February 2013 Featured Writer: Bridget Walsh

Bridget Walsh is an undergraduate fashion marketing and management major and writing minor at SCAD-Atlanta. She spends most of her time drinking root beer and online shopping. She hopes to be a buyer for a specialty store while continuing to write her short stories.

The Naturalist

The postcards stopped coming in August. The last one sent was laying face up on the kitchen table looking out of place.

“Always thinking of you. Love, Mom and Dad,” it said.

I traced her heavy handwriting with my finger and tried to remember the last real conversation we had. It was on my wedding day that she held me in her arms and told me that I had made a mistake.

“You’re just not you anymore,” she said through muffled sobs. The photographer snapped several pictures of what seemed like a loving embrace between an emotional mother and daughter on her wedding day. My friends and family smiled and pretended to hold back tears having no idea or interest in what my mother was admitting. The photographer had framed the photo for me when I received the proofs but I never put it up.

“You used to have a spark,” she continued, “I could see it in your eyes before but they’re dull now. They have been since you met him. I was hoping that I was wrong but I see now that I was just too afraid to tell you the truth.” My mother had always been afraid to tell us what she was thinking. For nine years, she refused to tell my father that she didn’t like drinking coffee despite the fact that they drank it together every morning. It wasn’t until their 30th wedding anniversary, when he bought her a shiny silver espresso maker, that she broke down crying and told the truth.

It took her three months to stop calling. She’d been sending a postcard every month from Cypress Cove Resort until a few months ago. I flipped over the card to see a photo of my mother and father laughing hysterically as they both posed holding bunny ears behind the each other’s heads. The bright caption below their figures read, “Who needs clothes to have fun?” Neither my mother nor father wore a single piece of clothing in the photos they sent me of themselves at their nudist resort. In one of her letters, my mother told me that her and my father now rent a mobile home on the resort’s campground and spend every weekend engaging in recreational activities with other nudists. Naturalist is what she says they like to be called. My mother had always been a spiritual person but never a religious one like Danny. She believed that shedding her clothes brought her closer to nature and her inner spirit. We were born naked, she said, like Adam and Eve and should never be ashamed with the bodies we were blessed with.

I can usually hear Danny’s truck tires grinding the gravel as he pulls into the driveway, but it wasn’t until I heard him kick off his heavy brown boots that I realized he was home. Ever since my brother, Wes, called last week, asking to visit me, I’ve been anxious that Danny might meet him in the driveway or see his car on they way home from church. Wes was coming tonight and I hadn’t told Danny, knowing that he would be angry. I nervously straightened the ripples forming in the yellow and red plaid tablecloth with my palms. He sauntered into the kitchen and sleepily fell into the chair that I had just left. Before I remembered to grab my mother’s postcard, he snatched it from my hands and laughed.

“It’s just not right to send pictures like these,” he said as he crumpled the card in his fist and tossed it with a flick of his wrist into the trashcan. It hit the wall and bounced back out. I smoothed out the wrinkles and slid it into my pocket. Danny stared at me but didn’t say anything. He’s been too tired to fight since he was put in charge of training the new preacher at our church. The new preacher is handsome like Danny but is much younger which makes him angry, because at his age, Danny was waiting tables at the local barbeque restaurant.

I met Danny when I was in high school. For three years I never even knew his name. It wasn’t until one day that he approached me in the hall after a rumor spread that I was pregnant. Unlike Danny, school meant nothing to me. It was merely the thing that got in the way of my time with friends and boys. After the rumors began spreading, though, Danny was the only person who would talk to me. He told me that he had always been in love with me but it wasn’t until I was alone that he felt safe enough to talk to me. I’ve been alone ever since. Except for Danny, of course.

I finally broke away from Danny’s gaze never being able to look into his eyes for too long. He sighed loudly and lifted himself from his chair and walked to the living room to turn on the television. I sat in the overstuffed armchair closest to the television and picked at the nail polish as we watched a sweet chubby girl with curly hair sing my favorite Shania Twain song.

