Houston

 

The Sedona Method

Patty Houston

            The day Vincent broke off their engagement, Deidre took a tour of Over the Rhine, a revitalized German neighborhood in Cincinnati. Some of the unrepaired buildings were in such bad shape she could not imagine anyone living in them. Windows were broken; bricks were crumbling. You are so confusing, Vincent had said.
            She took a bus home and soaked in the tub. From the bathroom, she could see her grandmother’s wedding gown spread across her bed. Hand-stitched. The bodice was all lace. A sash at the waist was blue silk. She only needed to hem the dress for it to fit perfectly.
            She gave the dress to her cousin for her own wedding next year. She laid the dress across the backseat of her Ford, and it slid to the floor in a puddle. When she parked at Fountain Square, the guy who sold hot dogs on the corner said, “When’s the big day?”
            Deidre worked for Procter and Gamble, where she managed market research projects on diapers, toothpaste, vegetable shortening, shampoo, toilet paper, make-up, and today cake mix. She distributed the script to the others on her team. She told them to write in a new question. A co-worker complained that asking participants if they smashed wedding cake into their new spouse’s mouth was inappropriate. At coffee break, the supervisor asked Deidre to meet in his office.
            You are too hard to understand, Vincent had said before he left. You’re like living with a secret.
            I feel secretive now, Deidre had said.
            The supervisor told Deidre that a project manager did not design studies. “Your wedding traditions,” said the supervisor, “do not belong in market research.”
            “Your team,” said the supervisor, “should not be subject to your personal dilemmas. Let’s erase that additional question.”
            “It’s inked in,” she said.
            Her sister was furious. They’d dated since college. Her brother was in shock. He had introduced Deidre to Vincent. Her mother and father wondered what people would think. Deidre had to mail postcards to all the guests: Erase the date.
            I thought I’d get used to your mysterious ways. I tried, Vincent had said.
            At the end of the next day, the supervisor told Deidre that, unavoidably, she was being let go. Immediately. Studies must not be tampered with. Clear your desk. Adios.
            After packing up, she met the tight-permed receptionist, Pamela, for happy hour. They went to a restaurant called Zula’s and ordered a bottle of wine. Pamela said, “Once their eyes stray, you can never trust them again.”
            “He didn’t cheat.”
            Pamela said, “Chin-chin.” Then, “Uh huh.”
            “He said I was hazy.”
            “You mean gloomy?”
            “Under wraps. Camouflaged. Puzzling.”
            “You didn’t let him unwrap you?”
            “Why buy the cow…”
            “Oh, really!” said Pamela, exasperated.
            Deidre’s parents said they were coming to see her over the weekend. She pulled out her usual lie, that she was going to a two-day fashion show with friends. Her parents would be hoping that she was using her degree.
            For weeks, Deidre looked for a job, finally taking one as a companion to a senior citizen, Wayne, a skinny little squirt with knife-cut dimples on his cheeks. Wayne’s son taught at the university and needed someone to keep an eye on his father during the day until there was an opening at the nursing home.
            Their first day together, they ate slices of cake at Graeter’s then stood on Fountain Square to hear a bluegrass band. They explored Over the Rhine, and Deidre told Wayne that nearby Washington Park was a place to see. They walked there and watched children play in the water fountains. They took a bus to Newport and bought tickets for the duck boats on the Ohio River. Wayne said, “If you listen closely, our boat will quack.”
            Wayne’s son taught biology and said, his glasses perched crownlike atop his head, that he was in the middle of serious research. The house had a large backyard, but a lawn service tended the grounds and there was no place to plant a garden. Being a professor meant the son often worked late.
            Deidre and Wayne made spaghetti with meatballs and watched Star Trek reruns on TV. Sometimes they blended strawberries and blueberries with bananas and juice and made smoothies.
            I don’t understand you, Vincent had said. I feel like I can’t see you.
            Have your eyes checked, Deidre had said.
            When the reruns ended, Deidre collected the glasses and rinsed them in the kitchen.
            One sunny, windy day Deidre and Wayne met his friend at a park. They played chess on a picnic table, and Deidre watched the game closely. Deidre said she’d never learned to play, and the two men began to teach her. She was a fast study. Wayne and his friend took turns challenging her, and though she lost every time, she saw her skills improving.
            When the son was still not home at nightfall, Deidre and Wayne read side by side until Wayne fell asleep. In the living room she read art books, but mostly she skimmed the pages so she learned very little.
