Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Year(s) (01/20/11)
TITLE: What She Knows Now
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Outside, her husband, Arlen crossed the backyard. He led with his upper body as if he were fighting a headwind—his standard gait. The pants he wore sagged in the seat and were held up with a belt he'd pulled two notches too far. It produced an unflattering pucker at his middle. She'd bought him loose cabana shirts for their 25th anniversary trip to Aruba—but he had cinched those in, also.
She watched him through their office window until he pulled the latch to the shed door. He had an afternoon of pruning rose bushes and spreading mulch, but it would be a scant forty-five minutes before he needed a bathroom break.
Annette's blood vessels continued straining past fatty deposits and plaque. She ignored the discomfort, took her hand from her chest, brought it to the mouse. An unread message waited in an account she'd recently opened. It was from Steve, an old boyfriend from high school—his name bold, black. Finding him had been unnervingly easy—a cursory search in a moment of boredom, and Voilà.
Heart palpitations kicked in. She hadn't felt those since the early days with Arlen, when their conversations had ranged from the insignificant to the profound—not a captious word among them.
Arlen was now clipping straggler stems from hybrid teas, a tidy stack at his side. He was cutting back too much, but she didn't have the energy to go out and tell him.
Her attention returned to Steve's message. It was filled with words she'd anticipated, yet feared. A time and place were named, along with his opinion of her beauty—UNFADED, emphasized in capital letters.
She sat up straight, ran a hand along her torso. One bulge high on her ribs, a general thickening of her waist. That hadn't been the case when she'd walked regularly, watched what she ate. It was easy to let go, give in. Where was the harm in a piece of cake, a bowl of chips?
She thought back to her youth, to the various things she wished she hadn't done—things that hadn't seemed wrong at the time. But a public interrogation from her then eleven-year-old, had put deeds into perspective. Elizabeth, with her latent math skills, and lack of propriety had asked over the department store music why there was only a six-month difference between her birth date and her parents' anniversary.
A click sounded from Annette's jaw at the memory of standing at the lingerie counter, the first purchases for a budding daughter wrapped in tissue. The daughter crying: but you said you're supposed to wait till you're married.
A mother's defense, repeated countless times over countless years—as many times as was necessary for all to believe: If I'd known then, what I know now, it never would have happened.
But was that true?
Arlen was rolling a wheelbarrow filled with mulch, a shovel sticking out from the center. They were her roses, but it was Arlen who cared for them, made sure they were shaped, and fed, and protected. He hadn't known anything about gardening when they'd gotten married. He'd learned flower by flower, season upon season.
Annette sighed, but then equivocated in her response to Steve. It shot her systolic pressure up to 163. The force pushed through obstructed passageways, ripped scar tissue, tore holes in linings. She moved to delete the reply, but her hand, her arm had become numb. It didn't feel attached to the rest of her. Nothing felt attached along the right side of her body.
"Arlen," she called, willing him to stop in the scattering of woodchips. Her body slumped softly onto the keyboard. How had it come to this?
But she knew.
Lord, won't you help me?
Her face reddened at this last-minute grafting of what should have been a steady companion.
And still she remained positive that her husband would come in any minute; his prostate would ensure it. She took a deep breath, mouth closed, nostrils expanded, the spicy scent of a double-delight detected. It was her most aromatic rose.
Arlen didn't come in for an hour and a half. As usual, she'd grossly underestimated him. Strictly speaking, though, it didn't matter.
He was the type of husband who would tend whatever needed tending.
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