Spring Heart: A Short Story
He is always there first. He makes sure of this. He’s glad she’s doesn’t witness the ungainly flailing of his eager arms and legs on the backstairs, his Labrador gallop to the door. The door, which he will lean against, one shoulder raised in a shrug, flipping the rim of his hat in idle contemplation. Nothing in his lazy grin to give him away, but inside his heart plays a brass band at the sight of her. He has a hole in the sole of his shoe. He needs to stop for glue but walking her home is more important.
Her skirt always swings just so, in any breeze. In no breeze. She brings her own weather. He wants to take her dancing. Wants to hold her to him then spin her away, hair and dress whirling.
She greets him with a shy smile. He wants to take her arm but settles for her bag, and they set off. The pavement is damp. His sock gets damp.
They have been doing this for a long time now. Through the build up to Christmas when the carollers sang, and the bells rang and the tree in centre of the square was bedecked in crimson and clover. Now the birds are singing to one another from their nests in budding trees, looking for a mate. He whistles, imitates their tune, looking at her.
The walk is a race against time. She will idle outside while the sky is golden, softening into peach. She will converse through the cantaloupe colours, but past purple, she will not go. When the sky is the colour of a plum, she turns towards the light of her windows and he is left, with the words he wants to say, stuck inside his cheek.
Spring is softening the world. Dandelions and daisies poke through verges. They mock him with their audacity; ‘Our fragile stems spurred through frozen terrain, yet you can’t say three little words.’
And it is love, make no mistake. The earth is tilting on its axis and with it, his heart tilted towards her. He wants to offer it up like a balloon.
They walk slowly through the town, him matching his gait to hers. ‘How was your day?’ She works for a scoundrel, typing his letters, fetching his coffee. Everything has to be just so. He wants to march into Dickman’s and pin her boss against the wall. Wants to tell him to get his own coffee, get away from his girl.
But she isn’t his girl because his mouth won’t shape the words that are typewritten across his heart. ‘Jenny showed us her wedding veil, it has a pearl comb.’
Is she envious? They are past the pond now, where fluffy yellow ducklings follow their waddling mother. They are nearing the church; A banner declaring what will you give up for lent?
Soon they will turn into her street, before he knows it, they will be outside her house. Her mother will put the porch light on, and she will smile and thank him for walking her home. He will say it was a pleasure, doff his hat like a dandy to make her laugh and her mother, who will be watching from under the net curtain will tut, and then he will turn and leave without telling her how feels.
Not tonight. Not tonight he says to the ducklings. The daffodils are rooting for him. The sun is doing her best to stay risen like a cake in the sky.
‘Thanks for walking me home.’ The words are there, on his tongue in brown paper, held together with twine. I love you. He cannot unknot the bow. I love you. How can she not already know?
Her hand is impossibly light on his arm. There is ink on her fingers. He imagines her, fiddling with the ribbon, pinging the carriage return. The click of her low heels, the neat swing of her hips as she walks across the office, breaking forty hearts per minute, quick as her typing.
‘The wedding is next Saturday; you are probably busy….’ Whatever plans he may have had; a pint, the horses, seeing a friend, helping his mother, ALL forgotten in an instant, replaced with a panic about hiring a suit. Getting a haircut. ‘I think I can swing it.’
She looks so beautiful in her pale blue dress. She has white gloves on, a tiny handbag dangling off a slim wrist. Tan coloured tights. Oh Christ, the curve of her calf.
‘You will outshine the bride’ he tells her. ‘You’ve not seen her!’ ‘I don’t need to.’
It could have been a wedding between man and moose for all he noticed of it. Sugared almonds in netting that cracked his teeth, confetti that caught in hats and sat on shoulders like snow. People clapping and crying. His handkerchief in her hand, dabbing at her cheeks. She was horribly, wonderfully close, the pew tight and small and smelling of wet wool and whispered prayers. Beeswax and dust. The reception is a small affair with sagging balloons and wilting sandwiches, put out too early, curling and hardening into jagged peaks. A salmon with its mouth open, parsley breath on the platter. The unknown band set up in a cacophony of dropped instruments and ‘one-two-one-two’s’ down the screeching microphone. Finally, a drumbeat, picked up by the bass player. ‘This one is for the new Mr and Mrs Goldenrod.’ The bride eased off her shoes. Kicked up her sore heels. The groom was red faced, waistcoat slung on the back of a chair. Wife in his arms, up and down the parquet floor. Flushed and smug with achievement.
He asked the mirror in the men’s room for a dance but could not find the words outside of it. She sat on his left-hand side, miserable and mute as people jitterbugged by. The night wound down. A drunken great aunt was led out singing. Red napkins and smears of icing abandoned on paper plates. Empty glasses and someone’s suit jacket on the floor. Tears and thanks and claps on the back all round. The band argued with the father of the bride about a slim pile of cash.
‘Wait! I’ve not thrown the bouquet!’ The bride came back, lipstick kissed off, hair a mess. Next to him, she laughed, but got to her feet, brushed down her dress and joined the gaggle of girls, giddy and giggling. The bride closed her eyes and tossed her roses, held together with a gold band of silk ribbon, high over to her shoulders. She looked at him from behind the caught bouquet, one brow raised. He’d never seen that triumphant expression on her before. Her jaw was set, and the colour of her eyes were a steely grey.
A thump on the arm from the man next to him ‘ha, you next old man.’
But he could not stop looking at the shrewdness, the fervent twist of her lips. In the bright overhead lights, her dress was less blue. It was dowdier. And her hair, greasy curls sticking to her forehead. That crease of concentration.
You next old man.
Oh no. Oh no, no, no. He didn’t think so. Not at all.