Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Proposal

A little piece I wrote this morning after sleeping for 10 hours in a fevered state and dreaming about dirty bathrooms and heroin needles (neither of which appear in this story or really have anything to do with this story at all - that I know of anyway...)

The Proposal

We each took a bite of the shiny green apple before throwing it over the cliff. My stomach flip-flopped as the apple hit tree branches and brush and disappeared into the rushing stream. The proposal was sealed. He had pocked the apple from the fancy grocery store that I only hoped to be able to shop in one day. We were driving, aimlessly across the country and stopped to pee in a nice place where we could also manage a few pieces of food into a bag, a pocket. We had driven away from that place with its perfect fruit and crunchy shop keepers, acting normal, driving not too fast or slow, getting away with food to last for two, maybe three days. Those places were always better then trying to lift at a place in the city. Convenience store clerks were alert, suspicions, but the kids with their dreadlocks and brown earth shoes didn’t suspect us to be lifting right from under their nose. We looked clean, uncomplicated.

The proposal was dramatic. He liked drama and acted upon it, even though he said he abhorred it. We had emptied our pockets at the next rest area. The inventory was good, mostly fruit as that was easy to spirit, but I had managed a bag of all natural nitrate free beef jerky as well as a huge soft orange lump of some kind of cheese I couldn’t pronounce the name of. He had gotten olives and crackers. We had what he called an “anti-pasta” feast ready for us. He was holding something back, but I couldn't tell what and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I hoped it was tampons, Ever since my mom had figured out I was a “grown up girl” I was allowed to use hers. I was always afraid I’d have to go back to using wadded toilet paper like I had been using before she figured it out, but I wasn’t even sure fancy stores like that carried tampons. I thought maybe they had bad stuff in them, maybe even nitrates.

We drove on, getting off the highway before it turned into a toll rode. It was mid-afternoon, a clear January day where the sun hung in the sky like a left over Christmas ornament. We were in Massachusetts, someplace I had barely even heard of except in history class where we had just learned it was one of the thirteen original colonies. We were headed south to warmer places where sleeping in the car wouldn’t mean certain death. We had been in Maine staying at a seemingly abandoned summer cabin. We had been there, chopping firewood and eating the store of canned goods for a while before the owner showed up for an ice fishing trip. We gave him two stories simultaneously, but he wasn’t the kind to believe anything, not even the truth. He didn’t call the police but he did say that if he ever saw us again he would shoot us on sight. I think he was softened a bit by my wood chopping. I had stacked enough wood for three winters. I had always loved chopping wood. It was my job at home; my little brother couldn’t manage the axe like I could. The hard rhythmic motion and growing pile of accomplishment made me feel grown up. He never chopped wood; he never did anything remotely close work. I was chopping wood when he took me. If I had been doing anything else I might have been saved.

He shouted at me at me as he pulled the car over about how great this place was he was going to show me, his voice strident and impatient. He had grown up near here, the view was great. I had to think hard to see him as anything other then what he was now. He was so big and hard, so intense. I got tired trying to imagine him as a little boy. The shoulder was wide, snow pushed off the road into the ditch. We left the car, being careful to lock it. I looked back at it as we tromped through the woods. I didn’t want to leave it there, it looked so lost, but he dragged me forward, urging me along with words and force. The trees broke and we were standing at the top of a cliff, a wide-open valley one hundred feet below us. Stunted trees and low brush clung to the side of the rocky face, a stream rushed by below swirling around chunks of rock covered by snow. He pulled on my hand and I thought he meant for us to jump. I would have too, without any urging, I would have closed my eyes and leapt right from where we were standing. I didn’t see any point not to, but he wasn’t jumping he was on one knee holding out to me a shiny green apple, store sticker still on it, I remember the tiny white sticker had a red boarder and said “Extra Fancy”. His face was even with mine and I tried to loose my gaze in that sticker instead of look into his brown, red-rimmed eyes.

He said things which I don’t remember, things that seemed both sweet and scary and out of touch. He talked about love and how I had changed him, how he could count on me and I on him. He said it all while holding the apple close to my lips, holding it up like a torch, a torch I almost felt the heat of against the pressing January air. He demanded I take a bite and I did and then he did and together we threw the apple off the cliff. I thought about how hungry I was for that apple and now it was gone. It seemed sacrilege to throw it over the edge; we might not be able to eat an apple for a long long time, if ever. In spite of my hunger for it, I could not chew or swallow the piece I had bitten off, instead, I quietly spit it into my hand and put it in my pocket as he was hugging me and crying and saying he would make this world our world and give me everything I ever wanted. He would buy me as many apples as I could eat. Hell, he would buy me an apple farm that would grow a thousand different kinds of apples and we would have apple pie and applesauce. He repeated all of the apple dishes he could think of as we trudged back to the car. I thought of the movie where a man repeated all of the different things you could make with shrimp until he was killed. I thought about dying a lot.

We could see the car when he stopped and pushed me against a tree, lifting me into a better position so that his knees wouldn’t strain and creek while he pumped into me. He had brought me to Wal-Mart right after he took me and bought me two skirts a plaid one and a black one and I wasn’t allowed to wear anything else. No underwear, not even the tattered training bra my mother had bought me two years ago, which was too small anyway but it was the only thing I had. I thought about the piece of apple in my pocket and how cold the air was on my thighs. The tree was warmer then the air but scrapped me up and down.

I always kept my eyes open but I had never looked into his eyes before, mostly I stared at his chest or at the sheets or floor depending on how he did it. But today I looked into his eyes, his doughy face slightly red from the cold and the exertion. I saw the blackheads littering his nose and a scar on his check I didn’t know he had. I think it unnerved him that I was staring at him. At first he was joyful, triumphant but that quickly turned to contempt and perhaps a little fear. He threw me roughly to the ground where I crumpled and lay unresisting as he finished himself off onto my face and into my hair. He shoved himself back into his brown wool pants and hauled me to the car dragging me by my stringy hair complaining that I wasn’t tight enough for him when I should have been the tightest I’d ever been considering the special day. He threw me against the car and let me drag myself into the back seat and lay down. He threatened to try the other hole next time as I lay there watching the tops of the trees pierce the transparent blue sky. He peeled out too fast, bumping us back onto the road, doing a tight fast u-turn. I didn’t bother to wipe my face or ask why we were going back the way we came. He had done this before in the weeks I had been with him, suddenly changing his mind. He didn’t keep me in his counsel. I stuck my hand in my coat pocket and fingered the bit of apple that was there feeling the pulpy wet side and the cool slick side. West, he said after several miles, West to find you that apple farm.

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