his moodiness, he could be happy as a lark one moment, the next thing you knew, he was Genghis Khan on a bad day. She began rearranging the single shelf of cans that served as the pantry, ticking off a list of offenses that he had committed that day. From his habit of playing "terminal seek mode" with the radio, to his long silences, to his driving, she grew angrier and angrier while she watched him sit there fiddling with the stove. "He knows I'm furious," she thought, "He knows it but he won't do anything to diffuse it until I blow up at him."
Steve concentrated on getting the stove working. It had never been all that great a stove to begin with, and with age and his general lack of mechanical aptitude it had only gotten worse. He was quite certain that there was someone you could call that would come out and fix these things. Somehow he had never gotten around to doing it. He always meant to, whenever they would come to the cabin and the stove would act up, he made a mental note to call someone about it. Every time they got back to the city, he promptly forgot all about it. Now he could sense that Beth was staring at him and he knew that she was mad about the stove. He focused on the stove as though he could will it to work properly. All that mattered to him at that point in time was to at least leave her with a stove that worked properly. It hit him then that this was his last time in this cabin. He suddenly realized that after this weekend the cabin would be hers, that he would no longer be welcome. He thought that maybe she would let him use it occasionally, but at this point he wasn't sure how to go about asking. His trance was broken as it usually was by Beth's voice, "Are you planning on playing with that stove all weekend," she asked in a voice that betrayed far more emotion than she wanted. "I'm just trying to get it work properly," he replied, regretting it instantly. "Work properly," her voice was a shout now, "You've been trying to get that stove to work for four years and it still doesn't work. You can't fix it, you don't know how to fix it and you are never going to learn how to fix it., Don't you get that? You spend half the time we're here, every time we are here, trying to fix something that you are incapable of fixing. I wish you would just leave that silly old stove alone and talk to me, try to fix something that you are able repair for a change!"
Steve rocked back on his heels. He watched her sob and try to catch her breath. "Don't you get it, Beth?" he said calmly, "I have as much chance to fix us as I do of fixing this stove. You are going to take the job, you are going to move away, and that will be the end of it. Because I'm not going to live there Beth, I hate it there and I wouldn't be happy and neither would you and I don't feel like putting either one of us through that, I love you too much to make you miserable."
"What do you think I am now if not miserable," she screamed, "I love you and I want to be with you but I can't pass up this opportunity!"
"And I'm not asking you to pass it up, but I can't go there with you."
Beth shook her head in resignation as walked past him and out of the door. She felt that she was living with a statue that acquired all of the human attributes save feelings. He looked like a human, he sounded like a human, he even felt like a human, but underneath...solid stone.
Steve sat and stared at the stove, he knew he should run after her. He knew that he should tell her he loved her and that everything would be all right. He knew he should tell her the real reason why he didn't want to go with her. Tell her that he was afraid of giving up the life they had built here to start over in a new place. He knew he should tell her all of these things. He stared some more at the stove as the shadows lengthened and day turned to evening.
Beth stumbled through the woods in a rage. She knew he didn't want her to take the job, why couldn't he just say so? What made it so difficult for him to ask for what he wanted. She thought back to their first Christmas together, how bad she had felt when they compared lists and his had only the one item on it. With careful prodding she had managed to find out what he wanted, but he never did learn to come out and ask for it. Or perhaps he just didn't care, maybe it was as simple as he said, "You want to go and I don't." Beth couldn't accept that, people didn't fall out of love just because they couldn't agree on where to live, there had to be something more than that.
It was dark when Beth finally made her way back to the cabin. Steve was sitting in the ratty old chair he had found at that garage sale all those years ago. Beth looked around and realized he hadn't unpacked a thing. She picked up her bag and walked it out to the car with Steve close behind. Silently they loaded the little hatchback and prepared for the long ride home. As Beth waited for him in the car, Steve went through his ritual of making sure everything was locked up and turned off.
As he looked inside the cabin for what he was fairly certain was the last time, he noticed the stove glowing merrily in the corner. Steve stopped short and stared at the little stove with wonder. He had fixed it, it was working as well as he had ever seen it work before. Suddenly Beth yelled from the car that if they were going to leave they ought to do it soon so that they might at least get some sleep tonight. Steve looked towards the car where the woman he had loved for most of his adult life sat waiting for him. He looked at the newly fixed stove and wondered if perhaps is wasn't too late to fix things with her. He could tell her the stove was fixed and they would laugh and talk and perhaps things would be all right after all. He stood there for the longest time lost in this thought until finally he heard Beth's voice again, " Steve, are we going or staying?" Awoken from his revery, Steve looked again at the car, walked over to the stove and turned it off. He made his way to the car and climbed in, "It probably would be broken again in the morning anyway," thought Steve. He put the car in gear, jabbed at the 'seek' button on the radio and started the long drive home.