Secrets and Thump-a-Dumps (short story 3600 words)

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The night turns the colors of the little village muddy. The stars sparkle above, but the houses all look the same, the yellow and red bricks turn grey in the night, even the colorful playground turns dark when the moon is up. The clouds by the horizon give the town a look of quiet apocalypse, though nothing quite so dreadful is about to happen in this small  town, I can promise you that.

There is a woman sitting in one of the swings on the playground, looking over the village. The slope the playground is on is backed up by a little hurst on the top of the bank. The pines hide a small grove on the other side of the hill and in the grove lies a secret buried.

The woman is the only one to know about this particular secret, but her mind isn’t on the grove, nor is it on what is buried there. Her attention is instead focused on one of the houses in the village. In particular it is focused on one of the residents of a particular house. His name is Billy, William Rosewood Jr., to be more exact, and at this moment he is sitting on the side of his bed in his underwear looking at pictures of scarcely clad women on his phone.
Needless to say he has no idea that we are spying on him. So in the spirit of privacy lets back up a bit while he’s preoccupied.

Previously during that same evening, while there was still light in almost every window of the little village the two met, the woman – who we shall call Rosemary – and our boy Billy – who is no longer a boy – they met in the park gazebo by the duck pond. This was a chance meeting. Billy was attempting to escape the ruckus created by his wives bookclub. They were supposed to be discussing a book by Margaret Atwood, but incidentally didn’t seem to have quite finished discussing Fifty Shades Darker, which had been his wives pick a few months back and Billy found that the noise level in the house went up and above acceptable limits when the topic turned again to that particular book. So he headed outside, missing his old companion Rufus more than ever. Rufus had been a Labrador mix, but died when a car ran him over on the street outside the house in a previous month. Billy missed the dog immensely and hated that he couldn’t use it as an excuse to wander the village at night. He really missed his nightly strolls but when it was time for his wives bookclub she didn’t mind if he ventured outside, having him out of the house while the girls were there was a bit freeing even.

So Billy had wandered to the park by himself and ended up climbing the two steps of the pink gazebo. Of course it looked grey at this time a day, but that didn’t matter to him.
Rosemary was already sitting on the bench in the gazebo when Billy arrived. She had been crying, her eyes were bloodshot and her cheeks were wet with tears. Billy didn’t notice this though. In his defense it was dark and Rosemary sounded exceptionally chipper when she saw him coming.
It wasn’t pretence. Rosemary was really happy to see that it was Billy walking up the park path and not someone else entirely.

Billy was happy to see her too, happier than he realized. And he sat down on the bench beside her, greeted her with a smile and together they watched the moonlight reflect in the Duckpond for a while. It was a tranquil moment. Billy’s mind was mostly not there though, but on the fact that he had found a strange sock underneath his bed. It was a white sports sock and he knew very well that he didn’t own a pair of such socks. He always used black ones.
When he had, before the girls arrived, asked his wife about the sock she had quickly taken it away from him, claiming that it was hers.
He knew quite well that his wife wouldn’t be seen dead in such a sock, not in the gym, not in the privacy of her own home even. So our boy Billy – who was no boy – was quietly suspicious. Though he was less upset than you’d think. His dogs passing had been more of a shock to him.

Rosemary was a different matter. Her mind was on the man next to her. Her heart was beating quicker than it normally would, the thump-a-dump echoing in her mind like a slow song at a dance.

The reason Rosemary had been crying before he got there was complicated. Rosemary was not a happy woman. It wasn’t because she disliked her job, she was actually quite happy surrounded by the children at the daycare center where she works. Those were her happiest moments. And it wasn’t because Rosemary was particularly unhappy being single, she liked being free to decide that the carpet in the living room should be the tacky rose-covered square it was. She recognized it’s tackiness but she liked it nonetheless and there was no-one there to tell her that she couldn’t keep it right where it was. No, she liked being single, there was freedom in that, she could do what she wanted when she wanted it.

