Silver Steeds Reined In

By Susan Dale

Eight o’clock, and the droves of kids that peeled in at six pm began thinning out. Josh put Reggie in charge of eight o’clock cokes and fries, then he plunked down in the back booth with Literature:104 propped in front of him. A bone-weary assignment awaited him. Heart of Darkness would roam listlessly page after page. He knew that because this was the fourth time he tried reading it. He had the book opened and was stubbing a cigarette when he happened to glance up and see Rita’s, white jag racing around the corner. Caught in the illumination of the sinking sun, it seemed a chariot streaking across the sky.

White chariot gliding down; silver steeds reined in, he thought.

Reined in were Rita and her jag to the stark reality of the diner’s parking lot … potholes, garbage cans lined up, dented cars, and rusty call boxes.

Of a-sudden, Josh felt himself a-swirl in strange and overpowering sensations. All of Rita’s past deceits, and his annoyance at her for canceling their date again, he forgave when he saw this exquisite goddess step out of her chariot. She was draped in something pale and diaphanous.

Now aware of his grungy apron, his nose twitched with the smell of fryer grease that permeated his hair and body. I feel low rent, he thought disparagingly.

He despaired too of the way that Heart of Darkness would escape him for the fourth time. Common enough reactions for mere humans, but until this moment unknown to Josh’s full-up ego. A foreign drubbing circled his shoulders around his chest; his chin dropped.

He slammed the book shut. What’s the use? I will never be able to get through, much less understand Heart of Darkness.

Too many emotions for Josh to handle … despair for his stupidity, disgust for his mother’s greasy restaurant. Now add to those grim realizations his awe of Rita poised in the doorway and bathed in the thin light between sunset and twilight. Teasingly transparent, the white dress clung to her frame even as her hair tumbled over her shoulders. Shimmery one moment: moments later, a golden lioness prowling the jungle for a mate.

Blinded by the sun exploding over the lake in blazes of sunset, she strained to find Josh. He saw her eyes darting through the diner.

“Hey honey, over here,” he called out in a voice that he struggled to hold steady.

She must not know how he envisioned her tonight. His overawe of Rita was obvious to everyone but Josh; now he realized it too. And with his realization came an awareness of how much he needed Rita.

He shook himself forward. What is happening here? Balling his fists in impotence, he struggled to know.

He was seeing her as he would a stranger; a stranger that he would go to great lengths to meet. Even though they had been together for over a year now, going steady, or Josh’s main squeeze to their peers, Josh was now aware that Rita was a stranger to him. Always a stranger with her secrets, her long silences, and the way she looked off into unknown distances when they were together.

Gliding through the weary and worn diner, which seemed to slip away when she walked through it in her long-legged poise, she came to the back booth and slid in beside him. Her perfume, or was it the elixir of Rita, Josh never knew, drifted across the booth with its layers of indefinable mystery … hot sandy deserts, musk, heady flowers. Her perfume was wrapping him up while Rita’s gestures, the set of her chin, her squeamish shoulders; all were saying don’t touch.

But he wasn’t seeing the forbidden signs; he was seeing Rita as she was when first he met her. His hand moved over hers. Inadvertently he was trying to take her back to the beginning of their love affair; back to the time when both of them were infatuated with each other, when their romance easily ping-ponged back and forth between them.

“Don’t!”

“Don’t what?”

“Touch me like that.”

Barricaded by her words he said, “Like what?”

“Like I belong to you.”

She was thinking, I don’t belong to you anymore; not even the fingertips that your hand is covering.

She belonged to someone else now, and she searched for the words which would sever the slender thread that once bound them together.

“Alright.”

He held his hands up in surrender. Thus, he freed the two of them from ending up where they found themselves to be too often … backed into opposite corners, with angers like wet paint holding them there.

After waiting in the long quiet, Josh managed to break the silence with constricted words. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t talk to you when you called, but I was in the middle of …”

Her expression stopped him. The rebuke in her eyes flashed with impatience. Disgust tightened her lips into thin lines.

“Well, you know how it gets around here,” he finished weakly.

“This isn’t about you, Josh; this is about me.”

“What is about you?”

“What happened.”

“What happened?”

David happened before Josh, he happened after Josh. He seemed to Rita to be her eternity, and she no longer needed Josh in the aftermath of passions that brought her to this place, at this time.

This time, this condition – neither is what I hoped for. Gone, my dreams of a ring slipped on my finger with a declaration of undying love. Treasures cradled in a hope chest; candlelight and whispered endearments. Not for me a blow-out wedding at Grandma Porter’s church, a beautiful cathedral in Cleveland with solemn mass, full orchestra and a trumpet announcing my arrival down an aisle trailing a satin train.

