Friday, July 8, 2011

Crushed--Part III

            I clasped my hands and rested them on the notebook in my lap.  “The end,” I said.  
            Jake chuckled.  “That was good. Funny.  Now read another one.  Please.”
            I fanned through my stories. “What’re you in the mood for?   Animals? Memories of childhood? Spiritual? Poetry?”
            His eyebrows raised.  “Poetry?”
            “There’s not much, and I’m not sure how good it is, but occasionally one issues forth.”
            Jake looked at the rusted Alfa Romeo, almost consumed with weeds, across the street.  At least, he seemed to.
            “Sad,” he said. “Read me something sad.”
            I wrinkled my nose. “Really?”
            “Yeah.  The saddest thing you’ve got.  I haven’t cried since I don’t know when.”
            My breath wheezed.  Oh, Lord.  Anything but this.  I spread my fingers over my heart.  The place that is so tender toward a man who will weep.  Not loud with nose blowing.  Just a crystalline tear or two bound to commit suicide off a chin.
            “The saddest thing I have is—" I bent toward him. Spoke softly. “Come closer.”
            He leaned. I felt the warmth of him. I imagined it was pulsing so I pulled back a little.
            Killing Her Softly,” I said. “It’s about Millie’s sister.  When she . . . “
            Jake’s hand swept the area near his feet.  Found Millie’s hind end.  He circled her tail with his thumb and middle finger.  Followed it to its end.
            “Will she be okay?”
            “Millie?  I think so. She’s crashed and besides, she’s—“
“Deaf. Not completely, but almost.”
            “Right,” I said. “Do you have tissues in your bag?”
            “Are you serious?”
            “Oh, yeah,” I said.  “Very.  Plus, I’ve never read this one out loud to anyone.  I might—“
            He fished a little plastic package of Kleenex out of his bag and tucked it under his leg.
            “Okay.  I’m ready.”
            Jake ended up needing three tissues. More for shredding than mopping.  I just kept smoothing and refolding the same one.
            “I can’t believe you read that,” he said.
            I huffed. “You’re the one who asked for it.  Said you wanted to cry.”
            “Well, that should certainly do me for a while,” he said.  He tilted over the side of his chair and groped.  Found a dog leg.  Held it captive until she pulled it away. 
            “Poor Millie.”
            I snorted. “Poor Millie?  She wasn’t there.  It’s more like, poor me.  And poor Joel.”
            I relocated to the grass.  Stretched out.  Put my hat over my face.  Let the sun soak the rest of me. Low humidity.  What a gift.  A rare one in this town in summertime.  Or maybe in any town, in a valley, with a river.
            Jake extended his legs and his foot brushed my side.  I scootched an inch to the right.
“Are you afraid?” Jake said.
            I sat up. My hat fell to the side.  I propped myself on my elbows.
            “What do you mean?” I said. “Am I afraid.  Afraid of what?” How do you know? How can you tell?
            “That you’ll have to do it all over again. With M-i-l-l-i-e.”
            My elbows gave out and I hit the grass. Shoulders then head. I squeezed my eyes shut.  Felt my heart flinch.  When I answered, I could barely hear myself.
            “Yes,” I said. “Very.  For me.  For all of us.  But mostly for Silas.  They sleep together every night now.  Share his pillow. Sometimes they spoon.   It’s so . . . “
            Salt hit my sinuses. I sucked air into my nose.  Spoke in a whisper on the exhale.
            “Terrified.  That's what I am.” I haven’t told anyone that.
            I could tell he, or some part of him, was near.  I peeked through my lashes.  Watched his hand hover.  Felt it land on my shoulder. Shut my eyes again.  Noticed my breath wait,waiting, behind my breastbone. It’s so . . . warm.  Just shy of hot.  Pat, pat, pat. I hesitated, then put mine over his.  Just for a second.  Then I got scared.  Snatched mine back.  Don’t. 
            I scrambled to my feet.  “We should go,” I said. I faced the house.  Cupped my hands around my mouth. “Silas!  Come on.” 
           Jake stood, unsteady then firm.  His eyes, no, probably his ears, searched for me.  His brow furrowed. Are you mad? Hurt?  Probably have no idea what’s wrong with me.  It was hard to watch him peer intently at a car instead of me so I slid my foot in and out of my flipflop, to help him echolocate. 
He adjusted his position. “You don’t have to—“
            Behind him, the screen door slapped.  He startled. 
            I bent to pick up my notebook. “Actually, I do.  I have to start supper.  He has karate tonight.”
            “Tomorrow then?” he said.
            I shook my head slowly.  Like he can see.  “I—We can’t, Jake.” I said. “It’s the weekend.  We do family stuff.” I recognized guilt in my tone.
            Silas came up behind me.  Scooped up Millie’s leash and flicked his wrist.
            “Wake up, girl.  Time to go.” Millie blinked up at us from her camp chair cave.  Her tail struck the ground but made no noise.
            Jake turned in the direction of our voices.  “Okay.  How about Monday then?”
            “We’ll see,” I said.  “I’ll try but . . .”  Be unpredictable. Don’t guarantee anything. Here’s your chance, a brick, for you to build a wall with.
            “Bye, Jake,” I said.  Silas waved.  I caught his forearm.  Pressed it to his side.
            “Thanks,” Jake said. “For coming.  For the stories.”
            Silas and I headed for the street.  “You’re welcome, Jake,” I said. “Have a great weekend.”
            I don’t think he heard.  When I glanced back he was halfway to the house.

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