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"The Spot" by Vera Patterson
inspired by "Self Portrait" by Darren Orange
More than eleven years had passed since I had watched him walk across the open field to me, to our spot.
As teenagers, it was our refuge. A place to share swigs from a bottle one of us had managed to steal from the back of the liquor cabinet; to smoke weed we bought from the middle school gym teacher and then to make love.
Eleven years since we had shared our bodies, our secrets, our anger, and our dreams. In spite of the years, the arguments, the distance, and the others, I found my mouth watering with the memory of his saliva flooding my mouth. His hot tongue pushing into the caverns of me.
“Stop it!” I commanded loudly. “Get yourself together.” I hoped he was still too far off to hear me. I stood up and shook myself from the shoulders on down to my toes then jumped three times in place. I hated waiting. I could see him coming. He was almost here.
I stared past him toward the way he had come half expecting to find Arlene shadowing him in spite of my wishes. I scanned the horizon. I blinded myself with the sun until I imagined I could see the blurry image of his wife sitting in the front seat waiting. I had banned her. Finally, there was something I could ban her from and win.
"Come alone," I had whispered urgently. "We started this alone and that's the way we should finish it."
He didn't agree. A whispered argument had ensued. I cried. I hate that I cried but it was understandable. It was forgivable. He went silent. He owed me. He owed Arlene.
After a long sigh, he relented. Arlene would drive but he would come across the field to me alone. It was the best he could do. The most he would offer. I thanked him before we hung up. Perhaps too profusely. I may have been too much again. It was understandable. I was not myself.
My mind traveled the miles between our respective houses, pressed itself up against the windows until I imagined I could see the scene at his house. One which included an angry-faced Arlene and a lot of swearing. She wouldn’t want to be excluded.
It didn’t take long. I was still sitting in my place at the kitchen table. My phone buzzed, danced beside my head which rested on my folded hands. I looked at the screen and saw that it was Jeremy. I didn’t want to talk to him again. Protocol demanded that I answer.
“Yes,” I said simply.
“It’s Arlene,” she said.
She didn’t need to say her name. I knew who it was. Of course it was her.
“What?” I didn’t feel up to pleasantries. Niceties were beyond my ability. It was understandable.
“I don’t think you’re being fair…”
“Life isn’t fair.” Hadn’t she learned that?
“I should be there!” Arlene sounded like a petulant child. She sounded like she was crying. Too bad. Tough luck. I was the alpha in all things, Andrea. I didn’t have to be reasonable.
“I need to be there,” she shouted through her mounting hysteria. “Don’t you think that she would want me there?”
It was too late. I didn’t owe her anything anymore. Only Jeremy.
I listened to the sound of her tears falling into the receiver. I counted to ten. I still felt the same. Her grief was not enough to move me.
“I’m hanging up now Arlene.” I counted to twenty hoping she would cooperate by ending the call. She continued her shallow breathing, her quiet keening. I counted to ten. I congratulated myself for being generous. I severed the connection. I turned off the phone. There was nobody I wanted to talk to.
I didn’t dress up to meet Kristin. I drove slowly, took the long way as a matter of fact. When I put the car in park I didn’t bolt from it and run toward her. I took the time to roll down the windows so that whatever August breeze might kick up could rush through the openings. I remembered to undo my seatbelt. I remembered to lean over and kiss Arlene’s cheek. I took a deep breath and counted to ten while the salt from her tears clung to my lips; while I absently patted her hand. I smiled at her briefly. I grabbed my hat then opened the door, stepped out into the sunlight.
I crossed the road, headed across the field. I could feel Arlene’s eyes on my back. I remembered to breathe. I remembered to walk slowly.
At the halfway mark, when I knew I couldn’t be seen by either woman, I stopped to check the tree. I ran my finger around the heart. I dug through my pockets, found the keys and traced the letters. I contemplated the 4-ever. Remembered the promises we made, the hope we had held, the damage we had done.