Dreams coming to end in the mornings I hung my head over the toilet to appease morning sickness. Too late for a honeymoon, too sudden for a Caribbean cruise, and too late for the black negligee I brought back from St. Thomas.

She sighed with regret but nonetheless accepted that she was with David; that was where she wanted to be. She only wished she had arrived here by other roads; not by the detours of pregnancy, threats, and duty.

But here she was, and she figured that she needed only to sweep away the debris that was piled up in the path she was on with Josh. Then they could go on without each other.

Only this will be more difficult than I thought it would be; Josh’s face is so full of love and adoration.

Laying her head on the back of the booth Rita took a deep breath – unbearable for her to look into the uncomplicated blue of Josh’s eyes when she revealed the deceptions that would forever change their lives.

She made tight knots of her fists. “Help me out, Josh, this isn’t going to be easy.”

“I can see that it isn’t. Quit the peek-a-booing, Rita. Play it straight! Tell me what it is that you have to say.”

“Play some music, then. I don’t want anyone to hear this.”

Bewildered, Josh dug in his pocket and drug out a quarter. He sunk it in the jukebox on the wall beside them, then held up his palms in an obligatory gesture that preceded an old game on theirs. Josh dropped in the quarter; Rita pressed the buttons. Usually Rita took time-immortal to select three recordings. However, at this odd moment in time, she pressed three buttons without so much as a glance to see what would be playing. A short while into Frank Sinatra’s “Autumn Leaves,” she sideswiped the restaurant with eyes scurrying about. She gulped and shut her eyes.

She blurted out – “I’m getting married in three weeks.”

He jerked up straight as an arrow. “Married?”

Rita’s eyes snapped shut. She couldn’t bear to see the confusion playing about his face.

She arranged, then rearranged her words. Silently, she put the finishing touches on them and was about to mop up the debris on their path of no return, when she dared open her eyes, and saw a mysterious twinkle shining in Josh’s face.

Stunned, Rita wondered, Is Josh at last seeing how hopeless our situation is? Josh knew he was the rebound after David. Being with him when I wanted to be with David caused me to snap at him, to call off our dates, shrug him off, and finally meet David secretly. And David was with Josh’s sister, Lea. That is, when he wasn’t with me.

Taking a deep breath, she was about to lay it all to rest when she saw the mysterious sparkle in Josh’s eyes heighten into blazes of anticipation.

But before she could get a grip on his new reaction, she heard him say, “So … so, you’re proposing? Three weeks though?” he exclaimed. “Isn’t that a little sudden for a wedding or do you want me to lean a ladder up to Doc’s place, and …”

Rita’s shocked eyes spilled over with the tears that must wash away his foolish conclusions. “I’m pregnant, Josh,” she said, gently as she could.

“Pregnant?”

A foreign word too female for male understanding. A word like a treacherous curve suddenly in front of Josh; too sudden to put the brakes on; too sharp for him to go around.

“Pregnant, pregnant?” The echo repeated until it could be understood.

“But how? We haven’t …”

Like a balloon with the air escaping, Josh felt himself helplessly zigzagging through the winds of change. He soared up with the expectation that she wanted to marry him … then spiraled down with terrible realizations only half-formed. He sputtered until a lightening truth struck him. Her truth, now his truth left him gliding over his fallacies. He crashed back into the reality of the diner’s drudgery.

And as he struggled to regain his balance, he held onto Rita. He had to; he was that paralyzed with shock. He gathered his hands within her thick mane. His grip held him in this time and in this spot until the room stopped spinning with pregnant, pregnant … racing through his mind.

Rita shut her eyes; she was barring them from seeing the pandemonium that distorted Josh’s features. Tightening his hold on her scalp, he brought her around to face him.

She opened her eyes to him saying, “Let me guess the father-to-be, slash, groom.”

“Josh, keep it down, there are ears all around us.”

“What the hell’s the difference? In three weeks, isn’t that what you said, three weeks and it’s a done deal.”

“Oh, Josh, I …”

“And could the father be perhaps my sister’s sweetheart; your old steady, David Du’Jon?”

His words tightened his teeth. They intensified his rage, and when they were expelled his words poisoned the very air they were breathing.

His hands left her head and fell to tighten on her shoulders. “And it could have been anytime too, with me working double shifts and this fucking, summer school,” he spat angrily as though it were the books and pens, grill and dishes that impregnated Rita.

He shook her shoulders, as though to shake out the entire truth. “When Rita, when did you and Du’Jon …?”

