‘Yeah! It’s stuffy in here. Take me to the ocean, honey. Let’s catch some breezes.’ I will take a drive to the ocean any day to get out of our dreary rental. Its gray color, both inside and outside, makes it cheerless to say the least.
I love Sam when he’s driving. I love watching him – sitting tall, looking handsome, both hands on the wheel, eyes focused, silent. Maybe once in a while he’ll hum or say something like ‘Pismo Beach, 25 miles.’ Or ‘Road work ahead,’ or ‘Nice clouds!’ – but not often.
When Sam’s driving, he’s not slouched on the couch, a beer in one hand, the TV remote in the other, staring at a ball game. I could be on Mars!
Sam loves to drive. It’s his living and he never gets enough of it. He grabs his car keys. I grab my shades. In the car I snuggle close to him. If only he’d talk a little like most husbands talk to their wives. A girl can dream. Talk to me! I only think it.
We pass five fields of cows on our drive. The first is practically across the street from our rental. Cows fascinate Sam. Every time we pass a field, he will turn his head to get a glimpse of them. I don’t understand it, but I never ask questions. I just bite my lip.
We drive for miles in silence. I’m used to it. I try to enjoy all the sights out the window. I start waiting for the sight of Al’s Diner, which has a picture of a cow on top of the roof. And there it is. ‘Moo!’ I say under my breath.
Sam hums as he pulls in the parking lot. ‘I’m starving for a hot dog.’
I’m starving myself but not for a hot dog. ‘Sure, honey! Whatever you say!’
No surprise! Sam always stops at Al’s Diner. He likes the waitress there. Her name is Rita. She paints cows. Her cows stand around in a bright green field. I don’t see much difference in any of the pictures, but she covers the diner’s walls with them. They’re for sale. Once in a while someone buys one and she’ll bring in another.
We have a routine at Al’s Diner. We sit down at a window. Rita doesn’t bother with a menu. She calls my husband Silent Sam. ‘Hi, Silent Sam!’
He nods. They smile at each other.
We eat our hot dogs. I stare at the cow pictures on the walls. Sometimes I stare at Rita. She keeps the same smile. Sam chomps on his dog and stares out the window. Sometimes he stares at Rita. I could be on Mars!
I stare at the silverware. The handles have an engraving of a cow. There’s one in my kitchen drawer. It’s a knife and Sam uses it to butter his toast and spread his marmalade. He either stole it or Rita gave it to him. We don’t talk about it, and God forbid I should use it myself.
Rita brings the check. ‘Everything okay, Silent Sam?’
He wipes his mouth. ‘Good dog,’ he mutters, smiling back.
I pat the top of my head. ‘Good dog,’ I whisper.
They both stare at me.
We have another long, quiet drive to the beach. We get out, stretch our legs, stare at the ocean, and enjoy the breeze. Ten minutes later, he wants to get back and watch the game.
‘Sure, honey. Whatever you say!’
When we drive back, I try to enjoy seeing the sights on the other side of the road. He slows down when we come to Al’s Diner, turns his head, and starts to hum. I wonder what he’s thinking when he hums. I never ask. A girl can dream!
I think back to the day when I found one of Rita’s cow paintings in his trunk. He told me he bought it. He never took it out. He said he’s going to get a new frame for it – that it deserves something better than what it has. It never occurred to me that a frame around a stupid cow picture would not be good enough.
I wonder how I would feel if I were living inside a cheap old frame. I think I’d want a new and better one because I’d deserve it … wouldn’t I? I don’t think a painted cow would care.
I asked Sam once if we could buy us one or two pretty pictures for our dismal walls. He said you don’t put nails in a rental, so maybe that’s the reason his picture is still in the trunk. Or not. He might have sneaked in a nail for the cows – except I think they’re his private cows.
I stop thinking because my brain starts to buzz. This is a slight disorder and passes quickly. I don’t want to say anything to Sam because I may regret it later. I clench my fists and hold back tears. I try not to bite my lip.
We pass a car stalled at the side of the road. A wreck can get him going sometimes! ‘Flat tire,’ is all he says.
Can you drown in silence? I must break it or my head will submerge. ‘Gas station ahead,’ I say brightly.
He’s got enough. Wonderful! I’m running on empty. I long for something, anything – a hitchhiker, a fly buzzing around his window. I’ll take anything. Talk to me!
We’re almost home. He turns his head for a last look at the cows. I never ask what he’s thinking. I bite my lip. I love him. I force a smile. ‘Handsome cows,’ I say. ‘Rita should paint that bunch.’
‘She already did,’ he mutters, pulling into the driveway.
I stare at him through my shades. How does he know that? How does he manage to tell one bunch of cows from another? ‘Moo!’ I whisper under my breath.
My brain starts to buzz again. I’m painting a picture on the window pane in front of me. I’ve done this before. The picture is a frame-less, throbbing mass of red and yellow colors. It fills out and then cracks apart. Sometimes it fills out all over again and won’t stop until something like a word from Sam stops it. I wait for that word. Talk to me! I always feel some relief when it cracks up, but I haven’t yet tried to stop the painting or the tears. I always cry silently.
Sam pulls in our driveway. He looks at his watch. ‘Just made it on time.’ He jumps out of the car and will be watching the game before I’m through the door.
We do our routine. He puts his feet on the coffee table. I rush into the kitchen and bring him a beer. I rush back and make popcorn. While I wait for the popcorn to pop, I stare at the picture coming together on the microwave door. I stop crying and remove my shades. I stare at the cow knife in the drawer. I trace the cow head with my thumb. I stop thinking.
When the popcorn is ready, I bring it to Sam and cuddle up next to him. He’s enjoying the game, the beer and the popcorn. He seems content as a cow.
I stare at the bare wall over the TV and watch my painting fill out in red and yellow colors as I finger his cow knife in my pocket. I wait for the cracks.