/t smith

The Fleeting and Eternal

Rebecca stands in the door as the rain falls along the concrete porch and the dust settles on the flower her sister left on the cherry end-table in the foyer, a flower forgotten not gifted, its petals starting to wilt and spot, a flower Rebecca refuses to acknowledge while she stands staring at the rain falling on her neatly-trimmed lawn and weathered oak tree and the cookie-cutter neighborhood houses outside her door,

houses like the one across the way where Mr. Frederick is holding an umbrella over his white, wrinkled head, dressed in a stained t-shirt and staring at the ground in the small alley between his house and his neighbors, the Sheltons, most of whom are in Europe and so do not see Mr. Frederick staring intently and occasionally prodding something with his untied shoe while the rain falls in a curtain of living-gray staccato against his umbrella, an umbrella that had been given to him by his wife many years ago, an umbrella that was purchased in the same shop

as the flower that sits ignored on the end-table beside Rebecca as she stands in the doorway looking on the rain-blackened asphalt of Mary Sue Lane running in front of her house,

the same road, some two weeks ago, where Rebecca watched Erin drive away, rushing to her secret rendezvous, laughing and waving goodbye as she climbed into her car, her long auburn hair falling along her shoulders in a sheen of anticipation and brilliance,

Erin, who also waved at Mr. Frederick standing at his mailbox in the same stained t-shirt, his eyes squinting against the sunlight and ignoring Erin as he shifted through the mail and then turned back to his house with its closed shutters and neglected potted plants along the porch, hissing at the cat who ran between his feet to the house beside his own,

a house brightly colored but tightly wrapped, the Shelton’s, Frederick’s neighbors, who are now on their vacation in Europe, their daughter left behind (at her request) “to prepare for school and keep an eye on Tabitha,” a daughter who is in fact secretly staying with her boyfriend in his parent’s lake house,

not the house that stands besides Frederick’s, who, as the rain falls harder against his umbrella, is now bending closer to whatever he’s discovered in the small alley between the Shelton’s and his house,

a house he purchased thirty years ago with his new wife, Marion,

Marion, who would find a heartless, unforgiving reality in her right breast twenty years after they closed on the house and two days after she bought an umbrella to put in the stand by the door, the stand she found at the flea market that Fall,

a Fall ten years before the day Erin will meet a stranger in the public library,

a Fall ten years and one week before Erin will wave goodbye to her sister standing in the doorway,

a Fall ten years and two weeks before Rebecca will see Mr. Frederick stand up from his discovery in the rain and retreat back into his house,

while a hundred miles away—in that same moment, in that time—the Shelton daughter stretches along a sundeck, her long brown legs reaching out to gently touch her boyfriend’s as his mother watches them from the A-frame glass door with her third gin and tonic and a host of suppressions to keep her company, while her husband sits naked and alone in their cabin bedroom, the door closed and locked, his swimsuit lying on the brown bedspread beside him as he holds in his hand a library book, a book he will never return,

a book he will end up paying for as his wife grows tired of the overdue notices,

a book that the Shelton daughter will find fifteen years later as she sorts through the remnants of her father-in-law after the funeral,

a funeral that will take place on the anniversary of Mr. Frederick’s marriage and will also be the anniversary of the forgotten flower,

a flower which is sitting—in this moment, in this time—on the end-table,

as the rain falls outside Rebecca’s door and she thinks of her sister, Erin, and how happy she was that day—in that moment, and that time—as she waved from her car to Mr. Frederick, who ignored her but hissed at the cat slipping off in-between the houses,

a cat the Shelton daughter could only remember in years to come with a sense of guilt,

a cat that was even now being carefully put in an old towel by Mr. Frederick as he balances the umbrella in one hand and maneuvers the towel around the cat with the other,

the same hand which held his wife’s as she lay dying some ten years ago, as if by mere physical contact alone he could keep her there with him in the hospital,

the same hospital that still stands beside the library with its gothic concrete facades and smell of leather and polished woodwork and pregnant, glorious stillness of waiting discoveries,

the same library which received a new selection of books on the day Frederick’s wife died,

