One Night Out
by Ashley Kaufman Read author interview September 15, 2008
She lay, back pressed against the unfinished floor in the ruined greenhouse, watching snow pummelling straight towards her. It looked less fluttery from that angle. Less harmless. She had once thought snow weightless and silent, but here on the roof of the greenhouse, it made a soft ticking sound as it landed and slowly silted out the view.
She allowed her mind to wander, her gaze to un-focus, so that the flakes became ash coming to ground, while outside, cars skittered gingerly as kittens.
When he called, she said she would come. But it was duty more than love.
Her breath came quick in the chill air. The night glittered with soft white Christmas lights. Where were the bold colored strands of her childhood, the fat bulbs that fit smooth in her mouth like candy?
She settled in her car. Only a fool would go out tonight. Only a fool would need to.
Ward had left his lights on. It was always something like that with him. He had an extraordinary mind, but he lost his keys daily, his wallet every once in a while.
She replayed the conversation. “I’ll be late,” he’d said, not asking straight out for help. She’d heard in his voice the tension he felt, navigating between worlds—his and everyone else’s.
“What’s the matter?” she’d said, but her question was more reflex than an expression of interest.
“I left my lights on.”
She managed not to respond and hoped her silence offered a question, like “How can I help?” instead of the impatience she actually felt. His silence said—it’s late, no one’s around, could you come give me a jump?
How does such a simple request get so complicated? All the stuff that lay behind their words. All the stuff they allowed to remain there, as if words were strong enough to keep it at bay.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she said, instead of—what, are you crazy? It’s 10:30 and icy. Can’t you get a cab and take care of it tomorrow?
Nor had she said—do you love me, Ward? Do you remember loving me?
So here she was, on the road, preoccupied with trying to dream the greenhouse to some semblance of its former glory. The greenhouse had been one of the things that made her want to buy their home in the first place. She had imagined it as it would never be—a warm haven in winter, glass clear to the stars above. But glass would fog up, surely. Even tonight, with the structure empty, not humidified, not heated, the warmth and moisture of her body had been enough to steam the view. What would all those living, breathing plants do?
Her car handled well on slick streets. She drove slowly, ten miles per hour tops. It didn’t matter. There was no one else around. No one to smash into, no one to see how well the car moved, how it hurdled over the road, crunching, not sliding. Her neighbors were not out driving tonight. They were home, with their televisions flickering behind closed drapes, their feet tucked into fleece slippers, mugs of steaming cocoa cupped in their hands.
She grinned at herself. Always, she imagined everyone else was more happy, more appropriate, more normal. Other wives weren’t called out into the gorgeous winter night to fetch a forgetful husband.
And it was. Gorgeous. Like a Christmas card, sparkling and clear.
He was standing by his white Honda, not sheepish as she would have been in his position, but matter of fact. Maybe even a little distracted. He was a scientist, a student of DNA. He might unravel the mystery of life, someday. That look could mean he was calculating numbers too momentous or too minute for her to imagine. Or it could mean he was trying to decide what sounded good for dinner.
He was inscrutable even in the mundane.
She felt a warmth, a humming, like memory. He was his true self and she was seeing him, not as some role-filler in her life—husband, companion, lover—but as a wondrous strange creature, an unfathomable human being.
She wanted to gawk, but she knew that would change him, change the moment, so she flashed her lights and pulled up, face to face with his disabled car.
When she opened her door and got out, he took his hands from his pockets, opened his mouth to speak, and stopped. She looked in his eyes and wondered if he understood. If he had felt something.
They stood there, the snow spitting down in big soft plops. She could feel the world spinning, as if they were in a snow globe that had just been firmly shaken.
About the Author:
Ashley Kaufman's short fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Rosebud, susurrus, Mad Hatters' Review, flashquake, and Pearl, among other venues.
About the Artist:
Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.