fiction

Watercress

Watercress

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Cigarette smoke billowed through her teeth like storm clouds down the hills. She always had a slight smile on her face. Her lips upturned as if hiding a crooked tooth. She sat with me on the porch in her smoking jacket, the fog clung to us like condensation to a bottle. It was always raining at the cabin, tucked in the hills between two mountain ranges, catching storms that would never meet the valley. I found myself watching her from the corner of my eye. Each movement was like an orchestra conductor, direct yet graceful. Her pale skin shined bright against the greens of the throned blackberry bushes but when I blinked I would lose her delicate hands in the fog that surround the porch, I would only find her after I caught the light glow of her burning cigarette. Her eyes were reflective, much like the sea, they turn a gun metal gray when a storm hovers over head.

She was so mysterious to me, I always thought her name should have been something with more grit like Jax or Raven, but she was Amanda. Her hair was dark, not from coloring her hair to match her angst, but because she was born that way. She rustled in her seat, the wool scratched against the wooden lawn chairs. She hated that jacket, it was itchy, she wore it in attempt to protect her clothes and so that her boyfriend wouldn’t smell it. She spent the weekends here with me. He was out of town every friday and sunday for business, so every friday she came up here and used me. I have yet to get a straight answer as to why she comes here. I studied psychology in school but if I’ve learned anything, degrees are useless, no matter how much I know about Freud and Synapses, I know nothing about Amanda. We’ve fallen into the routine, and this morning is no different. I ask her, “Why are you here?”

She keeps looking forward but I know she heard me. She pulls the cigarette from her mouth, taps the end and looks at me her lips part, “Why are you here?”

“Isn’t it obvious? I’m a man.”

“And I’m a woman.”

“Are you ever going to leave him?”

“No, I’m happy, why would I?”

I never know what to say to this. She has to be unhappy. So many times I’ve thought she was afraid to leave him. In my head I figure he must be beating her, and maybe one day I’ll go over to their house, catch him in the act, and kill him with my hands, and receive a sense of valor. So every time I ask her, “Are you afraid to leave him? Will he hurt you?”

She scoffed, “ Two things: My life isn’t that dramatic. You should stop your lifetime movie fantasies, they’re unhealthy. Second, you know the rule don’t talk about him.”

“So he’s never hurt you?”

“I’m the one doing the hurting.”

“I just don’t understand why you’re here?”

She put out her cigarette on the chair.

“Does it even matter?”

“I guess not.”

“Ask again, and I’ll make it a rule.”

She stood up and walked down the porch steps and her feet squished in the heavily watered grass. When we first started this six months ago, she came to me with a list of rules. And ever since the first time, the list has grown. It started off with three rules. No kissing, No judging, and No emotional dependency. She made it clear that this will end when she chooses and that I am along for the ride. I agreed to it. I’ve developed feelings for her, I know she has too, however I also know that she will never love me more than him. I’m in it for the company and the sex. I suspect she is in it for the same.

I have plenty of friends but I’ve always been the lonely type. In spring everyone finds themselves coupled off and I find myself sitting in front of my computer screen until something more interesting arises. I’m social, if I wasn’t social I would have never met Amanda in the first place. I was at the rec center when I first saw her. I decided to attend a local concert featuring a friend of mine, the proceeds were going to some topical disease that I didn’t care to remember. Amanda was sitting on some man’s lap the first time I ever saw her. She was laughing, talking to some other listeners, she looked up to catch me staring. She stood up and walked over to me.

“Do I know you?” she said.

“No.. you don’t. I’m here to watch my friend play.”

“So I don’t look familiar to you?”

“No, I just like the way you look.”

She laughed at that. She grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the beverage table. The couple hundred people in attendance were towards the front, staring at the stage, so for the rest of the concert it was just me and Amanda. Talking. Eventually the band thanked everyone for coming and I felt a gum wrapper slip into my hand. She smiled, turned, and left the building. Her number was written tightly in the corner, with a whimsical Call Me occupying the majority of the paper.

Two day’s passed and I hit her up. Her voice was deep but smooth. I invited her over for a barbecue I was having with some friends from out of town. She showed up had some drinks and then had her way with me. She was gone by morning, another gum wrapper on the pillow, I would have thought it was the same one if it weren’t for have been that I knew the other wrapper was tucked in my wallet. It read the same as the last; Call Me.

The next time I actually called her. We spoke for a couple hours. Then it became a couple hours everyday. After two weeks of non-stop calling she revealed to me that she had a boyfriend. My gut reaction was to hang up, to walk away, to not be “that guy”. I figured thats what she wanted but then she asked if she could come see me. I was at my cabin that weekend so I gave her the address. Ever since that night we have spent every weekend here. Since that weekend I haven’t had to feel alone.

***

She turned in a circle in the grass, looking at the sky. A raindrop fell on her face and she turned to look at me. “Let’s go for a walk, to the spring.”  A smile broke out across her face. I came down the steps and she started walking before I reached her. There wasn’t a path through the bushes but because of our constant travels the branches bent with ease and understanding. It was a five minute walk to her favorite spot. The minutes were spent in silence more often than not, I would watch her ahead of me, darting in and out of bushes, occasionally freeing the shoe lace of her shoes from a thorn. Even when she would manage to get her whole leg snagged in the prickles of the blackberry leaves she wouldn’t ask for help,her eyes would gleam ferrel and she would shake her self loose and leave the picking of thorns until she was alone.

