This is the beginning of what I hoped would be a short story collection. Sadly, I’ve been too busy to even touch it again since I first wrote it.
As the last vestiges of twilight faded behind the granite bluffs, he could feel the suffocating darkness begin to descend. It enrobed him like a thieves cloak making it impossible to see more than a hands width in any direction. Aside from a few animals that he’d prefer not to guess their species, the only sound was a far off stereo echoing snippets of the Ealges “Take It Easy.” He listened harder, tethering himself to that miniscule bit of civilization, a reminder that there was life beyond this unnerving darkness.
He stumbled on the gravel riverbed as he tried to turn. “How do you do that?” he asked, knowing his grimace would be hidden. “I sound like an elephant coming and you don’t even make a sound.” He shuffled his feet along the gravel to prove his point as he moved to join her. Dropping her parcel, her hands slipped up his biceps and along his shoulders. He could hear her grin more than see it.
“Were you afraid out here alone in the dark?”
“Mmm,” he murmured, nuzzling her neck, “visions of Deliverance were flying through my head.”
“Wrong state, love.”
“Creepy ass river with no one around for miles…same difference.”
His arms slipped around her waist, unwilling to admit that she was partially correct – he did not want to be here alone. “What’s in the package?”
“The frat boys sent some fish our way as a peace offering for their drunken heathen ways,” she chuckled.
He couldn’t help the twinge of jealousy that rose within him, a product of too many bad relationships. “You spent the last half hour with a bunch of drunk frat boys.”
She cocked an eyebrow, knowing his tendency to overreact. “Forty five minutes. And did I mention they were naked? Naked and offering us the last bit of river trout?”
“You don’t like fish,” he mumbled, wondering how she could so easily put his mind at ease. Other women would’ve started an argument but she seemed to know exactly what he needed to hear.
Her lips pressed into his: soft, forgiving, promising. “But you do,” she whispered as if that solved everything.
He sat to work on a small fire as she busied herself around their camp. As his yes adjusted to the darkness he watched her move: barefoot against the hard pebbles, her steps as self assured as if she was on the flattest of concrete; her eyes would drift his way when she thought he wasn’t looking and a wistful smile would cross her face – a smile that he knew meant she was counting him a s a blessing, disbelieving of her luck at finding him. Like all new love, though, he often thought the same of her: how anyone like her could ever want someone like him.
He chuckled as she circled the fire like a moth, the pan of trout at arm’s length, her squished nose the only sign of her silent rebellion.
“What are you laughing at?”
“You. Here, I’ll do the fish. You get us something to drink.”
She hesitated a moment and he wasn’t sure if she may have mistaken his offer as an order. Orders, he had learned, were never well received. No matter what she thought, the idea of surrendering the fish must have been too inviting because she handed it to him and kissed him lightly on the lips. “Deal.”
He glanced only momentarily in the pan, grateful that it had already been fileted. Although he’d fished as a boy, he had serious doubts about how to prepare once since he’d spent the last 30 years simply ordering them off a menu.
They ate in almost silence. In the city, he loved that about her – how they could drift around each other for hours never saying a word. It was never uncomfortable but easy, languid. And it inevitably ended with one or the other giving a glance askance that was an invitation for sex.
Here, though, the silence seemed suffocating. If she noticed, she hid it well but perhaps she was lost in her own thoughts and memories…he’d learned she did that a lot, too.
“So this is who you are,” he engaged softly.
“No,” she shrugged without hesitation, “it’s just a place.”
“How can you remain so disconnected?” he prodded, knowing his frustration was seeping through.
“Who says I’m disconnected?”
“Just a place?”
“A beautiful place made more beautiful because I’m sharing it with you?” she tried.
He shook his head. He had no doubt she meant it but that he had to force feed the words made them almost meaningless. But only almost. “Tell me something.”
“Anything,” he smiled encouragingly.
She snuggled closer into his chest, offering him a drink of the champagne they had let cool in the tumbling river. Champagne, she’d insisted, would mean he’d never forget this time, this place. Champagne was a guaranteed memory – weddings, births, ships carrying dreams setting out to sea. It was on the label she assured him and, when he playfully doubted, she’d peeled off the label leaving not so much as a trace of glue so he could argue with her.
Women loved to talk to themselves. That was one thing he prided himself on knowing. So when she launched into an almost fairytale like story, pointing out the constellations and telling himtheir legends, he could manage nothing more than to smile and pull her tighter into his arms. It was unexpected and yet…it wasn’t.
Telling tales of herself was something he had to fight to get her to do. He had hoped that being here, in a place where she’d spent so much of her childhood, would help him shatter that wall between them.
“I’m connected,” she mumbled as if either ereading his thoughts or picking up the earlier conversation as if no time or words had intervened. “I’m connected to moments like this. When I’m having them.”
“So tomorrow you’ll no longer be connected to this?” he asked, searching for understanding in what he knew was a rare emotional truth for her.
“Exactly. Tomorrow will have moments and connections all its own.”
The idea chilled him more than he wanted to admit. “You can forget us – this- so easily?”
Even before she had shuffled in his arms, he knew he had said the wrong words – words that would end the conversation rather than prolong it.