“Do you think we should have brought something?” Kerry wrung her hands as she had been doing for the past half an hour. They were slowly turning red and a roughly bitten nail caught on the back of her right hand had torn a small jagged cut. “How much longer?”
“No. What would we bring anyway? It’s not a party, Kerry.” Gregg squinted at the road through the rain. It seemed to be getting heavier and the windshield was beginning to fog up. Probably because she won’t shut up, he thought, all of that billowing hot air she puts out. He was sure that she would have an explanation for being so antsy, she always did. Kerry had a logical reason for everything. She was never short of reasons, or need, or want either, for that matter. Gregg grumbled under his breath and shifted uncomfortably on the car’s bench seat.
“I know it’s not a party, Gregg.” She drew a little heart in the steamy patch on her window. “I just thought that when you go to one of these things you’re supposed to bring food, or, something. A card? Or flowers? It’s your girlfriend.”
“Ex girlfriend.” Gregg gave the steering wheel a quick jab with his fist. “Well then I guess I fucked up because I don’t have any of it.” Kerry pulled away from him, and sat in a fetal position against the passenger door. She pulled on the knob that opened the glove box and pulled out a pair of dark, movie star sunglasses. As her reddening eyes disappeared behind them Gregg tallied up another failure.
Why does he have to be such a dick? Kerry concentrated on pulling back the tears that were threatening to run beyond the confines of her glasses, blowing her cover. I hate him. She began to fantasize about their breakup.
She looked beautiful. Her hair was perfect and there was not a blemish to be found on her smooth pink skin. She was thin, and her teeth were white, and he would want her more than he had wanted anyone, ever. Gregg, I need to be honest with you. You are not fulfilling my needs. I feel as though I give you everything and you give me nothing. He would have no response to this. He would only sit and sulk while she spoke her piece, fermenting in the fact that she was right; he was an asshole. I’ve tried, Gregg, but I’m sick of being a widow at 21, you have nothing to give me. I love you, I’m in love with you, and I know you love me but you’re not in love with me, and you never will be. Aren’t I worth more than that? She grinned into her knees, mentally ticking off all of the reasons why she deserved better. And wouldn’t he be forced to agree, all the while aching with the pain of her loss, and his fault?
Gregg’s hand left the steering wheel and flopped to his thigh. Kerry’s eye caught the movement, and it pulled her out of the dream.
If he thinks I’m going to hold his hand now he’s wrong.
Kerry watched the hand suspiciously out of the corner of her eye as it slowly began to move and work it’s way across the seat, pulling itself along by its own bitten, ragged nails. As the hand picked up speed, coming closer across the bench seat, she felt tension in her chest, and an asthmatic wheeze whistled through her teeth. Kerry looked down and felt her own hand began to quiver with an infuriating desire to respond to his creeping. She stretched it and the joints popped loudly. At one point on its journey, Gregg’s hand bumped into and got tangled with the middle seat belt, but soon it was back on course toward her thigh. It came to a stop just short of that goal and waited only half a minute before Kerry’s hand came to rest on top of it. She squeezed his hand half voluntarily; it squeezed hers back, warmly, and strong. She looked over at him and tried to take him in. His thick eyelashes bobbed up and down; furry caterpillars crawling the rim of his eye. He’s so pretty.
“Look Ker, I’m just stressing. I don’t even know where we’re going here.” Gregg kept his eyes on the road. Everything they had passed since they left the city was a blur. It all looked the same. Trees, fields, and telephone poles. How do people live like this?
You’re always stressing, she thought, stressing and angry and mean. You hurt me, Goddamnit! “How much longer?”
“Well, we just passed a sign that said twenty miles, but on the directions I have it says only ten, but I guess they could be wrong. Shit, I dunno. We’ll get there when we get there, Ker. I was only there once before, at night, for like fifteen minutes, I just can’t…” He broke off and squeezed his eyes shut for a second. Kerry watched with rising panic as the car pulled t the edge of the road, toward a drainage ditch. Open
your eyes, damnit! She tried to pull her hand away from his to grab the wheel but he held her tightly. She watched the car pull closer to the edge, and swallowed hard, closing her own eyes. She squeezed his and tightly and sat back in her seat, breathing deeply through her nose, concentrating on the sounds of the tires on gravel. They were steady, and droning. Gregg opened his eyes and looked at Kerry who, appeared to be staring ahead, down the road, probably mocking him for getting lost.
