Limited Options

by Matthew T. Birdsall

Hour after hour of driving alone peels away layers of decency
more effectively than too much bourbon because anger
floods me after even the slightest error from anyone—
everyone forgets to use their turn signal—
it seems people think cars are their own personal worlds
where no one can see them texting
or crying uncontrollably at a stoplight running from a domestic dispute,
and I’m no different when I shout a barrage of 4-letter words at strangers
for being human because I’m alone and they can’t hear me.

The last traffic jam couldn’t simply stand still
and the intolerable inching overfilled me
with emptiness—at home, my daughter is having trouble
with gross motor development, and my dream of dancing
a waltz with her at her wedding is slowly evaporating
after each progress report from the Preschool and despite advice
from half a dozen Specialists, my wife and I still don’t know where to turn.
Now, I can’t stop moving
since I walked into my hotel room—
located twenty miles away from anything I’ll eat—
I keep wandering in an absurd pattern
around my room at the Hampton Inn
staring at the carpet—dreaming it’s clean—
the pattern seems to be floral—abstract,
but not in a way that washes over you like Rothko’s sunsets,
instead the globulous flowers bleed their faded colors into one another—
yeah, I decided they get their own word: globulous.
I tap the tip of my toe to a leaf, pivot, twist, drop my heel
onto an adjacent flowery glob, switch feet, stumble,
chuckle, again, again.

My roommate—my mobile office—glares at me from the desk
as I continue to try to tango with the floor flowers—
charred chocolate, stale moss, burnt fuchsia—
I decide I’m competing against myself—my toes can
only touch the petals and I’m certain I am ridiculously alone
without music or a partner, almost like a Rothko without an audience—
whimsically nonexistent nothingness spinning centrifugally around itself,
but I need to move around after sitting for four and a half hours—
I’m confident without doing deep research, hell,
without fully reading the Facebook feed article,
this is how I can stave off computer-screen hyperopia
and a curved spine.

Hunger cuts in and I head to my phone where I filter the Zomato search
to show restaurants rated three-and-a-half stars and up.
My limited options get me wishing I were back in Paris
drowsily catching raindrops in my plastic wineglass
trying to keep my cigarette smoke away from my eyes
as I reclined tipsily on the balcony of our hotel room
staring at you on the bed nursing your feet sore from the new shoes
and five days of walking on rain-slickened sidewalks of strange streets—
the pain didn’t stop us from enjoying some late-night raw-milk cheeses
and a bottle of Bordeaux as we twirled around the room together
listening to an old Gypsy Jazz record we found in the closet.
I don’t see a filter option for raw-milk cheeses.

I think you knew Sophia was growing inside your womb,
though you hadn’t told me yet because it was just blind intuition—
a hypothesis that couldn’t be tested until we got back to the States.
After the second bottle of Bordeaux, we’d had enough of dancing vertically
and our lovemaking upended common sense—a surreal, Parisian experience.

I head out of the room bound by a responsibility to feed myself.
I check my pockets for car keys, wallet, cell phone, and hotel key
on the way out. Then, I check my pockets again
for car keys, wallet, cell phone, and hotel key with my foot in the door.
Then, again, as I stroll down the hallway filled with globulous flowers
I pat myself down to check for my car keys, wallet, cell phone, and hotel key.
(The Specialists all agree that repetition can fix nearly anything,
so I’m applying it to my anxiety and paranoia.)
I get the urge to dance with the floor flowers again,
but I don’t because I see an older couple coming out of their room—
checking their pockets with their free hands, luggage in the other—
facing the road together, laughing at one of their decades-old, inside jokes.
They don’t notice I’m there—don’t even glance at me, or see my shadow—
because their lives are going great, their children are happy adults
and I begin to feel empty again—

right then, I hear the unmistakable FaceTime ringtone —
I stop in the middle of the hallway, turn toward a light,
thumb the phone. Sophia says, “Hi, Daddy, wanna dance?” —
holding out her hand to me on the screen—
I pretend I’m not standing in a hallway—alone—when she says,
“Ensemble, Daddy?” and I start dancing—
imagining we both know every step.

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