L Mari Harris
I wear the black dress once, then return it to the store two weeks later.
The clerk asks if I would like a refund or an exchange.
I look around the store, unsure, the racks arranged by color—reds, blues, blacks; pastel pinks and greens and yellows like Easter eggs hanging together on their own rack.
"Maybe something cheery?"
"How long has it been?"
"Was it sudden?"
"I'm still not sure which is worse, sudden or drawn out, and I've been working here for twenty years. Either way, we never really expect it."
The clerk continues watching me eye the pastels.
"A lady came in yesterday. I watched her hesitate at those lovely pastels over there, but she couldn't stop grinding her teeth. I could hear her grinding away clear over here, where you and I are standing now. I helped her find a better fit, a nice red blouse. Took a little work to unclench her fists so her arms would go through the sleeves, but we made it."
The clerk chuckles at the memory. Her eyes are heavy and wet.
She pulls out a stool, motions for me to sit.
She walks around me, pauses. Tilts my chin in her soft hands. Her hands are warm. I close my eyes, sink into her touch.
Her hands leave my face after a few minutes, and she stands back.
I look up at her heavy and wet eyes. I want her warm, gentle hands on me again. I have been so cold these last nineteen days.
She pulls a tissue from her pocket, dabs at the corners of her eyes. Takes off her jacket. Wraps her sorrow around my shoulders. The jacket is well-worn. Threadbare, in fact.
That I wasn't the one we needed to worry
I once tried to describe you in three words: pond, lake, ocean.
What I meant: There's so much I can't see.
What I also meant: I want to be earth. I want to be everything you stand on.
I tried to explain it another way: I dream I am a changing sky. You, a sunfish. I dream your fish eyes look beyond me. This is when I wake up because I understand there is truth in this.
I asked if you remembered: That one time I went fishing with you, clouds hung in the distance. I watched a heron along the shore as you told stories of your childhood I'd heard many times before. I longed for a natural silence. I longed for truth in story-telling. I longed for the clouds to roll in. I longed to find a way to say you could stop trying so hard to keep me planted.
I told you a bedtime story: My hands are spades, overturning black soil, spacing seedlings one by one. You follow behind me, your fish mouth opening over the furrows, measuring water row by row. We find a rhythm as we work to finish the garden. It is a happy time. We find ourselves back in the boat. I whip my head around at every splash. What was that? I want to see. I see your operculum, iris, lateral line. Shimmering. Waving. I dip my hand in the water. See? All those times I tried to tell you.
L Mari Harris
's stories have been chosen for the Wigleaf Top 50 and Best Microfictions. She lives in the Ozarks. Follow her @LMariHarris
and read more of her work at lmariharris.wordpress.com