Songs from a suitcase, p.4
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       Songs from a Suitcase, p.4

           Leslie Smith Dow
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  Billy laid me out on the table and ran for the truck. I thought I was going to fall off, so I tried to sit up. The pains were coming so bad and so fast it was all I could do to hold onto the table and pull myself up. I got up, though, and just stood there, grabbing onto the edge of that dirty old table. I stood there in the field for what seemed like forever, just screaming and screaming every time the pains hit me. It seemed like I stood there for hours but Billy said later he’d been home and back with the truck in just about no time flat. It was a miracle it started first time, he said.

  Well I heard Billy coming then, barrelling across the field, that truck just jumping and leaping straight towards me. It’s a wonder he didn’t break get a flat or break a shock the way he was moving. I crawled into the cab and we took off for the hospital. Billy had to go a bit slower on the way out so I didn’t get thrown around too much.

  I guess we were a sight when we got to the hospital, what with both of us being wet and covered in river filth. Me screaming blue murder. Dirt from the picnic table under my nails where they’d dug into it. I wasn’t surprised that they wouldn’t let us in right away, something about health cards and documents and such. But the baby wouldn’t wait, bless his little heart. I nearly had him right there in the waiting room. They had to help us then, but I could tell they weren’t happy about it.

  I held him for about ten minutes. My, my, he was beautiful. He had Billy’s blue eyes, and the same nose as us. He was so awfully small. The nurses said there was something a-matter with him. I said I didn’t care, he was my baby and I loved him. Then they took him away, to weigh him, they said, and give him a bath. But they were a long time about it, and kept whispering among themselves. Billy went off to look for some more blankets on account of me shivering so bad.

  So there I was all by meself. I lay there, just shaking, and to get my mind off of it, I started thinking up names for him. Billy Sunday, I thought about calling him. I seen him in my dreams, and he was always a sunny yellow. Same as the colour of the day he was born. Now, of course, I think Monday would’ve been a better name. Monday is always such a sad day, and it’s always, always black. Same colour as that damned picnic table, only louder. Monday roars sad in your ears. It don’t seem to ever go away.


  He stood for a moment in the last of the autumn sunlight as it caught itself in the fiery beauty of a maple tree. He was 34 years old, and already things had happened to him that no amount of waiting could cure. Things that hadn’t been his fault. It was as though the lucky star he’d been born under had suddenly gone out. Typically, though, (and this was because of his mother’s influence) he was without bitterness about it. He was still able to be happy. He had no wife, and that wasn’t his fault either. He had been looking up at the sunlight in the maple. And now, all he could think about was the sunlight, and how it looked the same now on the waving leaves as it had on the water of the lake he’d grown up beside: a silvery, fantastical light that always made him want to leap up and embrace the very sky. Beautiful. Just like the lake. How it had sparkled and rippled over Bug’s body in summer; how it would be beginning to darken now as the winter winds whipped up the white waves into foam. They had swum together from the time they could walk; since before they could talk, it seemed, because he knew theirs had been a time before words. How she would laugh at this moment, and tell him, needlessly, that they had spent most of their lives together in water. He thought of her brown body, and his; how it felt to hold her in the water, even when they were children. He’d felt something, but he didn’t know what it was. A hunger. For how they had lain afterwards on the flat rocks, back at the base of the cliffs, out of the winds, to dry themselves. The smell of limestone. A smell of strength. Eternity.

  When they weren’t swimming they were fishing, always hoping for a fat bass or sleek pickerel. Mostly they caught little yellow rock bass, far too small to eat, or spiny sunfish, which pricked their fingers as they tried to quiet the pretty rainbowed bodies which flapped valiantly at the end of the fishing poles. They turned over the smaller, flat rocks in the shallows where the crayfish, the favorite food of black bass, hid. He was always the one who had to bait the hooks, making sure they went through the fleshy tails. Crayfish never submitted quietly to the hook; they always curled their tails and flailed wildly with their pincers; any effort to free themselves. Bug never had the patience to hold them, to wait until they stopped snapping their pincers wildly in the air; she always got her fingers pinched. Occasionally, though, even he dropped one, and it scuttled for freedom, back under the rocks, to the safety of the water. They always played by the lake until evening, until long after the sun slipped back behind the trees and the limestone had lost its warmth. Reluctantly, they would leave the lakeside then, called home by parents, and the welcoming lights of the warm cottage. Indoors, there would be a new round of games: pillow fights and Crazy Eights, saltine crackers with butter, and all of it ending, finally, with blissful sleep together under someone's bed, in rooms already crowded with relatives. No one much cared.

