2011 fall fiction keepingherselftoherself

by Anna Peerbolt

Grace had thought about living alone for years. No one, other than herself, to fit in with. She needed to wrap herself in silence, lie without moving, stare until she saw nothing. If she could be alone, even for a while, it would help. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him. It was simply that love didn’t solve everything.

That long ago spring they’d met—excuse me, is this yours? he’d asked, holding out the notebook—his grey eyes seeking her smile. How warm he was, how incredibly gentle and considerate—should I do this? He’d asked that first night. Is this right? He continued to ask, year after year. How do you want your tea? Should we go biking? Would you like a blanket? Tell me, tell me.

Her throat felt ripped raw with answers. Yes, No, Maybe, I don’t know.

She rented a summer cottage created from a one-car garage. It squatted in the marsh grass next to a green-algae-slicked pond and baked under the August sun. She rose each day before dawn and crafted a note to put his mind at ease, then took her coffee outside, leaving footprints in the night dew. When the sun flamed above the stunted pines, the children down the lane whooped and screamed on the way to the beach. In the late afternoon, they trudged home sand-flea bitten and red backed from making castles meant to be invaded by the sea. Grace sometimes took her big towel and folding chair to the beach, but not for long. Too many people talking on cell phones, playing catch, flying kites. Too many dogs unleashed expecting that she would pet and appreciate.

She preferred to stay on the cottage’s tiny porch and listen to the red-winged blackbirds whistle in the waving cattails. She let her breath move in and out over her lip, felt her thighs relax, toes splay. The summer heat thrust deep into the tissue where she had buried herself beyond his questions. On sleepless nights, when the stars clustered bright in the black sky, she thought of permanent escape, and knew there was no such thing.

In September, the summer families piled into their cars, sulky children in the back with the still wet dog, going back to jobs and school that, by now, they missed. Grace stood by the window watching them go and rejoiced. For a month she roamed the empty beach and silent sandy roads. She collected seashells. She found a child’s necklace of red and green wooded beads on the path to the beach, and a little further on, an empty blue jar. Treasures like these accumulated on a windowsill.

Then, overnight, frost stiffened the dying grasses and brown-edged the leaves on the stunted oak at the end of the drive. The owner of the cottage said it must soon be shuttered and secured for coming winter.

Grace returned to the city where he welcomed her home with hugs and kisses. Such a long time without you, he said. You have had what you wanted? You won’t do it again? You will stay here with me and be my love.

About the Author

Anna Peerbolt's stories can be found in Drunken Boat, Long Story Short, Prick of the Spindle, Apollo's Lyre, The Legendary, DOGZPLOT, and elsewhere online. She lives in Oregon with her husband, a large geriatric white dog and a three-month-old puppy. After numerous years as a journalist chasing stories, she now commutes via the stairs to a home office and spends her lunch break creating stories.

Maintained or neglected, familiar or foreign, well-worn or wild, roadways inform our decisions and identities. Their geographies direct the movement
of our lives and sketch the cartography of our stories. In this spirit, 322 Review publishes provocative emerging and established artists whose fiction,
creative nonfiction, poetry, and mixed media artwork wander the paths of human experience. A nonprofit literary journal conceived
and operated by former Rowan University graduate students, 322 Review is based in Southern New Jersey.