            If you ever listened to me, Vincent had said, then you would see me.
            She perused a shelf and picked up The Sedona Method, a book that promised the keys to lasting happiness. Make positive changes in your life, a wise and proven formula to experience the joy and pleasure of simply being alive. So, she thought, Wayne’s son needs help enjoying life as well.
            Deidre’s mother said, “Don’t be so sad. Things will work out.”
            She fell asleep on the couch reading The Sedona Method. When she woke up, the son was standing over her. She said, “What happened?”
            He said, “Nothing. I didn’t want to wake you.”
            But he did wake her. She went home to her apartment and lay awake all night.
            The next day, she and Wayne took the Metro bus to the end of the line and talked about cars. “I always wanted to own a Mercedes. They’re so elegant,” Wayne said.
            “I’ll take any car that turns over on the first try,” Deidre said.
            She dozed a bit. She daydreamed she was walking with Wayne along a sandy beach. She was telling him not to crush the seashells that shone like rubies and sapphires. She tucked The Sedona Method behind the couch cushions. No one would miss it.
            Her brother called to say hello. He said there was someone he’d like to introduce her to. Deidre said, “Not yet.”
            Her brother said, “It’s time to move on.”
            Wayne’s son, when he arrived home, would sometimes gaze at her. Deidre would gaze back.
            “I’d like to know what your plans are when this man moves out of his son’s house,” Deidre’s mother said on the phone.
            “I’d like to know your life plan,” her father said.
            The Sedona Method said, “As you learn this simple process of releasing emotions that rob you of joy and abundance, your fear and anxiety will gently slip away.”
            “When was the last time you sewed anything?” her mother asked.
            Her father said, “You graduated in fashion design.”
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            All afternoon, Deidre and Wayne shopped for the ingredients to make a red velvet cake. The sun overhead like a big lemon pie made them wonder if they should switch recipes. Wayne lamented not becoming a baker.
            The next day Wayne considered opening a lemonade stand.
            They bicycled to Aglamesis on Oakley Square. Wayne dawdled along on his fat-tired, big handle-barred bike. Deidre kept pace on her ten-speed and kept an eye on traffic.
            At Aglamesis, Deidre read aloud the flavors from the menu: spumoni, Italian ice lime, rum raisin, egg nog. Wayne said, “vanilla.” They sat beside a newspaper stand with articles about the budget, the war, taxes.
            “Never retire,” Wayne said. “There’s nothing to do but read bad news every day.”
            You are my life, Vincent had told her more than once. I’ll always love you, he had said to her when they got engaged. “Shift your state of consciousness from one of stress and resistance to relaxation and allowance,” The Sedona Method advised.
            “You’re so sad,” Wayne’s son said to Deidre later that evening. She was just getting ready to return to her apartment. He rubbed the tip of his thumb over her cheek.
            “Yes,” Deidre said. “I’m releasing my underlying emotions.”
            Wayne said he knew the best thing for sadness.
            Deidre said, “And that would be?”
            Wayne said, “The flower place.”
            Deidre said, “Okie dokie artichokey.”
            Wayne handed over the bus schedule. They took the Metro through Eden Park to the Krohn Conservatory. They saw the summer displays of tall sunflowers, lavender asters, hydrangeas, daisies. They walked by the cactus in the desert room. They ambled along the path through the rainforest and under the waterfall. An iguana scurried by and surprised them. “It was more scared of us than we were of it,” Deidre said. “Maybe it thought we would eat it.”
            Wayne leaned into Deidre on the bus ride home. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. The woman across the aisle said, “Your father’s sweet.”
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            Deidre’s brother invited her to happy hour one day when she got off work early. The place was packed. The friend her brother wanted Deidre to meet didn’t show. Deidre drank too much and felt hungover.
            She was late to wake up the next morning. She found Wayne waiting at the kitchen table. “Are you sick?” he asked.
            “I was,” Deidre told him.
            They walked to Hyde Park Square and talked to the firemen as they washed their truck. They went to Arthur’s for hamburgers and shakes.
            “This tastes like summertime,” Wayne said.
            They went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and looked at the bolts of cloth there. “See, you use a pattern,” Deidre told Wayne. “You pick an outfit from the catalogue and then you buy the pattern pieces.”
            “Can I help you?” the saleslady asked them.
            They walked to the library and sat on the front porch bench and talked about their favorite books.