No, she wasn’t unhappy with her situation in life, not particularly, there were however two things that made her sad. One was the fact that she was hopelessly in love with a married man, feelings she couldn’t seem to shake no matter how much time passed. And the other reason was in regard to the secret that is buried in the grove in the small woods on the hill behind the playground where she often brings her children from the daycare center.

So Rosemary was enjoying this moment especially and Billy was quite unaware of this, as men sometimes are. He wasn’t unaware of this because he was particularly unobservant, but because the notion of this particular woman liking him was just too far fetched.

Rosemary and Billy tended the same high school, you see, once upon a time and Rosemary was a year older than Billy. She still is. And she was one of the pretty girls who guys like Billy never had a chance with and back then he was quite right about that, but times change  and people with it.

Rosemary quickly dried her cheeks on the back of her hand when she noticed Billy coming and she pretended to be snotty from a cold she said she was recuperating from. This was a blatant lie, she had an elephant of an immune system thanks to having worked at a daycare center for so long. But Billy just nodded accepting the lie without thinking about it twice, because why would a woman like Rosemary be sitting on a bench in a park gazebo crying on a Thursday night?

They sat there for a while talking about nothing in particular. It happened from time to time that they met, at least it had happened back when he still had the dog and went out on his walkabouts to make sure the dog got some exercise and what Billy realized that evening, sitting in the gazebo with Rosemary was that he missed these moments and he became all the more determined to convince his wife that they needed to get another dog.
His wife was dead set against it however.

Now lets go back to Billy where he is lying in his bed and without intruding too much on his privacy let me tell you that the climax of the evening surprised him somewhat as his mind didn’t play up images of the scarcely clad women he had been viewing but images of someone else entirely.

His wife was still in the living room, the group had gone home, but one of her friends had stayed behind and they were whispering their little secrets, of which they had plenty to share – both of them.

So as Billy was falling asleep his mind drifted towards Rosemary who had left the swings on the playground and gone home to brush her teeth and do the other tedious tasks you always do before you climb into bed. Rosemary was in blissful agony as she changed into her pyjamas, a T-Shirt with a cat on it, and lay in her huge, empty bed to sleep. She couldn’t stop thinking about a little incident that had happened in the gazebo.

His little finger had touched her little finger as they sat there. And as their fingers touched she was sure he would pull his hand quickly, interrupt the process perhaps with an apology, but he didn’t. He just let his little finger touch hers softly, for a little while, before he excused himself saying he needed to get up early.

Rosemary sighed heavily as she lay in bed thinking about it. This was a sick form of torture she put herself through, she knew that, but she wasn’t ready to let it go – or incapable of doing so. I guess we should prefer the latter. So while Rosemary was thinking of Billy’s little finger, Billy lay in bed happily bewildered at his own secret thoughts of Rosemary.

It rained heavily the following evening and so Rosemary sat by her kitchen window, listening to a podcast, doing a puzzle – dreamily gazing at the darkness outside her window from time to time. She is a dreamer, our Rosemary.

Billy was having a harder time of it. His wife had refused even to discuss the issue with a new dog, telling him that she wasn’t cleaning up after another filthy beast. This was a low blow as Billy wasn’t a particularly messy man, nor had his dog been messier than other dogs. Billy was however not in the habit of picking up after himself particularly. It wasn’t because he was lazy or particularly messy, but because his wife always got there before him. She had explained to him that her threshold for tolerating mess was a lot lower than his, and he guessed it was a correct assessment but he couldn’t do much about that – he felt.

He didn’t mean to bring up the issue with the sock. It just happened, as things do sometimes.

The sock was the mailman’s and let me give you the backstory before you start frowning at the cliché of the wife having an affair with the mailman. While that was true, theoretically, Omar was a lot more than just the mailman. Omar had been the captain of the little village football team and the most popular guy in school, most likely too succeed and so on. He hadn’t succeeded particularly well in his career though he loved doing what he did, and the women still seemed to like him, so he frequented more than just Billy’s wives bed and though they all knew what he was like they all kept inviting him in.
It was a relatively safe adventure for the women, who would all frown upon being called lonesome housewives. They felt they could have this adventure though and Omar was gifted when it came to pleasing his hostesses, a gift his own wife rarely received.

