This would be his fourth time around.
If she said ‘yes’, it would be.
Jerry was scared. He supposed that was the feeling in the pit of his stomach, the one that felt like acid and lava all shook up together and undergoing some crazy chemical reaction or something. He was doing what he always did, second guessing himself in his father’s voice – do you remember how it went for you last time? You’re not young and stupid anymore, don’t you think you should have learnt a lesson?
In his own voice, bouncing around his head: You take your lesson and you can go fuck yourself. He’d never really gotten along with his father. It was his father’s coldness that had left him growing up without a mother – and then without a stepmother, and then in such isolation…
I will be different. A ‘peace-in-our-time’ moment: because hadn’t he been different? Where his father had shied away from life and love, God knows, he’d embraced it. His father had been disciplined in the ways of flesh, well he’d been the very opposite, he’d indulged himself. He’d taught himself to fly, he’d taught himself to shine brightly, to dress as a butterfly, to saunter up bravely to these strange women and ask them their names and what they’d have to drink. Where his father would have taken baby steps – had he been willing to take any steps at all – Jerry plunged straight in at full gallop.
That’s how it’d been with Sonya. Met in a club, danced all night, fumbled their way home his place – which was closer than hers – and buried themselves in the heat of each other’s flesh. Within four months of that night he’d been down on his knee with the ring in his hands, insisting that he could love her forever. And if she’d been hesitant at first, well he’d bulldozed past all that nonsense: true love, true love, true love: that’s what it was all about.
Her pregnancy and her miscarriage had changed all that. Blinded by her pain she’d pushed him away. Jerry, ill-equipped, puzzled, could only watch her unravel – he didn’t know anything about knitting her together, and he didn’t know the words to say to make her stop and turn around
And then Tiffany. She’d been his waitress late one night in a chance-entered diner because he’d been drinking and needed to both eat and piss. They’d struck up a conversation. And then he’d just kept ordering chips to bring her back there to him. “Let’s get married, you and I, right now. No fuss, no follow-up, just you and me.” There wasn’t even a ring, and she was still in her uniform. He’d known in some part of his mind that this was insane – but he was a believer too – it was better to plunge in naked, unarmoured, than to live in the shadows, beneath a sad, iron shield, feeling nothing.
No regrets. She was his longest. Five years. And they’d been such happy times. She’d left him because she told him: “the fire’s gone, and I can’t stand to see us grow cold, can you? I can’t stand us fading away.” She made it sound so reasonable. She made it feel as if he agreed with the decision whole-heartedly.
And sweet Madeleine. His delicate flower. He’d found her in such a tangle of misery and self-hate. The girl who worked down the other end of the office. Her distress at her recent divorce was palpable, and she was vulnerable in other ways, having lived a rough childhood and having a tattered history of mental and physical illness behind her. Too him she seemed cold – not like his father had been, more like as shivery chick whose mother had abandoned it to the harsh winter. It aroused him, knowing he could be her warmth, knowing he could heal and help her, that he could be her shelter and her salvation.
Come in, I’ll give ya, shelter from the storm.
“I’m twice divorced,” he told her cheerfully, “don’t worry about it, it doesn’t say anything about you at all that you’ve got a failed marriage behind you. Except maybe that you’re unlucky. Life can go on. Look: I’ll show you.”
And showing her had turned into kissing her, had turned into slow dancing, and had led her into his bed. He’d found her skin soft and cool, and the touch of her hair silky against his shoulders. She was graceful and compliant. She burned with unfulfilled needs. A creature of empty spaces, and it delighted him through two years of marriage to fill them up.
But then, filled and fattened, she wasn’t the tragic figure he’d nurtured. She was stronger now, independent; she wanted to live life on her own terms. He understood, after the divorce, that he’d fought that all the way, that he’d been jealous and controlling because he knew in his heart that her love had been born of dependence, and that once she had wings, she would not be able to help but to spread them and fly with them.
Yes, maybe, maybe, he could have flown with her.
But he’d chosen to be the stone that hung from a rope around her feet.
He’d become for a little while his father.
But now Jade.
She was gorgeous. She was a few years younger, but it didn’t matter, there was a meeting of souls here. And yes, he knew there were risks, he knew he’d been burnt before, but warmth came from fire, not ice; he wasn’t built for a cold, empty world. He wasn’t built to be alone. That was why he walked now, roses in his hands, ring in a box in his pocket. His heart pounded as he approached the restaurant, but as he saw her, he felt it settle – a sensation like thick, warm, drunkenness. Jade, with her soft, citrus curls, with her green eyes, and the lights catching her in all the right ways. In a blue velvet dress, she had all the right curves; a white bead necklace twinkling against her collarbone.
She was better than anything he deserved. Jerry knew it, and he knew he’d never allow her to get away.
Taking a deep breath, he walked on through the door.
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work.