The Long Morrow

What’s got you so furrowed?

I turn around.
No one’s there.

Behind the slide, Doctor.

There’s a woman on the swings.
She has dark-blonde hair, maybe
in her mid-thirties.
She looks terribly
familiar. She sees me
and smiles.

Sorry for staring, I mumble.
You look like someone I used to know.

She chuckles.

We’re going through this again?

Have we met? I’m sorry,
I don’t remember.

Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been
that long ago. Or do you still think
you dreamed me?

I notice she’s squirming,
like she’s been sitting
on the swing a long time.

I swallow.

If you think this is awkward,
you should have seen
my first class list, in ’69.

Oh my god.
I… I’m sorry. I—I’m…

Take your time.

I think
I need
to take a walk.
Will you be here
a while?

Sure thing.

When I look back, Jenna’s pumping
her legs to the sky.

I can’t believe you’re still here.

Well, I imagine we both want to talk.

A long minute passes.

Did you vomit?

Excuse me?

Did you vomit.

Oh… ah… no.

She winks. Good.

Did… you?

…I got through it.

You must have.
I mean, I never felt
out of place
in your class—is it weird
that this is so weird?
I mean, I’m still not sure
this is happening.

Now you’re not sure this is happening?

I face the old Junior High and sit down again.
Cup my forehead.

How did you end up teaching first grade art?
Weren’t you going to become
a rocket engineer?

Oh, Dream-Boy…

I think I blush.
You remember that?

What else could I call you?

I don’t know what to say,
so I look at my bedroom window.

Was it your dad?

She scoffs. It would’ve taken a lot
more than my Pop
to stop me doing that.

So?

Jenna swings a little. I wrote letters.
UW gave me a scholarship.

She stops swinging and sighs.
I studied astrophysics for a year.
It wasn’t as exciting as I thought.

Why not?

I didn’t mind the math. Actually
I was really good at it. But I wanted to learn
about the people
in the rockets.

I withdrew. Waited tables
and wrote three novels.
Got the second one published.

I knew you would.
What was it about?

She sighs again and looks at the house.

A starship with a woman first officer
and a mostly male crew, crash-
land on an asteroid a few light-years
from Earth. The captain tries to kill
himself, but just gets very sick.
She has to keep the men alive
for two years while they wait
to get rescued. In some ways she does,
in some ways….

I like it. Very… Heinlein. Sort of.

Thank you. Another year went by
and I just… knew that was it.
I was only writing late at night,
and I couldn’t keep a job,
I was always so tired.
Every story was a fight
to get published, and when the novel didn’t sell—
the first officer, Shaun, doesn’t have a lot of energy
for fucking any of the crewmen,
even the two she’s attracted to—
well, I looked at my priorities again.

Now she looks at the house.

I didn’t want to but I missed Wellesley.

I thought of all the girls with big dreams—
your friends, maybe.
She chuckles.
I thought about the best place
to make a difference.

I always knew
you would do it,
I say again.
I’ve always been proud of you.

She scoffs.

Really! Even when your dad
threw me out… I was so impressed
and proud I didn’t care. I didn’t even care
you manipulated me.
That was when I knew
I must have loved you. Because
I forgave you.

Jenna says nothing.

Suddenly my guts are on fire. Maybe
they’ve been hot this whole time. It starts to climb
under my ribs, through my sternum.
I don’t want Jenna to see it.

Are you okay?

I’m fine.

No, you’re not.

Well, if she’s going to push it…

Fuck! No, Jennifer! I’m not okay!

She stands up fast.
You don’t call me that.
No one but my Pop
calls me that, and that’s only
because I let him.
And you are far from my Pop.

Fine. I’m sorry.

But where the fuck did you go?!
After dinner, you were gone—
or I was gone.
I sigh. But I went back
again and again.

And you didn’t say hi?
She says it like she’s playing with a knife.

I did! I snuck up to the front door
and pretended to deliver a package once
and you said your parents weren’t home
and I should come back later.
I stared right into your eyes
and you looked at me like I was a creep.

I will not cry. I will not cry.

