Today, I conquer the pingback. What follows is a daily post prompt to which I responded. I also used a picture that I pulled out of my stuck bucket. I’ll tell you more about the stuck bucket in next week’s paus(ed) post.
He thought of her each night before sleeping. Prayers said, tucked in, he stared out the window into the inky darkness and wished she were closer. Her neck, a column of precious alabaster. His hand would sometimes reach for her involuntarily, as if she were there, her gentle smile, her slender fingers. Before falling asleep he said clever things to make her laugh. He breathed deeply three times and smelled her perfumed hair. He watched the ocean lap against her bright red toenails.
Once he’d had a headache, and she bent down to look in his face. “Aw, Ralphie,” she’d said, “Do you have a fever?” She touched his forehead with the back of her hand. To him, it felt like the lash of a whip, that sudden, that scorching. “Joe, I think he’s got a fever. Hey, Joe, your brother’s sick.”
“You sick, kid?” his brother asked. He couldn’t decide. What would a man do? Would acting sick or acting well work more to win her favor? The indecision stuck in his throat, and to his horror, he felt a tear forming in the corner of his right eye. It pooled and puddled, dripping onto the kitchen linoleum with a loud plop.
He quickly turned to the refrigerator and opened it, seeking something, anything to change the landscape of his face. “Well?” Joe prompted.
“I’m alright,” he said finally. He reached into the open refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of pop, then sat down at the kitchen table. He prayed they would leave soon. The shame of loving his brother’s girl was starting to creep up his neck. If they stayed, he might end up in an ambulance.
“That’s a good idea,” she said. “You drink that pop. It’ll cool you down. When you finish, you can watch Perry Mason with us.”
“He ain’t watching anything with us.” Joe grabbed her hand and pulled her into the living room. Ralph could hear the buzz of the television warming up. He could hear her soft laughter. Joe was in there nuzzling her, he bet. “Ralph,” Joe shouted from the other room. “Go outside and play.” His voice was a little bit like a growl.
Ralph knew what the growling was about. He’d seen them together, tangled up in one another’s arms. Joe had messed her hair up, and her lips looked punched. He sat at the kitchen table thinking of how strange it was; they sounded like they were hurting each other, but they acted like they wanted to hurt each other some more. It made him feel like hitting something, like climbing a tree, like playing with the toy soldiers he’d loved a long time ago.
He finished his pop and went out the back, letting the screen slam behind him. Winter was just beginning to edge its way into the neighborhood. Although no snow had fallen, the cold barked his knuckles. He stuffed them into his pockets and walked aimlessly around the yard, kicking pebbles across the brown grass. He thought of hurtful things to say to his brother. You lost that football championship when you fumbled the ball. Everyone says so behind your back. He wished he had someone to play with.
She pushed open the screen door. “Ralph! It’s too cold out here.” The breeze flirted with her skirt, pushing it against the curve of her calf. He noticed that she held a black coat in her arms. She floated down the steps and walked across the yard to him. His eyes filled with her face as she came nearer.
“Here, wear your brother’s hat and coat if you are going to play outside.” She placed the hat on his head and turned up the brim. Then she surrounded him with the coat, and for one moment he was in the circle of her embrace. She buttoned up the coat and patted the lapel, over his chest. “Now, you are ready to go.” She smiled. “It’s a little too big for you, but one day you’ll be a big handsome man like your brother.”
She turned to go back into the house. Right before she closed the screen door, she turned to smile at him. He smiled back, closing his eyes against the devastation of her light.
Trio No. 3