In New York city, Michael Wheatly sat in the tiny music room in his apartment, feeling a little lost and not quite sure what to do about it. In the two months since he and Inez had been living together, there had been considerable rockiness. The fights had been intense – and loud – but not so serious as to break them up. If anything, Inez said she’d expected them, part of the whole learning to live together process.
Still, Michael felt uncomfortable. It was true that his ex-wife had been more likely to avoid confrontations during the four years they were married. But the fights toward the end, those had been loud and ugly. Michael played his and Inez’ latest fight back through his mind, trying to find something different.
He played a few notes on the mini-grand piano in front of him and debated writing them down on the sheet music in front of him. It was about that time that he caught a faint whiff of cigarette smoke. Inez must have come home. He’d been concentrating pretty intensely on his latest composition and Inez knew better than to knock when the music room door was closed. Michael felt a pang of guilt, looked at the music and decided he’d played out this latest bit of inspiration.
Inez was in the living room, smoking and looking out the apartment window without seeing anything.
“Are you home early or did I lose track of time again?” Michael asked softly.
Inez turned and snubbed out her cigarette. “Oh. I don’t know. What time is it?”
Michael looked around the living room but there were no clocks visible. There was a clock on the DVD player, but that was closed in the cabinet below the TV. The kitchen boasted clocks on the microwave, the oven and the stereo unit under one of the shelves, but that was in the kitchen.
“It’s dark,” Michael observed. “Six-ish, maybe?”
“Sounds about right.” Inez pulled her mobile phone from her pants pocket. “Six-thirty-eight, actually. You want dinner?”
“I suppose. Are you all right?”
Inez shrugged listlessly. “So-so. Maria French came by the studio today. She wants to show my work at her gallery.”
“That’s terrific.” Michael paused. “Are you worried about having enough prints developed or something?”
“No. I’ve got plenty of pictures.” Inez looked over at him and smiled sadly. “I could take some new shots for the kids at play series, but I’ve got enough for Maria’s exhibit if I don’t get to it.”
“Then what’s bothering you? You don’t smoke inside here, usually.”
“I’ve gotta quit this lousy habit.” Inez dropped the pack of cigarettes onto the window sill.
“And…?” Michael waited.
Inez looked at him. “Mama called this afternoon. She wants me to come to dinner next Sunday.”
“If we’re free, why not?”
“She wants me. You were not included in the invite.” Inez began pacing. “My ex is going to be there.”
“Mama doesn’t quite get it that Manuel left me. She wants us back together again. Even a bastard like Manuel is better than me being alone or living in sin with you.”
“I take Mama doesn’t quite get it that you’re the one who doesn’t want to get married just yet.”
Inez turned on him. “Now don’t start that with me, will you? I’m in no mood.”
“No kidding.” Michael flopped onto the couch.
Inez rolled her eyes. “And you’re still bugged about the fighting.”
“Yeah, I am.” Michael glared at her. “Sorry. I know better. I just- I don’t know. This just isn’t what I expected. I mean I didn’t expect it to be perfect and happily ever after.”
Inez rolled her eyes. “So what? It’s not all about you. If we’re going to make a go of this, you’d better get used to that idea and fast. I’ve got a real problem here. If you’re not willing to listen, then I can go elsewhere.”
“No.” Michael got up and went to her. “I’m sorry. I should be listening better. But it’s not like we can do anything about your family.”
“Like I don’t know that? It still hurts. It’s still making me crazy.”
“Then don’t let it.”
“Easy for you to say.” Inez groaned and went back to glaring out the window.
Michael came up behind. “Okay. It’s not easy. But what are you going to do? You’re not going to change them.”
“I know. I just wish they weren’t so down on you.” Inez coughed lightly. “Manuel called me today, also. Said he wants to get back together. I guess his little floozy lost her job.”
“I’m sorry, Inez.”
“You’re right. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Michael smiled softly. “Except not get back together with him.”
“Don’t even,” Inez growled, then softened. “It’s not going to happen. I just don’t want to have to deal with it, is all.”
“Then don’t. The next time Manuel calls, hang up on him. If your mother starts in, hang up. There’s a reason those buttons are on the phone.”
Inez leaned into him. “I know. We’ll see. This is my mother we’re talking about, remember.”
Michael sighed. “Point taken. It’ll be all right, Inez, mi amor. The most important thing is that we’re here together. The rest of the world can go to hell.”
“It can.” Inez smiled. “So what did you do all day?”
Michael grinned. “Sparrow Without Wings. You want to hear it?”
“Of course, amado.” Inez shook her head and chuckled.
It was always about Michael. But sometimes, that was a good thing.