Wait… wait, hold on, I think I remember that.
She stares off, then smiles. Yeah, you were a total creeper!

Well, fat lot of good that does us now.

You’re right. Actually, let’s go fix it.
She steps toward the house.
I’ll tell me I’m me, and that I should fall
in love with you immediately. Oh, but I won’t believe
me so easily. We’ll have to bring something,
or tell me something only I would know.
Oh, I got it: Maybe that’s where I got the idea
to set you against my Pop!
So
, she burrows her eyes into mine.
What’s the best way in?

Sometimes, I say quietly,
the house was completely empty.

Jenna stands and laughs in my face.

What the hell did you expect, Dream Boy?
That I was going to camp
in the back yard, waiting for you?
I had a life. I had a life I didn’t have
much say in. We moved back to Norwood
in July of ’59.

Someone needed the house.

You couldn’t have found a way
to tell me? Left me a note or something?

Jenna sighs and stares down over my shoulder.
She takes a long, deep breath.
Good. She should.

I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how much seeing you,
even young-you, was going to affect me. Maybe
it’d be different if we both had 20 years
to think about it.

She looks through my eyes, over my shoulder.

…I should go.

She turns toward Magos Ave..

No! Just because you don’t want to own
your part in this doesn’t mean you can manipulate me
again. You’ve been waiting twenty years
to have this conversation, and that’s it?
It gets hard and you’re ready to bail?

She faces me again. She sighs again.

I did leave you something.

Oh, yeah. Well.

Another long silence.
I catch my breath and Jenna paces
in front of the swings.

I think I fell in love with those books
because of you.

It’s almost
like you preordained us.
Like you gave me just what I needed
to charm you.

I gave you a book I knew you’d love.

Neither of us say anything.
A blackbird chucks and flies over our heads.
She sits back in her swing.

I never realized that book
was your way of saying goodbye.

I will not cry.
I always thought of it as a hello.

So now you’re in your 30s
and I’m halfway through college.

I try to smirk at her.

Stay right here another 15 years
and I think we can make this work.

She holds up her left hand.

Oh… uhm… congratulations.
Did you keep…?

Yeah. Pop would’ve skinned me.
That name goes all the way back.

Why did this happen?

Why did what happen?

I mean, why did we happen?
Why did we even meet
if we were never supposed
to be together?

She sighs and looks at the slide.

It took me a long time
to forgive you, too, Dream-Boy.

Please… stop calling me that
if you don’t really mean it.

I… hm. Sorry, Walt—
Wally.

She sighs.
She sits next to me, and talks forward,
to the old Junior High.

Look. You can be mad at me for tricking
you—I forgave myself for it a long time ago.
I had to.
I wondered if I’d broken
some kind of code, some agreement
with the force that brought you.
Eventually, I had to accept that if that was all
it took to banish you, we’d never
have made it. So it was obvious:
you came to me
when I needed exactly you.

And then you were gone.

She catches my eye.

You don’t get to be angry
at me for leaving—unless
you intend to be mad
at yourself, too.
I hope you aren’t.

We were two
lonely teenagers,
and maybe
our house knew that,
fucking crazy as that is.

Maybe it could see we needed
each other… and our window
was small, but it gave you
to me, and me to you…
right when we were right
for each other.

It took me a long time
trying to find you
in more than a few lovers
before I realized
I was just grateful
for the magic.
You know how few people
experience real magic?
You take it, because it was given
to you, and you let it go
when it’s gone.
It’s like love
in that way.

I look her in the eye.
I can’t stop it. I start to cry.
I start to heave and heave
and fall apart
in my swing.

I know, she says.

I know.

Jenna Miller makes no move
to kiss me
when she leaves.

When she leans in
to hug me, I smell leaves
and sweat. Her crows feet
are medium-deep, like she’s lived
in her body. Like she’s lived somewhere else
a long time.

She walks past our house
to Magos Ave., climbs
in her car, starts the engine
and drives away.

I sit on her swing
a long time,
drifting.

Added: April 11, 2013 | Last changed: September 14, 2015