The minutes passed. The sun rose higher. I turned my attention to the smaller heart, the afterthought. I covered it with my palm. I wished there was a way to cut it from the tree and place it in my pocket. I wished I could obliterate it from my mind. I rested my forehead on the rough bark knocking off my hat. I kicked the tree. I counted to ten then ten again. I looked around, retrieved my hat, pulled it low in the back and walked on.
I saw her from a distance, jumping in the field. She looked the same. She looked different. She could have been sixteen again laughing at my stupid jokes, falling for my stupid lines or ducking to tuck herself under the crook of my ever-open arms. She was beautiful. She always had been. Over the years I had watched her grow up. Watched her put on pounds and shed them, cut her blonde hair short then re-grow it. I knew better than to comment on anything I saw in her but I couldn’t help the noticing.
Kristin stood waiting, rooted to the spot. The spot. Our spot. A fitting place but then not really. A spot booby-trapped with memories. She didn’t smile or wave. She didn’t step forward. She didn’t wipe the tears which fell freely or stop her hair from whipping in the wind. She simply stood.
“Hey?!” That was her greeting. Question? Comment? Statement?
Without thinking or deciding, I continued to close the distance between us, didn’t stop until I had my arms wrapped around her; until our bodies were fully touching. I felt her trembling and I knew I was the only thing standing between her and the bottom of the ocean.
Jeremy broke all of the rules when he touched me. He shattered all the boundaries I had spent the last eleven years establishing. He wasn’t supposed to touch me. Ever. Not by accident and certainly not on purpose.
His touch was, of course, the only thing he had to offer. The thing he knew would make the difference. I resolved to count to ten then step away. I didn’t get past two before I found myself clinging to him. I didn’t get past three before I lost the strength to stand on my own. It was at eight or nine that I realized we were no longer standing but rather half sitting, half laying on the ground in a tangled mess.
I resolved to accept whatever happened next. I would suspend the rule on touching and all the other rules we had established over the years.
For however long we stayed here we would be whatever we needed to be for each other. I would both comfort and be comforted. This would be the last time that we would be linked together by the life we had created, most likely in this very spot.
For a long time, there were no words only gasping, shaking and sniffling. It reminded me of the many times we lay here wrapped up in each other. My back was getting sore from the weight of Kristin pressing into me. I decided to ignore it. The alternatives would be too difficult. I saw extracting myself or laying down completely as my only options. Neither was a real option. I counted to twenty, then to twenty again. As long as I was counting I could bear the discomfort.
Midway through my fourth round of twenty, my eyes landed on the small pink urn nestled in the grass. I wanted to look away. My mouth went dry. I tasted ash. I saw flames. I started burning up.
I pushed Kristin from me. Her body toppled slowly to her left. It slid down to the ground, her shoulder was the last part of her to meet the earth. She looked stunned. She reached for me. I dodged her.
“I’m sorry!” I shouted. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. I didn’t mean…”
“It was an accident,” she offered weakly. “It could have happened to anyone.”
“It didn’t happen to anyone. It happened to me. It happened to Andrea.”
“It happened to me too,” she said standing up, brushing off.
“How can you be so calm about it all? Why aren’t you yelling and screaming? Why… why don’t you hate me?” I almost choked on these last words. They had been rattling around in my mind for the last three days. I didn’t mean to ask them. Ever. Yet there they were, outside of me.
Kristin stood above me. I had to arch my neck to see her face framed against the canvas of blue sky.
“Oh Jeremy,” she said sadly. Then she reached down and stretched out her hand to help me up. “Andrea was the best kid in the entire world. She was the best of you and she was the best of me. Maybe that’s why I had to let you go because part of me knew that I had so much less of me to offer and you deserved more. I don’t blame you. It was an accident. You were the best Dad. You were always there for her. I know that you feel responsible for what happened. IT. WASN’T. YOUR. FAULT.”
“How could it not be my fault? I was driving. I was driving and I ran her over. I didn’t see her coming down the laneway until it was too late. I saw the look in her eyes. I heard her scream. I felt her body under my tire... I felt it, Kristin. I felt it and there was nothing I could do. There is nothing I can do to take it back.”
