Gone Lawn
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Gone Lawn 48
spring equinox, 2023

Featured artwork, Elephant 1, by Neila Mezynski

New Works

Kristina Thornton

Our Ruby Anniversary

The milk smells yellow and tastes like velvet. The lemon-pip-filled delight goes down smooth. I swallow, shudder and place the pint down, nestled among its identical brothers. Cobwebs surround my former life but the old garage is the same.

Now, as I pull out, the dusty bottles kiss, creating comforting clinks. A bunch of fresh lilies, tied in a red bow, roll around the passenger seat. Delicate petals fall away. The driver's seat is moulded perfectly into my shape, it's like we never parted.

I spent years floating through these streets. A respected member of this community. A reliable friend to all. The early mornings are distant, blurred into one dark, cold journey.

Each day I would leave them sleeping.

I'd kiss Marjorie's crows feet and she would turn over.

I'd survey Ruby's pudgy hands and bogie nose and spin on my heels, sneaking through the house.

My poor darling was completely exhausted by the sleepless nights. Tortured by our love's creation. My round was my sanctuary. I tried to help when I could by chopping vegetables, stoking the fire and putting the bins out. For Marjorie. My wife comes first.

Now, the electric motor is as reliable as when Elvis was King and I yearned for a black and white TV. It purrs under me. These days, there's no milk to deliver, just love with a splash of nostalgia. It's once again time for our annual retired ritual. I pick her up from our home at "round finish time" for a picnic. A date echo, brushing through, from when melanin was bountiful in our hair.

Marjorie was an excellent mother and is an excellent wife.

Ruby had it made.

Both parents in the same house. Loving each other. A mum and dad in love. A witness to a dream of a relationship. A perfect family.

Marjorie made sure Ruby had what she needed.

Now, I turn the corner and Marjorie's waiting by the curtains.

Butterflies, still. That's the secret.

I splutter. She's looking at a photo of Ruby. Averting my eyes, I breathe a deep breath as I trundle down the road at a snail's pace. It's the picture on the window sill, the one of Ruby on her eighteenth birthday doing that close-lipped smirk. Marjorie had snapped it. About a month after Ruby was considered an adult, she wished Marjorie a "Happy Wedding Anniversary" and never returned. I could breathe again. Our home was ours again. Marjorie was focused on me again. She was never quite the same, but I didn't mind.

Now, Marjorie steps into the milk float, picks up the flowers and straps in. ‘Just like our first date... the same every year... for forty years. Now, that's keeping our tradition.' She buries her head in the lilies, orange dust falls on her shoulders, before she reaches back and lays the bouquet on top of the bottles. She strokes the seat then plants a kiss on my cheek. ‘I wish Ruby was here.'

I grimace-grin and pull at my collar. She doesn't usually say that. She's breaking with tradition, she's ruining it. Willing her to forget, willing her to gaze at me, to be consumed by me, just like on our first date, I say, ‘Happy Ruby Anniversary, darling.' The milk lurks and catches in my throat.

Panic flashes through her face and then her features settle. ‘Happy Ruby Anniversary,' she whispers. Marjorie smiles but there are drops of sadness in her eyes.

Maybe I should tell her Ruby lives twenty-three miles away and has her own upbeat and bittersweet life.

Now, Marjorie flashes me her teeth, this one reaches her eyes.

Butterflies, still.

No, let's not ruin our special day. We need to celebrate us. A perfect marriage. People ask, "What's the secret?" My wife comes first. She kisses me again as we set off.

Butterflies, still. That's the secret.

A Painted Lady lands on the steering wheel, I grab and crush it before throwing the crumbling creature out of the window.

Kristina Thornton is a Writer and former BBC Presenter and Broadcast Journalist. Her stories have been published by Ellipsis Zine, Janus Literary and Sledgehammer Lit. Kristina has finished her first novel and is now writing her second. She lives in Derbyshire, England with her husband, two sons and dog, Elvis. Her website is linktr.ee/kristinathornton.