A man and a woman sit on white chaises, as still and quiet as the looming end of day. Across the lake, the sun slants over the hazy pines, casting a gold smear across the ornament-glass water. A long sloping lawn breaks the dense trees ringing the shore. Where the lawn drops off, the water lies deep and green.
The woman wiggles her pink toenails at the end of her chaise. She pulls her sweater close as the sun dips toward the tree line.
"It's getting cool, isn't it?"
"You guess? It must have dropped fifteen degrees from this afternoon."
The man shrugs and the straps of his chaise creak.
She pulls her lips tight, turns her face away. A dull gray rowboat skims past the buoys, sending out arcs of silver-capped ripples. A moment later, the waves shush the white legs of the pier.
"I suppose you're thinking about the office."
A pause. "Then what?"
"What does that mean?"
The man's jaw slides left and his lips draw flat. "It means nothing. Isn't a man allowed to think of nothing?"
"Other men, perhaps, but not you."
He swallows. "Well. Shows what you know. I'm great at thinking about nothing."
"Oh, har har." She turns toward him, eyes tight. "Always the funny man. Everything a joke. Why can't I get a serious answer out of you?"
"Because I'm not serious."
She turns in her chair, holds the armrest with tapered hands. "But you used to be. You used to talk to me. Now, everything's a joke." She leans back, her spine a comma curve. "You're dismissive."
"I am not."
She turns toward him again. "Of course, you are. You won't even look at me! What do you think, I'm making this up? That I want to ruin our vacation with a fight?"
The man sighs, keeps his eyes on the lake. From somewhere in the next bay, a loon's call wafts over.
"That's the saddest sound," the woman says, slumping back. "So terribly lonely."
The sun paints the bottom of the clouds glowing coral.
"I'm that loon, Tom. Calling to you. But I never seem to get an answer."
The horizon shifts from orange to red.
"I just want to know what you're thinking," she says. "For things to be like they used to—" She clears her throat. "Please. I just want you to talk to me."
"Then why don't you? You know how much it means to me."
His adam's apple rises and falls. "I'm just not that man anymore."
"But you used to be. Back before..." Her voice grows tight and she picks at her oval fingernails. "It's just not fair."
"No. It's not. But it's how it is."
She fingers the hem of her dress, then she blinks. Once. Twice. Again.
"We could try again, Tom. It could work. You'll see. The doctors, they don't know everything."
The woman rubs a hand over her eyes, then lets it fall into her lap. "It's just not fair. Not when we wanted this so badly. And it's everywhere. The unfairness. The reminders."
The distant buzz of a motorboat skips across the silvered water.
She picks at the skirt covering her legs. "The worst part is when I see them in the store, you know? There I am, innocently checking a carton of eggs, when I see one. One of those trampy young girls with their big bellies and their dangerous-looking boyfriends..." The woman's voice cracks and she clears her throat. "It's not fair."
They sit, silent, and stare at the lake.
"Do you think it might have been different, if I hadn't gone alone?"
Jaw set, the man says nothing. A tiny muscle beneath his eye tics.
She turns toward him. "I should have waited for you. I know that. But I didn't. I was so sure, so foolish. Just a handful of groceries, that's all we needed..."
"The doctor warned you. Ten pounds, he said. No more."
"I know." She swallows, clears her throat. "I know."
Cricket chirp swells and fades in their silence. The woman crosses her arms over her chest.
"I was sure everything would be okay."
"Well, it wasn't."
"We could try again." Her voice is small.
She rubs a shaky hand over her forehead. "I wish you'd give me a chance. It could be different this time. I could be different. I can't give up."
The man turns to look at her, shifting in his chair, his spine twisted like the old pine next to them. "No, that's you, isn't it? You never give up. No matter what, you'll do what you want!"
He collapses and resumes studying the lake.
The woman sets her lips tight, swallows, and turns back to the still, gold-pooled water and the mass of darkening spires on the distant shore. From the north, a wisp of campfire smoke trails over the glassy surface, then floats up to evaporate into the lavender haze of dusk. The air smells like lake and fish and pending night, cool with the hint of cooler yet to come.
"I don't know why things have to be like this," she says, brushing at her skirt, head tilted. She looks over at him from beneath her lashes. "All I wanted was for you to talk to me."
"Then talk. We'll talk about anything you want."
She pulls her sweater tight, shivers, pulls the collar snug around her neck. The crickets in the grass ratchet and chirp. Out in the dim water, something splashes, then disappears. The rings from it spread across the glassy surface.
"It was just a mistake. A terrible, awful mistake. I never meant for things to be like this," she says.
He sighs. "I know."
The purple night falls like a blanket over them. He sighs again, then reaches over and squeezes her hand.
About the author:
This is Greta's second appearance in Word Riot. Her short fiction has been published by an assortment of literary magazines and anthologies, including Every Day Fiction, Boston Literary Magazine, and Tuesday Shorts. She is currently at work on her novel, Jamieson's Folly. For more about Greta's writing, please visit her here.
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