the short story project


Leah DeAloia




                        The sneeze catapulted her forward, causing her to miss a step and lose her grip on the soft cardboard box. Books tumbled out, `some bouncing backwards like Slinkys, or sliding down the boards that formed a barrier between the wooden steps and the concrete floor below.

The only thing that broke the books’ skittering descent were clumps of animal hair like the insulation she wished they could afford to install.

                        Jaws clinched, she held her breath against the next sneeze, hoisted the box and continued up the stairs and into the living room. She dropped her burden in front of the bookcase and, sneezing in a burst, backed up to stare at the man.

                        He lay slumbering in his La-Z-Boy, head crooked, lips parted, TV remote dangling from his hand, his breathing steady and heavy.

                        Her narrowed eyes studied him. How the fuck could he do that?

Sleep through the noise of her working, when at night, with all the doors and windows shut tight, if the kids across the street and two doors down were partying, he was up and angry.

On the phone telling the cops to do their job, or he was damn well going to do it for them, he said, because he couldn’t sleep with that racket going on.

Of course he couldn’t sleep, she said, he’d been sleeping all day.

                        No, it wasn’t about his sleeping through her noise—it was about his sleeping through all the work she was doing.

                        And so many of these were his books, damn it. Books she was schlepping up from the basement, finally returning them to their rightful place, after how many months?

Three years ago, she’d told him. They’d hauled stuff to the basement when they’d had the floors redone—at Christmastime, to get a better deal.

So here she was marshalling all his Stephen R. Donaldson fantasy novels into the “D” section of fiction. (She’d tried reading Donaldson once but kept falling asleep: too much description, not enough dialogue.)

She turned to some of her books—mostly hers—pulling older editions that might be worth something on eBay. On the coffee table, she set aside a 1987 paperback of Atwood’s Surfacing and a 50s hardback of Salinger’s Nine Stories. If she kept going, she might raise enough cash to insulate the attic this year.

Trying to find additional information for a hardcover edition of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, she came upon an inscription written in awkward fountain-pen strokes.

Happy Monday. Love, David, it read.

She glanced back at the man sleeping in the chair, her husband for more than thirty years, then turned once again to the book in her hands.

She hadn’t thought about Dave Joyce in a long time, but she had never stopped loving him. It was her secret.

All these years, she’d remembered Dave as having so much less love for her than she for him. And now this. This book with its Happy Monday inscription.

Of course, love wasn’t measured in things. She knew that.

But the second winter they’d been together in graduate school in Ann Arbor, she’d ordered a leather vest for him. A gesture costing her more than money, a gesture meaning more than a thing. While the vest was being made, she’d asked the tailor to fashion a miniature version to put in a small box, so she’d have something to give her lover, before they each returned to their respective homes for winter break.

When he opened the box, Dave had looked surprised and embarrassed. He didn’t know what to say, he said.

Not a thing, she thought. Please, Dave, don’t say a damn thing.

Before they left, he’d insisted on taking her shopping, having her choose a down-filled coat. The entire experience had been so uncomfortable, such a heartbreaking way to begin a holiday.

She stood staring at the book in her hands, until startled by a loud snort.

She set aside the Stevens book carefully and began arranging her husband’s Anne Rice stuff, the vampire and mummy series, of course, but also the author’s erotica and later books on Christ. (Except for the erotica, which didn’t interest her, she liked Rice, good at dialogue and at making description work for its keep.)

She glanced down at the table beside his chair, where the latest Rice novel—the one she’d bought for his birthday months ago—lay unopened, its jacket marked by a coffee ring. He used to be a reader.

He used to be a lot of things, she thought.

And now here was this collection of sublime and subtle poetry, inscribed with its romantic sentiment, Happy Monday. Love, David, 1975.

1975? But that couldn’t be right. Could it?

She picked up the Stevens book again and dropped into her chair, next to her husband’s recliner.

No. That wasn’t right at all. In 1975, she’d been living in Oxford, not in Ann Arbor. And the David who wrote those words—David Bloch—was not the Dave she’d been in love with, in 1981.

The David who wrote those words had been, not her lover, but her friend. Whose friends had warned him that she, the shiksa, was just using him.

Using him for what, she had asked. He didn’t know, David had told her. Then why tell her in the first place, she had said.

Afterwards, that David had continued to give her gifts she continued to return. No strings, he had said. No more, she’d told him.

She looked over at her dozing husband. She knew he would wake only when his hand went slack enough to drop the remote and send it crashing to the floor.

She’d heard somewhere that Salvador Dali employed a similar technique purposely, to gain more time to create. But the Spanish painter was an artist and a genius, while…

She rose, shook the dust from her boots, tossed the book on her chair.

Make up. Do over. Make do.

She headed upstairs. To pack. How did that old song go? Well I’ve never been to Spain/But I kinda like the music…

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