Kristin’s arms were around me in a heartbeat. I tried to stay on my feet. My knees betrayed me. We both sank to the ground. I cried. I cried. I cried. I came here wanting Kristin to blame me as much as I blamed myself. I wanted her to hate me so that I had reason to hang on to the guilt. I hadn’t counted on the understanding. I didn’t know that hearing her call me blameless would mean so much more.
“I’m so sorry… so sorry,” I gasped through the burning in my chest.
Our bodies had shifted. My head was laying in her lap. She started rocking me. She started to hum. I listened. By the chorus she was singing:
See the dog and the butterfly. Up in the air, he likes to fly…
That was us, Kristin and I. Always dancing around the dream that was each other but neither of us ever knowing how to reach their goal.
By the end of the song, I was singing with her. As the last note died down I lifted my mouth to hers and kissed her full on the mouth.
“Thank you,” I whispered. “Now let’s take care of our girl.”
The August earth was dry and dusty. It was difficult to dig. It got easier as we got further down. The urn was not very large. We decided to bury it standing on it’s base rather than laying down. We thought it was less likely that it would be discovered that way.
When Andrea’s ashes were nestled beneath the earth we each took turn packing down the dirt by standing on the spot. Our spot.
We stood arm in arm smiling at each other.
When the urn was fully in the ground something shifted.
It was like I had given birth all over again but this birth to a new life for myself. Eleven years earlier I had told Jeremy that I didn’t want him anymore. Watching him walk across the field away from me had been the hardest thing I ever had to do. I had wanted to chase him, to scream his name, to ask him to save me.
I thought that what I did instead was better. I set him free. Free from the burdens that I would face. Jeremy was the smartest guy I knew. Things came easy to him. Life came easy. Jeremy was destined for greatness and I, at 18 was destined to become a single mother.
I wanted more. So much more. Only one of us could walk away and be better off. It wasn’t me so it had to be him. It was so awful telling Jeremy. He was happy about the baby. He wanted to be a father. He wanted to be my husband. I wasn’t ready to be a married mom. I tried to let him go.
Watching him run right to Arlene was painful. Arlene was a pretty girl, popular and nice. contrary to first impressions, she was also very smart. Arlene picked up Jeremy and his broken heart. She mended them back as best she could. I watched her painfully waiting for Jeremy to choose her. I watched her fall in love with Andrea. I couldn’t stand watching her with the only piece of Jeremy that was mine and mine alone. Andrea was the reason I let Jeremy go. It wasn’t fair that she should be able to enjoy them both.
This was a new day. A new chapter. A new me. I said a final farewell and sauntered off across the field. This time I was leaving Jeremy behind. Forever.
Long after I could see her, I found myself staring in the direction Kristin had gone. I imagined her getting into her red Jeep with the top down. She would turn the key. The radio would spring to life along with the engine. I imagined her hair whipping behind her in the wind, her green skirt bunched up between her slightly parted knees.
Eleven years after I left her, crying but stubbornly refusing to marry me, we finally parted.
When I was able to imagine her driving over the small steel bridge which spanned the river, I turned to cross back from where I had come. It wasn’t until then that I allowed my thoughts to return to Arlene. How much time had passed? How long had she been waiting?
When I got to the tree, I stopped. I dug out my keys, I traced the small heart that was Andrea. I paused…placed my palm over the larger heart, the one I had traced earlier. It was the one I had made at sixteen “Kristin and Jeremy 4-ever.” Back then we couldn’t imagine a life that didn’t include the other. Back then, everything was possible. I looked at the hearts, raised my keys to scratch out Andrea’s but found myself scratching out the larger one instead.
That’s what was true. Andrea would go on forever, her heart beating within me, within Kristin. Today was the day Kristin and I ended. Forever. Satisfied, I started to run toward the little blue Honda Arlene I were using until we could replace the truck.
More than eleven years had passed since I had watched him walk across the field. Like everyone else, I knew he was coming from Kristin but this day was different. Rather than walking with his hat covered head held high, he came across the field, hat in hand, shoulders slumped.
