Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Could You?

First published in Baker's Dozen Review (2007)

“My father warned me not to marry you.” Amos, red-faced and shaking, folded the lace slip and threw it in the water-stained box. “He told me you'd break my heart.”

“Your father was an old fool. You said so yourself.” Her calm voice didn't have it's usual effect on him.

Amos peered over his bifocals at Gertrude. She wasn't the svelte seventeen-year-old he'd married, but that didn't matter anymore.

“Well, maybe I should have listened to him.”

Gertrude didn't respond, as was often the case these past three months. Amos removed the blue chiffon dress she'd worn on their first date from its hanger, laid it on the bed and crossed its arms over the bodice. He liked this one, but it wasn't his favorite. She sat in the rocking chair in the corner wearing that one, the white dress with the purple and rose pattern that snaked from shoulders to hem. His eyes embraced her body. Even now, her beauty created an ache in his loins.

“Why do you always smile when we have an argument?” He thrust the dress on top of the slip.

“Because I know how it's going to end.” A spate of machine-gun laughter erupted from her mouth.

“Damn it, Gert.” His chest rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell, as he calmed himself.

Gertrude remained stoic.

“You know you're the only woman I ever loved. Never even thought about being with anyone else after I met you.” A pair of slacks, as blue as his mood, followed. “But you knew that didn't you, right from the start. You were the smarter one.”

He moved the box to the floor and put its mate on the bed. He packed in silence and listened to the creaking of the rocking chair as Gertrude watched him, nodding when he folded an item right, raising an eyebrow when he didn't.

“I still can't believe you did this. It happened so fast.” He massaged his temples to ease the pain. “You didn't give me time to prepare. After fifty-five years you still don't get that I don't like surprises. It's not the way I run my life. I need order and consistency. No surprises. You know that.”

Tears flooded his eyes, sobs ravaged his body. He fell to his knees and buried his face in the comforter. The words crept from his mouth in alternate waves with his moans.

“I need you, Gert. What am I going to do without you?” She didn't respond.

He cried until there were no more tears to shed. His body ached from the storm that had raged through it. He looked at the chair. She was gone.

He finished putting the last of her clothes in boxes and carried the first downstairs, a final tear zigzagged down his wrinkled cheek. He was behind schedule. The Goodwill truck would be there in twenty minutes.

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