by Shannon Alberta
Hannah and Gary married young, before either had a chance to figure out who they were or what they needed in life. Separation and time has given Hannah the opportunity to grow up. Gary, on the other hand, has only grown stubborn, and more desperate to keep up with his ex. By 2016 Lit POP Award winner Shannon Alberta, Operation Chairman of the Board is a twisted, yet heartfelt, story about how some people view love as a journey, and others as a competition.
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I HAVEN'T EVEN TAKEN off my work shoes when Gary calls for the third time in a row. When I finally answer, he says the toes on his left foot are numb and could I come quickly.
“I can’t,” I tell him, parting the curtains in the front window and scanning the street for Eddie’s red Yaris.
“Please, Hannah,” he says, fear coiled tight around his throat like a python.
“What colour are they?” I slide my purse off my shoulder and let it fall, the entry rug absorbing the dull thud.
“I can’t look.”
“I’m not going all the way there if you don’t at least look first.”
“Fine.” He puffs into the phone. “The edges look blue to me.”
“I’m not kidding.” There’s a shuffling sound.
All of this is a movie I’ve seen a thousand times. In this scene, his paranoia stirs him up off the couch. In the next one, he paces his living room like it’s a cage. The finale is the worst. Eddie told me the proper name for it: hypochondria-induced panic disorder. My role? He says I’m what they call an enabler.
“I’m coming now,” I tell Gary.
“I knew this was how it’d go down for me,” he says. “Eventually. I told you. Remember?”
“It’s probably nothing. Just watch TV until I get there.”
I leave a note for Eddie on the kitchen table. It says I’ve gone to Bobbi-Sue’s for wine and chit-chat, and that I love him the way a fat kid loves cake.
BLUE TOES / BLUE TOES / Whatcha gonna do? / Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? I was gonna sing that when Hannah answered the phone, but then she might’ve mistaken my parody for a lack of gravitas and stayed home cuddling with my replacement. I’ve got gravitas coming out the waz. It’s just that my brain knows shit’s about to get real and it’s trying to lighten the mood. Like the orchestra that kept playing as the Titanic went down.
I had more details prepared, in case she asked. I would have reminded her that despite it being August, despite my being under a blanket, the tips of my third and fourth piggies are the colour of those fake tombstones people stick in their front lawns at Halloween. Eskimo toes. Couldn’t have made that joke either; Hannah’s heart bruises so easy.
“It’s probably nothing,” she said. Everyone says that until the day they’re ass-over-brainpan wrong. She has a lot of reason to hope it’s nothing. Me being sick would be the shit-streak in her fancy new white undies. She’s done so much work to get to a place where she isn’t coming around much anymore.
Last time she wouldn’t even take off her shoes. I said to her, “My apologies; I was under the impression our vows still meant something.”
“They do,” she said.
“But not everything,” I said.
And what could she say to that? Nothing. Instead, she held a smile on her face, the kind of grin a five-year-old gives when you ask if they pissed the bed again.
At least she’s coming over.
I text Dennis: Operation Chairman of the Board is a go.
about the author
SHANNON ALBERTA's stories have appeared in: The New Quarterly, Matrix Magazine, and Joyland Magazine. Her story "Perv Jungle" was chosen as first prize winner in the 2016 Lit POP Awards. In 2014, she won first prize in the Eden Mills Writers' Festival literary contest. She teaches at Sarah Selecky's Story Is a State of Mind School, lives in Toronto, and once spent 24 hours with her leg in a bear trap. Visit her at shannonalberta.com.
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