In Her Place

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etting ready to go into town has become almost a ritual for me. I’m filled with excitement, anxiousness, a buzzing energy that sometimes drives me crazy when trying to decide what to wear and how to do my hair. Mother used to laugh at me, ridiculing me being in love. She doesn’t anymore; she just stares sullenly at her crosswords and magazines, paying little attention to my exhilaration. She’s gotten bored with me going out regularly. She doesn’t understand how important this is to me, how it stirs a vibrating passion in me so that when I return home I’m like a box full of bitter chocolates, a bottle filled with spirits – intoxicating and pungent. Sometimes, I think I’m like Pandora’s Box with hope cowering in one of the dark corners when everything else is gone.

It’s chilly out today and I won’t be able to show my chic new top under the coat. That annoys me, but I substitute for it by wearing a skirt that accentuates my lovely calves and full hips. I’ll wear high heels although it’s a pain walking down the steep road from our house at the top of the hill, but he’s worth it.

I don’t overdo it with make-up, he doesn’t like it. I’ve always thought that said a lot about him. It shows he’s an honest, open man; he doesn’t like pretending and I tend to agree with him. Why cover yourself up with a fake façade? It feels like cheating and it makes no sense if you really want to win a man. I mean, what will you do when you wake up next to him with your face wrinkled from the pillow and last night’s mascara smeared across your cheeks?

I remember our first date that somehow happened without any real planning. One Friday after school, he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. Until then, I’d been admiring him from afar, dreaming about us being together when I couldn’t sleep at night. I craved his touches and kisses so much I could almost imagine them real. I’d never before felt so strongly about anyone else. So I said yes and he took hold of my hand and walked me from school down to the river. There we sat on the pebbles and talked about things that I forgot just seconds later because all I could concentrate on was the incredibility of him sitting next to me, talking to me, staring in my eyes, and then taking hold of my hand timidly.

“Mom, I’m going out,” I yell from the hallway. She doesn’t respond from where she’s sitting at the kitchen table, and I can imagine her face scrunching up with annoyance and concern. She’s so negative about everything. I wish she didn’t take life so seriously, I’m afraid it’ll kill her. She’s already lost all that happiness I used to notice in her features and gestures. She’s become negative towards me; it’s like she’s disappointed in me just because I’ve found love. That doesn’t make sense, I know. I don’t understand why she can’t be happy for me, and it hurts. She keeps saying she only wants what’s best for me, but if that were true, she wouldn’t be forbidding me my love. I suspect she just can’t understand what I feel and how deeply I feel it. Maybe she’s never experienced such wild and irresistible feelings. Father passed away when I was five. I don’t remember ever hearing them fight, but honestly, I don’t remember anything much about their marriage. Mom has never remarried and sometimes I think she is just so terribly lonely that she wants to keep me to herself to keep her company for all eternity.

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ust the thought of seeing him is like a caress on my feverish skin. It feels like my flesh is tuning itself up for him. All I can think about are his long fingers warming my body, slipping under my pullover, preparing my skin for his lips. I want to see his grey eyes go dark with desire, his joking attitude being replaced with earnestness, with respect for our mutual need. The thought of what I can do to him by simply being me sends a wave of heat to my cheeks.

I feel the blush as it comes into contact with the nippy air. The wind is rising and the sky is dimming, but I ignore it all. Nothing can sway my determination. Rain, sleet or storms haven’t stopped me in the past when I was on my way to see him. A bit of chill and wind won’t stop me now.

I realize I’m speeding up without even knowing it. I smile at my own impatience and a woman with a child who passes me looks at me for a second time when she notices my mysterious grin. She probably thinks I’m bonkers. Or perhaps she recognizes the symptoms of a woman madly in love. This thought makes me smile wider.

I pull the coat more tightly around me and the clicking of my heels on the pavement speeds up yet again as I try to stay warm. I pass the first houses on the periphery of the town and it feels like the town is raising its arms around me, protecting me against the wind with its concrete embrace. I’m nearly there and I can feel the thudding of my heart; the hands clasping my purse begin to tremble. I feel the excitement like a sip of strong liquor, warming up my insides, messing with my senses, confusing my emotions with reality. Anxiety comes riding on the second wave, quenching the excitement a bit, but only for a second. For as I picture his face, the lips twisted in a teasing smile and his arms around my shoulders, nothing can douse the surge of love in my chest.

