Monday, July 20, 2009

For One Night Of Love (Part IV)

SHORT STORY MONDAY


For One Night Of Love

Part IV


Leafing through past two or three more illustrations, she stopped to study a page filled with sketches of butterflies. The detail was such that she imagined him sharpening his pencil after every stroke.


Jeremy startled her when he returned to the kitchen. She was absorbed in the drawings and hadn't heard him enter even though the floor had creaked loudly. As soon as she saw him she closed the sketchbook and placed it back where she found it.

"That's all right. I don't mind," he said. "They're nothing."

"No, they're very nice," Alyssa said.

Jeremy didn't know what to say and his cheek was twitching so that it made him uncomfortable. When he remembered they had never been introduced, he said, "Uh, my name's Jeremy. And you are...?" Even though he already knew her name from the country club, he didn't want her to know.

She smiled and said "Alyssa Martin," and he said he already knew her last name was Martin because her folks had lived next door for almost two years, to which she said, "Of course," with a laugh. Her face lit up when she laughed and Jeremy tried hard not to stare at her because she seemed so alive and warm and pretty when she smiled, but he kept looking at her face and then at her bare arms and the way she held her slender hands, slightly curled and at rest.

Again Jeremy's mind went blank so that he became self-conscious and didn't know what to say.
"I'm sorry," he said at last.

"What?"

"Oh, I don't know," he said, feeling stupid.

"Look, I have to go. But I'd like it if you wave or say 'hi' or something when you walk past our place and you see me." After standing up she said, "You're really good. Your drawings are really nice."

After dark that evening he went out behind the barn and played his harmonica, thinking about things he hadn't thought about in what seemed like ages. It was as if something had been awakened in him that he thought had died. He watched the sky deepen from royal blue to ultramarine as the stars awakened to perform their silent night dance. Crickets chirped in the barn and peepers trilled from the marsh. And from time to time a firefly in solitary flight zoomed past, seeking a mate by sending fluorescent signals to the grassy stems below.

As another came past, he noticed a response from the weeds hardly a yard from his shoe. The male firefly hovered, signalled excitedly and, upon seeing the double flash from below, dropped instantly to the ground. Jeremy smiled at the thought of being a lightning bug. It all seemed so simple.


When he returned to the house he left the lights off and took his seat next to the window that he might see the silouhette of the Martin house. Ten minutes passed. He was tired. He ran his fingers through his hair in the dark, listening to the peepers and crickets. He wanted to see her, to make contact with her, to keep contact with her. Her world seemed so far away. He hardly knew her, but she said his drawings were good, and that must have meant she liked them. He watched the window which he believed was her room. The house was all darkness, and he imagined her there in her bed, knew she must be in there, and he thought about what she had said. She had said, 'I'd like it if you wave or say hi to me' and she meant it. She must have meant it or she wouldn't have said it. And at this he leaned forward and flicked the light switch on and off twice, on and off, on and off; and he smiled. "Hi, Alyssa," he said quietly.

Jeremy thought of her every day after that. At times it seemed that she was in some way part of his every waking thought. He woke in the morning thinking of her. He couldn't help think of her on his walks. He daydreamed her while working so that his hours on the job were lived on another plane. The frustrations that touched others had no effect on him whatsoever. Most of the time.

There were times when he reflected critically on his situation. He was setting himself up for a fall he told himself. He should be careful. She had not really indicated any kind of recipricocity of feeling, and he knew virtually nothing about her. She had been nice to him, but she may be a nice person who would be kind toward anyone.

One night he came home late from the country club and instead of turning on the lights he took his seat in the dark by the window, watching the house. It must have been an hour or more, until he reached over and flicked the lights on and off, twice in a row in rapid succesion. "I'm thinking of you. Did you see my signal?" To his surprise, the lights flashed on and off in the corner room which he had taken to be hers, once, twice, three times. He didn't know what to do. He had signalled, she signalled back. She had been watching, just as he had been watching her. His heart beat against the inside of his chest. "I love you, Alyssa," he whispered, and his lips trembled.


The next day, Jeremy decided he would call her on the phone from work. He stood in a small alcove with a private phone which was available for use by the bus boys, waitresses and kitchen help. Jeremy spent half his break period staring at the buttons, stirring up his courage. When he heard the phone ring at the other end of the line, he almost hung up. After the fourth ring, a woman's voice answered. "Is Alyssa there?" he said. When Alyssa came to the phone her formal tone made him feel she was annoyed so that he suddenly froze. After he identified himself, she said, "I'm in the middle of something right now. Is it important?" He muttered something about how he was sorry to have bothered her, and that he hoped he would see her around, but he was devastated afterwards and for the rest of the day felt suffocated by the dark mood which fastened itself to him.

He returned home late that night, his stomach queasy and the muscles in his shoulders all bunched and tight. The Martin house was all darkness when he passed it before making the right turn into his own driveway. Long after shutting off the engine he remained in his car which was parked on a strip of gravel that runs alongside the garage and up to the barn. He was staring out into the field, half conscious, his mind hovering over various impressions, naming them and drifting on. Disappointment. Frustration. Shame.


CONTINUED

No comments: