Art: Blue Valentine
The first flakes of the year filled the air like a thousand angels ashing their cigarettes at once. They scattered and dissolved on the driveway and peppered blades of grass before disappearing into the warm ground. Laure gripped the handle of her mug, took a swig of fortified wine. It seemed a lifetime ago, her first winter in northern Michigan, how happy she was when the snow came. Her freshman year, the flakes had the air of a winter holiday, the cozy feeling of drinking packets of powdered chocolate melted in boiling water. But soon she learned that outdoors the wind turned peaceful flakes into daggers that cut skin and stopped breath.
Laure had arrived for her first week of school in a beat-up Ford Taurus, filled with brand new single sheets, a mini fridge and the toilet paper her mother insisted she bring. As she drove along Michigan’s northern coast, she caught glimpses of Lake Superior, tamed by the summer air.
Freshman year, she shared a dorm room with Lindsay, whose short hair marked her as brave. The first time she saw Lindsay, she was sitting on the floor surrounded by fragments of magazines she was pasting together into a collage, obscure indie bands blasting from her computer speakers. They became friends after Laure’s movie posters went up, spending hours watching art films movies pirated with off-campus wi-fi.
At lunch they sat near a guy in basketball shorts and flip-flops, another with huge gaged ears and a band t-shirt.
“Hey,” Basketball Shorts said. “I’m Malcolm. Where you girls from?”
“I’m Al,” said Band T-Shirt, waving his burrito at them.
“Lindsay, Chicago.” They shook hands.
“Laure, near Detroit.”
“What about you guys?” Lindsay asked.
“From here in Marquette,” Malcolm told her.
“Milwaukee,” Al said, with a mouth full of burrito.
Over bland food, they talked about the best places to spend the last weeks of summer. Later that day, Laure and Lindsay held hands and leapt off the Black Rocks into the waves below. Laure’s body slammed into the water and she floated, dazed, suspended in cold heavy water. Then her lungs screamed for air and she remembered to kick her legs, wondering if she was swimming toward the surface or just deeper into the lake. She was gasping for oxygen and laughing wildly till she realized the top of her bikini had slid down around her bellybutton, and the others could see everything in the dark but clear waters.
In the last days of summer, Malcolm led them to hidden beaches, and an island you could reach wading out across the shallow water. As fall settled in, he led them up Hogback Mountain, scrambling up rocky passes, Laure climbing along up despite her fear of heights, Lindsay snapping photos with her film camera. Fall had begun early, yellow and red bursting out amongst the dark green pines.
In one of the dorm courtyards there was a picnic table under an enormous oak tree. It was covered in carvings: 4/20, initials, penises and song lyrics. The smokers clustered there, buzzed from booze smuggled in under the RAs’ less then watchful glances. That was where she met Rick, a sophomore who wore a beat-up green army issue coat at all times and dealt weed to pretty much everyone in the freshman year. He lived in the same hall as Al and Malcolm, and given his booming business, was pretty generous with the people he liked. One night after smoking one of his lumpy joints at the picnic table, they all curled up in his dorm laughing at nothing. Then he picked up a guitar and started playing. Halfway through In an Airplane over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, Laure noticed him staring at her. Somehow the guitar ended up across the room and he was kissing her. By the time they stopped everyone else had fled the room.
Al was in the same Intro to Graphic Design course as she was, so they spent weeknights working on projects together in the dorm room he shared with Malcolm. Rick would hang around, leafing through his biology books without too much interest. Then they’d wander, smoking a joint in awkward corners to avoid the campus cops. Sometimes Linds would join them after her late sessions in the dark room and they’d have dinner together, poking fun at the insane concoctions the cafeteria came up with.
Weekends were house parties, filled with guys in backwards hats and baggy t-shirts, skinny blond girls in short shorts and skate shoes. People would flock toward whichever house had a keg stowed away in its basement, pay $5 for a banged up red cup and play beer pong under black lights in a grimy cellar. Laure and Linds would find a corner to giggle at the other party-goers. If she got drunk enough she’d lecture Al and Rick about the negative effects of the patriarchy. After the party, Malcolm, who drank the least, would drive them back in his pickup, all of them cramming into the covered truck bed, hoping the cops wouldn’t spot them.
