Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mere Semantics

A short story of mine got published in the Tower Light Lite (a literary supplement publication at Hillsdale before the actual Tower Light comes out in April) this week. Prof. S told me last night that both he and Mrs. S read it. When I asked him what he thought of it, he said "interesting," so je ne sais pas. If you have any specific comments or questions about it, feel free to ask. I've gotten a few of those too. For example, No, this did not happen to me. Hence the fictional aspect of the short story opposed the essay format. That is not to say particular feelings are not universal, which is why, perhaps people keep telling me they relate, which is semi-gratifying to hear. I do like knowing my words affect people, so feel free to share.

"Ever After, Happily" by Julie Robison

The house overflows with people, the smell of beer and cigarettes wafting outside as Fiona weaves through the throngs.

It was just one drunken night, he had told her. It only happened once, and I was really drunk, he added, for her benefit. She hadn’t cried, as he had expected her to, and she hadn’t gotten mad. She just sat there and said, What Now?

They had left it there, in the uncomfortable silence and uneasy feelings; the place where they sat next to each other, smiling only when friends came by, pretending things were just as they always were. They each secretly loathed the other for placing their relationship in this waiting room. After a few weeks, he decided to end it.

It’s not fair to you, he had told her.

But in the end, she heard otherwise. Her friends, trying to be a comfort, discussed his many infidelities while occasionally patting her knee.

You’re Too Good for him they told her, before turning away to whisper about things that made her stomach hurt.

She excused herself to the bathroom, where she sobbed on the toilet, hating herself for being that girl who cried over her ex-boyfriend and for believing him when he had told her they would have their own ‘happily ever after’ together. She cried until a knock on the door reminded her that other people needed to use the bathroom too, and what an impractical room she had chosen to cry in.

Now Fiona sees him at the party, and feels his stare and tries not to notice his arm around that girl, Amy. She feels lightheaded, and in need of a strong drink. She finds relief only when she reaches the kitchen, her fingertips gripping the counter top.

While they were dating, she had always found it a great source of comfort whenever he put his arm around her, as if to further emphasize that they were together. Then she would put her head on his shoulder, because she thought she ought. And if they ever sensed a void was growing between them, an empty space where neither had anything to say to the other, they would touch the other in a reassuring way, as if to say, I’m Still Here.

The kitchen linoleum needs to be cleaned. Fiona feels the soles of her shoes sticking. The kitchen spills over with people drinking cheap beer. There had been a football game that day, and they had won; all, football enthusiasts and otherwise, celebrate.

We beat their asses into the ground!, Dan says loudly. The cocky bastards; and they thought they were going to beat us. Harry agrees with an unwieldy grin, a victorious grunt, and thrusts his beer into the air. People follow suit, cheering. Then Tyler calls out for body shots and picks up Caroline, who giggles in protest as she is placed on the table. Fiona turns away.

Fiona remembers a night like this; the night she had worn her new strappy sandals and they had won at State, the game before he tore his ACL. She hadn’t meant for it to happen that way. She had dreamed of being somewhere exotic, anywhere besides his tiny upstairs bedroom, where the sheets were clean and the room was a mess. She had chastised herself afterwards and cried only a little bit. He had zipped up his pants and rubbed her arms up-and-down as he told her it’s okay, they’re in love. But even now, Fiona remembers his empty eyes and tries not to blush as he walks by.

Fiona wonders how to respond if he should approach her: her first response is to ignore him, and her second involves a slap to the face and plenty of yelling. She wonders if they will talk about it: what went through his head or why he did this to her, someone he claims to love—especially with someone like Amy, who looks like she never eats or sleeps.

The thought crosses her mind that perhaps it was her fault; perhaps she had pushed him away.
She suddenly feels trapped in the narrow hallway where she stands talking to people about the game (she hadn’t gone) and other topics that do not demand her full attention while speaking.

She excuses herself, and goes out back, where she watches her breath and talks to a few friends from freshman year, catching up on their lives and accepting their apologies for what had happened: they had heard, they say in low, sympathetic tones, and how horrible. She smiles appreciatively and keeps repeating, teeth chattering, Oh no, it’s Fine, really, I’m Fine.

No, really, if you need anything, they insist. She tries not to look through the kitchen window where she knows he stands with Amy, laughing with his old football friends. She wonders if she still loves him. She wonders why she has even come.

Bill joins the semi-circle of conversation. Bill plays football, but had met Fiona in a Music Theory class. They break off into an affable side conversation, talking and laughing. Fiona is surprised how much she enjoys his company, and she almost forgets why she hates these kinds of parties. Almost. Her eye catches a glance of him walking through the door frame. Their eyes meet. Bill sees the glance, and tries to keep the conversation steady as each footstep becomes louder than the last, the leaves crunched underfoot with reckless abandon.

Fiona, he says, finally before her.

Fiona exhales. He’s so close, she thinks. I could touch him. But she doesn’t; she keeps her fists in her jacket.

Oh, hi, she says; and, after a pause, How are you?

I’m fine, he replies shortly, staring at Bill and Fiona standing next to each other. The air is tinged with smoke and unspoken explanations—Hey, Fiona, could I talk to you for a minute?, he says, his steadfast gaze fixing on her. She wishes he would look away.

She touches Bill’s arm to excuse herself, and he nods graciously. She walks a little ways off to the side yard with him, feeling nervous and wondering if she looks all right. But Fiona soon finds her mind wandering as she watches Bill, who stands with hands in his pockets, trying not to watch them from a distance. She casts glances toward Bill while half-listening to his reasoning and reckonings, his why Amy and why now. She entertains thoughts of Bill, their conversation, his smile.

Listen Fiona, he says, talking in a hurried, agitated manner. I know you’ve got hundreds of reasons to hate me but I want you back. I love you. You’re the only girl who understands me, the-only-girl-I’ve-never- regretted.

Fiona reflects on their relationship, what it used to be. She misses those days.
I’m a different guy now, you’ve got to believe me.

She flinches perceptibly at his touch, but begins to feel at ease as he soothingly strokes her arms.

Fiona? He gets closer.

She looks into those unblinking eyes; he doesn’t seem to be lying, she thinks. The corners of his eyes and mouth crinkle when he lies.

Fiona, what do you think? Can you ever forgive me? Can we give this another go?

She considers the offer before replying. They just stand there, not speaking, staring. She sees herself in his eyes, and she smiles.

No, Fiona says, shaking her head while gently pushing away his roving hands. I’m not interested. Amy’s inside, she adds; and I would find her if I were you.

With that, Fiona, taking one last look at her ever-after, happily walks away.

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