“What is it that you want, Josh? The time and the place? The times and the places?”

His hands left her head; he held them in front of his face to bar her words from landing on him. “My god, Rita, no! No, don’t tell me!”

Rita jumped up. “I’m going now, Josh, I’ve got to get away.”

She felt that she must flee from the pain and the disbelief that marred Josh’s face.

And quickly. Nothing in Rita’s privileged life had prepared her for this ordeal. Her mother scathing her with vitriolic words, her father mute and despondent, David, silent and desperate, and now Josh in agony.

Rushing out the door she was in visibility of her jag convertible and escape when she thought of David and his response when she told him she was pregnant. Once when she was a child her father trapped a stray cat in the back of the gardener’s shed. Rita never forgot the cat’s demonic desperation that begged for release. David’s eyes bored into hers with the cat’s desperation. Her sickness of heart she felt moving to her stomach. Now she feared the vomit that came not only in the morning, but anytime without warning.

After opening the car door, she backed up and stopped. Overcome with nausea,

she bent over the car door to try and hold back the sickness burning in her throat. She didn’t see Josh; silently, suddenly beside her. But when she felt a hand over hers, stunned, she looked up and into Josh’s pained face.

“What would you have left me with if I hadn’t insisted on seeing you tonight?”

Her mouth fell agape with an answer that she didn’t have.

“Maybe you figured that I would read about your nuptials in the society page next month.”

“Josh, I don’t know. Oh, I don’t know; I’m on a merry-go-round.”

“One that you’ve always wanted to ride, however.”

“Not this way,” she sobbed.

Josh’s face softened with the love that he felt for Rita, as powerful now as when he caught her floating on the beams of sunset earlier tonight. Gathering her to him, he held her torment against the tangled mess that he had yet to sort through. With his passions tempered with tenderness, he moved outside of himself to comfort Rita.

She circled his waist, then sank within his warm caring. “David is so, so …”

“So what?”

“I don’t know. His eyes burn me with some strange light that I dread seeing.”

Josh’s anger mounted. He wanted so much for Rita to share his tomorrows, her beauty and excitement to sparkle the hardness of his days. The very thought of

David sulking around and worrying her enraged him. Suddenly Josh remembered how David had deceived his sister, Lea: she loved him too.

The bastard lassoed both of them.

He was so enraged, his words were barred behind his clenched teeth. I’ll be taking care of that miserable bastard and soon.

Holding Rita against his chest, Josh pulled together all of the resources that he could muster up. “Maybe it’ll take that bas–as–, er take him time to get used to the idea of getting married, get used to being a fa-fa-father,” he stammered the words he didn’t want to say.

“No, no!” Rita stood back so that she might fully explain. She had great need of Josh to be her confidant. Everlastingly, he was on-target, so straightforward. “It’s more complicated than that; David’s complicated. I see only parts of him, and none of the parts that I see fit together.”

“Frightened maybe, confused? Oh hell, I don’t know, and I don’t care either.”

Josh’s agony now filled his entire being. Suddenly aware that he would be holding Rita for the last time, Josh laid his head against hers. The hopelessness of their situation was loosened and coming down rapidly; it poured over the two of them. Josh held her so close that she could feel the sobs in his chest.

Stroking his head, she murmured soft, caring things; tender endearments that she

wished her mother would have said when she told her that she was pregnant. Josh’s tears were bathing her shoulder. And in the grandeur of a purple twilight, Rita came to realize how much she‘d miss Josh … his abiding strength, his decisive moves, the certainty of his love.

His words were shredding in his grief. “Oh, Rita, I don’t know how I’ll go on without you. I’m going nowhere, but when you were with me, I could have tackled anything. How will I trudge on, going nowhere alone?”

“Josh, I don’t know.”

Rita was anxious to move on. She began to twist away from the shelter of Josh’s caring; not all that difficult. Exhausted with anguish, Josh dropped his hands from her body, they hung limp at his sides.

He watched Rita drive off in a twilight that was dropping into night. Her chariot pulled by silver steeds had already passed the infant stars of earliest night. It was headed far off towards the silver moon.

_____________________

Susan Dale’s chapbook of thirteen poems, Spaces Among Spaces has been on LanguageAndCulture.net since the autumn of 2006. She also has a page of  jazz poetry on Jerry Jazz Musician. She was October’s featured writer in Pegasus with nine of her poems published, and won first prize from JMW Publishing in 2008. Recently, she was runner up in a chapbook contest for Shadow Poetry: the title of her chapbook, Bending The Spaces Of Time. She will be published in the autumn in LanguageAndCulture.net with two short stories and one poem.


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