They met Karen at one of these parties. She was from a small town in Wisconsin, just over the border. She always wore her long hair in a ponytail and dressed in sporty clothes that were at least five years out of style. Karen defined the “don’t give a fuck” attitude.
One weekend Rick found a guy who could bring shrooms up from Chicago. They ate a fourth apiece, and lay on the floor in his dorm room waiting for them to kick in. Laure felt the world swaying around her like a rocking ship, her body unstable, with bones like rubber. Rick stayed in the corner staring at his computer and finally she put on her jacket and boots and wandered outside, staring at the stars. The further she went into the darkness the more they surrounded her, and she held out her hands and laughed, trying to hang on to each and every one.
By the time the leaves fell Laure stopped calling Rick, who was usually too high to answer anyways. She started taking long drives down Big Bay road into nothingness, surrounded by tall dark pines and the occasional coyote strutting down the side of the road, or south into Negaunee and Ishpeming, stopping at the old mine. She stopped smoking with Rick and eventually he quit coming around when they were studying. If Al noticed he didn’t say.
By the time the leaves were crumbling underfoot she’d started hanging out with bearded Brian, the outdoors enthusiast, who had a studio apartment in one of the weird cement cones just off the 28. He took her far into the woods to point out deer tracks, and told her the names of all the trees. She started going to parties with him, full of guys talking about craft beer and music, and women who treated her like an annoying younger sister whenever she tried to join their conversations about books, politics and periods. The women invited her once to one of their knitting parties, where she fumbled with a pair of needles they lent her and produced a lumpy square of purplish wool.
“What’s your favorite book?” one asked. She made the mistake of telling them it was Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
“You know Hemingway was a sexist pig,” the woman responded.
Once the snow fell she moved on to Mark, the skinny Psych 101 TA who liked horror films and comic books. But it was cold and she could feel herself losing interest. After she stopped answering his phone calls, the winter was lukewarm vodka and long nights of pondering how easy it would be to wander outside in bare feet and to just let the snow swallow her. She didn’t try because she couldn’t bear the feeling of any more cold.
By February she was popping giant capsules of Vitamin D as if they could save her from the grey cold days, watching grey-brown sloppy slush turn to ice at night. But when spring came it felt like biting into a soft buttery biscuit straight from the oven. She would sit on the beach baring as much skin as possible as if she could absorb the sun whole.
The years after blurred together, a series of courses in graphic design, communications theory and gender studies that kept her busy during the week, and raging parties on beaches and in cabins and climbs up mountaintops on the weekends. She dated a few other guys, but none of her memories from that time had the potent feeling of the first year. Looking back felt somehow like she was flipping through a book of someone else’s photos. Except for Hardy.
She met him at Spencer’s her senior year. She’d become tired of the sweet faced boys whose greatest desires in life were to smoke some weed with a pretty girl near a bonfire. It had been nice at first, but there was nothing definite about them, no rods of steel in their spine, and living in the dark heart of winter she needed an anchor to keep her from running the length of the pierhead in January, letting the icy waves pull her away into nothingness. Karen knew a group of guys who frequented a bar a ways out of town. Most of the city dwellers were progressives, they liked art, locally grown organic vegetables, taking hikes in nature. But these guys were from small UP towns. They were following in their daddies’ footsteps, dropping out of high school to find stable work. Their grandpas had worked as copper miners, their daddies loggers if they were lucky. There were still some logging jobs, some work driving truck, but jobs of this sort were few now, and competition was fierce. A lot of them were stuck working retail near Marquette, more of them unemployed.
“Some of them are real assholes,” Karen said. “Well most, really, but they’re fun for a night. So long as you don’t expect anything more than what they are.”
And they were beautiful. After so many lit majors and graphic designers, these specimens of masculinity were nothing short of breathtaking. They wore Levi’s jeans and Carhartt jackets and heavy plaid shirts without irony – they just were.