I’m past the church now and the park is just ten paces away. I slow down and then stop by the hedgerow. The park is deserted at this hour, but in five minutes – six and twenty seconds, to be exact – it’ll be crawling with secretaries, architects, bank tellers and administrators on their lunch breaks. I always come early so I can find a nice spot to hide. Usually, I step behind the cluster of trees opposite from the main entrance of the church.

The first group of people emerges from the south-eastern entrance. They’re from the bank; I recognize them by now. Two women and three men. They always sit on the same bench, always in the same order – two men on the outside, then the two women, the third man in the middle. It amuses me how they rotate the middle position. It is only fair they all get equal amount of the female closeness. A young girl follows them, probably a student ditching lessons or using her break to study in the park rather than in a classroom. She takes a notebook out of her bag and then throws the bag on the grass and sits on it.

When a boy joins her a few minutes later they distract me enough with their passionate kissing that I nearly miss my love’s entrance. As always, he comes across the street from his office, but this time I catch him when he’s already in the park. I missed his concentrated look when crossing the busy street, I didn’t see him saunter down the footpath and over to ‘his’ bench. But I see him unwrap his sandwich now, although he doesn’t start eating yet, he’s waiting for her to come. And punctual as always, I can sense her silhouette approaching from the other direction. I look at her and notice her focused expression, she’s typing something on her mobile phone and holding a brown paper bag in her other hand. Her steps are brisk and sure and unaware of me watching her as she passes the trees that are hiding me from the bench. She looks up, sees him waiting and her focus shifts, her expression lightens up. When she pockets the phone, her wedding band glints in the cloudy light. She quickens her steps.

I feel my heart thudding, my cheeks are warm but despite the heat wave that splashes over me my eyes start to sting from the wind. I huddle deeper into my coat. I force myself to watch them greet each other with an affectionate peck on the lips; their admiration and love are still fresh even after years of marriage. I hear her laugh loudly; his smile is silent but radiant. They sit side by side, thighs touching, her hands fuss over his napkin and sandwich, he opens her soda and hands it to her.

I’m amazed that they manage to eat at all seeing how much they always have to say to each other. I find it ridiculous; they haven’t seen each for all of three or four hours since the morning. Still, they act like lovers united at long last. I wonder whether he’d greet me like that, too, after more than a decade. Would he have anything to say to me or would the awkwardness of our break-up still hang in the air between us? Would he be shocked into silence? Amused or maybe happy to see me? I wouldn’t have much to say other than how much I still love him and how I want him back. How I envy him his family and happiness and how it isn’t fair that I don’t get to have it. I want to be the mother of his two sons; I want to meet him for lunch in the park every day. But I will forever only watch and wish it were me in her place. I will only ever watch him from behind these trees where the grass doesn’t grow anymore because I stomp on it everyday.

Moon-Dyed Bubbles

he last moon-dyed bubble burst atop the surface of the dark, boggy pond.  A graceful New England summer breeze licked the black surface sending ripples crawling towards the lush ferns that lined the banks.  The midnight moon smiled piously, perched high upon an altar of stars like some sort of celestial priest.  Jackson could not help but sigh at the beauty that surrounded him, knowing all to well that this would be his last trip to the secret pond.

Standing at the water’s edge, ankles bound and weighted, he removed a pack of Camels from his tuxedo breast pocket.  He perched a cigarette between his dry lips and lit it, exhaling a satisfying plume of blue smoke into the atmosphere.  As Jackson watched the carcinogenic cloud entwine itself with the beams of moonlight dripping from above, memories of the first time he brought Celia to his secret pond flooded his brain.