            “Portrait of an Artist,” Deidre said.
            Wayne said, “No, Tuesdays with Morrie.”
            “Tuesdays with an Artist.”
            Wayne said, “Was that a book you read when you were in college?”
            She dreamed she was a seamstress. In her hand was the pattern of her life and written into the pattern were directions for how to live.
            She bought fabric and began sewing. She created her own patterns from tissue paper and covered the cloth with the pieces. Then she fastened them with straight pins and cut them out with her finest scissors.
            First, a baptismal dress with pearl trim at the neckline and pleated tiers of organza.
            Second, a school jumper in red and green plaid over a white collared blouse.
            Third, a prom formal—long, mint, sequins.
            Fourth, a graduation robe black and long as any judge’s.
            Fifth, a bridal gown, all lace and tulle and chiffon.
            When each piece was finished, she snipped any loose threads and ironed the wrinkles out.
            She bought more fabric and began again. She stayed up late at night sewing.
            In the mornings, Wayne’s son asked her why she yawned so much.
            “Why are you so sleepy?” Wayne asked her in the afternoons.
            She fell asleep reading beside Wayne waiting for his son to come home, and she awoke when he at last returned. Again, he was gazing at her. I’ll always love you, Vincent had said.
            She sewed a line of boys’ and men’s wear.
            First, fleece-lined twill overalls.
            Second, a blue tee-ball shirt, Mimi’s Pizza printed across the back.
            Third, a boy scout uniform with green shoulder epaulets.
            Fourth, a three-piece suit, double-breasted, gray.
            Fifth, a tuxedo—classic black bow tie.
            As before, she snipped any stray threads and ironed each piece to perfection.
            After that, she bought more fabric and sewed a quilt that she peopled with those she knew. She blocked in her brother and sister, her parents, even Pamela. She had a square for Wayne. She sewed in Vincent as a boy, then a teen. Next the young man she’d fallen for and last as a tottering old man not so different from Wayne.
            She laid out the clothes and the quilt and photographed them. She thought about grad school. She imagined fashion shows, giving autographs.
            She gave Wayne a drawing lesson. They went down to the river together and drew the long feminine legs of the tree trunks that rose into full skirts of foliage. They drew clouds plump as doves.
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            On a brisk late August afternoon, crisp as an apple, Wayne’s son had a Labor Day party in the backyard. Wayne and his son’s friends drank beer and wine. Deidre had sewn tablecloths for each table. Deidre took pictures; she served refreshments.
            At the end of the party, Deidre helped clean up. Wayne was moving into the nursing home the next day. Wayne said, “There are visiting hours every afternoon. You can come see me.”
            Deidre said, “I can’t. I’m going away. I’m going back to school.”
            Wayne’s eyes filled with tears.
            Wayne’s son said, “You knew Deidre was only here for a little while.”
            Wayne held Deidre by the shoulders. “Why can’t I see you anymore?”
            “I’m going away,” she said.
            “Why?”
            Because your son pities me and wants me at the same time, she almost said but did not. Because my parents are anxious for me to do something with my life. Because Vincent lives in Cincinnati. But what she said aloud was, “That’s what I need to do.”
            She went inside and came out with a wall hanging for Wayne she’d sewn. She’d used lots of bright colors to make it cheerful.
            The fabric picture showed the duck boats on the Ohio River quacking away, the vanilla ice cream at Aglamesis, Over the Rhine, the water fountains at Washington Park.
            Wayne’s son said, “This is wonderful. You know your way around a needle and thread.”
            Wayne said he hated the images. He said he wouldn’t hang it in his new room.
            His son said, “Ah, Pop.”
            Wayne bunched the material into a heap and threw it on the ground. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
            “I don’t know what’s come over him,” Wayne’s son said to Deidre. “I don’t know what went wrong.”
            “Everything’s wrong!” Wayne gulped, and he latched onto Deidre tightly.
            “Dad,” his son began. He tucked his shaking hands into the safety of his long sleeves.
            Deidre brushed the wetness from her own eyes. Then rocking this gentle man in her arms, she at last lassoed the right words. “I know,” she said. “I know.”

Patty Houston teaches creative writing and composition at the University of Cincinnati. Recently, her work has appeared in The Louisville Review, Oxford American, The Fiddlehead, Witness, Santa Monica Review and other journals. Her novel Strange Alliances is in search of a good home. She is at work on a second novel.

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