“Roll around with that for a night and it will solve your every care,” Karen insisted. “But it’ll make you happy to get back to the hippies. These guys are forces of nature – good when they’re happy, but when they’re not, look the fuck out.”
They were salt of the earth, good Lutheran boys, with Finnish ancestry, looking for strong tall girls to cook their venison and bake them cherry pies.
The women seated around the bar, chatting with the bartender wore tight sweaters and jeans, boots with wedge heels. They still fluffed their bangs like their mothers did in the 80s. They were her age mostly, but they carried the years heavily around their eyes. Most were heavy like good oak furniture though some blurred a bit around the edges, and a few were thin and whippy as pine branches. She could tell by looking that all could drive a snowmobile, shoot a deer as well as any man.
When Karen and Laure walked in, the guys, seated at a table in the back corner nudged one another and grinned. The women ignored them. Laure and Karen got a round of beers and sat at a table with four chairs.
Hardy was in the corner, the darkest seat in the dim-lit bar. None of the guys were small, but he was the biggest by far, tall and broad shouldered, with meaty arms. He didn’t look like he’d ever been to a gym, but like he was born to pick trucks off the ground and toss them through the air. His face was mild-looking, but broad, and she thought it could probably take a punch better than most walls.
“That one,” Laure whispered. Karen laughed and shook her head.
“That one’s a virgin, I’m sure,” she told her. “Don’t know if he even speaks.”
A couple guys came over, one of whom Karen liked. The other rounded on Laure and began asking her questions. “What you studyin’? How long you lived here? Where you livin’ at? You like da UP?”
She responded enough to be polite, her eyes locked on Hardy. It took him a while to notice, but once he did, he fixed her with a long stare that felt like a challenge. Finally he smiled. She smiled back and raised her glass. The guy talking to her faltered in his story about hunting season, and looked Hardy’s way. As he met his buddy’s eye, Hardy’s smile broke into a wide grin.
“Who’s your friend over there?” She asked. The guy showed disappointment, but waved Hardy over.
“Hardy, this one wants to talk to you!” The guys cheered and patted him on the back. The women at the bar glared.
After they’d polished off seven beers, Hardy drove her home, Karen having disappeared into the night with her pick, giving Laure a grin and a wave as she went. Before she got out of his truck, Hardy asked seriously if he could take her out for dinner that weekend.
“I’d like that,” she said. Then he asked if he could kiss her, and she nearly melted for how soft the lips could be on a man that looked like he ate stainless steel for breakfast.
On their first date he took her to one of the nicest restaurants in town, with a view of the lake. Later she knew what a big chunk of his paycheck he’d spent to impress her and the memory took on an even more golden sheen. Hardy wasn’t a good conversationalist in the sense that he’d read a lot of books, but he was good at asking questions, and he told stories so funny that at some point she thought her ribs would burst open for how hard she laughed. Her favorite was the one about the guy who went deer hunting with his buddies only to get drunk and fall out of the blind right next to a 10-point buck. Sometimes the stories weren’t even funny, but the way he made the characters speak cracked her up. She liked his imitation of the sound made by the falling man.
After dinner he told her he had a surprise.
“Trust me?” He asked and she nodded, a bit nervous, but didn’t say a word as they rumbled straight out into the middle of nowhere. He parked down a side street along a rumbling creek thick with woods. A flashlight and pint of whiskey came out from the glove compartment and he put his hand under her elbow as they walked along the river, under an overpass coated with grime and graffiti and the soft fragrant pine trees settling down for the night.
Finally they angled upward and the trees cleared away enough to see that they were far above the lake, the waves slamming against the shore in a warning drumbeat bum bum bum bum bum as summer shifted to fall shifted to winter. Get ready for it, the drumbeat said. The water was still warm enough to swim, heated by the long summer, but Lake Superior was ready to put on her winter face now. They were east of the city and the whole coast was visible, lights sprinkled along the edge of the lake culminating in the the power plant like an alien ship or a doomsday device.