“And I don’t know what you’re so excited about anyway, Kerry. I told you before, it’s not a party.”
“Yeah, I know that. God.” I’m not stupid. Does he really think I’m stupid? Kerry opened her eyes and looked out the window through her dark sunglasses, back behind the car, squinting at trees and poles, looking for a road sign. “It’s just that I’m nervous, I don’t really have the right to be there you know, I don’t know her that well, I only met her the couple of times and then,”
“Well you’re there for me, ok? I want you there. So there’s your right.” Kerry felt warmth hugging her heart. He wants me there. She turned to him a planted a peck on his neck right behind his cheek. It made a wet sound a left a shiny circle of spit in the fold of his neck. Gregg’s hand flew to his neck and wiped the spit away, smearing it onto his pants. “Christ, Kerry, oh wait, shit. That was the turnoff.” He pulled close to the shoulder and made a smooth U-turn. They drove on for another twenty minutes before they reached the house. Kerry, pulled off her glasses, and stuffed them in her dress pocket and waited at the bottom of the porch stairs for Gregg who was looking in the backseat for his jacket. He finally pulled out of the car, locked it, and jogged over to Kerry’s side. Taking her hand, he climbed the stairs to Jennica’s wake. Kerry pulled free as they stepped through the door.
“Oh Gregg, we’re so glad you could come! Did you make it up all right? No trouble finding us? I thought you might not be coming today, it’s so late.” The woman
was large and wore an ill fitting black shift with tiny white flowers. It bunched around her shoulders and had crept up across her considerable breasts. She held Gregg tight against them and cried for a few moments before pulling away from the embrace to look at Kerry with beautiful mascara ringed eyes. The black stuff had begun to work its way down her cheeks. I bet she had her mother’s eyes, thought Kerry, who shifted back and forth from foot to foot and pulled her own dress even across her insignificant chest. The woman took Gregg by the arm and led him down the hall and into a large room off to the right. Kerry followed and stood quietly next to them, her eyes roaming around the room. Twenty people were there, mostly men in their late twenties and early thirties, all dressed up and clearly uncomfortable pulling at the sleeves of their black sport jackets or the knots of their ties. There were a few over fifty who must have been family, or business associates of some kind. Kerry looked at Gregg, whose arm was still being held by the heavy set woman in the flowered dress. He was wearing a dark blue sports jacket over black jeans. And sneakers. His hair looked dirty and dull with oil.Why did he have to wear jeans? His shoes are pathetic. Kerry wrinkled her nose. He looks like an idiot, and they all think its my fault.. Why do I have to be responsible?
There was an enormous flower arrangement blocking her view of a large wooden table on the far left wall, in front of a fireplace. Looking over her shoulder, trough the doorway behind her, she could see into the kitchen where there was a table in the back with at least ten different casserole dishes, all covered in clear and pink and blue cellophane. There were also several bottles of wine and liquor lined up on the counter in a kind of makeshift bar, they still had dark ribbons dangling from their long thin necks. All were obviously gifts brought to console the family, or at least to feed them through the hard time. At least ten people had crowded into the small room and were picking at the dishes. Kerry could see some men pouring themselves drinks.
“I knew we should have brought something,” sighed Kerry under her breath, looking away from the kitchen. She felt a headache coming on, creeping at the edges of her skull and poking into her temples with hot itchy fingers; she pulled at her dress again. I hate this dress, but at least I look human. At least I’m right.
Gregg pulled himself further away from the large woman and turned to Kerry, his hand extended in her direction. “This is my friend, Kerry, Mrs. Eaton” he said, finally pulling away from the woman’s grasp and latching onto Kerry’s arm.
Friend? Kerry’s face flushed hotly as she was introduced and she bit into her tongue and smiled weakly at Jennica’s mother.Dick. And I never even knew her last name. Eaton. Its nicer than mine. Christ, why am I here? I don’t want to be his “friend “ anymore.
