The garage was empty. Oil from the Chevy streaked on the tiled floor and down the driveway, despite the haphazardly scattered cat litter that was intended to absorb the thick mess. The shelves and toolboxes had been cleaned and removed of their gadgets. In fact, all valuables, aside from her collection of Elvis records, which lined the walls, had been taken.
Sue, can you hear me? Your artery is closed. You’re going to need a stent.
Sue walked into the Armenian Orthodox church hand-in-hand with her mother. Her lips, though upturned in a smile, trembled with fear of the unknown. Sue focused on the gaudy stained glass that tinted the ornate building, the colorful depictions of holy folk embracing the sun that filled its panes. She attempted to block out the bile that rose in her throat from the thought of losing her virginity to a man twice her age. She stumbled over the long satin dress that flowed around her young body, her beaded shoes grinding the hem of the dress into the dirt that rested on the steps of the old church. “Almost there, Ashken,” her mother whispered in her ear. Though it was meant for comfort, it had entirely the opposite effect.
As Sue opened the doors to the chapel inside the church, she saw her soon-to-be husband for the first time. His wrinkled face and thick, wiry hair repulsed her. Her mother kissed her cheek and proceeded to greet guests of the groom. Over the thick Armenian dialogue she heard someone say, “Fifteen. What a beautiful age to be married.”
She was glad he had at least left her Elvis records, so that she still held something of worth in her name. “Mom, you have work in thirty minutes! Where are—What are you doing in the garage still? You know he’s gone. Go inside and get ready so I can drop you off on my way to the city.”
“Oh—okay Raf.” Sue replied to her son. Raffi, Sue’s second child, never liked his step-father. Especially not now. The ride to work was full of complaints of that “sick bastard” who never deserved her in the first place. Sue pretended to listen, but watched as Raffi’s face flushed from a light olive to a bright pink. He looked nothing like his birth-father. It was bad enough to get divorced at 18, but thankfully the boys did not resemble him.
Sue stands at the spacious window of the vacant master bedroom, promptly finishing her second pack of cigarettes. Her thoughts drift to Berj and his whereabouts for the past 30 years. “Probably living in a ditch somewhere,” she snorts, taking a drag of her cigarette, “gambled all his money away.”
When Raffi’s car pulled up at the liquor store, Sue promptly kissed him goodbye. “You know, mom, he left you for the best. Things will get better for you,” Raffi said before she got out of the car and straightened her uniform as she headed inside the store. If only she were able to get her Fibromyalgia under control she would be able to support her family with a real job.
Sue took her place at the register after changing shifts with Allison, a woman in her forties with an entirely too low-cut black shirt and gray leopard print leggings. “My Ms. Sue, you are lookin’ fine today!” Shouted Darren from the back of the store as he picked up his common merchandise, a packet of Extenze and a box of Coors. Sue smiled and shook her head towards Darren as he swaggered to the front of the store. “The usual? I swear those things can’t be good for your heart” Sue stated in her low, cigarette teased voice, pointing at the Extenze.
“Yeah, well, they keep the ladies pleased” Darren said grinning brightly and placing his elbows on the counter. Darren was a pretty man, Sue could not deny it. His face was as smooth as tanned leather, but just as worn. Despite being a cocaine pusher, Darren was oddly charming. “Ya know,” he said, tilting his head forward slightly as Sue bagged his goods, “I could take real good care of you since your man left you and all.” Sue laughed unabashedly, her eyes squinting with sheer pleasure. The first time she had done so in months. She refused to tell him about how Mike had come back to her just yesterday. “I appreciate it, sweetie, but I’m going to have to take a rain check on that one.”
Sue, can you hear me? Your artery is closed. You’re going to need a stent. You’re healthy aside from your heart. You need to relax.
Mike met Sue while at a coffee shop in San Francisco. He was 30, while she was 36. Though Sue was enthralled by his Midwest charm, she could never bring home a white man. Within two years, Sue was pregnant with their first child. Marriage quickly followed. In less than a year, Sue was pregnant again with their second child, a girl who now stood at Sue’s bedroom door, pacing, shouting, and crying from the blood that covered the bathroom sink.
“Mom, she did it again!” Leah shouted. “She said she would stop after the last time he left, but she didn’t. She won’t let me into her bedroom. She’s going to hate me but you have to talk to her.” Leah’s face flushed with worry. Her mouth opened in exasperated gasps, air whistling lightly through the gap in her front teeth. Sue walked past Leah and across the hall to Emily’s door.
You just got out of the hospital, but you keep smoking.
I need to smoke to make it through the day.
Yeah, well I need to do this to make it through the day.
No, it’s different. I don’t hurt myself.
“Hey Ash, I met this new coworker at the store today. She had a bruise on her face and when I asked her what happened she said her boyfriend, or I guess husband since she had a ring on, had hit her. I don’t get guys who do that. I mean, when you told me that Berj had done that stuff to you, it outraged me, ya know?” Mike said as he reached for a bowl from the cabinet above the kitchen sink.
“Yeah, I suppose. Some men are just assholes.” Sue replied.
Mike walked over to where she was wiping down the kitchen counter. Encircling her waist, he stated, “But I’m not one of those guys, right Ashken?” Ashken, her birth name. One that nobody could pronounce, except Mike. She preferred to go by Sue to avoid the embarrassment of teaching people to say her name correctly. But with Mike, it just effortlessly rolled off his tongue.
“Of course not” She said, turning her head to kiss him chastely.
“So you’re back again” Sue stated as she opened the front door to see Mike’s swollen, red face.
“The therapist suggested I should come by, to get my things—Ash I am so sorry. I don’t know why I did it, I just felt sorry for her and you’ve been so distant—”
“—I’ve been distant!” Sue interrupted. “Well of course I had! The pain is getting worse Michael, do you even understand? I can barely use my hands and I can’t afford good medicine anymore.”
“I—I’m sorry,” he stammered out before succumbing to tears.
Sue woke in the morning to an empty bed. Though her heart had started to ache during their lovemaking, she told Michael she was fine. He had gone back to that woman, the younger woman. The woman who needed him.
She wonders if he is happy with his new baby, the one with her. Will he abandon the child, just as he had his own family?
“Well he took the Chevy this time” Raffi stated, kicking his shoe at the stray cat litter that covered portions of the garage floor. “Bastard. It was for the best though,” he continued, “that car had bad mileage anyway.” Sue was stunned by Raffi’s word choice. She had only heard him cuss a handful of times.
“But how are we going to make it without a car, Raf? You can’t always take care of us.”
“Eh, this wouldn’t be the first time that a man has taken something away from you, right mom? You’ll get through this again.”
Again. This shouldn’t have happened again. The oil that streaked down the driveway picked up the tinted hue of the morning sun, radiating pinks and blues in the black tar. Sue looked at the mess, and in it, found the hope of promise.