“Come on,” Hardy whispered, and he led her across what had once been a railway bridge, the ties bending threateningly beneath their weight and the river hurtling toward the lake below them. He stopped in the middle of the bridge and she clutched his big arm. He planted both feet and wrapped the arm around her, held her steady and pulled out the whiskey with one hand, offered her a swig.
That winter she spent her weekends in his warm little two-story just outside town, studying at the kitchen table and drinking in front of the fire. They told stories about their childhoods, his right here in the UP. He grew up in one of the old company towns with an alcoholic father who supported them by fixing up people’s cars when he was sober. His favorite thing as a kid was going hunting with grandpa because they would have a beer together, sit and watch nature and talk like grown-ups. Sometimes they would never fire a shot.
Laure grew up in the suburbs downstate, all day-glo green front lawns and brand new cars in white and silver sitting in smoothly paved driveways, backyards decorated with swimming pools and children’s playhouses. Her parents worked for a pharmaceutical company, dad in management, mom an engineer. Her favorite thing as a kid had been their annual family vacation to Disney World, where mom and dad both had to set aside the work for a bit.
He would take her snowmobiling, or skating on the lake. He knew when the air was acceptably warm for outdoor activities, and when it was best to curl up drinking in front of the fire. It was the first winter in the north that she felt she could survive, that she didn’t feel like a trapped beast, rearing its head and stumbling in panic. Hardy had grown up with the cold, the heavy hard snow. He was built for it, his body a furnace. When he shoveled the driveway the snow seemed to flee in front of him, and when the ground was coated too thickly he’d pick her up in his truck so she wouldn’t have to drive her small sedan across the perilous roads.
Here was the rod of steel she needed – he held her firm as the icy winds threatened to break her into little pieces and scatter them across the universe.
She wasn’t totally sure how it happened, that they started living together. She was trying to find a place to sublet for summer before moving to Chicago for an internship. He suggested she move in with him.
“It’s just three months,” he said with a grunt. “You pretty much live here anyways.”
So she moved her stuff into his place. The summer was filled with goodbye parties, a roaring festivity held for Lindsay, who was moving to some tiny village in Latin America to help build a school and teach English, and a more sombre one for Al, who hadn’t completed his degree, but was headed back home to figure his shit out.
She had half of her stuff packed up, ready to head down to Chicago when she was offered a job working from home for a prestigious magazine in New York. She stayed.
She and Hardy got married in the county clerk’s office on January 21. She’d had a nasty bout with a cold that might have been turning into pneumonia. Her shabby insurance barely covered the doctor’s warning that she needed a stiff round of antibiotics to head it off. When she took the prescription to the pharmacy they told her she’d be paying around 200 bucks out of pocket.
“Insurance ‘s about the only good thing about my job,” Hardy said as he pitched the idea of an informal wedding. When he saw her hesitance he picked her up bodily and stuffed her into his truck. “Let’s go propose,” he said.
They stopped on their way there to buy one of those little plastic two piece balls from a vending machine – put in two coins, turn the nob, one popped out. Hardy tossed them to passing kids until he found what he wanted. Then he took her to the view of the city over Lake Superior where they’d gone their first date and got down on one knee, slipped the ring onto her finger and a few hours later they were married. The day after that her name was on his health insurance, and she was on a strong regimen of antibiotics.
It took her a while to realize the resentment she was feeling at the way in which they’d gotten married, the sheer necessity of it circumventing any choice in the matter. But she was grateful to Hardy, who she knew had always seen marriage as a ball and chain that didn’t interest him, and didn’t want to voice the feeling lest he think her ungrateful.
The next winter Hardy started becoming more anxious, as his friends started moving downstate to find work. They started having nasty fights that made her feel as if someone had scraped her insides out like a jack-o-lantern afterward. It’s just the winter, she told herself, hating the gray skies and the cold winds, the snow she had to shovel off her car whenever she needed to go for groceries. She stopped going out more than was needed, buying all the groceries once a month, canned goods and frozen items that in the case of a power outage could be stuck outside in a cooler filled with snow.
