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Forever Gray

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A dark tale of love lost by Richard Lutman

Margo shivered with a chill of uncertainty. How hard would it be to end her relationship with Will? Sea Meadows the ramshackle, cedar-shingled house loomed before her. She opened the broken white gate and stopped for a moment on the slate walk overgrown with thick grass. A worn black backpack hung from her shoulder. In her right hand she held a patched butterfly net.

The windows of the house were mirrors that eerily reflected the fog. The patches of honeysuckle that grew over the porch lattice reminded her of old men with beards. Sea gulls cried in the distance. Behind the house the remains of a formal garden was overgrown with wild beach roses and weeds. In its center was a fountain in the shape of Pegasus. Its broken wings lay in the empty marble pool.

It had been ten years since Will had inherited his grandfather’s estate and three years ago when Margo first met him. His disheveled artist look had been part of his charm. He never seemed to do much about maintaining the house and grounds because he was always doing something else. At one time he’d been in his grandfather’s Asian exporting business. Tiring of the routine he tried editing his grandfather’s journals, a task he did between bottles of his grandfather’s vintage wine and long lunches, some of which he had shared with Margo. He even tried selling real estate and dabbling in the stock market. What he was doing now she was never sure of.

They’d met when they both lived in New York City. On their first night together he’d taken her to a reception for a painter friend of his in the Village. It was October and the evening had been unusually warm. The guests were divided between wine drinkers in the library and the noisy beer drinkers on the roof patio. He’d drunk more wine than he should have and stumbled on the rug, splashing wine onto his shirt. Then he sipped the remaining wine from his glass with a mock flourish. She laughed and daubed his face with a napkin, thinking she might be in love with him.

“There’s been an accident,” he said as he came down the front steps of Sea Meadows to meet her. He hadn’t shaved. His trousers and shirt were wrinkled, but clean. Binoculars hung from his neck. “A boat hit some rocks last night in the fog and sunk. I’ve been looking for bodies. ”

“Bodies-“ She turned her head away.

“Sometimes they come ashore if the wind and tide are right. ”

The spruce trees surrounding the house moaned in the rising wind.

“What’s the net for?” He fixed his gaze on her face.

“I volunteered for a children’s project,” she said with tight lips. “An exhibition, I catch the bugs, they identify them and make the labels. I want to do it right. ”

“That’s just like you, isn’t it?” he said with a sardonic tone to his voice.

“At least I finish what I start,” she said with a touch of anger. “Look at this place. Are you ever going to fix it up?”

He narrowed his eyes and his face purpled with anger.

“There’s not a whole lot of money left. You know that. My grandfather wasn’t the best businessman. It runs in the family. I remember him stumbling down the narrow third floor stairs, drunk, reeking of tobacco and singing: ‘Gunga Din, Gunga Din always drinking the finest gin. You crazy old fucking bastard Gunga Din. ’

“He gave me a yellow sour-ball that made my eyes water. Then told me to be a man because men should never cry. ”

She slid the backpack from her shoulders and dropped the net onto the grass, then sat on the stairs.

“The clouds are coming, it’s going to rain,” she said.

A pearl of sweat began its course under her chin.

“Eleven bugs?” he said.

“Yes. ”

He turned the binoculars toward a patch of flowers by the side of the house.

“By the Tiger lilies—a dragonfly. ”

The iridescent flash of the green dragonfly hesitated in the salt-spiked air. She rose, kicked off her sandals, grabbed the net and ran after it with easy strides. The net crackled as the dragonfly charged against the webbing and thrashed its tail.

“Get the killing jar from my back pack. Hurry. ”

He pulled the jar from her knapsack and unscrewed the cap. The jar’s poison irritated his eyes and he coughed. Margo delicately eased the dragonfly into the jar. It pitched about, then fell over. The green eyes were like miniature wet marbles.

She turned and ran toward the ocean. Below the rocky cliffs the gun-metal gray waves rose in the increasing wind and fog.