“Hello, Mrs. Eaton, it’s nice to meet you.” Kerry put out her hand to Mrs. Eaton who grabbed onto it tightly and began pumping up and down as if to draw water from Kerry’s shoulder. The hand was plump and warm as blood. Kerry pulled back, but could not free her hand. Mrs. Eaton looked deeply into Kerry’s eyes, searching for something that Kerry held close to the bone. After a few moments she seemed to have found it and quit her handshake, dropping Kerry’s hand as though it were something befouled .
“It’s nice to meet you, Kelly,” she said, rubbing her palms together, and then across her thighs drying the sweat that collected on them. She eyed Greg angrily, and then turned back to Kerry. “So, Kelly-”
“Um, it’s Kerry, Mrs. Eaton.” Gregg spoke softly and took a step back. Letting go of Kerry’s arm, he looked at the floor, embarrassed. Kerry grew warm at his attempt on her behalf.
“Oh, I am so sorry, Dear. Kerry is it? Kerry, yes. So, Kerry, did you know Jennica long? I don’t remember meeting you.” Her voice was calm and kind but her expression
could have cut glass.
Kerry quickly looked to Gregg for help, but he was busy investigating the floor panels. She looked back into Mrs. Eaton and saw a storm coming across her brow.
“Uh, well, no, I didn’t know her very well, I,” I met her twice and the first time I thought she was an asshole. “I only met her twice but she seemed like a lovely person. I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance to get to know her longer.” Kerry scratched at the back of her left leg with the pointy toe of her shoe. She tottered imperceptibly, losing her balance and catching it again.
I hate him. He is leaving me alone again and as soon as I can I’m going to leave him and laugh about it. And then…and then… She looked to Gregg in all of his ineptitude and ill mannered sulking and saw no fear in his company.
“Yes, that’s a shame, Dear.That’s a shame. I’m glad you came, though. It’s nice to see that so many people miss her.”
“Yes,” said Kerry. She felt as though she might drown at any minute and Gregg would not even care enough to watch. She held Mrs. Eaton’s eyes with her own and kicked at Gregg’s ankle. Hard. He looked at her angrily, and then to Mrs. Eaton whose mouth was opening as slowly as the stone that rolled from Jesus’ tomb. She took a breath and spoke to them both.
“Would you like to see her?”
Gregg’s face was drained of blood in an instant, and Kerry was confused as Mrs. Eaton once again took her hand and began to lead her across the room toward the large floral arrangement. Kerry dragged her feet on the carpet as she was led, like a child, to the far wall.
Dear God, let there be pictures on the mantel. I can see those. I can look at pictures for the whole day just don’t-
It was a huge casket. Kerry had never seen one except on television and from a distance at her cousin’s funeral. It seemed much too big for the tiny body that it cradled inside. The casket was a rich brown, varnished to show off the red loops and whorls of the wood grain; it had brass handles, and Kerry wondered if they would tarnish in the
“She looks beautiful, doesn’t she, have you ever seen such a beautiful little girl?” Mrs. Eaton wiped at her eyes with an intricately crocheted handkerchief, spreading more mascara across her already stained cheeks. “She shouldn’t have been taken from us, so young, she’s just a child herself. She never even had any children of her own, you know? She’s my, my baby, my only little girl, and she never will.” Mrs. Eaton frowned and looked at Kerry with a face that showed only rage and hurt and betrayal. Kerry was lost for words. I’m sorry Mrs. Eaton, I’m sorry she died, I’m sorry anyone dies, but, I, I don’t know what else to say. Kerry turned to the body and opened her mouth to speak but Mrs. Eaton cut her off.
“Well,” her mouth opened and closed like a puppet’s and Kerry could almost hear it clapping shut, punctuating her fury. “I’ll leave you with her for a moment.”
She looked at Kerry who was staring, her insincere eyes tearing and her mouth, painted too darkly with lipstick, gaped at the body. Mrs. Eaton cleared her throat loudly, leaning into Kerry’s ear, and Kerry, clearly startled by the sound stood up and turned to her, wiping at the thin line of mascara under her eyes with one finger and suddenly her tears seemed to be pulled back into her eyes. Mrs. Eaton voice came out hoarse, and steely “Where’s Gregg, where did he go? He should see her. He should look again.” Kerry pulled her eyes from the body for a moment and saw that the storm had come. Mrs. Eaton stalked angrily across the room hunting for Gregg. Kerry was left with Jennica, and she stood and she watched.
