it was early summer, a beautiful evening with just the barest hints of dusk darkening the edges of the sky. mowers roared dully as sweaty white-legged men groomed their urban gardens of eden. through an open window somewhere came wafting the sounds of a jazz combo and children at play. and so it had begun.
they were free now, at last, after four or five years of type-written torture. emancipated, having shaken off finally the self-imposed fetters of letters and learning, they celebrated. responsibility was a hazy notion that belonged to an unhurried future. why worry about work when no one wanted anything but to play? they had earned their moments of irresponsibility.
so they poured out of the house, brimming with wine and the excitement of love and life and laughter. what could stop them? they were young and surely invincible.
“let’s go downtown and see what’s up!” someone shouted.
“can’t see what’s up downtown,” another slurred.
“ooh, i don’t feel like walking,” a third said. “my legs are awfully wobbly.”
“i know!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands together happily like a little girl. “let’s all ride in the convertible and wave at everybody as we go by. we’ll be our own parade!”
everyone laughed again at that suggestion, because it was too silly and too childish. they all loved it. so they piled in, and on, and fell over, two or three deep in some seats. he found himself perched next to her on the back of the car, hanging on with carefree caution. he smiled as she waved gleefully to the homeless people and the irate elderly couples shuffling down the sidewalk.
“oh, don’t you just love summer?” she asked, turning her face to the wind and inhaling deeply. “i love the smell of fresh-cut grass and the air right before the rain hits.”
she closed her eyes and tilted her head back, letting her long red-brown hair whip around her. the sinking sun caught it here and there, illuminating it like tongues of fire. he’d never seen anyone as simply yet dazzlingly alive as she was.
“it’s … beautiful,” he said slowly, wondering whether he’d ruin the moment by saying anything.
she opened her eyes and smiled at him.
“you’re beautiful,” he said without thinking. “just like summer. you are summer.”
oh no. the wine, the excitement, the sunset — the words were coming fast now and he couldn’t keep them back.
“i wish i had a camera so i could take a picture to remember how you look. i’d frame it like this …”
he held up his hands and peered through his fingers as if through a viewfinder. she laughed, and pulled her hair out of her face. she struck a pose, gazing over her shoulder at him through lowered lashes.
“perfect!” he said, caught up in the charade. “be careful, boys — the lady’s a natural.”
she laughed again, crossing one leg over the other into a different pose. she raked her fingers through her hair and swept it up.
“wonderful, wonderful,” he shouted, play-clicking away. “will you pose for me sometime —“
“hey, watch out for the bump!” someone called from the front seat.
but it was too late. having let go of their support while miming, the two tumbled off the back as the car bounced up in the air. her head hit the ground with a smack as he fell beside her.
“hey, stop!” he thought he heard someone yell, but he was too dazed to call after them. he simply stared at her, at the big, brown-green eyes that looked back at him helplessly.
“i’ve always lo … l … .”
he tried desperately to remember the words, to say them to her before …
“i’ve always loved …” he managed. she was gasping now, crying … people were running up …
“someone call 911.”
“she’s hurt, bad!”
“anyone know first aid?”
“get back, give them some air!”
the sky was getting darker now. or was it the world? he couldn’t think clearly. couldn’t see clearly, except for the big, beautiful eyes staring into his. he couldn’t hear her breathing now. he couldn’t hear anything. it was getting so dark, so dark, and her eyes were closing …
he sat up straight in bed, shaking uncontrollably and soaked with sweat. he hadn’t had the dream in months, a year, even — but it brought memories of the accident back as horribly as if it had just happened.
she had died.
he rushed into the kitchen and fumbled through the cupboard for the whiskey bottle. his hand trembled as he tried to get the cap off, but it came, and he took a long pull, and then another.
she’d died. they’d rushed her to emergency surgery for brain trauma, but she’d died there, on a cold steel table, bloody and broken.
when he woke up from his concussion the next day, they’d already started funeral arrangements.
he took another drink.
the service was closed-casket, but he’d begged them to let him see her before. it was horrible, but her lovely red-brown hair — what was left of it — framed her face and hid some of the damage. she was cold and hard and utterly dead, alienated from the vibrant girl he’d laughed with just days before.
she was dead. she was dead.
he thought some part of him must have died then, too.
he gulped down the whiskey again and began to feel the reassuring numbness take hold. he crawled back into bed, setting the bottle unsteadily on the nightstand and pulling the covers over his head. as he lay there with his back to the window, waiting for sleep to take hold, one memory rose crystal-clear from the fog of nervous nightmares —
her eyes had been blue.