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A ‘vintage’ love story

“Write me a sonnet,” Ashley said.

I rolled over. My eyes felt sandy with sleep. “What did you say?”

“A sonnet,” she said. “Write me one. Please.”

I propped my head with my elbow, blinking. “Hon, what are you talking about? It’s one in the morning.”

“You told me you’d write me a sonnet.”

“Yeah, but not right now. Wait a minute” — I gave her a sharp look — “when did I say that?”

“A couple of nights ago, at dinner. You promised.”

“I did?”

“Don’t you remember?” she said, brushing her foot against my leg. “You were telling me how much you loved me. You said you’d write a sonnet for me as a … as a token of your love.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, frowning. “That doesn’t sound like me.”

“Well, you said it.”

I shrugged. “I don’t remember. I seriously don’t. I’m not saying I didn’t say it. I’m just saying I don’t remember. I could have been tired, or maybe it was the night I had too much wine with dinner. I don’t know.”

“Whatever.” Ashley burrowed deeper in the blankets.

“C’mon,” I said. “Why do you want a sonnet this time of night, anyway? It’s late; I’m too groggy to write anything.”

She turned away and sighed. “I thought it’d be romantic, that’s all. We’re always stuck in the same routine. Don’t you ever want to stop to savor your life, to drink it all in?”

“Depends on what I’m drinking.”

She snorted. “Forget it. You’re not taking me seriously.”

“Oh, c’mon, Ashley,” I said.

“Forget it. Go to bed. Sorry I woke you.” She turned her pillow to the cool side and wiggled away.

I sighed and rolled onto my back. I lay with a hand behind my head.

“I can’t write in the middle of the night,” I said.

No answer. Only Ashley’s soft breathing.

I stared into the darkness, thinking. Somewhere from the murkiness, a memory emerged, faint but real: Me, three nights ago, sitting at the dining-room table, while Ashley cleared the dishes. She stood over the garbage and scraped the plates.

I poured some wine, emptying the bottle. My glass sloshed. I took a long sip, leaning back in my rickety wooden chair.

The lights were low over the table; the bulbs, dim. The kitchen, however, was flooded in light. I sat in the dim shadows, sipping my wine. I looked at Ashley, drenched in the bright, florescent light. She stood with her arms in the sink, rinsing the dishes. She wore a maroon-colored blouse, which clung to her skin. Her loose jeans, cinched at the waist with a black belt, hugged her bosom and showed off her figure. Her hair, pulled back in haphazard strands, seemed to glisten beneath the light.

I took a sip of wine. “You’re so beautiful.”

Ashley looked over and turned off the sink. “Sorry? The water was running.”

“I said you’re beautiful.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, right.” She turned the water back on and picked up her dishrag.

“I’m serious,” I said. “I’ve never seen you look so pretty.”

Can’t hear you, she mouthed, pointing to the sink and smiling.

I sipped my wine.

“You were saying?” she said, turning off the water. She opened the dishwasher and started loading it.

“You’re so awesome. You’re beautiful. You really are.”

“And you’re drunk. Did you polish off the wine?”

“I’m not drunk,” I said, sipping from my glass.

“The bottle’s empty.” She stacked the dishes in the washer, lining the plates alongside each other and putting the silverware in the plastic compartment.

Panther-like, I slipped behind her and put my hands on her waist. She jumped.

“Hey,” she said, without turning. “You almost made me drop this.” She placed a glass in the washer.

I ran my hands up her body.

“Stop it,” she said, shaking me off. She moved to the counter and started wrapping the leftovers in foil.

“You know what I’m going to do?” I asked, stepping behind her.

“Take out the garbage?”

“No. Well, maybe in a bit. But first, I’m going to write a sonnet … for you.”

“That’s nice. You’re drunk.” She wrenched open the fridge and put the leftovers away. “I knew the wine would put you over. You’re used to beer.”

“I want to tell you how much I really care about you,” I said. “I’m not good saying things out loud. But maybe if I write a sonnet, you’ll know.”

“OK, then. Write me a sonnet.”

I returned to the table, picked up my glass with a swoop. “You know what I’ll say?”

She closed her eyes, sighing. “What?”

I gulped some wine. “Well, I don’t know, yet. But I want it to be special. What rhymes with Ashley? Flashy, maybe? Trashy? No, no — definitely not trashy. Forget I said that.”

“Can you take the garbage out, please?” she asked. “It’s overflowing.”

“All right.” I polished off the remainder of my wine and set the glass on the counter.

“You could put that in the dishwasher,” she said.

“Huh?”

“Your glass. It doesn’t belong on the counter. It belongs in the dishwasher.”

“Oh.” I picked up the glass. “Sorry.”

“You don’t need to be sorry,” she said. “It’s just … well, it needs to go in the dishwasher, that’s all.”

“OK.” I put the glass away and yanked the garbage sack from the container.

I tied it up and walked to the backyard garbage bin, which stood against the rickety fence. A strong, frigid wind blew, chilling me. I tossed the garbage and returned to the house.

Ashley was doing something in the kitchen. I went to the living room and sunk into the couch. I fumbled for my iPhone, which was buried in my pocket. I wanted to listen to music: something slow, and moving.

I leaned back and closed my eyes, the earbuds in my ears. Someone tapped my shoulder. I looked up to see Ashley standing beside me.

“Hey,” she said. “I’m making coffee. You want some?”

I turned down the music. “Sure. Decaf, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Sounds good,” I said. “Thanks.” I put my earbuds back in.

“Hey,” she said, touching my shoulder. I looked up and pulled the earbuds back out.

She smiled. “I want to hear your sonnet when you’re done. I’m sure it’ll be beautiful.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know what I was saying. I can’t write a sonnet.”

“Sure you can. And it’ll be great. I really do want to hear it. OK?” She squeezed my shoulder, and bent to kiss me on the head.

I smiled. “I’ll see what I can do.”

I looked over at Ashley, now sleeping beside me. I didn’t know why I’d forgotten that night. It seemed both hazy and vivid, like an early-morning dream you experience moments before the alarm goes off.

I leaned over and rested my hand on Ashley’s shoulder. She didn’t stir. I squeezed gently, and pecked her on the cheek.

Maybe I could write a poem in my head — a short one that I could memorize and recite at breakfast. Just a couple of lines, really. Something sweet and crisp, yet also elegant and profound.

I tried, I really did, but I couldn’t get past the first line. I must have lain there for twenty minutes, grasping for the right words. My mind was as dark as the night around me. I was right: I couldn’t write sonnets, especially at one o’clock in the morning.

I huffed and flopped to my side. Forget the sonnet. Ashley probably wouldn’t remember, anyway. She’d probably think she dreamed the whole thing.

Besides, I think she’d had a little too much wine with dinner.

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