about the author

Phoebe Wilcox lives in eastern Pennsylvania. She loves Joyce Carol Oates and fuzzy caterpillars. Her novel, Angels Carry the Sun is pending publication with Lilly Press, and an excerpt from a second novel, Flower Symbolism for Dummies, has been published in Wild Violet. Recent and forthcoming work may be found in Sixers Review, Illumen, A cappella Zoo, Folly Magazine, The Chaffey Review, Calliope Nerve and others. Her story, “Carp with Water in Their Ears,” published in River Poets Journal, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She’s got a Web site, phoebewilcox.com, and videos on YouTube now.

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The Sea of Maybe

Phoebe Wilcox

He gnawed briefly at the edge of an old dry wish. His lover Doreen lay on the bed, prostrate beneath the miserable tenor of her waitressing week. She didn’t want to do it and he wished he hadn’t driven twelve hours straight through viscous August heat, in a car with the heat stuck on, to be with her.

Right before he left home, Valerie had been whining nasally about how he’d never bothered to fix the porch hook for the hanging petunias. The petunias were thriving and there were three-foot long tendrils of flowers and leaves all over the porch, a floral carpet that irritated his wife on a daily basis. She’d shifted into a higher pitch when overturning the sandy soil of their budget. She always started with, “I want to discuss some matters of the budget.” And then what followed was a diatribe where she boomeranged back and forth between the pile of bills on the table and the credit card bill. If she had to stand there and yell at him in her bra and panties you’d think she could at least put out, but the way she stomped around, it didn’t look promising.

So he drove to Virginia.

“You have fun on your goddamn fishing trip!” she hollered after him. “I’m going to call the bank to see if we can weasel out of those overdraft charges!”

He stepped on her petunias and burned rubber at the end of the driveway.

In his rearview mirror he saw her at the front door, bra exposed carelessly to the world, pushing the kids behind her back in the door.

He turned the radio on and the heating vents away from him.

“Do you want to go out for ice cream?” he asked Doreen on the bed.

Doreen was silent.

One acquires a lover in order to escape a wife. What does one acquire in order to escape a lover? He imagined himself in the middle of a canoe piled high with vanilla ice cream, bananas, whipped cream, butterscotch topping and bucketfuls of maraschino cherries. Every single food ingredient in that canoe had a sexual connotation.

Doreen’s body on the bed was still, her hands slack, and her breathing soft.

He lay with her on the bed but did not touch her. Instead, he imagined touching someone else. He allowed every sweet thing on that sugar boat to enter his mouth, little bit by little bit. He floated downstream. There was an island down there somewhere. Or two. Or a thousand. There were the Islands of Could Have Beens, the Islands of Might Have Beens; there was the Peninsula of Possibility. There was Cape Carelessness. There was an entire boat-thrashing Sea of Maybe. Everything emptied into that; it was inescapable. So much sugar. So much emphasis on his oar and what he was doing with it.

There was a tiny window at the top of the wall in Doreen’s basement apartment. It washed an oblique surf-light over their sleeping forms. In an estuary, somewhere in between, they dreamed themselves new lives.

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