Lindsay had come back from Nicaragua, was working in a supermarket in the suburbs of Chicago, trying to get a book of photography published. They’d stopped speaking on the phone when Lindsay had suggested she come down to Chicago and look for a job to get out of “that mess she was in”. They sent terse messages over Facebook every so often, trying to keep one another updated but failing.
Then Malcolm killed himself inside the truck they had all ridden in so many times. Karen moved down to Kalamazoo, and Laure woke up one morning with the realization of her complete and utter isolation. March had come, the snow transformed into brown rivers of slush. She put on her tall rain boots and went for a walk meant to invigorate, inspire, before she got back to work designing a two-page spread for a prestigious magazine with international circulation.
A car rushed passed as she sloshed down the road. She flinched, half expecting it to spray her with water, but the driver dodged politely around the puddles, then pulled to a stop ahead of her. He rolled down his window.
“Hey miss, you need a ride somewhere?”
Laure felt as though there was something hard lodged in her throat.
“No thanks.” She shook her head, and he sped off. She stood there for a moment, and then began to cry. It felt like that first jump into Lake Superior, as though she’d never come up above water again. Then the sobs eased and slowed and she could breathe again, and she turned back toward home, defeated and exhausted.
One day Hardy came home from work reeking of booze and cigarettes. He’d had a drink with the guys after finding out they were cutting guys back. His job was safe, he’d been told, but he might lose some hours. He was more brooding after that, more closed off. She could feel him holding things back. She wasn’t sure if it was meant to protect him or her.
As green things started uncurling from soft earth, they went out a bit more again. She would go out with him to have drinks with his friends sometimes, who mostly ignored her. She had to watch her words carefully, and when they brought girlfriends and wives along she would get the distinct impression of being entirely unwelcome.
During the summer they went camping with the other couples, the other women laughing at her inability to start a fire, her lack of knowledge of campfire cooking. Hardy had to help her, and they argued viciously because he was embarrassed to be seen cooking by his friends.
In early fall she took her car downstate to see her parents. Hardy, unable to take days off work for fear of losing his job, couldn’t join her. She sped through Munising, turned at Seney to connect with Highway 2. When she reached Lake Michigan she parked the car and climbed out, looking at this lake so gentle in comparison with the cruelness of Lake Superior. The Mackinaw bridge hailed her like a sentinel to other worlds, and she crossed it with shaky hands, avoiding the grating that jerked her car back and forth.
Home felt foreign to her, so big and light, the cars new and without the muted colors of long winters tearing away at metal. She had drinks with high school friends. At one bar she met her high school boyfriend. He stumbled a little and slurred his words as they laughed about how immature they’d been breaking up, how angry they were over wounds that seemed minor now. She remembered their stolen kisses out of sight from the hall monitors, the way they’d rush to his house after school to watch a movie before his dad came home from work.
“You look amazing,” he told her. “You look grown up.”
In the bathroom she stared at herself in the mirror, the hair grown long with lack of care, the shadow between her cheek and jaw. She looked hard, her skin drawn tight and bone white. She hadn’t noticed how much weight she’d been losing. Her body looked like it belonged to someone else, the ribs poking out of papery skin just below her collarbone.
Her mother baked her favorite cookies, looked on anxiously as she picked at her dinner, asking her endless questions about work and Hardy, and hadn’t she thought about moving somewhere else, maybe the city, wouldn’t that be more interesting for her?
The fall was already ending when she got back home, the leaves dying slowly in large piles on the side of the road. Lake Superior was rumbling with the onset of the cold, whipped by icy winds from Canada. The snow fell early that year. One morning she woke up, made her coffee and sat at her computer, confused by the strange light pouring into the windows before she realized that the ground made raw by freezing rain had been covered for good.
That winter there was no snowmobiling, no ice skating, no story telling by the fire. She would cook something and Hardy would come home, later and later, more and more often already drunk, and they would argue viciously.
“You overthink everything,” Hardy would snarl over a bottle of bourbon. “You think you can just think your way out of shit but you have no idea how the world really works.”
