Sunday, May 31, 2015

"Anna Waits"

[I have the distinct pleasure of being involved in the Lit Bulb International Literary Festival, sponsored by the SA Writers Centre and supported by Matt Potter's Pure Slush This is my minor contribution, a brand new story, "Anna Waits"]

Anna sits at the table near the window, folds her legs tightly, and looks out into the parking lot. Outside, the wind blows dead brown leaves and paper bags across the metal tables and chairs where people can eat outside in the summer. But no one is out there now, and Anna looks across the tables, across the parked cars, and onto the street. She had stood near the entrance, undecided, her stomach knotted with fear. She had ordered a coffee and a muffin, and she stares at them when she isn't looking out at the traffic. She watches the trash truck swing by, the coarse men hopping off, slinging the contents of cans into the back, and hopping back on as the truck pulls away. It was cold outside, but she is warm in here, and she is not afraid.

He had said he would come. He had called her, his warm eyes on her laptop, 21 long days ago, and he said he needed space. He said he felt trapped. He said that it wasn't her, that she was great, that she was perfect. He said he had to find out who he was. She listened to him saying it, the audio making him sound incredibly close, like he was speaking directly into her ear. She was stunned, too embarrassed and shocked to do anything but nod, not breaking composure until he ended the connection, then crying until she retched bile into her toilet, her chunky roommate Chelsey rubbing her bony back, thick fingers tripping across her ribs and shoulders. It was that night, falling into a shuddering half sleep, being watched over by half her floor, when she decided.

Anna had called him again, days later, her face a mask, insisting that they meet, demanding he tell her face to face, that he not be a coward, that he meet when they were back home and that he make it real by looking into her dark eyes and saying it. She had set the date and the time, and she had been thinking of the day ever since, constructing this outfit, a symphony of silver and gray and black, her black boots modestly heeled, her skirt short, but full, her tights dark and rich, her sweater tapered just right, her makeup modest, her jewelry tasteful. She knew what she would say, and she knew how he would reply, and she knows what will happen. Anna looks good, and she knows it, and she knows his resolve will melt when he sees her.

He was confused, and Anna felt sorry for him. Everyone expected her to be mad- even her parents were shocked at how calm she seemed. The gathering of hens, the friends and friends of friends who offered all the cliches of more fish in the sea and what he does and doesn't deserve, all couldn't get Anna to say a cross word about him. She couldn't be mad at someone for being confused, for being overwhelmed at the prospect of what they were. It was huge. It was their lives. They were each other's first serious relationship, and they fit like no one else could or ever would. He was scared about the future. Who wasn't? She wouldn't blame him for that.

He wasn't perfect. He was graceless, and kind of dorky, but he was charming and sweet and they rounded off each other's sharp corners. She knew, in the depths of her heart she was absolutely positive, that this was the one. He was the only one. They would get engaged when they finished school, and they would marry the following June, and they would get a small house in a local suburb, not far from either of their parents, and they would both work, and they would take vacations, and then, when the time was right, 2 babies, perfectly spaced, and a big English sheepdog.

She would smile at him when he arrived, and she would stand up, and she would look polished and elegant, like she had stepped out of a movie, and he would blubber that he was wrong, and that he was sorry, and she would smile, and she would cry a little, and then they would laugh, and then Anna would drive him to his aunt's house, where she went twice a day to feed and play with the cats, and she would undress in front of him, taking off her clothes piece by carefully selected piece, and he would take her virginity there in the empty house, and they would be sealed together, the winter sun keeping them warm, and she would cry again, and when they were senior citizens together, complaining about the cold and how their grandchildren never call, she would think about how he almost made this terrible mistake, and she would laugh at him, and he would never know why.

Anna looks out the window, and she smiles at the thought of her future with him, how they will forgive each other for being so foolish, and she waits for him to come and repent. Anna waits for him to come around the corner too fast, his Ford overcorrecting, and then his swing into a tight parking spot. Anna waits for him, knowing he is coming, knowing he will walk in, squint at the menu for a moment, and then order iced tea and a bagel before he joins her, his big male body sprawled across the seat opposite her, and they will laugh, and she will get her life back on track, the whole three week episode a stain on an otherwise perfect dress. She switches legs, uncrossing and then recrossing them the other way. The suede toe of her boot bobs up and down, and Anna waits.