She’s prettier than me, Kerry thought. Her face is perfect. She has such a tiny
nose and a bud of a mouth. And she even has cheekbones. I bet she could have been something if she was taller. Kerry imagined Gregg kissing the dead girls mouth. She could see him licking at her tiny white ears, sucking her perfect pencil-eraser nipples, and touching her breasts. He could never get all the way in though. It may have been good, but he never got all the way in her. He had told her that the Jennica was too shallow, or he had told his friends in front of her, and that had made the sex not as good. And now she was dead, and Kerry was deep.
I want to touch her. I want to lean in and hold her for a moment and tell her what I know. She got away from everything. She looked around behind her, Gregg was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Mrs. Eaton, but she was being watched by several people in the room who had picked her out as a stranger.
They want to know what I’m doing here. What am I doing here? She turned back to the body and looked deeper. The tiny rose bud mouth was painted a pale shade of pink, almost pearly, and the lips were held closed. She looked more closely at them, leaning over as if to kiss the girl and saw tiny stitches across the inside of the
lips, it looked like morning saliva gum, like the girl might just lick them away with the flick of a perfect tongue and sit up and accuse Kerry of having no right to be there. And what right did she have anyway? She was there to console Gregg, but now he was gone and she was alone. Kerry looked over the body in the coffin, following it’s curves, and wondered if Jennica had been upset when she lost Gregg.
Jennica was in a soft blue dress, long and pale, it bunched across her breasts with a ribbon underneath. I wonder if he liked her breasts better. Kerry tried to look down the gown’s neckline, but it lay flat against the dead girl’s chest.
I wonder if he wished I were her, or still wishes. It’s so convenient for him to have her leave this way, perfect and immortal. What if he never makes me immortal? I wish I had her breasts. She looks unreal. Even more perfect than I remember. They did
a really good job on her make-up. Even her sick-girl eye circles are gone. I wonder if I’ll ever look beautiful like that. Gregg loved you, she thought. He loved you for a long time. Almost as much as me. But he wasn’t in love, he said so. Never has, and never will. And you didn’t even care. You just ate it. And now look at you. You’re beautiful and perfect, and you’re rotting. Right here in front of me, rotting. Perfect and rotting. And now I’ll never understand how to be you. Why didn’t you care? Why didn’t it hurt you? God damnit. I wonder if he loves you even now, really loves you. I bet he loves you more because you left.You made him crawl and I never will. I hate wishing to be you and I do anyway. Fuck you, even if I’ll never be you. Fuck you. I’ve had him longer though. No matter what happens, I’ve had him longer than you, and I will always have that. Tears crept to the corners of her eyes and splashed over the lid, spilling into the casket and making tiny droplets on the fabric of Jennica’s dress. Kerry felt a hand on her back, and jumped at it’s touch.
“Kerry, I want to go. Now.” Gregg pulled her close, stepping between her and Jennica, and avoided looking into the casket.
“But don’t you want to say goodbye to her, or, say hello to anyone or-”
“No, I want to get the hell out of here, I’ll talk about it later, I just want to leave.” His face was red and Kerry saw that he had been crying, or close to it. A vein throbbed in his forehead, blue and bulging. He looked weak and small to her, like a hurt animal. Her eyes softened and she smiled at him.
“Ok, Sweetie, ok. Are you all right?” Her voice was high and gentle and she rubbed the flat of her palm up and down his back, pulling him toward her and into an embrace. She looked over his shoulder at Jennica’s body. It was still calm and lovely, but now it seemed less real, and colder. Kerry felt tiny icy pins sticking in her heart as she looked over the immaculate corpse.
And now he’s mine, but I bet he’s still fucking you.
“So are you ready? Can we go?” He pulled away from her and turned to the hallway, heading for the door.
“Yes just a second, I’ll be right there, could you get my coat? I think I left in in the hall when we came in,” she lied, and he went off on the errand. Kerry looked around to see if she was still being watched, but the room had emptied some since she last
looked, and now most of the other guests had gone into the kitchen. Taking a step back she could see them through the doorway, balancing paper plates piled with cold casserole on their hands, and swallowing huge gulps of alcohol. They spoke to each other with full mouths and tried not to look awkward as they swallowed huge bites of cold noodles and creamy meat.
