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DEEPER • by Douglas Campbell

I blew it with Janice. And I did it in the most trite way possible, a one-night stand, dinner and sex with a co-worker. One of Janice’s friends spotted me eating that dinner I’ll regret forever. I didn’t know that, however, when I went to Janice’s apartment the next night with a two hundred dollar bottle of Cabernet, disgusted by what I’d done and planning to come clean.

“Good choice,” Janice said when I handed her the bottle. She took it to the kitchen to open it, or so I assumed. When she didn’t return I went and found her crying, pouring the wine down the sink.

“We’re done,” she said. “I trusted you. Now I don’t.”

That’s how I lost her, the only woman I’ve ever loved unreservedly. She found it in her heart, though, to remain friends with me. Six months later, when she moved to Chicago, I drove her to the airport. “Don’t shut me out, please,” I said when I hugged her.

“I’ll always talk to you, Myles,” she said.

We parted that day, but I never truly said goodbye to her because I never stopped loving her.

***

When I met Janice, at twenty-four, I considered myself quite the stud simply because I’d managed to get it up and figured out where to put it.

“Go deeper,” Janice whispered, the first time we made love.

“Really?” I said. I had no idea where the line might be between pleasing a woman and hurting her.

“Yes, yes. Deeper.”

I’d never been with a woman who made love in that unguarded way, with such urgency and utter commitment. I felt a little overwhelmed.

“Come on, go with me,” she said, and finally I caught the spirit of it, did all I could to match her frank hunger, her beautiful recklessness.

Afterwards, I saw what a fool I’d been in my lovemaking, too much the spectator, worried about myself and my performance, watching the moment when I should have been blinded by it.

Janice liked to nudge me with her painter’s eye, too. In downtown Boston one day she pointed at a skyscraper. “What do you see?”

“Sixty stories of hell,” I said.

“But look – see the aura of sunlight along the left edge? And down the street there, look how strangely the shadow falls.”

I loved her intelligence and curiosity, and the fact that she hadn’t been lobotomized by pop culture. She didn’t think the history of art began with a Campbell soup can, the history of music with Elvis, the history of philosophy with Dr. Phil. I loved the way she was always humming something, her voice rich and in tune, her selections varied and surprising, “The Skye Boat Song” to snatches of Corelli.

I treasured her physically too, her wide hips, thick black hair, wall-eyed breasts, nipples broad circles of pale pink. And she had true milk skin that fascinated me. I’d search that skin sometimes, pawing her and rolling her over, looking for a mole or some dusk of birthmark, while she’d laugh, then get twitchy and hyper-ticklish and make me stop. Three freckles, pinheads, were the only marks on her. After we separated I recalled that skin and linked it to her life in such a way that I never worried about her. How could someone with Janice’s verve and intelligence, a person with skin like that — triumphal skin — ever fall into the clumsy hands of chance?

Last July, when I heard she’d been killed, I felt breathless and weak for days.

She’d gone out for dinner with friends at some northside Chicago restaurant. She left the gathering early to meet a gallery owner and plan a show of her paintings. Maybe she was buzzed from the dinner wine, or distracted, thinking about the meeting to come. As Janice crossed the street, a pickup truck ran her down. Hit-and-run. She died painfully, I was told, gasping and bleeding on oil-slick asphalt still hot from the blazing summer day.

***

I attended the memorial service in Sycamore, Illinois, Janice’s hometown. That evening, while walking downtown, I glimpsed her little girl ghost up ahead of me on the sidewalk, passing the storefronts, ponytail swaying. But more Janice wasn’t what I was looking for. What I needed was some way to say goodbye to her, once and for all.

I enjoy meeting people. I listen, flatter, tease, encourage. Meeting people is easy. Goodbyes, though, come hard. When people you love depart, when they leave to return to their lives far away, how can you not feel some unease? They’re leaving, after all, the only place where you exercise any control whatsoever, the tiny arc of life within reach of your eyes. At goodbyes I search for words, then stumble over them. I say too much, then wish I’d said more, or said what I’d really meant to say.

What would I have said to Janice if I’d been among her friends at that restaurant, when she’d stood up to leave and I’d somehow known I was seeing her for the last time?

I kept walking. Twilight fell, and I entered a little park. Bryant Park, the sign said. A tree shadow broke and bent into odd angles as it fell across benches, a swing set, a gazebo. A fountain splashed, throwing up rainbow mist against the glow of streetlamps. A spattery rush of raindrops began falling, but out to the west a hole in the clouds opened into a cave of stars. Fading light, a misty fountain, rain, stars, shadow. “Bryant Park At Twilight.” A painting Janice would have noticed, but one I might have missed if she hadn’t taken me deeper. My eyes were partly her eyes, and always would be.