A lilac-soaked springtime wind has swirled around his teenage lover causing her strawberry-blonde hair to dance about her soft cheeks, as if the locks were enchanted under one of Mother Nature’s spells.  Bright, majestic sunshine glimmered in her deep brown eyes, reflecting the warmth she had felt for him at the time.  It had been the first and only occasion that he had cared for anyone enough to reveal his hidden pond.  They spent that whole day basking in each other’s radiance, making love on its banks with true passion.  As if alone in a universe created solely for their pleasure, they had watched the sun melt its hues across sky, some cosmic artist spreading his oils upon the great blue dome of canvas for their eyes only.  That had been their sunset.  Their love had forged it.  Jackson could still hear Celia’s voice proclaim that they would share a thousand more sunsets, pledging her soul unto him forever.  Forever.  Jackson had to laugh.

That perfect day had been six years ago when the two were still juniors in high school.  Up until this morning, Jackson and Celia hadn’t even spoken for a year.  So much had changed since that mystical day.  The undying love they had shared at the pond had only kept them together for another three months when Celia had decided that seniors in high school were more mature, and could better provide the “emotional needs” a sixteen-year-old girl required.  Through the course of the following years, their traveled paths had forked and they had grown distant.  Jackson, still very much in love, had done all he could to keep informed about his dear Celia, prodding mutual friends for any news they would offer.  Usually the information about her recent whereabouts filled him with even more desire, seeing as he had always harbored the notion that one day the two would reunite.  That is, until he found out about her upcoming wedding.

xpelling another blue cloud into a midair waltz, Jackson recalled the nausea and terror he had felt when the horrible realization had befallen him.  For the first time in six years, he had had to embrace the fact that Celia would never again be his.  From nowhere, Fate appeared with her unforgiving claws to rip into his ribcage, tearing out his heart to be smashed into a black, useless paste.  Jackson was convinced that on some karmic level this was a great romantic injustice, and that it was up to him to remedy Cupid’s misguided arrow and regain Celia’s love for all eternity.

He had spent the last few days preparing the romantic extravaganza, and had set the wheels of his plan in motion that morning with a phone call to Celia.  Jackson was still inflated with the bravery it had required to make that first leap.  Dialing those seven digits had stirred the current…that lifted the swell…that created the wave that had carried Celia back into his loving arms.

Jackson puffed out a perfect smoke-ring and recalled the two sitting at the park, drinking coffee earlier that afternoon.  His: cream, two sugars.  Hers: cream, two sugars and enough sedatives to relax a small pony.  Before Celia nodded off, they had discussed the strange flowing river of life and how the other was maintaining afloat within it, and promised to speak to each other more often.  Celia had even mentioned her upcoming wedding.  Jackson’s stellar performance of surprise and congratulations had been worthy of an Oscar.

She had probably been stoned from the downers, but Jackson could not get the joyful, loving face Celia had worn at the park out of his head.  It had been much more soothing than the one she wore when she woke up at the pond bound, gagged and wearing the wedding dress Jackson had rented.

Jackson had watched tears, which could only have been of  joy, slip down her cheeks as he told her how the two were destined to inflame the cosmos with their passion, and that they would burn on together for all eternity, inextinguishable and infinite.  In silence, he had held her trembling body for hours, breaking the hush only once to say, “Wasn’t that a beautiful sunset, dear?”  And with the sinking of the great yellow sphere, only but the last stage of Jackson’s plan had remained unaccomplished.

Jackson looked down at his hands and saw the smoke circling his fingers.  Those hands, just moments before, had thrown his bride to her watery grave.  He knew that it had been for the best though.  A love such as theirs comes along once a millennium and he was not about to live the tragedy of unrequited true love.

The fiery ring at the tip of his cigarette had found its way to the speckled filter, signaling the time for Jackson to proclaim his never-ending vow of love as well.  He flicked the butt into the cool thick grass, watching the orange trail it left in its flight.  Jackson then reverently peered at the moon, awaiting his cue.

“I do,” he whispered.  Then Jackson jumped into the pond.

The devoted groom sank to the bottom and felt around for his anchored bride.  Finding her slowly swaying body in the dark depths, he locked his with his soul mate’s arms, and was filled with no emotion but pure love.

A few moments later, the last moon-dyed bubble burst atop the surface of the dark, boggy pond.