“I’ll tell you right now that Simon is going to rip her to shreds,” Danny laughed. I felt bad for the girl and my palms began to sweat in embarrassment for her. She was timid and nervous but she had a sweet voice that I would do just about anything to have. Danny was right, though, Simon was unsympathetic.

I’d been waiting for the singsong ring all night, but the sound of the doorbell made me jump from my seat and onto my feet taking Danny aback.

“Don’t answer it,” he said annoyed, “it’s too late for visitors. They’ll go away.”

I nodded my head but remained standing. The doorbell sounded again but I had already reached the door before Danny could tell me to sit. The sweat from my palms made it difficult to turn the doorknob so I wrapped the sleeve of my sweater around the knob and twisted it open. He was only a few inches taller than me and had ashy blonde hair that stuck out in all directions thanks to a generous amount of product. He carried a large brown leather duffle bag on his left shoulder causing him to lean his weight to the right. Despite the years, it was his crooked smile that told me it was Wes, my brother.

“Come in, come in!” I nearly shouted as I reached for his heavy bag.
“I’ve got it, Lana,” he laughed, “this bag weighs twice as much as you do.”

He dropped the bag next to the front door with a loud clunk that Danny surely heard but chose to ignore. Wes swallowed me up in a bear hug like my father used to do. The only way to be relieved from a bear hug was to say, “I love you” three times in a weird accent. I had always looked up to Wes; even his funny accents were better than mine.

“I luff you, I luff you, I luff you,” I strained under the pressure of his strong arms. He laughed and released me so I could breath again. I thought it was the commotion that had caused Danny to rise from the den, but I realized that it must have been my laughter that caught his attention. Danny looked at Wes from top to bottom and back again with a cruel smirk.

“Ah, Dan the Man,” Wes smiled, “looks like my sister is still keeping you around.”

“Wesley,” Danny managed to say through a smile so fake it could have been porcelain, “this is a surprise.”

Wes’s eye shot to me only slightly before answering Danny confidentially, “Sorry, I know I should have called but I really wanted to stop by on my way to mom’s.”

“Are you hungry?” I asked Wes before Danny had a chance to ask me if this were true.

“Nah, I ate a sandwich on the train earlier,” Wes said while continuing to stare at Danny who had lost interest and wandered back into the den to see what the judges had to say about their next victim.

“You didn’t get to have dessert on the train, I bet,” I gleamed as I pulled a popsicle from the freezer. It was the kind with the two sticks that you rip apart and share with someone else. Danny never liked them so this was the first time that I didn’t have to wrap the other half in plastic wrap for later.

Wes and I finished our popsicles as he told me all about his new job as an assistant buyer for a small office supply company in Connecticut. The work is dull, he said, but it was where he met his girlfriend, Chelsea. She’s about seven years older than Wes and has a five-year-old son named Connor who Wes has particularly taken a liking to. He pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of the three of them together at Connor’s little league baseball game. Connor was hugging Wes’s leg and Chelsea’s smile took up her whole face. She was still beautiful, though, more beautiful than anyone I had seen in real life.

I had had plenty to say until he asked, “How are you doing?” I saw as his eyes quickly traveled to the living room and back to me.

“Things are good,” I said quickly, “we’re trying to have a baby, actually.”

Wes’s eyes widened in shock as if that isn’t what married people do.

“And how is that going?” Wes asked quizzically.

“No progress, yet. Danny says he isn’t ready yet.” I spoke in a gravely tone. He reached for my hand and looked me in my eyes before I had a chance to look away.

“It’ll happen, I promise” he spoke softly.

Danny ambled into the room and noticed our hands. I placed my hands in my lap again and continued to peel off the excess nail polish that was too stubborn to leave my nails. Danny grabbed a PBR from the fridge, the only beer we could afford, and opened the can with his back to us. I could hear the liquid swashing in his mouth before the inevitable deep gulp.

I pulled the crumpled postcard that had been living in my back pocket from its hiding and placed it on the table. Wes smiled and held the postcard in his hands. His fingers ran over the image and he placed his palm on their naked bodies so that only their faces were staring back at us. Slowly, he moved his hands so that my father’s image was completely covered. His fingers were shaking and his smiling face was replaced with a furrowed brow and wet, glassy eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I whispered quietly. He ignored me and continued to stare at the picture only he was crying now. I ripped the card from his hands. Danny had turned around and was now resting against the counter staring smugly at Wes.

