On Grafton Lake

“What’s her name?” Matt asked, smiling his practiced interested smile, yet dreading the answer.

“Does it really matter?” Andi said, her eyes losing focus on his as she gazed through her ever-rosy haze, her new lover’s perfection in her mind’s eye.

“No, not really,” escaped around Matt’s smiling shield, the one he had built and buttressed since Andi and he were twelve. That was the day they walked into the woods above his parent’s place on Grafton Lake—Andi and her parents were visiting for the weekend from home in Albany—and Andi kissed him full on the mouth.

“I think I’m in love with you, Matthew,” young Andrea Mezaluna said after pulling her lips away from Matt Harkin’s beet-red face. And then she stuck them right back as if he was a powerful magnet and she a piece of hot steel.

Matt’s hazy pre-teen confusion over Andi’s surprise and surprisingly abrupt pronouncement of her heart’s desire eventually burned off, like morning fog of the lake’s surface, by Sunday afternoon. Their hand-holding and long walks had not gone unnoticed by both sets of parents, who thought it was borderline inevitable, since the two had been playmates, fast friends and classmates since kindergarten.

Before the Mezaluna’s said goodbye to the Harkins for the remaining two weeks of their summer vacation, Matt and Andi walked to the spot where they first kissed. Sitting close, her head on his shoulder, they one last time took in this view of the lake, boats sailing or motoring by on its surface, framed by the pines, maples and birches, and the azure sky flocked with clouds that would gather into a thunderstorm later that evening.

No longer confused nor embarrassed, Matt took Andi’s face in his hands and kissed her as clumsily passionate as a twelve-year-old boy could muster and then said, “I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you…”

“Andrea! Time for us to go,” Mrs. Mezaluna called from below.

“…Andrea,” Matt finished. He wasn’t sure if she recognized the significance of the fact he never called her Andrea.

Andi gave him one more kiss, hard, hugging him so close he could feel her heart beat. Or maybe it was an echo of his, he was never sure.

When they walked hand-in-hand out of the woods, the Mezaluna’s were saying their thank you’s and goodbyes to the Harkins from within their car, waiting for their daughter before they’d head for home.

Andi turned toward Matt, hugged him close one more time, kissing him on the cheek and whispering, “Please hurry home, Matt. I don’t think I can stand waiting two whole weeks until I see you again.”

And then she was gone.

When the Harkins returned to their Albany home that Labor Day weekend Sunday, the Mezalunas popped over from next door to invite them to a barbecue in their yard. That’s where Matt saw Andi holding hands with Richie Bischoff, who was thirteen hoping on fourteen, and he got a new understanding for what Andi Mezaluna meant when she said she couldn’t stand waiting two weeks for him.

That was Matt’s first inkling that for Andi, falling in love — which he later felt was her falling into obsession — was what she loved most.

“So she’s The One?” he said in her ear over the din of bar.

“Oh, yes. And she’s crazy about me,” she said, her eyes as shiny and earnest as they always were when her heart was ablaze with a new love.

Reflexively, the corners of Matt’s mouth bowed up, as he recalled all the times she’d run to him with that same expression he fell in love with in sixth grade, flashing that same spark he saw above Grafton Lake that melted his heart, yet ever since then burning down his hopes with it.

He never thought to tell her the truth each time she’d run to him like a little girl excitedly showing a new doll to her best friend. Because he recognized that her best friend was who he was.

He couldn’t bear losing her smiling face, the intimate warmth of how she’d whisper to him, bringing to flaming life any embers of his remaining hope, even knowing they’d burn his heart to ash once more.

This was the procedure she followed throughout high school and into college, where she discovered her attraction to dolls was more than just to the American Girls that still lined her bedroom, but to real American girls, along with one Pakistani and a girl she met in Montreal. Then there’d come the hockey player from Watertown.

Matt had tossed his heart at his share of dolls, too, one Andi had even dated for a couple of weeks. But none of them worked out in the long term. They would give him either the “It’s not you, Matt, it’s me,” speech, or just realizing they couldn’t connect with a guy who had but one carefully tooled connection.

“So, tell me about this mystery woman, Andrea,” he said, that contented smile on his face, drawing close enough to feel her warm breath against his cheek one more time, feeding more fuel to the torch he’d compulsively raise in these dark moments, just to ensure he’d be able to share the only intimacy he ever would with the love of his life.

“Oh, Mattie, I love you,” Andi said with her bubbly laugh, hugging him so close he felt her heart beat just as perhaps she could have felt his heart, breaking, one more time. And it was the moment two twelve-year olds shared above an upstate New York lake and a hope Matt would always have that would glue it back together until the next time Andi fell in love.

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Restless

I didn’t know if she awoke before I did or I before she. I only know I could feel her eyes upon me.

Just not her touch.

“Yes, another restless night,” I said.

“No, you didn’t keep me awake,” I lied.

The ceiling did. Consciousness did. Worry did. Old truths did. Fantasies did. Longing did. Guilt did. I did. But I couldn’t tell her that.

“No, I didn’t know I kicked and thrashed all night,” I said. But the covers lying in disarray on my side told a different story. One where if looked as if I ran and swam and crawled my way across this No-Man’s-Land searching for somewhere to tuck in until the barrage lifted. But dawn lifted first.

I looked over at the clock and, as it has for the past weeks, it taunted me with a left-hand number less than six.

“I don’t know if I can make it today,” I said, sensing that sinking feeling in my chest again, an emptiness like it had been crushed dry. But I knew I had to get up and bump my way through another day, fighting off the sleep that never quite came last night.

“No, I haven’t dozed off again, just…gathering myself,” I said. I’d been locked in another bout of the woolgathering inattentiveness on the daydreams that substituted those I never had at night anymore. Night had become a wasteland of artillery flashes, reds and yellows and whites cutting through the darkness, after which the colors of days were smothered by the darkness of exhaustion.

“I wish I knew,” I said when she asked why I’d had another rough night. But she knew why as well as I did.

I took a deep breath, sighed it away like I’d sighed away another restless night, filling the room with wordless exclamations, near-silent calls for rescue. Sighed it away like I sighed away the covers on my side. Sighed it away like I would this day and the last and most likely the next.

But before I pulled myself from the ravaged percale plain upon which we lost another hope without a dream to support it, I kissed my fingers to reach out and touch her, to let her know one more time. But they came to rest upon her empty pillow with which I shared these nightly battles between damned consciousness and blessed oblivion.

My very short story for Day 19 of my May 2017 story-a-day challenge. No outside prompt today. Just a carryover from the poem I woke to at that ungodly hour again. These too-short, dreamless nights can kill you, but they also can inspire you to dreamy inspiration, too. Until you finally drop…

Concerto for Two

Foggy, rainy, window pane

Rain taps the window,
a piano with no strings,
while wind blows through trees
in a rhythmless clatter
and a sound like oboes
without reeds.
Cold pierces the wall
with a metallic sharpness
I feel in feet that keep no beat
and on ears that sense only
ticks and whooshes.
I long to hear the soft thump
of heartbeat against my chest,
the a-one-and-a-two-and-a-three
of your warm breath as it
waltzes across my atonal ear.
No nature, nor charts, strings,
reeds or brass could ever move me
as you in concert with us.