 including a book that, some ten years after the death of Frederick’s wife, two strangers, in an act of God, Fate, or the farther end of Statistical Probability reached for simultaneously,

a book that the Shelton daughter will find some fifteen years later in the bottom of her father-in-law’s office desk and will open and turn to the one dog-eared page and read the underlined section on love’s first discovery,

and she will read the hand-written note beside the passage,

“But one moment was not enough…”

and this, fifteen years—to the moment, to the day—the Shelton girl will make a tearful confession to her returning parents from Europe,

after her mother makes another kind of discovery, a foul smell in the garbage can and Tabitha wrapped loosely in a towel at the bottom,

and questions were/are/will be asked,

as questions are/will be/were asked in the house of the Shelton daughter’s boyfriend, as a wife confronts her husband, asking why he is so unhappy and distant,

and answers of a sort given, muted and deflective, as another drink is made and the matter put away like a rotting cat tossed in a can, leaving a smell that will fade in time, only to be recalled again in other moments,

moments like a girl’s time-muted guilt for a neglected task, a responsibility remembered at a desk some fifteen years later, ironically called up by the odd discovery of a book in an office drawer,

a book with a hand-written note, a book that two strangers once reached for at the same time,

a book that represented a glorious, serendipitous talisman, an unexpected moment of discovery and burgeoning promise,

a book that evoked a shy smile, a polite gesture, a brush of hair from the forehead, and then to the surprise of both, a promise,

a promise to exchange the book in a few days, perhaps at a coffee shop outside town,

a promise that is never fulfilled,

and the book will remain in a desk drawer, only occasionally pulled out to hold (but never open again), as moments are spent thinking of the day he saw her for the first/last time, and how he accidentally touched her hand as she, too, reached for the book, and they shared a shy smile as she retreated a step,

to brush back the auburn hair from her face,

a face he was doomed only to recall, never again discover from one moment to the next,

as another act of Fate, or God, or near Statistical Improbability imposed itself,

with a slip at the wheel, a dip on the road, a curve taken too quickly,

to leave behind another kind of answer and more questions, moments sealed in a book and carried across time

to be discovered in a drawer, opened and read briefly by a woman related, but not by blood, who does not fully understand,

just as Mr. Frederick will never understand why fickle Fate, or God, or Statistical Probability took his wife,

Mr. Frederick, who in this moment in this time, returns to his house and puts the umbrella in its stand, only to discover the rat poison still on his kitchen table,

poison he puts back, under the sink, his hands shaking with guilt over a misdirected, senseless act, a fickle answer of sorts to his own questions, an irony he will suppress and carry—like a book closed and buried in an office drawer—carry over the brief time he has yet to live,

in the house that he bought with his wife, long, long moments ago,

just as the young girl, in a capricious turn of Fate, God, of Statistical Improbability, will carry her own guilt over the same cat, a cat of neglected responsibility,

to be recalled in an odd, seemingly disconnected moment, with the discovery of a library book in a drawer and a passage of frustrated promise,

as the past is finite, the future infinite, and the present a human paradox in between,

between, like Rebecca, who for reasons she cannot say, looks out on the rain, deciding it is still too soon and forever and always too late,

as the single-word-infinite question shared by Rebecca, a book thief lover, Mr. Frederick, a young girl, a worried wife, and (possibly) a cat, remains asked and still unanswered,

did, would, and will remain unanswered,

that question, the question

as to why.

As in that moment, Rebecca closes the door.


Tim Smith is a published writer and scholar. His previous creative writing publications include: “Prince of the Blue Castle” (novel 2016, previously published as a short story in The Bacon Review 2013), Red House on the Hill (novel 2015), “The Ironist” (3288 Review 2016), “Star-Crossed” (Winner, Terri Ann Armstrong Short Story Contest, Suspense Magazine, 2012), “The Blanket” and “Standing on the Doorstep with Borges” (The WriteRoom Literary Magazine). He was a top 25 finalist in Glimmer Train’s new writer contest in 2010. He currently resides in Connecticut with his wife and cat where he teaches for a local university (Tim, not the cat).