That’s when it came to me. “Janice,” I said, “I’ll always talk to you.”

There it was, the goodbye I’d searched for, right there in the generous and steadfast love Janice had given me. All I’d ever needed to do was give it back.


Douglas Campbell‘s fiction has appeared online and in print, in publications such as Many Mountains Moving, Every Day Fiction, The Northville Review, Vestal Review, and Short Story America. Douglas lives and writes in southwestern Pennsylvania.


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DEEPER • by Douglas Campbell, 3.8 out of 5 based on 63 ratings
Posted on December 2, 2012 in Literary, Stories
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  • Deborah Bundy

    Simply loved this story. It says so much with feeling.

  • Randy R

    Flash Fiction is right, super job.

  • http://www.jmiklos.com Johanna Miklos

    Nice story. The biggest gift we receive from each other is what we are willing to let others teach us.

  • ajcap

    Brilliant. A good love story is tricky to get right but DEEPER does everything with the proper degree of sincerity. Very well written. Will print and study.

  • Nina

    A beautiful story. Five stars.

  • http://lenjoy.blogspot.com Len Joy

    Nice work, Douglas.

  • Tina Wayland

    Hard to be original with romance, but this did it. Lovely, as always.

  • Rose Gardener

    Every now and again I come across a story I wish I could give six stars to, and this is one of those.
    It perfectly captures how trust, once broken, can never be fully repaired and how a part of those we love stays with us long after they leave our lives. Beautiful writing Douglas. Thank you.

  • http://bethandwriting.blogspot.com Beth Camp

    OK. 5 stars. Can’t believe it’s getting only 4.2. This story made me cry before breakfast. What a neat love story, so true, so beautifully placed before the reader in layers. Write on!

  • Sue Ann

    Beautiful and beautifully-written..

  • Jeanne Holtzman

    Beautiful story Douglas. Love the play on the word deeper. I too have had friends who made me literally, visually see the world differently, and love how you say “my eyes were partly her eyes.” Very nicely done!

  • lucinda kempe

    “…the tiny arch of life within reach of your eyes.” Ah, a poet y’ar, Douglas Campbell and a very fine writer.

    Good to see you up and well. Five stars.

  • Tony Press

    Very nice – I enjoyed every bit of it.

  • http://www.paulfreeman.weebly.com Paul A. Freeman

    I must admit the beginning had me a bit confused since I thought Janice was the one night stand co-worker – i.e. the narrator had ruined his friendship with Janice by sleeping with her.

    Once it became clear who Janice was, I was left wondering why the narrator did the dirty if their relationship was so perfect.

    The rest of the story I found rather predictable.

    Sorry to be so ‘against the tide’.

  • http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/ Cezarija Abartis

    A moving story about grief and loss and the gifts that are given to us.

  • http://conboyhillfiction.wordpress.com/ Suzanne Conboy-Hill

    Beautifully understated exploration of a relationship that teaches this character about himself just a little too late. But maybe also on time.

  • Christopher James

    Very good. I thought the moment when she died was wonderfully written.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    A male fantasy substituting obsessive attachment to the dream perfect woman for the hard work of committed love. I know it was meant to be an elegiac love story but it felt tooth-achingly sentimental to me.

  • C. F. Ciccozzi

    I agree with Rose Gardener(#8). Great job, Douglas!

  • http://www.bevelliott.com Bev Elliott

    So beautiful, so poignant. It took my breath away, Doug.

  • http://www.bonniezobell.com Bonnie ZoBell

    I see we’re overusing the word “beautiful” in the comments, but it’s the main word that comes to mind. Love the imagery and the way the narrator says difficult to say things so well. Six stars!

  • http://astheheroflies.wordpress.com/ Gretchen Bassier

    Hate to be a parrot, but this really was breathtakingly beautiful. I loved it.

  • Mary Weadon

    I know this. Breakfasting backyard birds, spiderwebs iced with morning dew, compassion when I couldn’t find it on my own, and much, much more, are all beautiful gifts I’ve received from a similar sort of connection. This portrayal “deepens” that experience. Without a doubt, five, six, seven stars.

  • SarahT

    This writing is so smooth and wonderful! It pains me that these wonderful words should be pouring out of a cheating *bleep*. A character so flawed shouldn’t be thus gifted ;)

  • http://jcmannone.wordpress.com John C. Mannone

    Very nice, Doug. Though I too was a little confused at first (probably my fault for reading it too fast), I don’t think this is over sentimental. I was moved by it. The poetic ending is not only something that appeals to me, as a poet, but fits the story quite well. Janice’s life seems to have been poetic the way you paint her. I enjoyed this very much. Thanks for sharing it.

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