(I’ve decided to start posting short stories that I write inspired by vintage photographs from flickr.com on Fridays. Over the last 5 years, I have done so on this blog on occasion under the title “Flickr Fiction Fridays”. I think it’s high time I bring the notion back. Though today is Thursday, I have a wildly busy day tomorrow and decided to jump the gun so to speak. I get permission from the flickr.com members who own the images to use the photographs in the stories, and I ask that if you repost this story, that you give credit where credit is due as I have done with the photo).
Photo courtesy and copyright of www.flickr.com user Tastevick. Used by permission.
The Letter. . .
© Michael Sprouse, 2010
Jenny knew it would come to this eventually - an awkward silence between two adult women peppered only by sounds of the rustling leaves set aquiver by the heated August breeze, the muffled warbling from a few lethargic birds, and the softened laughter from the children grasping with lemonade sticky fingertips at the downy dandelion tops that seemed to flow like a misty river in every direction from around the picnic area.
For a moment, she envied their innocence, their naiveté. She wanted to join them, wide-eyed and giggling. She wanted to be one of them, be with them, be anywhere but here at this moment. As quickly as the children's voices had appeared, they faded.
As the fog of her useless wishes cleared, she found herself exactly what she had been but a tiny moment earlier - a silent, pensive woman waiting for something, anything, to happen.
Jenny felt ill. Quietly and quickly, she raised her hand to her mouth in an unconscious movement that could have passed as a moment of deep thought to others, but it her it had been instinctive, doing so to delay any possible physical effect from her churning ocean of a stomach. Though her body seemed as steadfastly frozen as an ancient statue, she felt as if she could actually feel her teeth trembling in her closed mouth behind her hand and it unnerved her even more.
It was impossible. How could have Lorraine discovered the information on her own? The thought pierced her mind like the sudden falling of an icicle freed from the darkness of a hidden eave. Someone must have told her, but who? And how? How could anyone have known? Who had betrayed her betrayal of Lorraine?
There was that word again - betrayal. Suddenly, it didn't seem to matter what had been said and to whom. It changed nothing. 25 years of silent acceptance had aged into 25 years of a fading memory that had now burst open like a spoiled egg bravely poked with a gnarled twig. Jenny realized that how Lorraine had discovered the event didn't matter as much as what she had discovered did.
Or did it? It was 25 years ago for Christ sake! Gary has been dead for five years. Five years! None of this matters. None of it. It was just a stupid, stupid youthful mistake.
That Jenny knew for certain. It was a mistake. A massive mistake. A mistake that she had quietly and neatly placed on the most dusty, unvisited, and forgotten shelf of her mind.
That sweet vanilla scented summer night, the moon, the peppery taste of homemade wine. Gary's eyes. Oh God his eyes. Swirls of icy blue and sweet cream. And the kiss. His kiss to me. The kiss of a lifetime. Never before had she been kissed like that and never since…
For a nanosecond, beneath the hand she still held against her trembling mouth, she felt as if she could sense his lips pressed upon on hers once again. She had been infatuated with Gary from the day she first met he and Lorraine so long ago in the summer of '20.
We were all so young, so very young. Though she and Lorraine had become quick friends, she could never understand why Gary had married her. Lorraine she seemed wise beyond her years but she was as plain as a crust of bread. And, of course, as Jenny later learned, unable to bear children.
Maybe it was her wisdom. Her uncanny sense of knowing. "I'll ask Lorraine," he'd say. "She'll know what to do. She always does, God love her." How many times did I hear him say that? Unusual for a man, but, then again, she always did know what to do, didn't she?
Then came the rest of the memory - that hot summer weekend that Lorraine was called away to tend to her ailing sister, Gary's unexpected arrival at her front door at 10:15 in the evening. His beautiful eyes misted and wild from too much homemade blackberry wine. His full, flushed lips sparkled with the yellow light of the full moon like hopeful fireflies dancing upon every word he spoke.
He was drunk. I was a fool not to notice - or to care. The next thing I remember, well, I was tipsy too. His lips. Sparkle, sparkle. Please, Gary, don't. No, you may not kiss me, I can't. Oh, Gary, please. I, but Lorraine. I just.
She recalled more. The sun rise. The shame. Diverted eyes. Hushed tones. The talking around it. And worse later. The sense of something not quite right. The sickness. The confirmation. The decision. The soul wrenching, inevitable decision.
The blood. The blood. The blood...
"Jenny." Lorraine's voice broke the silence like a hard slap across the face.
But there was no slap. There was only Lorraine slowly reaching for Jenny's hand. As Lorraine moved Betty's hand from her face, she was taken at the gentleness of Lorraine's touch. Like Gary's kiss.
Jenny, still frozen in silence, watched as Lorraine then led the hand between them both and quietly pried it open with the softness of a newly hatched chick.
Jenny, motionless but with her hand now open and palm up, followed Lorraine's movements with her eyes as Lorraine placed her own open hand atop of Jenny's covering her palm. She felt something papery between them that seemed to have the size and feel of an envelope.
For what seemed like a millennia, Jenny slowly raised her eyes from their crossed hands and looked directly into the eyes of her best friend for the last 20 something years.
"Jenny," slowly spoke Lorraine, as if to ensure Jenny realized each word.
"I understand this. I understand all of this. I just want you to know that. Thank you. I love you. I'll be in touch."
And with that, Jenny watched as Gary's widow turned and quietly, stoically walked into the dusk toward the direction of her farm.
Jenny looked into her hand and recognized the handwriting on the envelope immediately. It was Gary's.
To be opened on the fifth anniversary of my death. . .