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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekend Fiction Break: The Library

They met at the J. M. Pashout Library. She had just walked in, was sitting primly in a reading chair. He politely asked her if she had dropped this necklace, and held up a small glittery chain with a cubic zirconium heart sliding along the chain. Yes it was hers. She accepted it quietly and when he sat in the reading chair next to her to the exclusion of the rows and rows of open reading chairs, her cheeks colored pink. He found her cheeks entrancing.

Two weeks later they were married. Nine months later she quit her job at the deli to care for the baby. The baby grew and became a girl. She had dark hair. When she turned sixteen, she began to dye it all colors of the rainbow. She stormed about the house. She bummed cigarettes from her boyfriends and smoked them to annoy her parents.

The parents wondered what had happened to the baby who had gurgled and reached for them greedily. Who had been satisfied by being held. The girl did not want to be held. But then the girl grew and became a woman. It seemed very sudden to them. She came home one day and her hair was a glossy brunette, instead of electric blue. She smoked still, but talked about quitting. She worked overtime at the nursing home, took art classes at night. The boyfriends she brought home were tall and gangly with faces decorated with all sorts of trendy facial hair; mustaches, chin straps, goatees.

She started to bring home one boyfriend more frequently. He was nice. But they just dated and dated. About once a year, she would come home, cheeks flushed with excitement, tell them she thought he might pop the question. They would wait. Then her face would begin drooping, and they learned not to ask what had happened.

The woman grew and slipped into early middle age. She got engaged to her boyfriend. He broke it off. She got engaged a second time, after he went to a counselor to get to the bottom of his commitment issues. She got married to him. Her parents kissed her and wished her the best. Her face felt warm as she walked down the aisle. Everyone told her afterwards, how she was the perfect blushing bride.

They fought constantly, like they always had. He pushed her away, then tugged her back with tears and excuses. At first it was like a tango, a dance of wills, but then he hit her. She left him, not bothering to mention she was pregnant. She showed up at her parent’s house. When they opened the door to find her standing there with a suitcase, a bruise across one cheek, a furious blush of embarrassment on the other, they did not ask her what had happened. They let her stay in her old room, which was still decorated with dancing ballerinas and pink carpet.

She went back to school, her belly as big as a watermelon. She walked across the stage and accepted her accounting degree, her son sitting on Grandma’s lap, bouncing and murmuring happily. Early middle age passed into middle age proper, and then one day she realized she was old. Her parents had both passed away now, and her son was sixteen, serious and quiet.

At the moment she realized that she was old, she had been looking in the mirror and thinking about her new boyfriend. She’d caught him rifling through the bags of junk in her closet, leftovers from her parents. He’d found Mother’s jewelry box, been examining the beautiful necklaces that really were worth nothing except for sentimental value. He’d jumped when she caught him, dropped the whole thing. It was still lying where he’d dropped it, she couldn’t touch it. She leaned over, examined each chain with her eyes, as if they would burn her if she touched them.

She sighed when she spotted the cubic zirconium heart, stained with age, lying among the other necklaces. Fingers moved and picked it up and put it around her neck. Her own fingers. Directed by a whim buried below the surface of her consciousness. There in the mirror where a minute ago she had looked aged, her face looked curiously unlined, and a blush of color crept into her cheekbones.

4 comments:

ravenous reader said...

This is such a good story - you tie the characters together so well. You've compacted all these lives into a few paragraphs, and given a clear picture of each character as well. Nicely done!

Thanks for visiting my blog earlier today - it's always great to meet more "Bookish Bloggers"!
I'm doing the short story challenge this year, but that's the only one (so far!)

Bold Blue Adventure said...

Ravenous Reader-

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. I appreciate your feedback!

Its good to meet you too. Yay for the Short story challenge. I have not read enough short stories really, even though I am working on writing so me (hangs head in shame).

averagejane38 said...

This is really good! I enjoyed reading this. You really have a way with words.

Kim L said...

AJ-thank you so much for taking the chance to read it! Glad you liked it.