“It’s dead now,” he said not knowing if she heard him as he approached her. “It’s dead. ”

The air smelled of seaweed, marsh grass and spray. He stood next to her on the cliff’s edge.

“I’m thirsty,” she said.

“How about some wine?”

“It’s too early to drink wine,” she said. “I had a lot last night. ”

“Where was that?” he said.

“Where I was. You wouldn’t have known them. ”

“How do you know?” He clenched his jaw.

A flock of birds scattered through the sky, separated, then joined again in the next tilt.

“How about some ice cream with champagne?” he said trying to hide his irritation. “It’s better than wine. And good for the day after. I’ve grown quite fond of the sherbets you recommended. ”

She followed him inside. A wasp hovered in the corner, then bounced off a window at her. She pulled away sharply and swatted at it.

“I hate wasps,” she said. “I got badly stung once. ”

“It’s a bug, isn’t it?”

“Even dead it can still sting,” she said. “I wouldn’t want any of the children to get stung—“

“Champagne with orange sherbet. Just the way you like. I think there’s still a bottle or two around. ”
Faded plywood boards were stacked in the large dining room off the kitchen. The table was covered in a dusty sheet.

“This is almost like the first time you were here,” he said.

A gust of wind blew the rain at the house.

“Always the rain and fog,” she said.

She pulled away as he kissed her cheek.

The rain-light softened her face and for an instant she was part of the white curtains and the storm. Her lips were tightly together.

The wind started again and the house shuddered. She flung the front door open. A great avalanche of sound collapsed about her. She breathed deeply, the cool wet air misting her breath.

She came back from the door and sat next to him. Branches nudged the windows. When the wind blew, the room shimmered with rain light.

“The rain seems to be ending,” he said, searching her face.

“I want to go outside again,” she said.

“There won’t be any bugs around. It’s too wet. ”

Moments later he held her hand as they descended the narrow rocky path to the beach. The waves swept their footprints away as if nothing had ever been there.

“It’s funny, isn’t it?” she said. “How I used to sit at the window of your bedroom and watch the shifting of the clouds over the sea. It was so different from anything I’d seen before. Behind me your voice whispering things I couldn’t understand. ”

A gull skimmed the water ahead of the approaching fog. Further down the beach a fisherman pulled a fish from the water. It thrashed about, kicking up little spouts of sand. He grabbed a piece of drift wood and beat the fish to death with three sharp blows to its head.

The black body of the fish lay still, round eyes swelling from its fat head. The man nodded at them as they passed.

A wave caught, then broke surging toward them and retreated as if wanting to draw them back with it. Curlews bobbing in the marsh grass cried out. The sound of church bells came and went across the water.

The fisherman’s rod bent double into the waves. He braced himself and began to reel in the line. A body emerged. The fisherman dropped his rod and stumbled into the waves. The body rolled against him. The wind rose and the waves drummed ashore like a great beast stamping.

“Oh, God,” she said and clung to him. “Oh, God. ” Tears poured down her cheeks.

A fishing boat from the harbor fought its way across the chop, black bow shooting up and over the water, gulls trailing out behind like a funeral train.

She moved away and stood looking at him.

“I don’t think I love you anymore. ”

The fog enclosed him. She wondered if at any minute he might dissolve into the rain and fog and be swept off into the gray forever.

***

Richard Lutman has a MFA in Writing from Vermont College and is listed in the Directory of Poets and Writers. He has taught composition, writing and literature courses at Rhode Island Community College, The Learning Connection in Providence, Rhode Island, Fairfield University, and short story classes as part of Coastal Carolina’s University’s Lifelong Learning Ptogram.

​He has won awards for his short stories, nonfiction, and screenplays. He was a 2008 Push Cart nominee in fiction. His novella “Iron Butterfly was shortlisted in the 2012 Santa Fe Writers Project competition. His first novel was published in 2016. A collection of his short stories is due out in 2018.

​He has also been involved in several butterfly biodiversity projects in Hong Kong and mainland China where he worked with high school and university students.
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