The Closest Thing to Heaven

This is the first short story I wrote, ever; it’s a memory about a little gal I met one afternoon in Hanover, NH. She was a sweet thing, the best ‘best friend’ one could ever have. Ten times smarter than myself, she could sit under a tree and fire off complete passages from Milton’s Paradise Lost, so of course she became a physician – after finishing law school. Stage 4 breast cancer. I found it, too, and she started writing poetry again. Saying goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My dad passed a few months later, then my second Springer; by that time I was a total wreck. Writing became my way back.

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The Closest Thing to Heaven

‘I remember most the way you walked, the soft swing of your hips, the confidence in your eyes. And your hair, too, so brown it was almost black – until the sun danced there, just so. Then, I don’t know, the reds and golds of autumn lived there for a moment, shielding your face as you walked along. I first saw you one October afternoon as you walked from the old red brick classroom building, the one by the library, through the trees to your dorm. That awful thing that looked like a fortress, to keep out the boys, I reckon. You remember your freshman year, when you were in your black phase? The old black cable knit sweater that hung down to your thighs, the dark olive corduroy skirt, the black tights. That sweater’s still in our closet, but I guess you know that. Why keep it all these years, unless? Did you know, did I ever tell you I fell in love with you that afternoon? I used to keep an eye out for you – for your legs, really – as we walked from class to class. I hoped I’d get to see you in the cafeteria or the library, and it was a bad day when I didn’t, darlin’.

‘I know I’ve told you this story a hundred times, but that day after psych class, you remember, when we’d gotten that silly assignment to interview other students about their reactions to pictures from magazine advertisements? I remember walking out of class behind you and asking you to wait up. I’d been looking at you – well, daydreaming about you – for an hour. I remember asking you if you wanted to work on the project together. I remember exactly how you said ‘yes,’ the feeling of elation. Then how we’d talked in the library for hours about the assignment, what kind of pictures we’d use, how to write the best questions – to draw out the most depth. I felt that we were coming together, not just for that assignment. I’d look down at your crossed legs as you were looking through magazines, at the fabric of those black tights, how it stretched over your knees, let your skin peek through. I felt so human when I looked at your skin, and I don’t know how to say this, but I felt my humanity for the very first time.

‘I’ve wondered ever since if you felt me looking at you. I’d wanted to be close to you, because – I knew you were the closest thing to heaven even then.

‘Do you remember our first date? That old white M-G convertible, the one with leaky top? I can still smell that pizza place in the village, where we talked so many nights away. I know you do to, but even so…sitting in that booth in the back where everyone had carved their initials on the walls? The hearts and the arrows, all of us shooting through time. I wonder if our hearts are still there, in the wood? God, how we laughed and licked frozen rims on icy mugs of root beer, then you leaned over and kissed me. I can still feel my face burning, turning as red as those tablecloths. I can still feel the butterflies in my stomach as we drove back to campus, how I tried to find a spot in the parking lot where no one would see us. When I turned out the lights and we just sat there for a minute, when we were not sure what to do but absolutely certain we knew what was going to happen, the anticipation – you remember, too? I thought my skin caught fire when you took my face in your hands. And as our faces were drawn together, the things that we said. Remember how steamed up the windows got, inside that little car? We must have kissed  for hours, but it wasn’t long enough. Never was…

‘I can still feel the knot in my stomach, the night I got that funky old room in that motel on the highway out of town. How you snuck in later, after I’d already gone in, and how both felt so tense, unsure of ourselves. Boy, we sure fooled the world, didn’t we? Funny, but I think we felt like kids pretending to be grown-ups, don’t you? What I remember most was when you sat on the edge of the bed and took off your sweater, how my lower lip startled to tremble when I saw your skin in the dim light of that room. The bra you wore, oh my God, how I wanted you. I watched you as your little skirt dropped to the floor, how you flipped your shoes off and left your tights on because the room was a little cold, isn’t that what you said? I remember how silly-shy I felt as you asked me to come and lie down next to you, how I wanted to crack a joke or say something to relieve the tension between us.

‘But I remember how you guided me that night. How you guided me into your embrace, guided my hand along your clothes. How I could rub you and feel the silky hair under the clean white cotton that covered your legs, and how you moaned when I discovered the contours of your passion. How very hot and wet everything became – so suddenly.