Kerry felt safe, and she turned back to the casket, and leaned in close. We’re leaving now, and I need to know . Putting her arms flat across the box, as though she were trying to hug it, she pressed her mouth quickly and softly to Jennica’s lips. They were cool and firm. Her tongue darted out and poked at the fine thread that held them together; she inhaled through her nose and felt the sting of perfume and some type of chemical that she could not recognize, it mingled with the scent of a shampoo that Jennica recognized as the same as her own. She stood back up and looked around the room. A young man in a blue suit, with a drink in his hand was looking at her. He looked away as she caught his gaze, then quickly looked back, and smiled. He’s very handsome, I wonder if he had her too? He had a beautiful smile that showed of a row of strong white teeth, and there was something odd about his skin. It’s color was perfectly even and flat, as though he were wearing makeup. Kerry’s brow wrinkled at him as she tried to figure it out, and the man nodded at her, and raised his glass at her slightly. Kerry frowned at him, to dissuade his attention, and he raised a broad flat palm to her and looked away. She leaned back and looked to the other guests in the kitchen; they were still worrying the casserole table. Satisfied, she turned to the man in
the blue suit and seeing that he was ignoring her, she smiled, and then turned back to the body. Kerry reached out and took Jennica’s hand in hers. It it was white and smaller than hers, and as cold as the dead girl’s lips. It had touched Gregg as much as Kerry had, and now it was so still she could barely imagine life into it. It had held cigarettes, and shot glasses, and it had been in Gregg’s mouth. She held it tight, feeling the softness of the skin and inspected the fingertips to admire the miracle of Jennica’s fingerprints. Then, softly, she returned the hand to it’s place on the girl’s chest, and turned to leave the room.
Her lips, they tasted like tea.
* * *
Gregg rolled down the car window, made a hawking noise in his throat, and spat a large brown gob of phlegm into the wind. He rolled up the window and began to play with the radio.
“Are you all right, Gregg?” You’re disgusting,. And you left me alone there. She put her hand down on the seat next to his leg. He did not take it.
“Yeah, I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?”
“I dunno,” she said, flopping her hand about in the hopes that he hadn’t seen it. “It’s just that you haven’t spoken since we left, I thought maybe you were upset.” Or that you wanted to talk, or that you cared, or that you weren’t just a fucking robot.. She looked at him, and he looked at the road. He sat silently for a few miles, pulling at his tie. Finally it came loose and he threw it in the back with his jacket. His hand came to
rest on the wheel, and she pulled her hand back to her lap. Kerry grew angrier as they
continued silently driving south.
“She was furious with me, you know.” He said it very matter-of-factly, breaking the silence effortlessly, as though they had been talking all along. Kerry almost smiled at the sound of his voice, and something heavy lifted in her chest.
“Who?” she asked, timidly, ”Jennica?”
“No, her mother, Mrs. Eaton.”
“Oh,” Kerry was confused. “Well, why was she upset?”
“Because I brought you. Because I brought my girlfriend to my ex-girlfriend’s funeral.”
Kerry felt sick, and humiliated. “But you said I should go!” She sounded like a scolded child, whining its way out of a punishment. “I knew I should have stayed home! Does she hate me? Do they all hate me?” Why does he do this to me? Now he hates me. He’s going to leave me now, I know it, I hate him and he’s going to leave me, and then, and then, oh God.
“What do you care? You don’t even know them. They don’t give a fuck about you.” He raised his voice as he spoke, and it seemed to catch in his throat. “They don’t give a fuck about anybody but themselves. They didn’t even want me there. I was never part of the life that they wanted her to have. I was never what they wanted for her. I could have been, but… And now I have you and that makes it worse. They wanted me to die too. But she lied to me. Jennica never told me anything. Anything true. What was I supposed to do? Huh?” His face was red and sweaty and he was breaking down in tears. “I left her, shit.”
Kerry felt a pain in her chest, a kind of burning nausea that hugged her ribs from the inside.
