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A Phoenix Fiction Writer Rising From The Ashes of Nonfiction




Facing The Lions 
by Michael T. Martin

Deb reached for the ringing phone on her desk, getting ready for another customer.

“Spirit Travel, how may I help you?”

“Hi Deb; it's Jim.” She recognized her ex-husband's voice.

They once had had a life together with the children. She remembered fondly the scents of sports events, the sounds of school events, the bustle of community events, the excitement of vacations, the long dramas of juggling schedules to keep the family together and meet obligations. She had enjoyed it all and she had shared that enjoyment with Jim. Everything had seemed so pleasant.

“Jim, I'm working. I told you not to call me at work.”

She never understood how it all unraveled. It wasn't supposed to happen. Little things, at first, disagreements became disagreeable. Whereas before they would disagree or argue then make up, it gradually became an angry war of constant battles with hurtful weapons. Jim would brood over things, and she wondered what she had done to make him so distant. She had begun to wonder what was wrong with her.

“You don't answer your phone at home.”

Leaning back in her pneumatic chair, her face flushed. Biting her lower lip, she spoke in a low voice directly into the phone trying not to disturb the quiet buzz of the travel office. The warm surrounding smells of office machines, coffee, and carpet contrasted with the bitter smells he evoked in her.

“Thank God for caller ID.”

She had tried changing her life, being more nurturing; changing their life, being more sexually exciting, wearing perfumes the ads said would enthrall him; trying to cater to his needs to make things work. She had tried and she had failed. Jim seemed to always be angry. There always seemed to be reasons, reasons for why nasty things occurred and reasons for why they no longer seemed inconsequential, reasons that were always her fault.

“Deb, we need to talk,” he said.

Then things had started happening that seemed to her mean spirited, that she no longer could ignore. She looked anew at the poster with the lions of the Serengeti. People must live in the Serengeti, she thought, living with those lions. That was how her life had become with Jim, fear and uncertainty, the lions of Jim's angry moods stalking her.

“We have nothing to talk about.”

She had finally demanded a divorce. Jim had been angry, but he was always angry then. They struggled bitterly in the courts to end the marriage, divorced. They began living separate lives but Jim still contacted her acting like he owned her, criticizing her and the kids. She had tried to drive him away. She made a point of sleeping with his friends and flaunting it. Then the kids went off to college and over time lived their own lives.

“Deb, I've been diagnosed with cancer.”

She had worked at the travel agency four years now since their divorce, sending people around the world while she only went to work and back to a shell of a house day after day. Once it had been a cozy home full of two enraptured adults and three enthusiastic children. Now it was just an empty cavernous house where she lived a largely empty life.

“Sorry to hear that. Now goodbye.”

She hung up the phone and covered her eyes with her hands. Cancer was apparently his new ploy. It wouldn't work. It was over. Water under the bridge.

With her elbows on her desk, she looked through her fingers at the colorful travel posters on the wall. The travel poster of Africa showed a pride of lions in the deep grass on the wide Serengeti plain with the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance. Other posters showed equally exotic places to travel she also hadn't been.

The intercom buzzed on her phone. She picked it up.

She lived in a city of people, but the divorce made it seem more like the Serengeti, living in a hamlet of a few friends and their husbands and wives. Except that after divorce, wives viewed her as a predator, husbands viewed her as prey, and she had, occasionally, taken up both roles when she felt desperately lonely.


“Caller for you,” it was Dotty across the office, “says you were cut off.”

“Thanks.” She drew a deep breath and poked the blinking line button.

“Deb, listen to me.”

“Jim. What is so damn difficult for you to understand? I don't want to talk with you.”

Even in its subdued volume, she ensured her voice was angry and insistent. She didn't need this intrusion of the ugly past she had finally extricated herself from.

“Deb, I'm going to be different, listen to me.”

She didn't know why she listened. She had escaped the lions, she didn't want to go back there.

“My doctors say I have a brain tumor that changed me. It wasn't really me you divorced, it was the brain tumor.”

Deb continued to listen without speaking. She didn't know what to say. She was still afraid of the lions.

“I'd like you there when I have the surgery. They say there's a good chance of success and I'll be different. I'll be me again.”

She continued her silence wondering whether he would actually, could actually, be the man she married, again.

“Deb. Please.”

She wasn't really happy with her life, she feared finding lions in all men now. Still, this phone call from Jim, asking her to join him in facing the lions, wafted a warm breeze through her soul.

“Jim, call me at home. We'll discuss it.”

She hung up, staring at the poster of the Serengeti. Moments later the phone rang on her desk. Biting her lip, she reached to pick it up.

"Spirit Travel," she called into the phone, “how may I help you?”

A voice asked about airfares to Europe. Almost autonomously her hand tapped the keyboard and the computer screen flashed new data.

It let her escape wondering about tonight and facing the lions.


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