Billy’s wife wasn’t a lonesome housewife. She ran her own grocery store. And she realized that Omar probably wasn’t head over heels in love with her as he claimed to be, though the fact was he did love them all. She knew that he said that to all the women, she’d heard it first hand from a friend.

No, she let Omar into her house and into her bed for two reasons, because she quite enjoyed it and it fulfilled her feelings of anger and spite towards her own husband, our boy Billy – who was no longer a boy, obviously.

Now before you start judging Billy’s wife too harshly let me tell you that she had reasons to be angry at Billy. She had reasons to be spiteful. He did things and years of quiet neglect and feeling like you are not connected will do strange things to you, years of trying to hone in on what will get him to change his mind regarding children or the damned dog will do this to you. She had her reasons, Billy’s wife, and she had spent a long time trying to communicate those feelings, but Billy had never heard her particularly well.
That too is something that comes with time, people stop hearing the frequency the partner is broadcasting on. It takes real work to keep the frequency open and unfortunately Billy had been a bit blind to this.

So when he confronted his wife with the sock again she exploded, angrily confessed all her secret and claimed it had been especially enjoyable knowing that she would, one day, get to see Billy’s face as she confessed this particular thing to him. That moment was her moment of triumph.
And though Billy reacted exactly like she expected him to, with outrage and dismay the moment left her a bit empty, because while he did seem outraged and dismayed, he didn’t seem particularly heartbroken.
He did however rush out into the rain without a jacket, leaving her there with the sock in her hand wondering what would happen now.

Billy roamed the streets of the village for a while. The rain pouring down, though he didn’t particularly care or even notice. He found himself walking up to the playground on the hill and he even sat on the swing Rosemary had been sitting in as we met her. He sat there still at first but then he began swinging back and forth, slowly and then all the more frantically until in his bewilderment he jumped. It wasn’t a particularly graceful jump, in fact I would go so far as to call it ungraceful and clumsy and still he regretted that nobody was there to see it. In the fall he hit his knee on a stone and hurt himself in the process. Not particularly badly, but enough to make a hole in his jeans and scrape his knee so he bled.

The pain from the scraped knee seemed to calm him down somewhat and he went back to the house, to his wife, packed a bag and told her he would be back later for the rest of his things. He even kissed her on the cheek goodbye and bit her forgiveness. That was a bewilderingly sober moment for our Boy Billy – who apparently had grown into quite a man.

Now he didn’t really know where to go with his bag in the rain and though he did think of going to Rosemary, he didn’t. Instead he knocked on the door of his lifelong friend, who was happy in his relationship with his wife and whose wife was happy with him and he got to crash in their kids bed as the kid was away in a boarding school and wasn’t using his bed at the moment.

Billy didn’t cry that evening. Instead he felt relieved, it was as if the rain and the harsh words exchanged had clenched him. Not relieving him of all guilt, because he was guilty of a lot of things, but when the water has long since run under the bridge and is already out at sea what can you do?

So the confrontation with a sock turned into a divorce. It wasn’t particularly ugly, nor was it specially amicable. Our boy Billy – grown man Billy – rented a small apartment in the basement of a friends house and got himself a cat. He named the cat End of the Road, Road for short. He loved that cat.

Now this might seem like a transformation in personality, but it wasn’t, not really. While he still wanted a dog, he realized that living in a small space alone wasn’t quite the best situation to keep a dog in. He threw himself into work and felt he didn’t have the time for a dog, while The End of the Road didn’t need as much attention and was perfectly happy cuddling with him in the evenings when he got home late.