With every argument, she felt more lost and confused, trying to understand what had happened, trying to see his point of view, and no longer able to identify her own. She would lock herself in the bathroom crying, the tears turning her breathing into hyperventilation that shook her entire body. On the days she felt able to fight, to hold her ground, Hardy would descend into silence. She would poke and prod at him, getting nastier until she could get him to react, calling him a sexist pig living in another decade, expecting a wife to serve his every need.
“You’re a pretentious bitch,” he said. “My friends can’t stand you. Even Malcolm thought you were awful.”
Her will to fight would give way and she would curl herself into a ball in bed, her mind empty. She started thinking about the pier head again, with the realization that no one would miss her. How easy it would be to walk outside, lay in the snow and disappear until spring, or to just let the waves rush over her hold her in Lake Superior’s cold embrace. There would be panic in the water, she knew, for a moment. Then the cold would win, shut her body down slowly. They said freezing to death was a peaceful way to go. But Hardy was big and safe and warm and even when he’d been drinking too much he wrapped his arms around her at night.
She was drinking Black Velvet with a splash of off-brand brown soda when he stumbled in reeking of alcohol and old smoke.
“Where the fuck were you?” She asked.
“Drinking,” he said, the word long and rolled out. He didn’t need to be defiant, he just was, just by being, so large and so firm.
“I could tell that, you piece of shit. You’re just like your fucking father.” A feeling of desperation filled her, trapped, closed in, alone. She walked to the door, opened it, drink still in her hand. She didn’t know where she was going but she knew she couldn’t be there. He moved toward her like an avalanche and both of his enormous hands were on either side of her, resting on the door. It clicked shut.
She turned to look up at him, his face so close that she could smell his skin under the mildewy scent of alcohol. Her head pounded with rage like battle drums, filled her, self righteous like fire. “What the fuck are you doing,” she said.
“You aren’t going anywhere. You been drinking. Roads are bad.”
“I’m going for a walk.”
“‘s too cold.”
His hands moved fast and slow all at once to her shoulders, thumbs pressed against her soft throat, holding her against the door. The threat of his thumb on her throat made every breath long and sweet. The fire was suddenly gone, replaced by a cold rage, like Lake Superior iced over.
“Get your fucking hands off of me,” she said.
Hardy let go, looking confused. She ripped the door open and stumbled out into the freezing night air. The car was buried by a mountain of snow. She dug at it with her bare hands, pain stabbing its way into her fingers, wrists and arms, her whole body so cold. Then she began to cry, and she was on her knees, her legs becoming numb with the rest of her until Hardy came and carried her back inside.
Sunday mornings were her favorite time. He would wake up hung over and unable to chase away the pain with drink. She often thanked his mother silently for the family tradition that had solidified into full-blown superstition when his daddy died drunk on a Sunday. Hardy would thrash around in bed, groaning like a wild beast, but his face and eyes held sweetness he seemed only to feel when in sufficient pain and relatively sober. He would grab her in his arms and hold her like a doll and call her his tiny troll, burying his face in her hair.
A few months back he’d stumbled in reeking of cigar smoke and whiskey so thick she could smell it from the kitchen. She knew the only reason he would smell like cigars was that he’d been spending his paycheck at the casino. She’d downed a couple bottles of Mad Dog at that point and the only reaction she could imagine was to frisbee toss the heavy cast iron skillet at his head. Wham. Just as his head peeked around the corner, it hit the doorframe and bounced into his eye socket. He roared with rage and it tumbled down onto his bare feet.
“Just be glad it didn’t crack your skull,” she told him matter-of-factly, in a way she thought to be sweet and perfectly wifely, commenting as if the pan had fallen from nowhere.
If she’d just shouted it all might have been fine, but her snappy impertinence, delivered with a smile, never failed to get a rise out of him. He’d roared and raged toward her, stumbling over the pan and kicking it aside as he went, howling even more as it crushed his toes again.
She woke up the next morning with a broken arm in a homemade splint. He’d been so tender, apologetic when he bound it up that she very nearly could have forgiven him. He was like a child that had broken its toy in a deadly rage, only to realize how dear he still held it. Superglue the pieces back together and it will be as good as new.
