Monday, February 15, 2010

Sonnet, by Erica Orloff

Janet stamped on the accelerator. A bottle of Jim Beam slid toward the gas pedal, and she kicked it sideways as she drove, wiping angry tears.

When she reached the cemetery, darkness had settled like a heavy blanket of silence. She climbed out of the car, her cowboy boots crunching in the gravel. She grabbed the bottle of bourbon, slammed the heavy Cadillac door shut with a thud and surveyed the locked gate.

“Never stopped me before,” she muttered, and climbed an oak tree, slid out on thick branch and dropped on the other side of the stone wall.

The moon filtered through a cloud and she saw the freshly dug grave at the top of the sloping hill, a mound of dirt that infuriated her. He wanted to be cremated. He told her so. Told her that. Told her a million things she bet no one knew. Secret things.

Janet hiked up the hill and sank to her knees in the fresh earth, the scent of mowed grass and damp soil making her heart ache as surely as if someone had squeezed it. She unscrewed the bottle and took and healthy swig. She splashed a little on the grave. Then a sob sprang up, and she tried to choke it down, choke it with another swallow of bourbon, but it refused to be choked.

She slid down, almost in slow motion, pressing her face to the earth and whispered. “I know you loved me, but I couldn’t go to the funeral. I just couldn’t. Couldn’t watch them put you in this box, Professor.”

She stretched her arms, hugging the dirt, then rolled over on her back and stared up at the stars.

He had been 72. She was 23. He taught her things. Like Shakespeare. He listened to her. She made him laugh.

The stars made the squeezing in her heart hurt more. They used to sit on his back deck and drink red wine—from Napa, really good red wine. He taught her about finish and the scent of laurel. And he gave her his old Cadillac, and a bunch of books, and a telescope. A really good one that let them see the rings of Saturn. And they looked at stars. He showed her Orion and Canis Minor. Then they would make love. He took his time. She loved his eyes.

“But no one would understand,” she said to the stars and the dirt.

When he got sick, near the end, he made her promise. You will find someone young. Someone to grow old with in your own time. Someone to have babies with. Promise me.

She had nodded. But she never spoke the words. Never said “I promise” out loud, so it didn’t really count.

The pain was worse thinking of him sick. She sat up and sipped the bourbon. Her face was wet and mixed with the dirt, she was muddy and tired. She whispered Shakespeare,

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose Worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved

She let the words linger with him in the soil. Then she brushed her hair back, dirt on her palms, and stood up. “I won’t come back,” she said to him, firmly. “Not here. This isn’t where you really are.”

She made her way down the hill. She would go use the telescope he gave her. The one that showed her Saturn. The one that let her dream of things beyond her world.

He wasn’t in the dirt but in the stars.

13 comments:

E. Flanigan said...

Erica, this is lovely! I found the relationship between Janet and her "Professor" to be believable and touching, but not in a saccharin way. Great job.

Joe Barone said...

What a wonderful story! Thanks.

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Erika:
Thanks. It's different for me . . . but it was funny. Like a lot of the Jon's prompts . . . they came into my mind right away, their little love story. I have so much fun over here seeing what other creative souls create out of it.
E

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Joe:
Thanks. :-) Like I just wrote, I adore seeing the diversity of stories.

Merry Monteleone said...

Beautifully written, Erica, you can feel the ache in her as you read. And I loved the addition of Shakespeare.

LurkerMonkey said...

One of the things I really liked about this was that it made me read the sonnet slowly, out loud. I wanted to figure out why this sonnet meant so much to this young woman, after losing her professor, and it was delightful to see how it expressed the things she must have been feeling.

Really nice.

Erica Orloff said...

Merry:
I had blogged about writing this in a blog on themes. I always seem to move back to grief.

E

Erica Orloff said...

Lurker:
I tried to imagine never having heard Shakespeare, being from a background of not ever hearing him, and the "revelation" of finding out his sonnet could depict her heart all these years later. I love that sonnet . . . and could totally believe she and the Professor loved it together.

E

Natasha Fondren said...

Aww, man, that's just heartbreaking. Very sad. I love every bit of it, Miss Russian Writer.

Erica Orloff said...

Thanks, Natasha. I seem to grow more Russian by the day. LOL!

Jude Hardin said...

Seems like the old codger would have taught her not to drink and drive. ;)

Well-written, and I get the sense that this young lady has some deep psychological issues beyond the grief displayed here.

Erica Orloff said...

Jude:
I thought about that drink/drive thing, but she's not drunk, really, and I think she'd wait. :-)

And you know, I don't know that she has deep psychological issues but that this is a story about class and age. She isn't from his social class by a mile, and there was an education of various sorts going on, so it wasn't a balanced relationship, but it was no less a love match (in my mind). But I think . . . again, in my mind when I wrote it, that she is ripped through by this death. She lost her life teacher and her lover and her great love and her father figure in one fell swoop.

Melanie Avila said...

This is very touching.