I talk often enough about being a fiction writer, but with the rare exception, I don’t give you any fiction to read. Fiction is my soul food as a writer…my guilty pleasure…my dream. So I’m going to start sharing. This first attempt, a woman whose marriage is in trouble reflecting back on her first heartbreak, is rougher than I’d like, but…man, you have no idea the day I had yesterday.
I’m deep in the process of writing one novel, but I have another one brewing in the background: the story of a marriage in trouble, and the beauty of what can result when people stick out the bad times. In the interest of character developing that upcoming project, I introduce you to Alison.
As Carlo strode down the gravel walkway toward the winery grounds proper, Alison stood in the living room, listening to her little boy crying. The pain within her seemed oddly familiar. She was accustomed to feeling her child’s pain, but this…this was different. It seemed to expand without limit; she had no idea there was room enough inside her for so much hurt.
In her mind’s eye, she saw a golden-haired boy in a letter sweater, standing with his back to her in the warm sunlight of a day much like this one. She saw herself as she had been then, an awkward girl in a pink cardigan softened by too much wear, a strand of dime store pearls at her throat, pulling the chapel veil off her head after SundayMass. Her parents chatted while her little brothers played tag, weaving in and out of the adults’ legs with an uncanny knack for avoiding restraint.
Over by the flower-crowned statue of the Blessed Mother stood Jerry. Jerry, with his hands shoved in his pockets, scuffing the sidewalk with soft leather soles as he talked to a group of kids from school. It was a beautiful day, but he was the most beautiful part by far.
Alison felt a flash of warmth, remembering the day he’d appeared on the parkway beside her on the way home from school, his hair like a halo in the sunlight. He always seemed to overtake her by chance, there along the path, and walked with her, listening as no one else did, talking with her about music, books—anything, really. Their conversations ended only when they reached the long wrought-iron fence and took opposite paths to their very different homes.
She fingered the envelope tucked inside her waistband. If the boys knew she was carrying Jerry’s birthday dinner invitation like a talisman, they would mock her. If Mama knew…she shivered. But how could she not keep the proof of his regard close, right against her skin? And now that he had made it official, did she have the courage to speak to him in public? In front of God and everyone?
She took a tentative step, and another. The knot of well-dressed high schoolers were so close now, she could hear them laughing and talking. “…turning your birthday into a charity project.” Mary Clare batted cheerleader eyes at Jerry. “Didn’t your mother make you invite the groundskeeper’s daughter?”
Laughter swelled. Jerry mussed his golden hair, shrugging. “It’s okay. She’s a nice little girl.”
Alison felt her body catch fire, burning rivers that tore through her body, melting the connective tissue that kept her together. She kept walking, veering away from them one slow step at a time. In a moment, he’d see her and call out, put his arm around her as he had just yesterday in the park and smile at her with that way of his. He’d invite her for a ride in his shiny convertible and take her away from all this.
Not Jerry’s voice. Her father. Alison clutched the fractured pieces together and walked toward the beat-up station wagon. She squeezed in the back seat beside the boys and pulled the door shut with a deafening metallic groan. As the car pulled away, she saw Jerry laughing in the sunlight.
Alison shook her head. Ludicrous to remember that at a time like this. How could the drama of eighth grade possibly compete with the present pain? Yet in the echo of the past, she recognized the sensation shattering her insides.
She watched her husband disappear through the row of arborvitae and whispered, “Heartbreak.”