Tall grasses dance and wave in the breeze. From the trees, Peter hears birdsong that he
cannot identify. He regrets this. Too busy with the day-to-day responsibilities
of owning a newspaper, he forgot to learn the names of the things that surround
him. He will go to his grave with only a
nodding acquaintance with the trees. All
the various types of clouds will be just clouds. He doesn’t know what to call the weeds and the
grasses and the insects. And this
thought saddens him. It weighs heavily
upon his mind and darkens the day.
“What is that bird, do you think, Ellen?”
She scowls. “Does it
make a difference, Peter?”
The sun slants through the trees and, squinting furiously,
he tries to determine the hour. He gives
up the endeavor easily enough and instead glances at the watch he wears upon
In his right hand, he carries a picnic basket; a basket full
of Ellen’s favorite things to eat: prosciutto ham on crusty rolls with a hint
of Dijon mustard; potato chips and a fruit salad, even though he hates fruit
salad for what it does to her. Truth be
told, it gives her gas something fierce.
But she likes it, and it’s not every day you get to celebrate fifty
years of marriage.
With his left hand, he reaches for Ellen’s elbow. “Careful, now.”
She jerks her arm away.
“It’s a bit rocky here,” he says.
“I have eyes.”
He feels silly still holding out his arm. He wonders what he ought to do with it now
that she has rejected it. He remembers
the picnic basket. He pretends it’s
getting heavy. He switches it to the
other hand. “I’m just trying to help…”
“You try too hard.”
“I’m not incapable.”
“I know that, Ellen.”
“You’ve always been so overprotective of me. I am not a child, Peter.”
“I never said you were a child.”
“For fifty years, you’ve been protecting me. But I’ve got news for you, old man. I don’t need your protection. I’m going back.” She turns and begins picking her way up the
hill, leaning into the slant of it. Her
legs are white spindles. She never did
like the sun.
He puts a hand in his pocket, fingers the diamond band he saw
her admiring last week.
She turns. “Are you
coming or not?”
He considers this question; the same question she asked him fifty-one
years ago. Ellen had met him after work
one day; told him that his fiancée had been seen at the movies with Billy Humphries,
the wildest boy in town. Everybody knew
Billy was an improper boy.
Peter had broken the engagement immediately. A year later, he married Ellen.
“Peter.” Ellen’s tone
is sharp; she’s aggravated.
“I asked if you were coming.”
He smiles. “No. I don’t believe that I am.”
He turns and continues down the hill and into town, smiling
at the sharp cries behind him.
He remembers the way as if it were yesterday: Left on
Maple. Right on Green. Another right on Lawrence Street. Then three houses down. A white Victorian with red shutters.
He takes the stairs two at a time. Presses the doorbell. Waits.
But it feels improper for him to be standing here on the porch
fifty years after he last stood here. He
leaves the porch and waits on the sidewalk.
He hears footsteps in the hallway.
And it seems his heart beats in time with those steps.
The door is opened. And
there, before him…“Lydia.”
“Peter.” She smiles broadly
and steps out onto the porch. She walks
down the stairs and onto the sidewalk.
“Careful.” He reaches
a hand out to take her elbow.
“You were always
such a gentleman, Peter.”
“Am I too late, Lydia?”
Again he hears the birdsong.
He turns. “What is that bird, do
She turns to the sky.
Holds up a hand to her eyes and squints.
“I believe that’s a sparrow.”
The next day, Ellen slips and falls while out walking with her
old high school friend Lydia. An
unfortunate, yet fatal, accident.
At least that’s what the newspaper called it.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, MrMacrum challenged me with "setting: outside. A conversation ending acrimoniously." I challenged Lilu with "should have learned from the Romans..."
Labels: Fiction, IndieInk