Waiting [fiction]

A quirky short story penned by my friend Lola Gentry-Dey and me, November 1999. Lola and I co-authored a handful of stories on the Internet while we were members of an online writing group.

Freshly shaved Robert Allen rose up swinging barbells at those fiercely mad occupants of the Union Gym down at Union Square next to Sailors’ Cemetery where Boston Rose sells cheap tricks and BJs as thin as the fish bone stuck in the throat of Colonel Shaw’s pet sandpiper lying dead at the south edge of town where Westinghouse Electric once blessed the beginning of the baby boom.

There was no wind or open sunlight anywhere, but the girl in love felt damaged by exposure to the outdoors, so she stayed indoors in her two-room flat above Westinghouse and ate whole grains, chicken salad, leafy greens, banana yogurt. That night, she drank a shot of Johnny Courage in her cheapest lingerie until Robert came with her ring. She wrote invitations, hemmed the dress, cut the flowers, made the cake, hired the photographer for the ceremony and reception, and planned for a sunny day of happiness indoors where she could polish her skin like golden armor to be the greatest trophy ever.

But Robert died from consumption the day before the wedding.

The girl stood alone at his gravestone on Butter Hill, waiting for a miracle. At ten A.M. the sun poured out her shadow like honey over daisies sunning in an eastern sky. The only movement then was the tendrils of her butterscotch hair and the twitch of her gaze twisting through this sunny field.

At noon, a black and white rabbit scampered to an afternoon sleep awaiting him across the rise where clouds floated in the north and had turned white again. She said, “If you’re alone now, you’ll always be alone,” but the rabbit scurried down its hole without a beginning, without ending, like jazz to her awakened mind.

Her toes tapped slowly at first, then quickened to endless tunes in her mind. Her hair swung at the small of her back, and the gradual rhythm of her hips distracted the gods from their wars above us. Attracted by her beauty, they brought frost and starless nights to the land. She lit a fire in a circle of dry grass and danced alone inside a Mackinaw coat acquired from a traveling priest looking for boys to join his army. She waltzed for many months to keep alive the music and its old pizzazz.

All the while, Robert Allen remained dead at her feet.

She went home the evening Robert’s Aunt Betty came floating from the hospital, looking for John Wayne on a TV controlled by a little black clicker box similar to the ones used by Uncle Ray all those years in the red light district before he died in the heavy arms of Rose.

Aunt Betty sat searching that TV for a familiar face, but Lucy and Sid and Uncle Miltie were not forthcoming from the clicker in her gnarled hand, choking the life from the big white buttons that glowed childish in the dark.

The girl made coffee in the corner kitchen while Aunt Betty watched the local news and wondered aloud from which foreign countries the melancholy reports came. The mystery became hers forever when an eight o’clock breeze from the window passed over her La-Z-Boy and she did not breathe it in.

The girl turned on a lamp and pronounced Aunt Betty dead at eleven-nineteen P.M. Next she called the coroner and roused him from bed, and then called out to family and friends. A crowd assembled and someone said they were glad to see that Aunt Betty died with family and not at a hospital.

The family nurse looked away and wept.

When Aunt Betty’s body was wheeled away, the gathering stirred from their corners and shuffled home.

Uncle Ray, Robert Allen and Aunt Betty remained dead outside the pages of the family’s photo album on the girl’s lap. She, who had been in love once, turned on the TV from the La-Z-Boy and forgot about the tunes in her head. She also forgot about jazz.

She watched TV daily and nightly and found new friends who came and left. And as her last day of life approached, she searched for an old familiar face on the flickering screen.

It never came.

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