By Lauri Maerov
–In the backyard at dusk with your homemade beer in one hand, the other flipping steaks on the rusty Weber. Pontificating, storytelling, as you grill. Summer heat fierce. Galaxies of fireflies flashing against the stars and Sphinx moths dancing over the dead azaleas. Your best friend Charlie is only half-listening because he’s staring at me, daring me to stare back. He’s boring a hole in my heart with that look. He and I are co-conspirators, liars – hiding our affair from his wife and from you.
Pam sits opposite me, eyes closed, holding another of your beers against her neck, as she listens to the drone of your story. One more requiem for your lost youth. Charlie stands next to you laughing in all the right places – like when you two got arrested for breaking into the Civil War Museum, or the one where ya’ll showed up for wrestling practice barefoot and drunk after hitchhiking from the beach, or the time you swiped an ounce of skunk weed from that football player you hated – and stole his girlfriend too.
Pam chain smokes as she matches you and Charlie beer for beer. She picks at my famous spinach and strawberry salad with the homemade poppy seed dressing, a recipe cajoled out of your mother after a few whisky sours.
I’m wearing that short cotton sundress you love, frayed and torn, Carolina Blue faded, but you won’t let me toss it on the rag heap – and you barely notice me in it tonight. I’m nursing a wine spritzer and swatting skeeters, which are immune to the citronella oil you rubbed on me slow and easy like foreplay before they arrived. It felt so good and makes my guilt all the worse.
There is still theoretical magic in this midsummer night. The chance that you and I will make love again, half-drunk, after Charlie and Pam are gone. We could always do that after barbecue and alcohol and the joint that will soon be passed around.
This is how I remember you: good at the core. Still in love with me even if you take me for granted. Always true, guileless, worthy, reliable – as I regret the inevitable – that you will discover Charlie and me. You will know the truth. And I will lose the baby I’m carrying that you don’t know about yet. The baby I am 95% sure is yours because I have done the math.
This is only weeks away from the Night of the Supernova, when Pam finds out first, and shows up during dinner, anger popping off like fireworks. She knows exactly when we eat every night: between the 6:30 news and the sitcoms. She hoists a garbage bag over her shoulder filled with everything I’ve given her over the years – every card, piece of jewelry, scarf, sweater, bowl and plate (shattered for good measure). She dumps them on our table, directly on top of the steamed zucchini, salmon and black-eyed pea salad. The dinner I’ve made to tell you about the baby.
Friendships combust. You sleep in the truck. I miscarry. Pam takes Charlie back. But you and I are done like the trashed azaleas and ruined salmon. All on an Indian summer night.
This is how I remember us: too young, too stupid to know what we have. Maybe I’m sick of the drinking and don’t know how to make it stop. Maybe I’m afraid to have a baby with you. But I regret every minute of what I did to us. Charlie, other than his bruised good looks, is no match for you. I am all regret because you would have been a superlative father and would have continued to love me, despite taking me for granted, even after I grew blowsy and gray. This is how I remember you: never aging beyond that goodbye summer when our lives stopped, the dream ended.
Now I hear that your second wife has died, that you are already two years a widower, with one child in grad school and the other almost a college professor. Who woulda thunk? as Charlie used to say.
You’ve done well with your financial management business. There you are online in an expensive suit, only partially gray, looking fit, clear-eyed, like maybe you don’t drink any more. You’ve created a small universe, have Facebook friends in four figures. Have you forgiven me, forgotten me? Do you know I am divorced again? Childless. Would you even care?
I have missed you though. I never stopped missing you or measuring anyone I’ve loved since against you. My second husband never stood a chance.
It isn’t too hard to find your email address. I wonder if I should first float a peace flag through an old friend. Test the waters. But no go-between feels necessary for a few short lines. A how-are-you, belated condolence, apology. I’m sorry, always sorry. Just hit send and it’s off into the virtual ethers – gone, no regrets, but with regrets. No expectations and every expectation. Gone into that empty space of waiting.
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Lauri Maerov’s award-winning essays and fiction have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Kalliope, Raleigh Review, Another Chicago Magazine (ACM Fiction Prize winner), PIF, and the online magazine, Marco Polo Arts. Her short stories have also been published in the anthologies, Every Woman Has a Story (Warner Books) and To Unsnare Time’s Warp (Main St. Rag). She is the author of the novel, Copycat (Penguin Signet). Lauri consults as a naming specialist with companies around the world. She lives in Durham, NC and is currently working toward her MFA in Fiction at Queens University of Charlotte.