Cooper left the tiny cabin on the ridge and went out for a walk. He tucked Mari’s postcard into his coat pocket, deciding. Crossing a quiet black river, looking over his shoulder, he saw the ridge of hills with pelts of blue spruce, birches, and jack pines. She’d offered to come for Christmas but was riddled with doubts.
The northern horizon was sherbet green. Cooper passed storm-shocked trees sprayed with snow as if from an aerosol can. A silver capped water tower came into view, hulking over a dozen overturned picnic tables. He walked on. The evening sun put an oily finish on the snow. He passed an orchard with plus sized transmission towers shaped like huge party dresses. The sky shook loose more snow.
Cooper shivered and fumbled inside his jacket. He plugged his mouth with the flask of whiskey, gulped twice, and saw the postcard fallen in the snow. She’s holding me away for study, he thought. He picked up the wet card with an ungloved hand, and saw that the writing had blurred past recognition, though he’d memorized what she’d said. You’d feel good in bed, like a hot tear of bread, buttered in my mouth.
Before he’d left the little house the weatherman had reported that local schools would be closed in the morning. Cooper imagined the table he’d set for Christmas Day: cheese, fruit, two tins of smoked oysters for her, a rope of French bread, chocolate bars, coffee steaming in a burnished silver pot. He’d pull her close, sigh into her hair. But Mari didn’t like it when he sighed. She’d quickly change the subject. Work, love, build a house, and die, someone had said, probably with a sigh. Mari disliked when he said that, too, and he didn’t rightly know why he said the things he did.
Two prisons had come into view, one for men, one for women, facing each other. Capped with tightly coiled concertina wire, razor sharp, the prisons squatted on the edge of the high desert, the arid land spreading out in all directions. An unhappy marriage can seem like that, Cooper thought. A slow asphyxiation. The hours of the night tick by like small punishments. You lie beside her in bed thinking the thoughts of broken people. You will never love less, you will never be consoled, but you will constantly remember more and more.
At Christmas, Cooper thought, it would be a comfort to anchor by the cliff of her flank. At Christmas: to hear her say, and to repeat, in unison, chanting, as at church, Good night, old ruined war.
Gary Percesepe is the author of eleven books, including Gaslight Opera (Poetry Box Press), and Moratorium: Collected Stories (Atmosphere Press, 2021). His work has recently appeared in The Sun, Greensboro Review, Maine Review, Westchester Review, and other places. He is a former assistant fiction editor at Antioch Review and an Associate Editor at New World Writing. Percesepe resides in White Plains, NY and teaches philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx.