It’s 1975, and he’s sixteen. He feels the cold on his wrists and his ears; drifts of snow rise up behind him to the first floor windows of the high school. She’s across the street. It’s just the two of them, somehow. She’s hopping on one foot and he doesn’t understand why. Seeing him, she smiles, then waves him over, calling his name. He notices her pearl earrings. She’s lost her clog in the snow and he digs it out, taking his gloves off, his hands turning numb and red. A lavender wool sock covers her foot, with a hole beginning in the toe, and a cable running from her ankle to her knee. Still kneeling, he slips the clog onto her foot. She rests her mittened hands on his shoulders for balance, and now we know where we are. This is the beginning of a love story. Her braid falls in his face, and he smells lemon shampoo.
A year has flickered by. They enter the graveyard through the back entrance, off Gun Hill Road. This is where everyone goes to get high, to drink, to make out. They find a spot by the pond. He sits, with his back against one of the tall trees, and she curls up beside him. She’s brought their second grade class photo. She’s in the front row, sitting on the floor, smiling at the camera, her head cocked just a little to one side. Her red dress has a Peter Pan collar, and her bangs end just above her dark eyes. He’s in the back, off to the side, laughing, looking at the boy next to him. He had a crush on her even then; he tells her how nervous he was to hold her hand during square dance in gym. She says she still has the Valentine he gave her that year. He kisses her on the cheek and then she kisses him on the mouth.
The lilac trees are blooming in her front yard. She cuts off several branches and brings the heavy stems into the kitchen, plunging them into a vase of cold water, inhaling the familiar scent. She brings him to her messy bedroom in that old creaky house; her parents are gone for the afternoon, taking the T into Boston for the ballet or perhaps the opera. His laugh fills the room and makes her smile. The dark hair on his body covers more than she imagined. She releases her single thick braid, shaking her head, and he runs his hands through her hair, down to her waist now, teasing out the kinks. She closes her eyes. Later, her sheets smell of him until they don’t.
Laura Spence-Ash serves as Editor-at-Large for the Masters Review and writes a monthly blog series for Ploughshares titled “Fiction Responding to Fiction.” Her work has appeared in One Story, the Scofield, Lit Hub, and elsewhere. In 2016 she received her MFA in Fiction from Rutgers–Newark, where she was a Presidential Fellow and taught freshman composition. She is currently working on a collection of linked stories and a novel.