This is the third installment of my short story Beyond His Means, published recently in my book The Madness of Art: Short Stories. You should probably read part 1 and part 2 first. I’ve posted some other free previews as well. On a side note, I still need two people to fill in nouns for my short story experiment. My book’s available on Amazon and the Barnes and Noble site.
Beyond His Means (Part 3)
Kathy took notice of Harold drifting away from her, bound on some mentally inward course, his personality like a small celestial object pulled by gravity to the center of his own galaxy. Meanwhile, she was stuck here in the familiar world, the physical world, where living beings lived and breathed and died. Did Harold’s cosmos have room for flowerbeds and grasses? Apparently it didn’t, as the poor yard was rife with wilted plants that languished on the hard soil like wind borne ashen remains from a bonfire of scrap papers. Plants once green were tinged with sickly shade of yellow like they were jaundiced. The vivid violets of spring, the verdure, the garden resplendent in pastels… Gone, gone in the time it took a young man to “find” himself.
Kathy made herself what she was from the ground up. She could become anything, do anything–anything except leave poor blighted neurotic Harold. Love was like a garden: it lived and died of its own accord. Nurturing only slowed the natural course.
She watered the plants from a rusty tea kettle she dunked into an old oil drum Harold set out under the gutters to collect rainwater. Exercising such a strict economy–recycling rain–inevitably made Kathy feel about as provincial as a milkmaid in a Hardy novel. She knelt to yank out a dandelion when her neighbor caught her unaware, looming behind her shoulder, smiling convivially. Kathy startled, “What’re you doing out here?”
Mrs. Douglas said, “Just pruning the roses, you?”
“The same, more or less.”
“Forgive me if I come off as intrusive, but I must ask, when do you and Harold plan to have children?”
“Oh not too soon,” she replied as she gripped another bristly weed.
“Not too late either, I hope.”
“Can’t exactly afford it right now. A child, I mean. Maybe after we wed and get our own apartment and a new car we’ll start saving.”
“Not wed and living together? Now I am old. When will you tie the knot and make it official?”
“You’re starting to sound like a census taker.”
“I should go inside and rest before I prick my thumbs on roses.”
Mrs. Douglas, swinging a plastic grocery bag full of petals, went inside and lowered the shades. A moment later, Kathy did the same.
By the hot scent on his breath, she knew Harold had been drinking. Where it used to breed affability in spirit, drink now made him somehow even more dour. Shoulders slumped, he sat at his art desk with his sketchpad in front of him. In large letters he’d written “LEFT IS RIGHT” in charcoal. He was shaking, caught up in some form of mental agitation she couldn’t fathom. Instinctively, she put her arms around him and lingered there for a time in silence.
One of the boarders clicked on the TV in the living room, shattering their solace with canned laughter shrilling down the hall, reverberating in the empty spaces.
…Okay, sometime soon I’ll post the next installment…