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Caught Up

A special from-the-archives edition of Flash Fridays, here’s Jamie Quatro’s “Caught Up” from our recent Ecstatic issue…

The vision started coming when I was nine. It was always the same: I was alone, standing on the brick patio in front of our house, watching thick clouds above the mountains turn violent shades of red and purple, then draw themselves together and spiral. Whirlpool, hurricane, galaxy. The wind picked up, my hair whipped my face, and I felt—knew—that the world was on the cusp of a giant cataclysm. Then came a tugging in my middle, as if I were a kite about to be yanked up by a string attached just below my navel. Takeoff was imminent; all I had to do was surrender—close my eyes, relax my limbs—and I would be catapulted, belly-first, into the vortex.

The vision ended there. I never left the patio.

When I told my mother, she said, God speaks to his children in dreams. She said we should always be ready for the Lord’s return: lead a clean life and stay busy with our work, keeping an eye skyward. I pictured my mother up on our roof, sitting in a folding chair, snapping beans.

I don’t remember when the vision stopped coming. Somewhere along the way I forgot about it. I grew up and married a good man who cries at baptisms and makes our children carry spiders outside instead of smashing them, as they’d like to; who never goes to sleep without kissing some part of my body. He says he wants to know, on his deathbed, that his lips have touched every square inch. In grad school, when I told him I was attracted to one of his friends who’d made a pass at me, he said, “Show me what you would do with him, if you could.”

Three years ago—seventeen years into this marriage—I fell in love with a man who lives nine hundred miles away. Ten months of talking daily with this man, until finally he bought train tickets and arranged a meeting date. We’ll just—pick a car, he said on the phone. Any car, so long as it’s empty.

The day he suggested this, I called my mother and told her about the affair. I told her I wanted the infidelity to stop, but planned to keep the man as a friend. I said I loved my husband and wanted to protect my marriage. What I didn’t say was that I only knew I was supposed to want to protect it; I thought that if I did the right thing, eventually my heart would follow.

My mother was quiet.

Please tell me you won’t keep him, she said. In any way.

Are the children all right? she said. Can you put one of them on?

After we hung up, I went for a long run, then walked the last block up our street’s steep incline. A cloud covered the sun so the entire length of pavement was in shade, and then the cloud pulled back, all at once; the light sped down the street toward me, and in those few seconds it looked like the road itself was moving, a conveyor belt that would scoop me up from underneath. The old vision returned. The upward tug in my belly. I recognized the feeling—what I felt every time the other man, the faraway man, told me what he would do if he had me in person, my wrists pinned over my head.

It would be devotional, he’d said. I would lay myself on your tongue like a communion wafer.

This time, in the vision, the other man was with me. I would like to say he was standing beside me—that we were equals—but he was the size of a toddler. I was holding him. He was limp and barely breathing, his skin gray, the color of my two-year-old son’s face the night we rushed him to the ER for croup, and I knew the reason I was about to be caught up was because I was supposed to carry the man to God and lay him in His lap so that God could . . . what? I didn’t know.

Bullshit, the man said when I told him about the vision. I’m already there.

My turn, he said. You, me, walking in the woods. It’s winter. We’ve just had two feet of snow. We’re playing together like kids. I’m chasing you, and when I catch you, I push you into a drift and lie on top of you. Above us the sky rips open and God is there, smiling down, and what He is saying, over and over, is Yes.

I wish I knew God your way, I said.

You will, he said. All you have to do is show up. Grand Central, February 13, 9 am.

Tell me you’ll be there, he said.

Two years later, when I called my mother to tell her how much I missed the man, how on the one hand I wished I had gone through with our planned meeting yet at the same time regretted even the phone sex, because if we hadn’t done that we might have been able to save the friendship, when I told her that something inside me was weeping all the time, and that I hoped there would be a literal Second Coming and Consummated Kingdom because then the man and I could spend eternity just talking, she said, Wait—phone sex? And I said, I thought I told you, and she said, You told me you had an affair, and I said, No I didn’t, we didn’t, not in that way, and she said, I must have assumed, and I said, I can’t believe all this time you’ve been thinking I went through with it.

You might as well have, she said. It’s all the same in God’s eyes.

Jamie Quatro’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Antioch Review, AGNI, McSweeney’s, Oxford American, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of the 2010 fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell colony, and she holds graduate degrees from the College of William and Mary and Bennington College. She lives with her husband and children in the Chattanooga, TN, area, where she’s at work on a story collection and a novel.

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Posted in Fiction, Flash Fridays

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