When she heard his truck pull into the driveway she took a last pull of the wine. It filled her with warmth, coated the back of her throat. Mad Dog was quick acting, the sugar making the alcohol settle heavier, run more quickly through her veins. She tossed the rest down the drain, rinsed out the mug, rinsed out her mouth. She spit and it splattered on the mug, the plates from lunch and breakfast, a shock of green-blue mouthwash. She rinsed that down the drain too. He was stumbling around in the garage, crashing into shelves as he tried to get his boots off. She flipped on the oven, the casserole inside it ready for heat. She congratulated herself silently for managing to pace herself well. She was drunk enough to deal with him but not so far gone that things might get bad.
As he walked in the door she held out a Bud for him. It was a dangerous gamble, one that could stop him from hitting the bottle or just drive him toward it. Sometimes it had the pleasant effect of putting him to sleep right at the dinner table, and she would munch away at her salad, free from the deadly game of tiptoeing around conversation, trying to find topics to keep herself entertained without poking the bear too hard. She would pour herself a glass of tea, mix in a little splash of bourbon, just to celebrate.
“Thanks,” he muttered, taking the can from her hand and popping it open. He threw back half in one sip. She took a look at him, to see what state he was in and tried out a question. It was an easy one, 70 to 30 he would like it.
“You have a drink at Spencer’s with the guys?”
He nodded, ducked his head a little and waved one big callused hand in the air like an oversized bear trying to knock away an annoying fly.
“We were sayin’ ‘bye to Cormac.”
“Gettin’ married to a girl downstate.”
“That’s nice,” she said, distracted by thoughts of Cormac, who Karen had slept with so many years before getting married. Stupid. His eyes rolled in their sockets, revealing the bloodshot mess in the whites of his eyes.
“Ain’t nice, throwing away your life for some downstate hussy.” Feeling her blood pressure rise, Laure was glad she hadn’t had more to drink.
“Don’t be like that,” she said. It was like comforting a child, only oversized – this one could break you to pieces. She maneuvered him toward the kitchen table. “I made you such a nice dinner, been cooking all day!” She’d gotten in the habit of buying casseroles from Mrs. Fenton down the road. The woman knew well enough what men like him expected from their wives, knew better than to ever mention it in front of Hardy. It gave her more time to work and ever since she’d been serving up the old Cornish woman’s food he’d been much happier than with what he called “that weird shit you cook”.
“Casserole?” He looked hopeful even while crushing the can in his excitement.
“Casserole,” she affirmed. “Let me go turn up the heat now you’re home.”
Hardy crushed the can and came ambling into the kitchen for another. He grabbed one from the fridge and caught her from behind as she was peering into the oven. “Smells good,” he mumbled happily in her ear.
The casserole had finished heating. She pulled it from the oven and set it on the table, stuck a spoon inside, and two plates nearby. Hardy sat across from her, nursing a new beer.
She moved the dirty dishes to the kitchen, washed and dried them, put them away in the cupboard. Outside the kitchen window flakes were falling thick and heavy. They were starting to stick to the ground, turning into a heavy blanket that would muffle everything around her.
She picked up her purse, car keys.
“I’m going to the store,” she said. Hardy looked up. She looked at the clock. 10PM. Nothing open.
The air seemed to become gelatin, thick around her. Her ears roared. Hardy rose off the couch like a rock Titan. He moved closer to her and it felt like a dream where she couldn’t move away. Didn’t they say most women are killed when they’re trying to leave?
“You aren’t coming back.” He rumbled, half question, half not.
She shook her head slightly. He reached out a huge hand and rested it on her shoulder near to her throat. Then he leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“I’ll miss you,” he said.
Chelsea Graham received an MSc in Sociology from the London School of Economics and a BA in Communication from the American University of Rome. She works in Communications, writing everything from emails and Tweets to academic publications and blog posts. Her fiction spans and sometimes unites the corn fields of midwest America and the graffitied side streets of Rome. This is her first publication.