Summer ends too soon this year as all the seasons do. Funny, how after sixty-eight summers, time, the thing there always seemed so much of, collapses in on itself, and I find myself counting out the number of summers until an end.
And someone, a woman friend I knew a long time ago, and always expected to know again, died this week. We shared a lot of summers, and someone else’s lover, and her ex-husband. We each had a daughter by her ex-husband, and we each mourned the lover, who, so many years ago, put a bullet through his head.
He was a handsome man. Blond bearded. Lean. Blue-eyed. He had a blue-eyed dog he loved more than me, or her, or the woman he lived with. I keep trying to remember that dog’s name, but it won’t come. I can see him, the dog, in a photo I remember, sitting in the back of her ex-husband’s big old car, the kind with a backseat the size of a living room sofa. We were all still friends then.
That lover had one leg. Not a fancy robotic thing like they’ve fitted to the Marathon amputees, a peg leg, like a pirate, and later on, one he could wear with a cowboy boot, but the damn thing rubbed the stump raw. I know because he used to shower in the basement of the house I shared with the man I eventually married. He asked me to come down and help him with the leg, and I walked into a cloud of talcum powder and pain, and so I screwed him, there on the basement floor, for weeks, or was it months, under the shower head until summer came, and we packed up that house and left to move to Cape Cod.
The summer I was pregnant with my first girl he came and while my husband slept off his drunk from the night before, I made him scrambled eggs, and he asked me to leave with him and go back to Philadelphia. I didn’t want to hear him then. Not that summer or the fall when another friend casually mentioned that he’d heard he’d blown his brains out, and I was so enchanted with my baby that I let that news glide by, believing that if I did maybe it wouldn’t be true because I always expected to see him again.
And years later, in the middle of another summer, my newly dead friend came to my house on the Cape and told me a story. The week or two after he left without me he called her, drunk and stoned and distraught, and she knew what we all knew, how he lost his leg. How he swallowed a bag full of downers and passed out on a hillside and rolled onto trolley tracks and the trolley hit him. And that’s how he lost his leg. It was right after an aborted sailing trip he took with her ex-husband.
And she said she told him she was too busy to talk and could she call him back, and he said no don’t bother and went down into the basement and loaded the shotgun and pulled the trigger and she cried and I cried and we never talked about it again. Never.
And now this summer is ending too soon, and she’s dead and I can hear her laugh. That’s the thing I remember most, her laugh and how tiny she was, and her smile. And she had a life that was odd and interesting and full, as far as I know, and what I can remember of it—still.
Joan Wilking’s short fiction has been published in The Atlantic, The Bellevue Literary Review, The Barcelona Review, Other Voices, The Mississippi Review, Ascent, The MacGuffin, Hobart, The Huffington Post, The Santa Fe Writer’s Project Journal and many other literary magazines and anthologies online and in print. Her story, “Deer Season,” was a finalist for the 2010 Nelson Algren Short Story Competition of the Chicago Tribune. Her story, “What Blixie Bimber Taught the Potato Face Blind Man,” is in the current issue of Ascent. “Too Soon” is her first nonfiction publication. She lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, overlooking Ipswich Bay.