A journal of narrative writing.
What She Didn’t Do
Page 2

He will ask questions then, and she’ll answer and whatever she tells him, he’ll believe. “Yes,” she doesn’t say. “You were right. I did do that.”

* * *

What she didn’t do: sixteen years old and away at school because her father felt she’d put herself in danger falling in love with a blue-eyed boy who was a year younger and lived in another part of town. She went to his house after school and they rolled around on his mother’s bed, kissing, touching. He was the first boy to see her without clothes and there was thrill enough in that. They didn’t take it as far as they might have, but somehow her father knew and he “removed her from the situation. For her own good.” He and her mother conspired. They packed her up and by fall she was away, safe, they thought, among other girls, behind an iron fence and a locked gate, in boarding school.

On Saturdays a bus took the girls into the city and let them go. She had friends, but she preferred to be alone. She liked to walk. She was on a path in the park, and a man on a bench had spotted her. She was wearing the necklace that her mother sent, a souvenir from a foreign country where her parents vacationed while she was away. It’s only recently that she’s begun to wonder whether that was the real reason she was sent off, so they could be free of her. The house without her and her anger, it must have been a wonderful relief to them. Though her mother always insisted that she missed her terribly.

It was a silver coin on a silver chain, shining on a young girl’s chest. She imagines that the glint of it was what caught his eye. A girl skipping down the path. A man planted on a bench, eyeing her. Dazzled, maybe. She stopped when she saw him. His smile was bright. He was amused. He seemed old, but probably he wasn’t. Maybe thirty. In a suit. A businessman of some kind, she supposed. With a warm tint to his skin. Dark hair, slick, groomed. She had time to notice his green eyes. He smiled and asked her name. Invited her to sit with him. Took the coin in his hand, between finger and thumb, delicately, and examined it. “From Corinth,” he said. And then examined her. “My home,” he said. “That is, my father’s home. We come from there.” His nails were perfectly manicured, which she had not seen in a man before. He wore a gold ring with a black stone in it. He touched her hair and listened while she told him about the school and the dormitory and the rules. Not mentioning the boy with the blue eyes. He said he would call her. An older couple was approaching, holding hands. He looked at his watch and stood and walked away, quickly. His groomed hair gleaming. The coin on her throat warm from his touch or her skin or the sun.

He did call. He had a plan. He’d come by the school for her. He’d say he was a family friend. Or an uncle. They could have a day together. She’d be free to do whatever she wanted to do. She only had to request permission. Next Saturday. That soon.

What might have been, in the end was not. She said no. She only went so far, and then she backed away.

* * *

She tries to make her husband see that what she didn’t do is more important now than anything she did, but he isn’t interested. He’d rather know about what he thinks she did. He wants her to tell him all about it, whatever it is. He wants to show that he was right, that he’s been right about her all along, all that he’s imagined for her, that it’s true.

She drives to the vet to pick up the dog, and he follows her in his car.

* * *

She’s begun to think there’s no story to her life, because nothing of any real consequence has ever happened to her. She has a friend whose husband is in jail. Another whose child has died. She has no children of her own, and she wonders if maybe that’s something that’s happened to her, by not happening to her.

She has begun to see the empty spaces in between. The silences where she didn’t reply. The look she didn’t return. The touch she shrugged off or avoided altogether. The call she didn’t take. A man invited her to join him for lunch and when she understood what he was asking, what he really wanted, she declined. He’d been misled because she smiled at him. Because she sat next to him at a dinner party and because she kissed him goodnight afterward. She was drunk. She kissed everybody. But he thought it meant something.

Her husband is so sure she has something to hide. Her face heats up. Her hair changes color. An “A” appears on her chest.

* * *

She puts on her boots, her hat, her gloves, her coat, to take the dog out for a walk in the woods behind the house, where they have acres and acres of land that her husband inherited from his father. A creek runs through it. The house sits on a bluff. The dog romps after the squirrels. The sun is mean in the sky. She knows he won’t follow her here.

* * *

When she gets back he’s standing in the yard, in his shirtsleeves and his shorts. He’s holding a letter, as if it’s evidence. He’s been in her room. He’s been in her desk, her drawers, her papers.

His face is livid. The dog barks at him as if he were a stranger threatening her. Bares its teeth, snarls. He tries to kick it. She moves toward him. Takes the letter and lets it go. It lifts upon the wind like a bird and the dog goes after it, tearing back across the yard toward the creek.

She lets the wind toss her around a bit as she staggers through the woods. Branches waving. The path a tangle. The dog long gone. She can’t stay out here forever. Even the animals know better. She imagines the dog has crossed the creek and followed the trail to the houses over there. It’s done that before. Someone will see it. Someone will take it in, but not to the pound, she hopes, though it’s a sweet dog and pretty and someone else would surely come along and see it and choose it, give it a good home. With children. And a nice yard. Fenced.

* * *

By the time she gets back the storm has passed. The house is dark. The garage door is shut so she can’t tell, but she’s guessing, maybe hoping, he’s gone. She lets herself in through the front, afraid at first that he will have locked her out, but he’s done no such thing. She finds him sitting in the kitchen. His hands around a cup of tea. Like a child, he seems, his eyes wide, imploring.

She takes off her coat, lets it drop on the floor. She steps out of her boots, which are soaked. Lifts her skirt to pull off her stockings. He watches this. She turns up the heat and shakes out her hair. Then she sits across from him.

“It’s been going on for a while,” she says. “I’m sorry. I’m bad. I won’t blame you if you want to leave.”

He wants to know more. “Who is he?” She shrugs. Sits back. “I met him downtown. He gave me a lift. A chance encounter, that’s all it was. It isn’t anything. It means nothing. It’s over. I’ll stop. She licks her lips. “Where?” he asks. “We took rooms,” she says. “Different places. Once we went all the way to ___ and stayed there overnight.” “Is he married too?” “Yes. But she’s a pig. Fat, you know. He doesn’t love her.” “Does he love you?” She shrugs. “Don’t know. Probably. But it doesn’t matter. It’s over.” “Have there been others?” She pins him with a look, sharp. “Do you really want to know?” She sees him flinch.

She takes a deep breath. Spreads her hands on the table. Looks out the window, through the lace curtains, at the trees, still now. She listens for the dog. The cat on the refrigerator regards her, waiting, too. Wanting to know.

He stares at her. “Yes, I do,” he says. “Tell me. Were there?”

Slowly she nods. And answers, “Yes.”