The Other Side of the Screen Door

 A Tale for Halloween

I sit on the porch swing every evening, watching the stars step out of dusk, glittering debutantes swirling onto a dance floor. It’s my favorite time of the day. My peaceful time. The stars don’t seem as bright as they were when I was a child; but I remember. I pretend. It’s nearly as good as it used to be, for a little while.

It’s cold, though. I never minded the cold before. It used to be a relief from the southern heat. Now I miss its velvet clinging-sultry to my skin, making my hair curl. I miss the fireflies and cricketsong and the scent of peaches long after season’s end. It was always summer. Once. Things change. They become too small to see, to hear.

I swing. Back and forth. Back and forth. The chains of the porch swing creak and groan. How many times I’ve asked him to oil them. He doesn’t hear me, or pretends not to. If he would listen, just once, things would be better. I’d stop being so angry all the time. I don’t like to be harsh with him. I love him. And it’s so very unladylike, throwing things, breaking things, making a mess that he has to tidy. Fool that I am. I keep hoping he’ll see things the way I do. Love is not supposed to be this way.

I hear him inside, cleaning up the dishes I dashed to the floor, pretending he can’t hear the porch swing, believing he can drown me out. He should know better by now. I can hold out longer than he can. I swing faster. The creaking becomes a rusty, grating, angry sound. I want to be a girl again, full of dreams that will never come true. I want to go inside, make him acknowledge me, make him love me. I want. I want. But I never get what I want. Why should this be any different?

The screen door opens and clacks closed again. I let the swing sway to a stop. He is standing so near. I can imagine his warmth. I can imagine his touch. I long for both. He breathes deeply, and lets it go like a sigh.

“You have to go, Liddy,” he says. “Please. Leave me in peace.”

He calls me Liddy. My name is Charlotte. If he would only look upstairs in that closet I bang closed all the time, he’d see my name written on the wall there.

I can’t, I tell him. I won’t. I love you.

But he doesn’t hear me. He never hears me.

The swing sways, creaks. Softly. He weeps. Inside, a crash. A mirror, I think. Maybe it was more than one. I don’t want to do this. He leaves me no choice, and I’m sorry for it, but a girl must do what a girl must do.

 

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