‘It felt strange leaning above you, my penis in your hand. Leaning into you, into your deep embrace. Feeling the warmth of your breath on my face as I got closer to you, as you got ready for me. I will never forget the feeling, when I first touched your moist folds, how the world opened up to me, how we so easily joined. I remember how it felt when your legs and feet first encircled me, pulling me closer, pulling me deeper into you. You know, it feels like that night happened the day before yesterday, but I guess eternity feels like that.

‘And oh, that first release. Oh, my love, how our hearts joined that night. It’s seems funny-sad to me that people these days, well, they must be different from us. I think we both knew that night – yes, right then and there – from that moment on we would always be together. I always felt that, after that night, we weren’t two people anymore.

‘Somehow we became one.

‘I guess that sounds silly, but there you go.

‘It seemed to me that for months I’d get sick if I wasn’t holding your hand – or at least talking to you on the telephone. Yeah, darlin’, I know it’s silly, but sometimes, when I was away for awhile all I could see when I closed my eyes was you – waiting for me. I’d get lost as I thought of your legs parting, feeling your breath on the side of my face. But it’s funny now, when I think back I really just wanted to lie beside you, look into your eyes. Yeah, I know it’s goofy. But it’s a simple truth, the truth that bound us together.

The old man seemed to draw into himself, as if a cool rain was falling and the air was closing in. He hadn’t talked to his wife about these memories in years.He looked at her, knew it had been too long, knew they’d both spent too much time chasing tomorrow. So much to lose, he sighed, when we forget to talk about the honest, easy love we have.

‘Remember, just before the wedding? How my brother slipped me a nip of whiskey from his flask – because I was so jumpy? How we danced that through the night, always so close? What I remember most is how excited we were when we got to the hotel, so excited we talked through night. Too jazzed for sex, until you saw the sun rise? Yeah, I know, it was all just little stuff, but they were our dreams, weren’t they?

‘You know, it’s funny and I know I never told you this before, but I think I remember the exact moment we made Elizabeth. You remember that night, don’t you? The wind was howling and trees were brushing against the side of that old house on Davis Street, rubbing against the windows? It was like the earth wanted to get inside with us, take a part in her creation. I guess we both wanted her so much she knew it, she must have heard us calling out to her all the way from heaven.

God, how you screamed as she came out of you, I thought you were going to break my hand into a million pieces, and there I was, camera in hand shooting away. It was either that or pass out. God, how strong you are. How much I loved you while I watched you fight through it all.

‘I remember you always wanted a boy. I know, darlin’, me too, but we were lucky that God didn’t call you home that night. I never wanted you to be sad, but we got through it all, didn’t we? It just makes Lizzie that much more special. And you’ve got to admit, we must have done something right. I don’t think there’s ever been a sweeter, prettier girl. Well, of course, not counting you, darlin’.

The old man stood beside his wife, holding her hand in his; there were tubes and leads attached to her, machines that had until just minutes ago connected her breathing life to his, to the life they shared. She lay in the sterile bed, silent now, and motionless. She still looked up at the old man with quiet, content eyes. Presently a woman dressed in green came into the room and began to disconnect lines and tubes from the woman, his wife, moving around the bed, attending to the realities of her passage. 

‘Well, darlin’. I want you to go and rest now. I know you didn’t want to go, that you didn’t want to leave us, but I’ve got to stay here a while longer, see that our little girl will be alright. Yeah, darlin’, don’t you worry, you go on – I’ll be along shortly.’

The old man held his wife’s hand in both of his. He bent down, with effort, to kiss her hand with all the love a lifetime could remember. A younger woman stood by his side, holding his arm in her hands, her tear-streaked face a mask of fear and despair.

“Daddy,” she said, “we can stay, as long as you want.” She was silent for a long time, looking down at this woman, her mother. She still cried, quietly, restrained, and then – as a memory came for her, openly, more freely. “Oh, Daddy! Did she believe in heaven?”

“Oh, Lizzie, I wouldn’t worry about that,” a father said to his daughter. “Your mother was the closest thing to heaven that ever lived. I reckon if she doesn’t go to heaven, well then, heaven will just have to come to her.”

‘And wherever it is you’re off to, darlin’, don’t you worry. We’ll be together again.

©2005-2016 Adrian Leverkühn | abw

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