Simple
Sherrie Flick

 

Late one night Butch told her the first word he ever said was pretty. A word that floated lightly on the evening air. It laced itself around Nicole’s heart in a way that made her turn on her side and say, “That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Butch curled himself closer, drawing her long legs through his, tangling their lives like two floating fishnets. He ran his hand through her long hair while he told her stories. Stories about moons rising like the one outside her bedroom window, rising slowly like a dandelion ready to blow away and leave the night pitch-black and lonely—moons waiting for lovers like themselves to make the darkness into something more.

Butch said they were in love. He said it more than once. But they were only a man and a woman telling stories in the bedroom of a second floor apartment with a moon there confusing everything.

In a month he’s gone, vanished, like a moonlit dandelion in a windy field. Nicole stands in her second story window watching cars pass, watching the birdbath’s water lie still and untouched.

The world is large and looming. It rotates on the same axis as the lighted pie display at the All-Nite Diner on the corner of her street. Nicole watches coconut cream, pecan, chocolate, and blueberry. She watches layer cake, Jell-O, and tapioca. She knows there are choices she can’t even see yet—ideas she can’t understand. When the waitress comes, Nicole orders coffee. She stirs it slowly as she tells the woman she needs a few more minutes to decide. Nicole lights a cigarette and as she inhales, she watches the sleepy street waiting for the noisy morning. For now, she sees only her own haunting reflection telling her to decide soon—to pick something, anything.

Months later with the moon through the window it’s as if Butch is there with her again. Nicole hates herself, but it happens. He comes spinning into her memory, a tornado she hasn’t heard about in the weather reports. He touches down briefly.

 

It’s a lonely summer night. Nicole’s window is open. No breeze billows her thin white curtains. She can’t sleep; a dark insomnia. “Pretty, my ass,” she mumbles to the gaping closet, to her sleeping cat, to the long empty space beside her in her bed.

Nicole fingers a book of Italian poetry another man has recently given her. She thinks about the lover years before who took her swimming in Vermont and kissed her as they stood fighting the rapids.

Nicole looks at the moon hanging in between branches, and she feels Butch pulling at her—pulling as if they could never be close enough. Nicole thinks that in the future on full moon nights like this Butch will think of her too.

 

Butch is with another woman, Judy, years later now; in another state, a different time and place—in a sparkling apartment 17 floors up from the honking city streets. It’s winter. They’re on a couch—heads resting against one another.

Butch touches Judy’s hand and says, “Hey, did you know the first word I ever said was pretty?”

The television mumbles softly. Two empty wine glasses rest on the floor along with the empty bottle of red that has fallen on its side. One slow drop will stain the carpet as Judy replies.

She lifts her head slightly to look at Butch with a wry smile. She pushes her long hair to the side and says, “Really? That’s so pretentious.”

She laughs then and pushes on his forehead so she can lean her head back onto his shoulder.

Butch looks out the window at the sparkling skyline of a city he has come to know too well. He feels boredom hovering in the corners again; he feels the cold snap diving in and scratching at his bones.

Suddenly, breezy floating drapes rise into Butch’s thoughts; there’s a cat jumping from a windowsill onto a black trunk; a face then it’s gone.

Butch nudges Judy. He whispers that they should go to bed; they should turn off the TV and have sweet dreams back in the bedroom. He kisses her on the forehead.

Judy nods and smiles half asleep. They shuffle to the back bedroom, forgetting the TV. It blinks a hazy blue-gray late into the night.

The next morning when Butch gets up early to make coffee he thinks he hears a woman whispering in the kitchen, but it’s just the dull gray static.

 

Sherrie Flick is author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness, the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting, and the forthcoming short story collection Whiskey, Etc. (Queen’s Ferry Press, March 2016). She teaches in the MFA and Food Studies programs at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.