“Gregg, please pull over.” Kerry was ready to grab the wheel from his hands if
“I don’t want to, I just want to go.” He looked straight down the road. The rain had stopped, but the pavement was still slick. Kerry looked out the window and saw the car’s reflection in the water. It paced alongside the car, a blue green blur. Gregg was a wreck, and Kerry was torn between loving his pain and his tears and wanting him to die so that she could be rid of him.
But if he dies now, he’ll take me with him. And what’s so bad about it? Don’t I want to go though? If I die, I die, and then, nothing.
“Gregg,” she said, “listen to me. Pull this car over so that we can talk. Just take a break, and then I’ll let you drive some more, ok?” She slid across the seat until she was close at his side, and ran her fingers through his hair. She could smell his panic sweat; acrid and pungent, it made her gag a bit when she leaned over to kiss him on the exposed bit of his shoulder where his shirt had pulled away.
Her fingers calmed him and he began to breathe more slowly. “Ok,” he agreed, “ok, I’ll do it.” He slowed the car and pulled it to rest on the side of the road. Then he turned the key and sat behind the wheel for a moment before he began to cry again. “I don’t know what to do,” he wept. “I tried, but she just wasn’t right, she lied to me, I couldn’t stay.”
Kerry was fascinated. It was the first time he had really broken down in front of her and she was savoring it. He was in mourning, and she was in love. Now need me. Just need me. She rested her head on his shoulder. Her neck began to hurt immediately. “Mrs. Eaton lied to you?” she asked, taking his right hand into hers.
“No, no, Jennica. She lied, a lot. I loved her, but I couldn’t stay with her. I never even knew who she was with half the time.” He pulled his hand away from her and he pushed her away across the seat. Kerry frowned. I hate you. She sat with her head against the window, drumming her fingers on the glass. “So why was Mrs. Eaton mad?”
He lay his hands on the steering wheel and rested his forehead on them. “Because I couldn’t fix her; I was supposed to marry her, and keep her safe, and, I left.” He made a sucking noise in his throat and swallowed hard. Kerry pretended not to hear.
“But they knew that she was sick, didn’t they?” she asked him, and tried to stop wishing him dead.
“Yeah, they knew, but she could have helped herself. She could have lived
longer. But she didn’t take care, she didn’t take any care of herself. She still smoked at the end, even when she was on oxygen. She’d alternate butts with the mask. What was I going to do for her?” Kerry turned to look at him. He was talking into his hands, and he looked thin and alone.
He still won’t be in love with me, I will help him and he still won’t care. But he’s mine for so long and without him, what is there. If he leaves, things will change, and then…
She put her hand around his head and pulled him down onto the seat, so that his head came to rest in her lap. She ran her fingers through his greasy hair as he talked and leaked tears and snot onto her dress.
“I couldn’t marry her, Ker, I couldn’t listen to her lie about where she’d been, or fall in love and then watch her die. What was I supposed to do?”
“Nothing, Sweetie,” Kerry bent over and kissed his sweaty forehead. She felt a vein roll under her lips. “You did what you could. You loved her, that’s all they can ask.”
“But they want it to be forever, they wanted me to save her from everything, and I think she wanted it too. I can’t save anybody!” He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Turning his head he burrowed into Kerry’s lap, and she felt a hot wet patch soaking
into her leg. When he spoke it was muffled, “I wanted to love her more, but she would have taken all of me. And then what would happen to me?”
And then? “You tried, Gregg, that’s enough. Just let it go, you can’t let her mother have you like this.” And what about me? Don’t you have me, isn’t that enough?
“I knew she was dying, and I didn’t want her to take me, too, you know?” He turned his head and looked into Kerry’s understanding eyes. She hated him. He was a selfish prick, and he would never understand what love was, or what forever meant.
We all want all of you. That’s the point. I want all of you. And I’ll never have it even though it doesn’t exist. No one ever gives all of it, even if they try. They can’t, there’s always some saved for the self, but you just don’t get it, you won’t even try to pretend. How can I love you? she thought, and then spoke to him, warmly and
“You’re ok now. It’s over. You don’t have to worry anymore. You don’t have to see her mom again, and they certainly don’t expect any more of you than you’ve given. You paid your respects, now let her rest. Ok?” Kerry thought back to the dead girl in the casket, and her beautiful face. She imagined him in an empty apartment, crying, wondering where his Jennica was. She imagined that it was Gregg’s face that she saw in the casket and smiled as she rode away with Jennica in the car. She would have stayed with her, to the end. Gregg caught her smile and sat up suddenly. He rolled down the window and spat again. Kerry became nauseated and was pulled out of the fantasy.
