On the side of the dance he felt spotlighted in his thin plastic chair. Sitting there sipping juice, trying to be confident, in the corner of a room full of people who were simply quite a lot better – at trying to be confident. And I don’t know what the song was, or if it even matched the mood, if it even recognized the significance, but she came spinning around the floor in a purple dress and at some blurring point looked down at him as he looked up at her.
I’m alone, and I’m afraid, and I’m heading toward the waterfall.
Then they were all out, with the lights on in the hall – graduation 1952 – and then stumbling down the street in the lightness of whiskey and company. Jay’s voice was up ahead, above the sound of the cars, and the Cottle twins were around him wandering across the road in that group, but he didn’t see any of that, or remember it in the morning. He was too busy looking at her hand. She was laughing at something but he didn’t know what.
“Where are we going?” From up ahead.
The existential question was answered practically.
And she grabbed his hand as he looked away, and then they both looked away.
I’m just a bunch of chemicals. And she’s just a bunch of chemicals. And we’ll only fall through time for so long.
A few minutes later they were following the chain past the lumber-yard where the long flatbeds were stacked with white brown timber in the night, and she was running a few fingers along the links in that fence. And as he watched her fingers his ankle caught on the hem of the footpath and his chest went pitching forward, arms out windmilling. His shoulder fell forward to take the impact and he could see himself, frozen then, with her eyes wide open –
Let me stay! You old son-of-a-bitch stop watching and let me just stay there. It was too fast and I was too young, I wanted to be quick and I needed to be slow.
But they both kept falling through time, losing years like dollars under the couch, and when he’d re-leveled his gaze, it was the autumn of 1992. And by then certain things that had been absolute were now contingent. And certain things that were eternal, were now waylaid in the fog, somewhere at the dark hills, towards the end of the vale of time.
He was watching like a television, the beep-beep of the vital signs and no position on the leather-back could make that comfortable. When she’d murmured he’d rushed forward “Sorry darling?” but she was just breathing. And she never said goodbye, and that hurt because forty years needs an ending. Needs an exhale, a handshake, a clearly defined, shining white rimmed door that they both gently pass through. But he was on the chair in a conversation with the nurse when that machine went silent.
Fade to dark.
Exit Linda, stage left.
For the next year, every Saturday evening at the table, he still set a place – put the cutlery out where she’d sat, sometimes turning to her spot as if about to speak, but with no one there to hear.
“It was all sea and oceans now.
The great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”
He was sitting on the front chair with the paper, reading about a world that wasn’t his any longer, when Janice called.
“After the war finished fighting went to Minneapolis for a night, saw a film and had a drink I think. I’m not so sure if you were then with us.”
He had a rug pulled up to his neck and fire just simmering behind him as he spoke.
“You know, now’s when you just have to believe in it.”
“Well believe in what?”
And past the handset, across the yard, the sun was up and the wind out playing and all the leaves went with it.