Pure Slush

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Last Four Songs

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A Hard Learning  >

by Gay Degani


Gay Degani was first published by Pure Slush online in August 2011. Since then, she has also contributed to the print anthologies gorge Pure Slush Vol. 4 (December 2012) and Catherine refracted Pure Slush Vol. 8 (June 2013). Gay also participated in 2014 A Year in Stories, and her story cycle from the project, The Old Road, will be published by Pure Slush Books later in 2015.



Morning light bends through leaded glass. Patterns form and reform on sky-colored walls. Frances wakes. She’s dreamt of dew under bare feet, that boy with his hand on her waist: his warmth, her warmth. She breathes remembered air, crisp and meadow sweet. Rolls to her side, wraps herself in the softness of her comforter. Curls up her legs and shivers. He’ll come for her again today. He’s promised a maze of lacy oaks, a stroll down speckled paths, the sound of rustling grass. Around her now, beads of light dip and dart. Wind-chimes on the porch below beckon.



That boy. Frances moved on – she had to – but sometimes when dawn sharpens dark edges, she remembers how his fingers burned her skin. Like this morning when her daughter banged into the house and threw her purse across the family room, hitting the bookcase, knocking the Waterford vase to the floor. Crystal shards scattered across the hard wood, settled into the carpet. When her daughter shrieked, “I’m pregnant,” Frances slapped her hard across the face, almost knocking her down. She should’ve remembered then, about that heat. That boy. Killed on his motorcycle when a truck ran a red light so many years ago.



Her husband spends time in the garden, earphones plugged in, a rake or a hose gripped in one fist, a can of Fresca in the other. He’s out there most afternoons when Frances comes home from school, essays to grade tucked under her arm. He’s here now, shooting water onto a rose bush, not hearing the car door slam. Frances slips into the shadow and chill of the kitchen, shrugs off her coat and tumbles her work onto the table. She flicks on the light. On the refrigerator is a picture of her granddaughter in cap and gown. She sighs and turns away to dial her iPod to Richard Strauss, pour vodka into a half-empty Fresca can, and trudge upstairs to bed.



Under California’s winter sun, Jerry’s rosebushes burst with bloom, “Black Magic,” “Secret,” “Golden Celebration.” Frances, still in her robe though it’s near sunset, bends to sniff a “French Perfume.” She closes her eyes and imagines him behind her, arms wrapped around her, his warm mouth in her hair. How he loved his garden, how he loved her. That boy – so long gone – lingers, but it is Jerry she remembers. Strong, sweet, quiet Jerry. Gone too. Soon the yardman will come to prune and leave her with a garden of sticks, but for now, in this moment, she is content.  


published 7 February 2015