Last words & epigraphs
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This work first appeared in Gargoyle, issue #10. Please respect the fact that this material is copyrighted. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose without the express consent of the author or artist.
The whine of the engine jumped an octave as he downshifted for the curve. He felt the fresh snow give way to ice halfway through, the red convertible sliding up the bank and into the other lane before he regained control. Shaken up, he returned to the right-hand lane, turning the radio off and glancing nervously at the snow-dusted oaks that crowded the twisting road. He came to his turn and let the car crawl downhill to the river road. Rounding the second bend, he caught sight of the cottage. Smoke rose from the chimney, white against the darker gray of the hillside before it merged with the overcast. He pulled into the driveway and stepped out into the frozen stillness of the evening. The halyards clanked against the masts of the sailboats, ice-locked in their slips. He walked across the yard to the porch and stamped the snow from his shoes. Through a window, he saw her standing at the hearth, looking absently at the fire.
Her even breathing was a warm rhythm against his shoulders in the darkness. Hands clasped behind his neck he stared across the bedroom at the paler gloom of the draped windows. The digital clock on the dresser glowed with its faint orange announcement. She spoke:
"Do you want some banana yogurt?"
"I think I'll pass," he grimaced.
"Great, more for me!"
Her shadow blotted out the orange numerals as she jumped out of the bed. Steps thump-thumped down the stairs, a drawer slid open, closed, steps ascending. The bedroom door closed behind her.
Bedsprings creaked as she snuggled into the covers next to him. After a pause:
"Where will you be after graduation?"
"Newport," he said.
"You're really going through with it." A statement.
"Only two years of this, Katy. Things will settle down after that.. I'll have a permanent duty station and we can buy a place of our own . . . "
"I've been accepted at Oregon."
He was silenced. With a muffled plastic click, the clock rolled back another notch to reveal 2:25.
"You don't have to go to law school right away," he said.
"We've been through all this before."
"Look, are you just afraid of losing your chance to be independent? Do you honestly think I want to chain you to my career?"
She turned away from him, scooped up a handful of snow, shaped and threw it at a near-frozen seagull on the prow of one of the boats. The bird lifted from the deck with an insulted screech.
"I don't know what I'm afraid of, quite," she said, crossing her arms.
Then she was walking back along the dock to shore. He watched her go.
"Maybe this is the best thing for both of us, anyway. In a few years we'll both be a lot more certain of each other. We can afford to give the effort to make it work once we're finally through with school."
She closed the oven door, looked up at him for a moment without speaking. Hazel eyes framed by red hair.
"Three years, Jeff. No, I can't do it and I won't rationalize. We are going to be a continent apart. It's not going to work out."
For a moment, he was on the verge of embracing her, holding her close and using his final argument against her. He dropped his eyes from hers and watched the stream of water from the tap running over the head of lettuce in his hands.
"You win," he said, as he reached across the sink to shut off the faucet.