The spring was quiet aside from the light trickle of water rushing down the rock. The water flowed from the side of a rock hill, a stream emerged from a crack in the crevice three feet off he ground. Amanda pressed her face against the rock and let the water flow down her throat. I nudged her elbow. “Aren’t you going to get dysintary?”

She smiled and wiped her mouth with her sleeve, her skin turning red with reaction, “We’ve been over this.” She squatted down her knees peeking through the holes in her jeans, her fingers danced and closed on a leaf growing beneath the trickle of water after her fingers completed their ritual she plucked the sprout from the ground and popped it into her mouth.

I opened my eyes in false surprise. It always got her to laugh, she said I looked like Russell Crowe, and out of the all the movies she’d seen of him he never managed to look surprised. My eyebrows shot upwards.“Are you sure that’s safe.”

She uprooted another plant..”It’s watercress, it’s edible and even organic, made out of real organisms unlike those gas station sandwiches you brought us for lunch.”

“I’m not sure if I can trust your word for it.”

“I’m a lawyer, why would lie?”

“Why wouldn’t you lie?”

“It’s not a lie if you win the argument, go ahead challenge me.”

“Well, how do you know tha…”

“I object.”

I cocked my head at her and smiled but she was to busy laughing at her own joke to notice me.“Do you really think your that funny?”

“ Try to tell me I’m not.”

“I’m not falling for that again.”

She picked up another watercress leaf and put it in her mouth, she closed her eyes and she began to smile.

“Why do you like that stuff so much, does it really taste that good?”

“No, its bitter and has a terrible after taste.”

“Well, why, are you some sort of masochist?”

“I like it because it came from the ground this way, already to go, no preparation needed, no chemicals.”

“Ah so thats why you picked environmental law, go green.” I leant in to her expecting a laugh. But she tilted her head upwards, her brow concentrated into a furrow, she turned to me and spoke, “No, I like it because it is born with all that needs to complete its purpose. It may be bitter but thats the way its supposed to be, no need to change it, no need to evolve. Its perfect and it’s distasteful, pardon the pun, flavor is accepted as a trait as opposed to an imperfection. It’s really beautiful.”

“You know, you’re beautiful.” It felt corny as it left my mouth. Half her mouth smiled, ordinarily that would make someone look like a stroke victim but on her it looked like her left brain was keeping a secret from her right brain. She sat in silence. I broke it.“You really are beautiful though.”

She raised her eyebrows and looked at me, “You say it like I don’t know.”  She pulled a cigarette from the chest pocket on her coat, and I pulled out my lighter. I lit her up and we sat in silence for a while. At times the sun would peak through the tall trees and shine on the thick meadow grass that lay under the spring. The area we sat in was about the size of an apartment kitchen, with the same type of enclosed feeling. You felt enclosed but not trapped, there was no threat of confinement, after all it was completely voluntary. And its hard to feel anxious in room composed of various shades of natural greens with the occasional rich royal purple of the protected blackberry. I would lose all concept of time counting the shades of green and when Amanda was done looking up at the oak leaves we would make our way back to the cabin

We existed with each other until the evening. When the sun started to set, I dragged out the rusted fire pit from along the side of the cabin. I brought around the bags of bundled wood and placed them around the base. The patio chairs now positioned with their backs placed to the cabin and the one with cigarette burns to the left. I started the fire. I placed the lid over the top of the pit because I could feel the chill of potential rain in my bones. After a few cracks and pops of the wood she came out, in her wool jacket and throw blanket. She smiled at me. Something wasn’t right. She sat in her chair and looked at me, the smile I thought was permanent had drooped into a slight frown.

“What is it?”

“I think tonight is our last night together.”  She looked confused, her facial muscles twitched due to the unfamiliarity of the expression. I couldn’t think of much to say, so I said, “Oh?”

“I’m sorry. I just can’t do this anymore.”

“What brought that on? You seemed fine today and yesterday.”

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah. It does.”

“It’s not you, it’s me…” I watched her mouth tighten and her eyes squint. She exhaled and looked at me. I stared back until she realized that I wasn’t going to accept her lazy lack luster answer. She blew smoke out ahead of her, I wasn’t going to let her dismiss me, not if she was just going to leave me after tonight, so I looked at her and said,

“I figured, It’s always been about you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Don’t get defensive, it’s true, I agreed to it, and I’m ok with it, I just need an explanation this time.”

“I guess that’s fair.”

“So why?”

A few drops started falling, hitting the burning fire with a sizzle. Her eyes wet from her own tears, reflected the fire as she turned to meet my gaze, “I’ve been smothering my guilt for a long time, I just can’t do it to him anymore. I just can’t take it anymore. I’ve been hiding it for so long it’s starting to burn when I breathe.”

Then she started crying. In all the time we had spent together I had never seen her cry. The creature in front of me collapsed and I realized I didn’t know her. I had no idea what to do when tears streamed down her face, I had know idea how to comfort her, tell her what she needed to hear I didn’t even know what that meant. I didn’t even know she was this upset.

“I know your upset but can I ask you a question, one last question?”

She clamped her lips together, suppressing a whimper, and nodded.

“Why me?”

“I can trust you. You’re my friend. You care.”

“That makes sense.”

“I’m not that complicated.”

***

We sat in silence for the rest of the night. She was gone before I woke up in the morning. She has yet to call me like she has for the passed six months. I feel my loneliness creeping back like clouds billowing down a hill.

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