  Time grew and they ventured farther afield, always together, always ending up at the water. Later it was back to Loon Lake, driving recklessly over the dirt red roads, sand and sun streaming away from the back of the car. It was a VW Beetle, the old kind. They rolled the windows all the way down as they drove. Sometimes to Irondale Falls, to float lazily on giant inner tubes in the looping current. They always sang their own made-up songs, never listened to the radio. The radio couldn’t follow their moods; didn’t know their history; wasn’t witty or far-ranging enough. “Don’t Make Me Go To Bed And I’ll Be Good,” a brazenly emotional song their parents sang with tears brimming in their eyes, became a rollicking, innuendo-filled plea. “Make me go to bed, and I’ll be good,” they screamed at each other, then fell together into the back seat of the car, or onto the ground, or wherever was convenient, crying with laughter, then lust.

  Her hair was always filled with summer dirt after these trips; it was long, and tangled, and she didn’t care. He would brush it for her, gently, sometimes for an hour. She never cut her hair in summer, nor did she ever wear a hat, so that the sun would bleach wide near-white streaks of itself into her. In retaliation, he grew a long, bushy mustache, and whenever they lay on the rocks together, would kiss her feet, making sure to tickle her insteps with it. Once in a while, far down the road, there would be a joint to smoke, or a bottle passed around at night, maybe a few beers. They learned to make love to each other with a slow desire that made them both delirious. They stayed away from home for hours, lying lazily with each other, as though they had all the time in the world.

  And always there were others. There had been no petty jealousies between them. This was forever. Little things like that didn’t get in the way. They’d said.

  But he had lost her all the same. She went away, and something had made her different. She talked and thought differently after that. Was it condescension he detected? And then there had been his accidents. The first one had changed him; he knew it, but he couldn’t say how. Then there were the seizures, which began not long after. He seemed strange now, she said. Demanding. Then he’d hurt his back and had to wear the brace. It had only been for a year, but it had meant those beautiful, arcing swan dives from the highest cliff, the ones Bug would hold her breath for, were over. At least for him. He watched from the dock as Bug dove alone, watched her cut cleanly into the deepness, not breathing until her head broke the surface. There was something harder in his eyes, she’d said. But it wasn’t bitterness.

  This is forever, he’d said. And then she’d shaken her head.

  They had been lying on top of the old water ski jump. A long swim to the middle of the lake, over water black as pitch, and unbelievably cold. Even as little children they’d gone that far out. All the children did. They would swim for miles up and down the lake, stopping at neighbours’ docks when they g
ot tired. A dry towel, lunch or snacks were always provided by indulgent parents, whose own children might be anywhere on the lake. Then they’d move on, up and down the lakeshore all day, all the summers of their lives, through a sea of friendships and watchful eyes.

  It was a hard scramble up the slippery, 45-degree angle of the jump, coated with wax to make the skis glide easily up. Exhausted by the time they got to the top, but giddy with laughter and accomplishment, they would drape their legs off the edge, and look down into the blackness. On sunny days, they could see their own reflections staring back from the abyss. Catching their breath, they picked the orange-tinged splinters out of each other’s hands and knees. Then they’d kiss (for luck, they said) before falling backwards like scuba divers over the edge and down, down into the deepness of the water. But then she had shaken her head, and he had lost her.

  How long had it been? It was a long trip now that he couldn’t drive himself, and the sun was shining. It would soon be hot. He turned back home for a drink of water. Drank it down, wiped the droplets from his moustache with the back of his hand, put the glass on the counter. Walked into the sunlight. Half a block. Crossed the street. Beautiful day. He always walked in the sun, and today it sparkled, like the old days at the lake with Bug. Lying on their bellies on the rocks. Dust of limestone on their cheeks. Her bathing suit was starting to wear from all the climbing up and down the cliffs. She had a scrape on her forearm where she’d slipped. Their fingernails filthy from digging. There was a happy warmth to the day, and he’d turned his head to look at her. That was the first time he’d felt it. At least that was the first time he remembered feeling the hunger start to gnaw at him.

  And that was all.

  He woke covered in blood. He thought he could see her, barely, from the corner of his eye. But he knew it didn’t really matter.

  He smiled.

  Author’s Note: Several of the poems in this collection were previously published. If you liked this book, don’t forget to give it a positive review and do, please, read more of my books.

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