Nancy : A Short Story
It was a voice he’d heard long before calling his name that he faintly heard while working. Customers frequented the grocery store he worked en masse—so much that he grew accustomed to filtering out the cacophony of sounds and words in that they no longer sounded like voices or noises manufactured by people, but instead like fizzling static or the peculiar sound of a conch shell when placed upon one’s own ear. The only sounds he heard clearly while in this mode were those of his thoughts which leapt like frogs from one lily pad to the next, always in constant motion, as were his eyes, hands, and body that synchronized together whenever he was working.
“Brian? Is that you?” She said. Brian turned and looked and it was her. It was Nancy. Suddenly, the memories rushed back like a tide’s ebb and flow but much quicker and less subtle under a starry sky. She looked just as he remembered. Once he came back to the place where both he and Nancy worked he looked for her. And when he did not find her, he remembered to pretend that he wasn’t looking for her at all but instead, he didn’t care whether or not she was still working there. But after a while, it didn’t matter. After a while he realized that she had gone, moved on, and would not be coming back which left him alone.
But she wasn’t alone, no. She hung on his arm, this guy, her new beau she was now with who managed to do what he could not—win her heart. So this is what she did with her time after me, he thought. Her teeth when she smiled shone brightly, was helped by the light above the two, as was the sparkling white diamond upon the third finger of her left hand lay breathlessly still.
“Oh my God! It is you!” She said, except the word you came out sounding like true. “How are you?”
How am I? He thought to repeat the question back to her but didn’t. How am I? He asked himself and didn’t know just how to respond. There was in the time the two of them separated when he called and left her messages and was careful not to over do it and when he did leave a message he knew enough to know not to sound needy. He didn’t want to come across to her as a person who was still desperate for her and so didn’t want to move any closer to her because that would mean that he forgave her. The urge did not exist inside him to do so and so held his distance. He didn’t feel the need to be held in that same cold embrace the way friends who never were really friends usually do and worst of all, he did not want an apology from her…Or her sympathy…Or her smile. He didn’t want any of those things. After all, he was in the workplace the two of them were once trying to get away from at one time and though unspoken, had both agreed to move on and move up in the world because there were other things—much better things—in this world than working in a grocery store for minimum wage. Maximum effort for minimum pay…Isn’t that what he used to say jokingly? In his mind, he traveled back to where it all started—at the same place but at a different time when the both of them were neither older nor the wiser. He brought her flowers and bought her new books—the ones he thought she should read—all in the name of friendship and thought to himself in his infinite wisdomthat this is what friends do that she would do the same too if she was indeed his friend, and that it was all together agreeable to do such things because at the time it made perfect sense to him. When she was feeling down or needed his sympathy, he would be the one to listen to her pour out to him her travels of so many miles, as it was much easier for her to do so than it was for him; she would talk and he would listen as was always the way. And then one starry night she took hold of his hands and looked clearly into his eyes and said to him,
“You won’t fall for me, will you?” Looking back into her eyes he didn’t blink nor budge but responded after a pause. He caught a glimpse of heaven and so was wondering whether or not he wanted to come inside.
“No, I won’t,” he lied. Except the word he heard out of his own mouth wasn’t won’t, but don’t.
“You promise?” She asked him. She was sincere. He nodded his head, still locked in her gaze, not ever wanting to look away.
“I promise,” he said to her. He was lying to her again and so was in essence betraying her.
So, How am I? He asked himself and she was looking at him again in that downtrodden, almost condescending way with her clear eyes and her winning smile.
“I’m fine,” he said to her and to himself: lying to her again and to himself. He was unblinking and afforded her a smile of false reconciliation, giving her a slight nod. She paused and returned him a smile of her own. She hesitated, then turned and looked at her beau standing beside her who she almost forgot was there.
