Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Return

A Short Story
by CJ Heck

It had been years since Gillian had been down to the Keys. She had made a fateful decision twenty years ago, right here in the Keys. It was a decision that would change her life forever. But, until now, she had been unable to gather the courage to face the Keys again, or the mystical time she had spent here. With a sigh of regret, she thought, and I also didn't have the courage to face him again. 

Not so, the memories. Those she always carried with her, treasured and fiercely guarded, and she would hold onto them forever. The decision she had made those many years ago turned out to be the wrong one -- it had only taken her a few hours to see that, but by then, it was already too late. Coming here, she knew this day would be even more difficult to face, but now it was time. 

It really was beautiful here. There was so much about the Keys she had missed. Gillian was surprised and yet glad that the weathered building still stood; however, the once brightly painted facade was now only a faded patchwork of condemned signs and crumbling plaster. Its boarded windows were long past feeling the warmth of the sun. She felt such a clash of emotions, finally standing here after all of these years and remembering. Only by steeling her heart with a deep breath, was she able to climb the steps to the wide veranda, open the door and step inside. 

The once magnificent foyer brought another flood of memories and her breath caught in her throat, surprising Gillian. She could almost hear the soft music coming from the ballroom to the right, where they had danced until three in the morning. The now rickety stairs that flowed up from either side of the foyer were higher than she remembered. Now the trip up was almost as difficult as the trip back, in time. 

In ruins thick with dust, and thicker still with memories, she felt her past and present collide. Gillian sat down hard on the top step and allowed her tears their freedom. The pain and sorrow flowed for what might have been, and she watched as each cleansing tear dropped on the aged and dirty floorboards. It had been right to return. Here, in this place, she could allow herself to remember and grieve and the healing could finally begin. 

Gillian's memories enveloped her, one right after another. Barefoot and holding hands, their dreams had been exciting and brand new. They had walked down these same steps and then across the street to the water’s edge. She remembered looking down at their clasped hands. She couldn’t tell where her fingers stopped and Michael's began and how wonderful that felt. With their pants rolled up mid-calf, they had flirted with the waves and gathered baby sand dollars and stored them in their shoes. Gillian smiled, thinking about how he wrote her name in the sand with his big toe and they had laughed until they cried -- and how the vivid colors of the sunset had blended the blue-green water right into the sky as they watched, cuddled up together on the wooden glider on the beach. When the sun had finally set, they packed up their things, gathered their sand dollar shoes and left the beach. 

We were so happy, Gillian thought. We talked about him, and me, and we whispered of us. And after making love, we would lay basking in the afterglow with my head resting in the cradle of his shoulder. Her heart ached as she thought about that last night together. She realized that she had never felt such joy and sweet abandon before, or since. 

They never spoke of anything that might get in the way or, if something did, how they would push it aside -- actually, to be fair, they never gave a thought to an end at all. They had even assumed her abusive marriage was finally over. After all, she had left Theo for Michael. She had called and told him so. Dear, dear Michael, so kind and good, an honest man who knew how to treat a lady, always with love and respect -- abuse wasn't even a word that Michael knew. A gentle caring lover, Michael had known how to both give, and receive love. What they had was tender and beautiful and how she had loved him! 

Then it happened. Theo played his trump card. Weeks after she had left him, he arrived unannounced on Michael's front porch when they returned from the Keys. He reminded her they were married and he wanted her back. Of course, he had appealed directly to her highly-developed sense of right and wrong -- he had been a master at pouring on guilt for even the smallest infraction. In his words, Gillian had been adulterous and Theo would be magnanimous. He would forgive her. He promised things would be different and he told her she owed him another chance. And, against everything her heart was screaming, she had made her decision. 

With a sigh, Gillian realized it had been right to return to the Keys. It was time now to face the past. How she wished she had called and told Michael she had made a mistake, but there are some things that once done, can never be undone, and now it was truly too late. Michael had begged her to stay, and he told her Theo would never change. She had hurt Michael beyond words -- she had hurt them both -- and there wasn't a day that went by that she didn't regret her decision. 

Getting through the funeral today would be the most difficult and painful experience of her life -- but she had to be here. After all, it was her Michael. Sadly, she thought, some days are diamonds, some days are dust, and some days, well, some days can never be anything but both ... and Michael, I never go barefoot without thinking of you. 

Bookmark and Share

No comments: