KAHLUA • by Axie Barclay

The m-word, marriage, makes me break out in hives.

It wasn’t even so much that he asked me, but that his family kept asking for a date and he wanted an excuse to see me in a lace g-string and a dress.

The fighting didn’t start until later.

His family wanted a Christian service.

Pagan at heart, I wanted to hand-fast and reevaluate in a year.

His family wanted a hall and a band.

I was cool with a keg in the garage.

They wanted flowers.

I gave in and agreed to mow the lawn.

Marriage just didn’t seem to suit us, considering I wouldn’t wear white and really didn’t want to give up the option of sleeping with other guys.

My heeler dog presses against my leg as I lay on the floor and meditate. I cross the bridge after dropping my problems in the well. I see my whole life with him as if it’s already been lived: the money problems, the drinking, the gambling, the house and kids being my problem while he’s gone hunting or fishing nine months of the year. It’s not that I don’t love the kids, but I resent being both mother and father with a father whose name I was forced to take by a tradition I don’t believe in. The vision ends with my anger, or rather my tolerance, breaking loose and my braining him with a pork chop one night after dinner.

I stopped returning his calls after that and, after a while, longer than I expected, he quit calling.

They say every seven years all the cells in your body are renewed. None of the cells in me now knew him. So why do I still wake with his scent in my nose? I make friends with the crone goddess and deliver calves, as my father delivers mine.

His father stopped out for a beer one autumn night, after I fed my sons, two boys by two different fathers, and set them in front of a John Wayne DVD. We sat on the porch and drank Miller Light, reminiscing about my father, two years gone. (And I mean literally gone, he vanished one day like he always threatened he would, probably hiding out in Oregon.) His father and my father had always been good friends. His father showed me pictures of the family, his sisters and their families, his son, who hadn’t kept a girlfriend longer than five minutes since me. I could say the same. I’d gotten good at one or two night stands since then. A thousand bodies since him and still I’m off my game. I can’t recall what an old lover likes, the right motion of my hips, the correct flick of my tongue. And he sits mortified at the edge of the bed, flinching when I lay my hand on his shoulder, after the wrong name fell from my lips, froze in the air, and burst a heart a moment later.

It’s a hell-bent woman I am now, farming on my own with two small boys, and heeler dogs for company. The winter nights are long sitting in front of a fire with my feet near the stove, pipe in hand.

Maybe it’s just as well I said no. Maybe we would be happier now. But he was crushed and I was the cause. But he wouldn’t farm with me and I wouldn’t move north with him. Was it better for me to be the crushed?

I hold out a hot tottie for him when I answer the door. Kahlua and peppermint Schnapps flavors my vision, but not the weight on my chest.

But he smiles.

His family still wants flowers, the hall, the ceremony. He still wants the g-string. I want a bottle of red wine to lull us back into ease with one another. I want to sway in the darkness, our bodies lit only by a banked fire, as we dance to slow post-grunge and slower old country. I want him to fill me up and nuzzle my neck on waking in the morning. Love doesn’t always give us what we want, but sometimes just what the moment requires.

And the weight lifts a little.

Axie Barclay is a Michigan writer with a farming habit, specializing in naturally raised, grass fed beef and chicken. She lives with two heeler dogs and way too many books.

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