I had abandoned my car about a mile and a half down the road from Jeremy’s. It had a flat which I had given up on trying to change. I knew the four and a half miles I had to walk in the heat would do me in. I knew my father would be furious that I couldn’t remember how to change the stupid tire. I knew my mother would stand behind him. I had all this on my mind then suddenly there was Jeremy coming out of the field looking like he needed a friend.
We knew each other as well as we knew anybody else in our town. Too well. I counted to ten hoping he would look up and smile. I walked slower needing to still be in his field of vision when he got to his car. I watched him get out his keys, saw him wipe his eyes.
“You wouldn’t believe what happened to me,” I said startling us both.
His head snapped up so fast that his hat jumped down to the ground.
“Hey there Arlene.” He bent to retrieve the hat, used the opportunity to wipe his eyes on his shirt sleeve.
“Is everything ok?” I never should have asked. I never would have asked except I couldn’t ignore the excited glimmer of hope that jumped in my stomach.
“Sure, everything’s great.”
I counted to ten. I shuffled my feet. He moved closer to his beat-up Chrysler.
“You don’t by chance know how to change a tire do you?”
Six months would pass before I knew about Andrea. Six months before I knew that Kristin had been the one to do the breaking up. Six months before I knew Kristin was setting him free, not letting him go. Jeremy had wanted to marry her. She had wanted to concentrate on not messing up the single most important thing in her life. By then it was too late. By then I wouldn’t dream of giving up the few pieces of Jeremy that he had given me to hold.
Even though Jeremy told me he loved me nine months after my flat, it would be another five years before he married me. Andrea was over four by then. A beautiful raven-haired little girl with Jeremy’s dark brown eyes and Kristin’s temperamental personality.
Everyone warned me that Jeremy wasn’t over Kristin. She never showed an interest in reuniting with the father of her child. Raising Andrea was enough for her. I knew it wasn’t enough for Jeremy. I married him hoping that being the third most important female in his life would be enough. It wasn’t. Time taught me some pieces of Jeremy would always belong to Kristin. I spent a lot of my marriage alternately accepting this and trying to wrest them away.
More than Eleven years had passed since I had watched him walk across the field. I had spent that time watching him. Watching his relationship with Kristin change as they navigated their way through raising Andrea. When the child floundered, they conspired to get her back on track and when Andrea soared they conspired to reward her.
Their conspiring had always excluded me.
When Andrea was alive, if I wanted to help with a schoolyard problem Jeremy would say, “Kristin and I will get to the bottom of this.”
Kristin was even more direct, “This doesn’t concern you!”
Strictly speaking, they were right. Practically speaking they were wrong. I became very good at not asking questions. I became even better at not caring.
I knew that things would change when we had a child of our own. It would give Jeremy something else to focus on. Another reason to love me more completely. It was two years into the marriage before he mentioned the vasectomy. It was longer than that before the babies stopped coming to me in my dreams.
I would like to say I don’t know how long I waited for Jeremy to recross the field. I would like to say that I didn’t hold my breath and watch the digital numbers on the dashboard clock change. I would be lying. Every moment I counted. I wondered what they were saying. I wondered how they were remembering.
I saw movement in the grass, convinced myself it was the wind. Then there was Jeremy, running as if he was trying to outrun the past. He was almost here.
He opened the door and slid into his seat. He threw his hat in the back then faced me. I held my breath. I counted to ten then leaned forward. I kissed his cheek.
Jeremy started the car. He pulled out and started for home. I sat with his tears drying on my smiling lips. He was broken. He was wholly mine.
Vera Patterson is a Mississauga Ontario based mother of four who has always enjoyed writing in many styles. In addition to her blog which can be found at prosetoliveby.blogspot.ca, Vera is currently looking to publish her first children's book. She is also working on a novel for young adults. When she is not writing, Vera enjoys reading, daydreaming and soul searching. She sends a big thank you to Darren Orange for "Self-Portrait".