Spring Picnic

They sat together and talked while the clouds couldn’t decide whether to be dark or white, changing and dancing in their indecision of midday. She would say, ‘I think it will rain,’ and look for her umbrella in the bag though she knew damn well she did not pack it. He would lean back and watch her shoulders move with her emotions, straight and soldier’d when content, shaking, when she laughed at his jokes,  then later, sagging under the knowledge of what was taking place. The day was heavy for her, but not to him, because she had not told him in advance. It was a picnic. It was sandwiches cut into rooftops with potato chips and red grapes in zip-lock baggies. It was a checkered tablecloth on the grass, still damp with May when one leaned with an elbow, feeling the earth depress.

He sat up and crossed his legs, looking at his hands. They were soft from pushing a pen and typing for thirty-five years. One arm bent to go around her shoulders, his hand hanging relaxed. “My mom asked if you could come to dinner on Thursday,” he said, and coughed, reaching for a pack of cigarettes. With a little shake, one flew up vertically and he took it between his lips. He replaced the pack with a lighter, and sparked the tip, inhaling deeply. He lounged again, exhaling the other way from her. She did not answer. Those shoulders stayed very still. Scary still. “Can I give her an answer tonight? We’ve been together a year and she wants to meet you.” He cocked his head to read her face, but the sun got into his eyes.

“We can’t make it.”

“What do you mean, ‘we’ can’t make it?” He held the cigarette out at his side and turned just enough to see her face. He had never seen it look so strained. He cradled her chin in his free hand and looked into her eyes. He leaned in and kissed her lips. She allowed it. Then she turned her head away.

“We can’t make it.”

He had felt her pulling away for weeks, maybe longer. He figured it was merely a little depression after her mother died. Maybe some p.m.s. Perhaps because she was looking for work. But this was different. He did not recognize her face like before. This was not the same girl he saw yesterday.

“When we first met, I saw your face everywhere. So handsome,” she said to her hands in her lap, playing with the fabric of the table cloth between her crossed legs.

“And now?”

She stood, smoothing out her jeans and pushing her hair behind her ears. She looked for a moment like a girl, then the woman came out again, her face stronger, her eyes finding his, accusing and relentless. He felt a stone in his belly, a feeling that said, this is the beginning of the end.

“You were never uglier than when you were trying to cheat on your wife,” she said and looked away and down to find her purse. When the strap was over her shoulder, she started walking away. She had said everything she had left to say. He got up and started to follow her, but her palm went into the air and the gesture stopped him in his tracks.

When she was several yards away, she realized that she had his car keys in her purse. She stopped and took them out, turning to see if he was still watching. When she had his attention, she lobbed the keys underhand towards him, turning back around and walking away.

His hands went out palm up to catch his flying keys, but when they reached him, they slipped between his fingers and fell into the tall grass.


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