“Oh, this is Giovanni,” she said. Giovanni gave him that same slight nod and a Hi, how are you, in which he didn’t respond because he already did that. Once was enough. He readied his hand just in case this Giovanni was to offer it to him which he would have done so grudgingly if it came to that. Nancy then looked at Brian again and this time her face softened.
“So, what are you doing here?” She asked him in her familiar sing-song voice. The hairs on the back of his neck suddenly stood up and though it was well air-conditioned in the climate controlled store, he suddenly felt feverish. It was a loaded question at the very least. He well could have gotten angry—a lesser man would have. He thought her inquiry a trap in which she was trying to lure him into in an attempt to hurt him some more. He didn’t want to give in. He wanted to be honest with her. Summoning all the courage he had inside he spoke.
“I’m pursuing my dream,” he told her honestly.
He remembered it: Summertime three years ago. On their night together then, the moonlight shone brightly upon the two of them as they took their time walking the length of the shore. The foam tide rushed forward towards them kissing their bare feet as they walked and then retreated back towards the source—the ocean—back and forth. Brian saw himself, saw his hands secured inside the pant pockets of his jeans that were rolled up ankle-high and Nancy in her summer dress whose hem fluttered with the cool night air. Never had he felt so young and so shy. Everything was now in motion. He made a joke he remembered, and the joke wasn’t even all that funny but it gave Nancy reason enough to lay her head atop his shoulder which in turn gave him enough reason to take his right hand out the pocket of his jeans wrap his arm around her so not to lose his balance. She didn’t object to his doing this and in fact she told him that it was getting cold and so gave him reason to keep his hand right where it was, rubbing it up and down so as to warm her up. It felt good that she felt good.
“I can feel your heart beating,” she said to him while lying on top of him on a bed made of sand and a pillow that was the wrist of his left arm. Looking at her, he could see the glimmer of moonlight in her eyes when she tilted her head which seemed to be floating freely in a sea of stars.
“Me too,” he said. “I can feel your heart beating.”
“Yeah?” She said smiling. “But your heart is beating way too fast.” She made him blush, that was what he remembered. But before he would speak again, he bit down on his bottom lip to ready himself.
“It’s probably because I want to kiss you.” He then reached up with both his hands and touched her soft face. Still smiling, she closed her eyes and leaned towards his touch while feeling the rise and fall of his chest. She smelled of sweet lilacs. That was what he remembered.
And then both their hands were clenched into fists—four hands creating two fists—spread eagle against the sand, the rush of wind trying desperately to swoop down and claim the two of them to ride them into the starry night sky while the tide rose high nearing their feet again and again while rising up the moist shoreline and so erased all the footsteps they made in the sand. Everything was going fast, maybe too fast. And when the tide that night finally did reach the two of them, nothing stopped. It wasn’t until she decided to stop that it would stop and that was fine by him even if it was that he was about to drown, because sometimes some things were worth going through and worth dying for. Damn everything else.
Isn’t that what he told himself then?
Isn’t that how the story went?
He woke up just as wet as he was that first and last night with her. But this time, all of it was his sweat, all of it was his excretion, his source. When he reached up to rub his eyes he found the debris of tears, already too dry to be dried. They were a lot like grains of sand--small and insignificant. Nothing ever comes to those who don’t believe, he thought. But it was all a dream, really. Where he heard that before he hadn’t a clue. But from the pain he felt, he wished that he could give it all up, that all of it would just end. It was either that or that he’d never met her and that she never existed in the first place, so in that way the pain he felt would finally subside. He wanted the dream to stop, wanted all of it to end for the both of them. Let’s face it he thought, the dream is finally over. Then, salty tears surfaced his eyes. He could still see her so clearly then, so vividly without having to try. After all this time he still remembered what she smelled like, but knew it had to end. All things die after all, even lilacs. She was inside of him once again, maybe forever. Cyanide he thought over and over again as the world around him grew darker and darker still in a fury…Cyanide…Cyanide…Cyanide…And then there were no more stars in the sky.
© Copyright O. Dohn Paditsone, September 2008