Saturday, September 8, 2018

'Red Cedars'--second of three short stories by TAS

(II) Red Cedars

I follow the sound of water, the sluggish gurgle of the creek my only frame of reference in the dark, east, towards the spot where it empties into the ice-choked pond. East, where she is waiting, cursing me for my tardiness, wondering whether to circle back and give me a second chance, asking herself if it’s worth the risk.
I thought I could save time by cutting through the park this evening—thought it might be less conspicuous to double back along the tree-lined hiking trails. I had not counted on the snow. The landscape has been rearranged by the whistling December breeze. A white pall obscures the path, camouflaging the familiar terrain, turning it into an obstacle course. I’ve already lost my way once through careless haste, slipping down into a ditch and hurting my knee. I am limping frantically towards the gravel access road beyond the pond and the back entrance to the park just off the sleepy two-lane highway that connects her town with mine.
Please be there!
I stand stock still beside the road, staring fixedly into the empty west, watching for the halogen glimmer of her headlamps rising like a faint pair of stars above the distant horizon. Motionless, I root my feet to the earth, willing myself, chameleon-like, into the shadows, invisible to everyone but her. Has she given up on me? Been and gone, exasperated, damning me as she pounds the steering wheel, swearing above the radio’s static babel, the white noise of her discontent?
“Where were you?” she demands.
“Got lost—” in more ways than one.
We head east over the whining asphalt. The rear wheels make their irregular lub-dubbing noise as they pass over the old highway, beating out a rhythm like a heart in terror. I squeeze her thigh, gently conveying my impatience, pointedly reaching for the zippered fly of her soft denim jeans. She takes her right hand off the steering wheel to stop me. “Wait!”
“All we ever do is wait.”
“I know.”
“I’m tired of waiting.”
“You think it’s easy for me?” She turns left on to a narrow access road that leads to our destination. Beyond a low hill the landscape opens out into a lonely expanse of graveled flat surrounding a manmade lake. She parks near a stand of wind-gnarled cedars, the same ubiquitous red dwarves that cling to the hillsides or cower, wild and weed-like, along the ditches, their needles sharp and unforgiving.
“Missed you.” I kiss her slowly, tenderly, hoping to draw out the moment.
“Me too.”
It is too cold to undress. We slither into the back seat. She is already looking at her watch.
“You know this might be more fun if we tried taking it slow?”
“I have to get back.”
“Just sayin’—”
“You want to fight or fuck?”
“Sorry. You’re right.”
We writhe like untried adolescents on the impossibly narrow bench seat. I impale her shallowly, lacking leverage, flexing my thighs with awkward passion. I try not to read too much into her facial expressions, her pained looks of boredom and disgust. She grits her teeth, wanting it harder, berating me for my gentleness. I try to please her though it means I will climax too quickly, ejaculating with a groan of resignation, though I barely feel a thing.
Six weeks of anticipation and it has all come down to this, a frigid brush in the dark, a gray, motion-blurred memory made like a frenetic time-lapse photograph in a spoiled five-minute exposure. There is never time to do it more than once. Wham! Bam! Thanks for nothing! That is all.
I am weary of our routine. It has gotten to where all we ever seem to do when we are together is complain about not being together. Or worry. We worry more than we make love. Me about being found out. She about getting pregnant, or picking up a rash from the cat dander on my clothes—worse than being caught red-handed—or whether we might be leaving incriminating evidence in the back seat; condom wrappers, semen stains—anything ‘he’ might find to use against her.
We turn home, west towards the twinkling lights of the little farming village where everybody knows who I am and thinks that gives them the right to know my business. I have kept this secret from them for nearly two years now.
Another five minutes and she will be dropping me off at the back entrance to the park. I will watch her drive away, red taillamps a pair of beady eyes receding into the distance like a nightmare of a guilty conscience, a winter mirage hurtling inexorably towards the vanishing point. She will be gone and I will once again be aware of the cold, of the pain in my injured knee, of the hunger that anticipation cannot assuage, the yawning hollowness that all our lofty promises cannot fill.

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