Sharing a short story from my archives, just because. (Well, 2483 words “short”)
“Make love to me.”
“You just want to be close to me.”
“They aren’t the same thing.”
“They are part of the same thing.”
“Talk to me.”
“I want you to make love with me.”
“You are running away.”
“You make this too difficult.”
“Are you sure it’s me?”
Frustration “Haven’t we talked enough?”
“It will never be enough.”
Plaintive “I need you.”
“You are avoiding me.”
A single tear, a quivering voice… “I love you!”
A single barely perceptible nod. “I know.”* * *
The wind blew outside; the sky was heavy and gray. They were locked, safe and warm in the tiny cabin. They had been together in the cabin, stranded by the weather, for days. He told her it was what they needed. He told her that he wanted inside her soul. Two, nearly three days stuck in a cabin. She was beginning to feel desperate, like a caged animal prowling restlessly, nervously. She could not look at him. She could hardly stand to be near him. She did not want to hear his voice. She did not want to talk to him any more.
“Oh God.” A soft moan, almost under her breath
“Are you all right?”
“No. No, I’m not.” She knew she sounded angry, defensive.
There was a long silence.
She jumped when his hands came to rest on her shoulders. She had been so lost that she hadn’t heard him cross the room. She thought she heard him whisper “I love you.” but she wasn’t sure. His hands squeezed her shoulders gently. He pulled her back so that the length of her rested against him.
“I would let you go if I thought it would help. ”
“What do you want?”
“Let me go.”
She turned in his arms and the tears came.
He held her silently, letting the tears flow, making no effort to stop them, no effort to wipe them away.
Finally her sobs subsided. Softly, “Let me go.”
There was a long silence. Finally she looked up at him, pleadingly. “I could meet some nice man who would love me. I could pretend that I was a normal woman, and live a normal life.”
Still there was no response except for his eyes probing hers. Her voice was shaky as she continued desperately. “Don’t you see? I could know that you were out there somewhere safe, happy. I would never have to lose you.”
“Bullshit!” He exclaimed. “Are you going to tell me that it isn’t worth it? The risk, the pain…that even five minutes of us, truly together, isn’t worth crossing hell for?” He was yelling, although he didn’t really mean to be.
She curled in on herself collapsing like a fragile flower crushed beneath the strength of his voice. She felt him bring himself into check. He held her tightly, petting her hair, and rocking with her, whispering apologies and gentle words. “I’m sorry. Shhhh. It’s all right. I’m so sorry.”
Again her sobs subsided. This time her voice was plaintive and she echoed his words. “I’m sorry.” It was as if she were wringing them from the depths of her soul, dragging each one out painfully. “I just don’t think I could bear to lose you, to see you suffer…to cause you to suffer, as I am now. Is it really worth it? Am I worth it?”
“My Heart, you are worth this and so much more.”
“How can you stand to even look at me?”
“How could I stand not to?”
She shook her head. “I don’t believe you.”
He reached for her hand drawing her up and across the room. He came to a stop in front of the dresser mirror. He stood behind her and held her facing the mirror. “What do you see?”
She drew a deep shaky breath and let it out with a laugh that sounded forced, even in her ears. “I see hair that needs brushing, puffy swollen eyes, a red runny nose, a pouting mouth…” her voice trailed off, but his did not immediately fill the silence.
She filled the space instead. “I see a woman, ridiculous and weak. I see a man pushed to the limits of his control.” His fingers tightened around her waist and he held her there for a moment longer. He stepped back away from her, dropping his hands to his sides and turned away. “Wait!” It was a single desperate cry. “Come back. Tell me what you see.”
He shook his head, sadly she thought, and didn’t turn to look at her when he answered, “Ask me again, when you really want to know the answer.”
“I do want to know.” She was nearly hysterical. What was happening between them terrified her.
He turned to look at her then, and all she could see in his eyes was love. His voice was calm and even. “Then ask me again…when you will believe me.”
She dropped to the bed as though he had physically shoved her and sat in silent shock. He moved around her as though nothing had just happened between them. He puttered, stoked the fire, and began preparing dinner.
They spent the evening in a silence not quite easy, but not quite uneasy either. They crawled under the covers and snuggled close together, her wrapped around him, clinging desperately as though he might disappear if she didn’t hold on. Softly, in the darkness… “Why won’t you make love to me?”
“Your parents did you a disservice.”
“They tried to teach you that sex is something sacred to be saved and shared between a husband and wife. What you learned though is that sex is what makes the love between a man and a woman different from other sorts of love.”
They lay together in silence for a long time before either finally found sleep.
The activity in the morning was easy, flowing with the smoothness of a well-practiced routine. Breakfast was cooked, dishes washed and put away. The bed was made…then there were no more chores and they still faced the rest of the day within four close walls. He sat near the window, writing in the gray light filtering through it. She sat on the couch pretending to read, but didn’t see the words at all. She could not concentrate, could not pull a thought together in her head. She fidgeted unconsciously, twirled her hair, chewed her lip, flipped pages too quickly.
After a while she heard him get up. He filled the teapot and set it on the stove to heat. He moved around the cabin as though he had lived there his whole life. She hated him for being so perfect, for being so calm, for seeming so unaffected while she felt like she was writhing miserably within her own skin.
The pot whistled. A hot cup of tea was pressed into her hands. “Here, you look like you need this.” He sat beside her, put her feet into his lap and began rubbing them. She took a sip of the hot liquid, and then looked up. His eyes locked with hers immediately. Her lip began to quiver and he reached one finger up to stop it, to brush a strand of hair from her cheek. “I love you My Heart.”