I had only seen Wes cry once. It was when he had come home from a hunting trip with my uncle. He had shot his first deer but it didn’t die right away. My uncle had to snap its neck so that it wouldn’t suffer but Wes was covered in its blood. I began feeling like that deer just waiting for my neck to be snapped.

“Please,” I begged. My eyes began to tickle the way they do before I start crying.

“Something with his heart…” he managed to say after a loud swallow. I felt a sigh of relief thinking the worst had happened.

“He’ll be fine,” I stammered, “all of that nude recreation probably caused his heart to work in ways it hadn’t in a long time.” I tried to laugh but instead it came out as a sob.

His eyes were squeezed shut so tightly that his eyebrows almost disappeared. He shook his head slightly and opened his eyes to stare at the wine stain that I couldn’t get out of the tablecloth.

“The service is on Sunday,” he said.

The news struck me like one of those dreams where you’re falling and you wake up just before you hit the ground. I felt my body contract as I dug my face into my knees and let out bursts of sobs that sounded more painful than distressed. My eyes squeezed shut and I remembered my father. He was always quiet but funny. People always wanted to know what he was thinking, including me. He had always told me that he loved me and I’m sure that he did, but I could never be completely positive. I think I loved him back. It had been three years since I talked to him and I’ll never have the chance again. My ears began to ring from the lack of oxygen to my brain. I don’t know how long it was before I was able to hear again. It first came back in strange sounds that I realized were voices.

“It’s not like he made an effort to be in our lives,” I could hear Danny’s voice but it sounded muffled.

“He wanted to be in her life!” Wes was yelling which made it easier to hear. “It was you that turned her into this! You control her every move. It’s like she isn’t even human anymore.”

The words stung almost more than the news.

“Do you think they’re going to bury him naked?” Danny sneered causing Wes to jump across the table and grab Danny by the shirt collar.

“Enough!” I yelled inches from Wes’s face. He let go looking more hurt than before. “You can stay tonight but I don’t want to see you in the morning.”

“Lana, I came here to take you with me. Mom needs us,” he choked. I looked down.

He looked from me to Danny and back again. He turned from me and grabbed his bag. I placed blankets and an extra pillow on the couch and walked quickly up the stairs before he had time to speak or look at me. He had ruined everything.

 I was out of breath by the time I reached my bathroom. I rested my weight on the counter and took several deep breaths before looking at myself in the mirror. My eyes were bright but streaked red from my crying. I drew my hair into a bun before showering my face with cold water from the sink. My reflection dried her face and stared back at me. I look at the curves of my body through my clothes. It’s the first time I really noticed it. I took off my thick sweater and then the old t-shirt I got from church. My fingers stung from cold as I unbuttoned the metal disc of my jeans and pulled them down with my panties. I stepped out of the heap of clothing that now cluttered the floor. Finally, I unclasped my bra and looked back in the mirror. My skin was so translucent that I could see my bright blue veins running from my arms to my legs. The curve from my waist to my leg was delicate yet contoured. My shoulders sloped softly like that of a woman in an old Renaissance painting. My breasts were small but well shaped. The bedroom door closed shut letting me know that Danny had come to bed. I opened the bathroom door.

There was no light besides the lamp set on our bedside table that shown on me like a spotlight. I could feel my skin glowing. He didn’t notice me at first and looked at me hard in the face when he did, never at my body.

 “Put your clothes on, Lana,” is all that he said. He looked the way I felt when the chubby girl was singing on television. Vulnerable and embarrassed. I walked back into the bathroom before he could see me cry again and put my clothes back on one by one.

I waited until Danny fell asleep before pulling my red suitcase from the top shelf of our closet and filling it with every nice item of clothing I owned. I zipped the bag shut and carried it slowly and carefully down the stairs before entering the living room where Wes was sleeping. I sat on the edge of the couch by his stomach causing him to stir awake.

 I whispered, “I’m ready.”

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