A short story. Words – 1,135.
Marc Anthony sang “Love Is All” softly in the background. My fourth glass of Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve was a blurred memory, and we danced. Candlelight cast a soft glow around the room creating an almost dreamlike state. Butterflies, caged for longer than I can remember, now fluttered unshackled through my stomach. Della invited me to her place after work. I was hesitant but a tiny vice prodded me to accept. It was the same voice that cheered me on when I returned her smiles or winked at or stared at her during meetings. She usually caught me when I ogled. Now, here I was, too much wine and confused. She was hot and fiery, her passion only matched by her temperament. Cheek to cheek we brushed, exchanging heat, arousing that which has long been silent. Dormant since tragedy yanked it from my life. Fate, as we all know, can be cruel.
Lips pressed against mine, warm, soft, invading; a promise of things to come. My mind wandered, trying to hide feelings long suppressed. Camping was something I used to do quite often. I loved the smell of smoke from the fire. I learned that if you get too close, it was suffocating and it burned. It wasn’t exactly too much of a good thing; it was more or less something that could only be enjoyed from a distance.
The Latin beat picked up the pace as Marc sang “She’s Been Good to Me.” Graceful glides, bodies in rhythm turned suddenly to groping, thrusting, and exploring. Again I fought for control. I thought about how small puppies make wonderful gifts. My niece, an aspiring veterinarian, received a Lab puppy on her sixth birthday. She immediately named him Paco. Her love for Paco and her interest in being a vet kept the puppy on his toes. Every protrusion, every orifice was explored until she was sure he was operating at peak efficiency. Of course, poor Paco went into spasms if he couldn’t find a hiding place when she came around. I guess that can be the effect of too much unwanted attention. Guilt is an animal of a different color. It can make you jumpy, uneasy in your own skin. Guilt can also be a comforting friend always held at arm’s length to be trotted out just when you need it most. It was smiling at me now, guilt, my friend. I tried to use it like a scalpel to surgically remove the unwanted invasion that had seemingly become part of me.
“Remember Me” softly played and guilt tried to get closer than arm’s length. Friends and family said there was nothing to feel guilty about. All I could tell them was that my wife died. I tried to explain how I didn’t have enough time to let her know how much I loved her. We certainly didn’t have enough time to say goodbye. They all just shook their heads, not knowing what to say nor understanding. I couldn’t blame them. They all meant well. The only way they could know how I felt was if they had experienced the same loss. I didn’t wish that on anyone. As the dance continued I decided now was time for the hammer of truth. One of my best friends used to say, “When all else fails, lie.” Telling the truth seemed much easier.
“I’m still in love with my wife even though she’s been dead for five years. I still love her,” I blurted out quickly.
Easy enough to say, I thought. But hearing it out loud sounded a little crazy. Who am I kidding? It sounded a lot crazy, kind of like yelling fire while standing in a firehouse full of firemen or trying to pick the pocket of a uniformed police officer. In answer to your question, “No, I haven’t done either or even thought about it. As crazy as my statement was, I never expected the response from lovely Della’s mouth.
“You’re in love? She’s dead,” Della screamed. “I’m alive and here. She’s dead and gone.”
Her words stung. I felt flushed and one “kiss my ass” away from tears. How manly of me. Of course there was no new information in what she said. It was just the way she said it, with such conviction. Like a new mother extolling the virtues of her new born baby. She could never be convinced her baby wasn’t beautiful even though it had buckteeth, ears that would make Dumbo proud and a mole on its forehead the shape of Texas.
She continued with her sermonette, “You flirt with me and then accept my invitation. You knew what I wanted,” Della continued to scream, her voice stepping to a higher pitch than I thought possible. “You’re an idiot. A self-centered, selfish idiot,” she continued, pacing back and forth. “You lead me on and then you drop this on me? What’s wrong with you?”
This was a very good question. In answer to your question, yes, I did realize it was rhetorical. I didn’t answer.
“It’s been five years. She’s not coming back,” Della was breathing hard and it wasn’t from passion. Unless you’re talking about her being passionate about seeing me slowly tortured.
There are times when you look back and just can’t argue with the facts. This was one of those times. My dad used to say the only argument you’re never going to win is the one your heart really isn’t in. That’s where I was. I just didn’t care.
“You idiot,” Della spit out.
Those were the last words, along with the sound of breaking glass, I heard before the lights went out.
Twenty-seven stitches, a few well-placed pain pills, and half a bottle of blended scotch later, I realized that in pain, lessons can be learned. The first of which is, don’t mix pain pills and liquor. Secondly, don’t stick your head in a campfire, don’t give a puppy to a six-year-old vet want-to-be, don’t wallow in guilt, and don’t ever, ever tell the truth unless you’re willing to accept the immediate consequences. Also, duck when a vase is tossed at your head. That’s one I’m hoping to always remember. Although I still haven’t found a way to fill the emptiness in my heart; I have learned to keep it to myself.
As an afterthought I guess you should know that Della has now hooked up with my boss. He’s married and has kids. I believe they deserve each other. I’m still waiting for the day he comes in with stitches, a black eye and a hangover. We’ll have something to bond over. He asked me the other day how well I knew Della. I knew the question wasn’t rhetorical but I still didn’t answer.