She turned on the couch, pulling her feet off his lap and tucking them up under her. She held the steaming cup of tea in front of her with both hands, like a shield. “What does that mean?”
He didn’t hurry to answer her. “There is no simple answer to that question. It means that your happiness is more important than my own.
It means that you hold a vital part of me in your hands.
It means I will fight for you. It means that I can’t imagine my world without you in it.
It means that I am vulnerable to you.
It means all that and a million other things.
There are no words. It is bigger than you or me or even us.
Truth is, My Heart, I don’t really know what it means. I only know that it is.”
A heavy sigh. “Oh Mine, you have known me too long. You do know the buttons to push, don’t you? Now I’m supposed to get defensive…say something like, ‘Well, what do you want me to say?’ Then you can feel justified in retreating into your shell and we will have lost all the hard work we’ve done.” He slid closer to her on the couch, pinned her with his eyes, but did not touch her at all. “Why do we still play these games?”
She felt, in that moment, her soul laid bare to him. A bright light shone through every closed-door and locked drawer to expose all the musty corners and dark places. It was too much. She stood and turned her back to him. “I’m afraid you will swallow me whole. I’m afraid I will burn up and there will be nothing left of me.” A long silence, “It hurts. Doesn’t it hurt you? It is so big…so much bigger than me. I can’t believe it is real. I can’t believe I can be that. I just …can’t.”
His voice was gentle, soft and near her. “My Heart. You have laid your soul before me. I have seen you vulnerable and bare. There is no part of you that I do not love, nothing I haven’t seen. What then, is so scary? Help me understand.”
Their conversation was punctuated by the silences, the long drawn out silences and the grudging, halting way that her words came out. After one of these silences, both standing trapped in their own private thoughts, she finally turned back to look at him. “I don’t deserve you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I make you miserable.”
“You make me alive.”
“What can I give you that you can’t find in any other woman?”
“Why do you fight so hard?”
“Why do you?”
“Because we belong together.”
“How can you know for sure?”
“Why is it so easy for you some days and so impossible others?”
“What happens when you get to my center and you find that there is nothing more there?”
* * *
She woke with a start. She lay still in the darkness straining to determine what had awoken her. The only sound she heard was his even breathing as he slept beside her. His breathing…and their voices echoed in her head. She closed her eyes and tried to drown out the voices, to think of something else, but they only came back in new scenarios. “Why do we still play these games?” The question echoed over and over in her mind. Had this game always been a part of their dance?
He had come back in from checking the roads to find her sitting in the window seat staring at a framed picture.
“What are you looking at?”
She had shown him the picture, a young couple embracing, smiling just for each other, oblivious even to the camera. “I miss them.”
“Tell me about them.”
“They were young, and care-free. I remember they laughed all the time. And passionate…just a look passing between them could make bystanders blush. They were a fairy tale couple, destined to be together.”
“What happened to them?”
“The world crept in. They grew up.”
“Do you ever see them now?”
When had it stopped being easy for her to love and be loved? Where had this paralyzing fear come from? What if she had simply said, “I love you too.” Would they have spent the afternoon laughing and making love instead of waging emotional war?
“Why do you fight so hard?”
“Because I’m so terrified I’ll let you down…because I feel so inadequate. Because I love you desperately. Because I want you to be as happy as you can. Because I can’t figure out how to be the brave, strong woman I used to be. Because I got lost somewhere along the way and I don’t know if I can find my way back. Because I don’t know if I can hurt any more. I don’t mean to make this so difficult, to be so difficult. I don’t mean to keep hurting us this way. ” But she hadn’t said any of those things, only, “Why do you?
Beside her he stirred slightly shifting in his sleep, but his breathing remained even and steady.
She lay there in the dark, focusing on the sound of his breathing, meditating on it, forcing it to drown out the voices in her head, the ache in her heart. She lay there for a long time, listening, matching her breathing to his.
It came to her so suddenly that it startled her. There it was, shining in front of her, an instant of clarity … and she wondered why she hadn’t seen it all along. Her vision was so clear, so pure that it made her want to cry. She wanted to wake him that very instant; to talk to him, make everything all better. She knew that she would not. She would wait until morning and in the light of day the explanation would not come so clear or so easy.
* * *
“The roads are clear. We can leave today.”
She nodded, but said nothing.
“Are you all right?”
I will be.”
“Can I help?”
“You do help.
I’m sorry.” Softly…almost under her breath.
“Why are you sorry?”
“For testing you.”
“Have I passed?”
She took his hand and led him across the room to the dresser, turned to face it, placed his hand on her shoulder and met his eyes in the glass. “What do you see?”
“I see the woman who I will grow old with. It means that you are the bravest and most amazing woman I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I see my life, my wife, my soul-mate…My Heart.” He watched as a single tear slipped over her lower lid and onto her cheek.
“Even five short minutes is worth crossing hell for.” She paused for a moment and then continued, “You know, it will always be this way between us. I will always test. I will slide easily through years of happiness with you and then grow irrationally afraid that it is all a lie. I cannot change it. I try, but I can’t.”
His smile, and the love that shone from him filled her with a feeling she could not name. “I know my Heart.”
“Make love to me.”
He turned her, fiercely, embracing her, kissing her, sweeping her up into his arms and crossing the room in a single motion. Just before he laid her on the bed he said, “I have been, My Heart, for days.”