In This Light
Before Jack broke the news to me, I was almost relaxed. He was massaging my foot in his warm hands. We'd been coworkers, dear friends for years. His divorce was now final.
“Remember that business conference I attended weeks ago?” he asked, in his raspy Texas drawl.
“In San Diego” I said, remaining calm about the fact that his hands were on me.
“Yes, I took pictures of the city for you!”
“Hold on,” he said, stopping my massage to hand me his shiny gift bag. “I framed a black and white shot of the skyline for your desk!”
“This colorless image is best,” he said. “It’s serene.”
“This picture’s great!”
“Also I came to tell…guess you should know some things about the trip.”
“What’s the scoop?” I said, playfully, happy to see him here in my apartment instead of our dull office. Secretly, I had baked three-cheese lasagna and bought a bottle of Woodbridge Merlot hoping he'd stay for dinner.
He was stroking my foot again, rubbing it, since I was known to complain about high-heels and the damage done. Jack was kneading my ankles and calves now with tremendous effort.
“Liz, about the trip…”
“The thing is, something did happen.”
"Okay." I laughed, but inside I felt something tighten.
"I mean...something with Tom."
“Something happened between me and Tom.” It was then that I noticed his voice sounded a bit higher.
“I'm not sure I understand...”
“We were physical, Liz. Is that so wrong?” He was staring at me with no expression. I realized something inside was spinning; everything was turning churning turning. I couldn't feel my foot or calf or his hands or hear his sugary voice, nothing, nothing. Everything was a blur.
Later, when he was outside under the glow of the street lamp, I thought about asking him, why-why-why but realized that, regardless of his answer, there would be no comfort, none.
“You look so damn beautiful in this light,” he said, as he rubbed his soft finger over my ear. He stalled for a few moments then headed toward his car. I watched him move under a sheet of mist that was falling, trying to be rain.
“Wait,” he shouted, turning with great enthusiasm. And in that moment, I thought I caught a glimpse of the way he must have looked as a little boy: floppy hair with light freckles on his nose, those root-beer eyes. “I want a picture of you tonight!”
“Jack,” I said with irritation, for a steady rain had begun. “I think you missed your calling as a photographer.” I wanted to scamper off, hide, as he held his camera phone up to the street lamp positioning things exactly right for the best shot.
“Wow,” he said, floating my way, “look,” his finger brushed my arm. He stared at me with his big, clear eyes and dark lashes. I fell into him, my nose pressing against him, smelling the musty-sweet scent that would stay with me until I decided to shower.
The picture his phone revealed was haunting, the image of a stranger with wet hair and smeared make-up, a woman shrinking, with a sad desperate look in her eye.
Angela Carlton's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fiction at Work, Every Day Fiction, Longstoryshort, Pindeldyboz, The Dead Mule, among others.