Eavesdropping by Susan Lilley

shaggy carpet on stairs

During cocktail hour, your dad put on a Bossa nova record and the other dads clustered by the stereo, talking about vacations, real estate, cars, baseball, their icy old-fashioneds jingling like tambourines. Hidden around a corner, you, at 14, lay on burnt tangerine shag in the stairwell landing, watching the light change in the high windows, listening. Brazil 66 poured another layer of sunset into the room. The moms out in the kitchen pealed like bells, their silvery laughter cascading down the hall. Twilight gilded every edge; you put your feet up against the wall and dreamed of stopping right there, with adulthood just out of reach, vague and gorgeous and always coming, someday.

When the men changed their channel, aiming their words to the earth, beneath music and carpets and concrete, you had to sit up to hear, your cheek against the stairwell wall. It was something about women, about business trips and being fixed-up at the lawyers’ bar convention. Nobody said prostitute or call girl, but women. The focus seemed to swing to your father. What about you, Bob, they said. Haven’t you ever, really, they demanded. Haven’t you even been tempted?

Your heart galloped into your head. You wondered if you were going to faint. A question you never thought in your life formed quickly and grew, a dark balloon in the three feet between you. You pictured his face, his dark eyes.

Then he laughed. But not like he laughed when he watched Jackie Gleason or Hogan’s Heroes, not like he was having fun. He said something like nah, just not his deal. Said it quietly, dismissively, said it in a way to stop the talk, like a door firmly closed in a hushed hallway. And when you could breathe you carefully stepped all the way downstairs into noise, into brothers and F-Troop on TV. Green army men lay tangled in the carpet, ready to kill the soft civilian instep. For a while you were the only girl in the world. You walked as if you balanced a goblet of boiling truth inside your body.

susan lilleySusan Lilley’s poetry and nonfiction appear or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, Drunken Boat, Saw Palm, The Florida Review, CALYX, Sweet, Slipstream, and other journals. She is the 2009 winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award, and her two chapbooks are Night Windows and Satellite Beach. In 2010 she received an Individual Artist Grant from the state of Florida. She lives and teaches in central Florida.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/dominic-mercier
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