“Kerry,” he said, “will you get out of the car for a minute, please?” Gregg looked strange and nervous. Like he had just realized something wonderful and terrible all at once.
He’s going to break up with me right here, just because he feels guilty about Jennica. Shit, Gregg, shit. Don’t do this to me, what am I going to do if you leave? Who
will stay with me? I should have seen this coming. Now what am I going to do?
“Sure, why not,” she said, popping the door open, and stepping onto the shoulder of the road. The dirt was squishy from the rain and she pressed into it with her toe.
Now he’s going to drive away without me, she thought. And I don’t even know why, or where I am, why don’t I ever pay attention? How far am I from a phone? I can’t take it if he leaves. I hate him for making me so scared . I wish I didn’t care. Maybe I could get him out and could drive away. Maybe someone else will love me. And I will hate them forever for not being him. I will hate them all.
But he didn’t drive away; he got out of the car and walked over to her side, belching on the way, then he took her hand in his, and held it, tight.
Kerry looked him up and down trying to figure out what he was up to. His
clothes, that at least been neat before were now a mess. His sneakers muddy from the dirt shoulder. His shirt was wrinkled and wet, and had glistening runners of snot on the collar.
A real winner, she thought. If I didn’t know him I’d call the police. Maybe I can do that anyway. Help, police! This vagrant has stolen my boyfriend’s clothes and is going to funerals dressed badly and impersonating him! Help!
“Kerry,” he said, fishing around in his back pocket, “I-”
“What?” it was cold outside and she was shivering. I want to go home and take a bath. I want to go home and die. “What is it, Gregg?”
“Well, I, I want to know if you’d marry me?” He took his closed fist and held it out to her. Turning it over, her held it open, lying loose on his sweaty palm there was a white gold ring, with a small, round-cut diamond in the center. I wonder if it’s real. Is he serious? Help, police.
She desperately wanted to think of something eloquent, but the words escaped
her, instead, all she could say was:
“Are you in love with me?”
Gregg stood, dumbstruck. He had been prepared for a no, or even a yes, but not for this.
“I love you, Kerry,” he said.
“That’s not what I asked, Gregg, are you in love with me?”
A small blue truck passed them and the passenger hooted something inaudible out the window.
He can’t say yes, and I can’t say no. I never say no. I even went to his funeral. And who will he bring to mine? What must people be thinking as they drive by?
“Do you?” she pressed.
“Well, I do love you, and, well I don’t know, I just don’t know, Kerry, how can I? But I want to marry you, isn’t that enough?”
Is it enough? Can I do better? Do I have time? She looked at him again in his
derelict clothes and caught her reflection, behind him in the car’s window. She was thin, and pretty in the window. Her hair blew full and proud in the wind like a model in a magazine, but in the window, she could see wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, and across her brow. Crouching little crows feet, and frown lines. She tried to relax her face, to make them disappear, and they did, but she knew they would return sooner or later. They were in different worlds in the window, and on the road as well, but she felt that hers might collapse without him. He was horrible, and filthy, and pretty and hers. He was forever and safe, what lie beyond was only and then. She could not see past him and could not imagine without him.
“Well, Kerry, tell me now, I need to know. I, I’ve been carrying this around for weeks and I just, uh, well, I’d like, I mean I need to know, please?”
He needs to know, so I guess I’ll tell him. She took the ring box from his hand
and pulled the ring out, slipping it onto her finger. It was too tight and she cut her knuckle working it over her finger. He was looking at her eagerly, bouncing up and down on his toes like a dog doing a trick for a treat. As she worked the ring over her finger, he reached for her hand and helped her to push it on. She looked at it for a moment before speaking softly.
“Yes, I will. I’ll stay.” Police, please! And then?
He stood for a moment, not quite understanding, and then realization dawned across his face. He smiled brightly and jumped forward, wrapping his arms round her and holding her tight. He squeezed her against his chest, laughing and crying and hugging her breath away. She looked over his shoulder and onto the road where a procession of cars, headlights blazing, was beginning to crest the hill.