Now, three months went by. Rosemary was particularly unhappy those months and though the village she lived in was small people somehow instinctively avoided telling her that Billy had left his wife. They also did not mention that Omar, uncharacteristically, left his wife and moved in with Billy’s ex. Whether it was because she started to believe his lies, or because they were never lies in the first place, we’ll leave unsaid. What I will tell you is that they were both happier afterwards, both Omar and Billy’s wife (not to mention Omar’s wife who bloomed being single). And at least for a time they were exceptionally happy even though he never actually stopped making the rounds in the little village. The road to people’s happiness is unpredictable.

On the evening, exactly three months after Rosemary sat in the swing staring over the village she sat there once more. Her eyes weren’t bloodshot, not this time, but her mood reflected the cloudy weather nonetheless. The village looked drab, all the color had leaked out of it with the rain and the only spectacular thing in sight was the occasional glimpse of the stars through said clouds.
Rosemary had still not heard the news of our boy Billy – the man who was now a proud owner of a white kitten with a strange name. He had also just been promoted. He found his recent luck ironic.

Rosemary sat in that swing, still staring at the house were she thought he resided. Pining, that’s what she did, while the residents of said house were doing something they’d surely not want us to witness, Rosemary pined. I know no other word for it.

Suddenly, and I guess we’ll never know exactly what prompted Rosemary to do this, she got up and started walking towards the park. She walked until she was at the gazebo with the view over the duckpond.
And there he was – our man Billy – sitting on the bench in the gazebo that looked as drab as anything else in the town at this time of night and he was feeding the ducks from a small bag of birdseeds.

Rosemary was a bit startled to see him there. She hadn’t seen him in three months and wasn’t expecting him there, though I’m sure you’d like to think otherwise. It made her cheerful though, and she walked up the steps and sat down beside him, greeting him rather bashfully.

And when she asked him how he was doing, Billy confessed all the latest news to her, baffled by the fact that she hadn’t already heard the news by the water cooler. And when he was finished talking candidly about how he felt about the divorce and what had prompted it, receiving the right amount of “Oh, I’m sorry’s,” and “Oh, I’m so sorry’s” they were silent for a while.

Rosemary’s heart was doing that thing again, that thump-a-dump dance that usually kept her tongue tied, but there was an extra step in it this time, – a little tap step that hadn’t been there before. A thump-a-dee-dump, if you will. And while she wasn’t feeling particularly brave she still put her little fingers over his little finger in a gesture so plain that even our bewildered boy Billy would have noticed. Our man Billy certainly did and while he was surprised, even taken a back a bit, he didn’t move his finger, but moved it slowly upwards stroking hers in the most subtle, the most gentle gesture of his entire life.

I’d tell you that they fell into it there and then, that it was happily ever after from there on, but that would be a lie. The fact is it took them over six months to fall into anything, but love – that was there already, though it had taken Billy a little while to realize just what it was more exactly that he missed about those late night walks with the dog, beside the dog – obviously.

No, it took them a long time but Rosemary stopped moping. She even threw the rose red carpet in the garage when Billy was meant to visit. Can you imagine her glee when he saw the carpet in the garage when he was fetching a bottle of wine and got back into the house and commented on the carpet and asked her why it just lay out there in the garage? Can you?

It was true love. I can assure you of that. But that doesn’t mean it was easy. It was sometimes hard, sometimes even excruciating and though Billy had learned something about negligence from his first marriage he still had a lot to learn. Rosemary had as well, obviously, she had never been in a relationship like this before and her expectations were perhaps a bit steep, to put it mildly, but she forgave him his faults and found it easy to confess hers and it made things easier.

And her secret in the grove? Well, I won’t betray her trust. It still lies there, buried and may eventually cause the End of the World but she did tell her man Billy about it and it became less of a burden to bare, because now she had someone to share it with and a future to look forward to.

And when they finally did fall into it, and fell into marriage, with The End of The Road and a dog named Puck and later children – it was good. And they did live happily ever after…
… more or less, I promise.

© 2016 Eygló

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