Just something I’m working on. It’s done and is much longer than this. Longer short story.
Happy Halloween everyone!
It’s not like he didn’t love her, he loved her many times in the days after they were married. He loved her on the picnic table and at the drive-in. He loved her on the porch next to the stack of empty beer cases, which rattled and made music as he did in fact love her. But if you didn’t know – love can go. It gets in a car early one morning, turns the engine over and gets on the highway with a coffee in its hand, relatively sure that it will come back, until it finally passes a line in the forest country, the line beyond which there is no return. Loves drives an old station wagon. It passes into the dawn.
Anthea was the sweetest kid. I mean, if you had to write about a sweet person, you couldn’t find someone better than this. She helped her parents around the house. Spoke softly everywhere she went. But the part that was always the best was the way she rolled with everything, no matter how hard the gut punch. When her father died of a gunshot wound from a burglar (later, she found out it was a suicide), she was the one that took it upon herself to cook meals for the kids as her mother drank herself into a year-long stupor. She was the one that walked the kids to school, and fixed their clothes. The whole time, she didn’t say a word about it. Didn’t expect anything. It was almost like she was meant for this, cleaning up her mother’s vomit and putting her to bed night after night. Every night, for a full year.
Alec was the first black man Anthea ever met. She’d seen a black man before, of course, across the road or down the street in a car, but she had no aversion or attraction to such people in general. Alec was big, strong, and he laughed there in the corner store, as he considered which pepperette to buy. “Do you want one?” he’d asked her. “I’ll buy you one, here, have it.”
“I don’t like pepperettes,” she said, but they sat on the curb outside, chewing on the gristle. Later, he bought her a beer, to which she said: “I don’t like beer.” But they’d sat on a patio in the baking sunshine, she the sweetest girl anyone could write about, he the first black man she’d ever met. She told him that she had to go home, that she had children to care about; he’d slipped her a phone number.
Their romance had been understated. It had, born of a necessity neither of them could define, been hidden in the bushes, on the side of a road, at the edge of a lake. It had been notes. Phone calls after midnight. It had been promises, so well kept and so perfectly concealed, that a new world had been created by their togetherness, where they’d been disconnected from all the rest of reality.
“Here’s a ring,” he’d said one day, on a forest path where he’d fumbled awkwardly with her blouse, against the totality of her protests. At least he’d gotten a kiss.
“I don’t like rings,” she’d told him.
“Well,” he’d said, “you’re going to need one if we’re going to get married.”
“I’m too young for getting married,” she’d said. “Just a kid.”
And as it turns out, her mother had felt the same way. “You marry that black man, you don’t come back to this house. You don’t talk to your brothers and sisters. And you don’t go out back and say any words to your father, not now or ever more. You let him lie in peace. He doesn’t need to see what you’re doing.”
“I think I love him,” she’d said to her mother.
“He does want you to think so,” she’d returned, slamming the door.
Love is a red scooter with ribbons on the handlebars. Anthea had hopped back on and rode to the end of the gravel driveway, then taken a left towards the dawn, sweet kid as she was. She’ll come around, she’d thought. There is a place for love in this life, even if it doesn’t make sense, but love will prevail, she’d thought, as she rode that scooter. A week later, she’d been married. And it’s not like he didn’t love her. He loved her many times, in many places. But the duration of love is defined by the strength therein, and when it’s not very strong, it doesn’t last very long. What was it, all told? Three months in the summer of that year. At the end of it, Alec had got in station wagon and left early one morning. He’d driven into the dawn, past an indefinable line in the forest country that no lover should ever pass.