Anna Vangala Jones

The Suitor

 

Straightening the place settings and adjusting chairs is not enough to occupy her distracted mind. She glances out the window, not expecting to see anything different from when she’d last looked a moment earlier but unable to avoid the impulse. No figure coming up the walk yet, just an inky sky with jagged, harsh clouds scattered across it. The mood is not calculated to stir romantic sentiments in her breast or her visitor’s. She couldn’t control the weather when she extended the invitation and now they will have to make do. She wonders if the distant rumbles of thunder will prevent him from traveling to her small home on the rocky waterfront.

The night is warm in spite of the imminent threat of a storm. The lightning flashes cannot be seen from her kitchen and the thunder following the strikes takes so long to sound and are so much more like murmurs than claps that she doubts they will approach any time soon. The waves lapping up on the sand do not look dangerous but rather gloomy. If he cancels now at the last minute when the rain hasn’t even begun and they’ve had this plan for weeks, she will be sure to forget him and put this whole stressful business behind her.

Reaching into the dark cherry wood cabinet for a wine glass, she pauses to caress the stem. The glasses she and her late husband clinked on their wedding day. Perhaps it would be too much to serve wine to the suitor in these. She returns it to its place, her hand shaking from a slight tremble. Thinking of her late husband when she is already so nervous is a terrible idea. It is less about if he would mind her taking up with another man. What bothers her more is if he would have liked the suitor himself, enough to spend an evening with him.

The picture she selected to represent herself on the Internet had been honest and modest. Her son, photography being the latest of his hobbies, captured it with his new tripod on a visit without his wife and children. He positioned her to face the sunshine yellow front door with the vast ocean behind her on a drizzly, misty day. Her hair was thinning, gray, and whipping around her face. The lenses of her red square rimmed glasses were peppered and flecked with the spray of water droplets. The gold in her brown eyes twinkled. When her son e-mailed her the photo, she smiled at her own face. It was the first time she felt vain in a very long time. This was the image that prompted the suitor to “wink” at her on the dating site she’d so hesitantly joined. 

The suitor has a bit of a roguish charm to him. Still harmless. Old fashioned. But each time his jokes are sly or a compliment turns her cheeks the color of bitten plum’s flesh, she finds herself questioning him, her, and the whole thing again. 

Now he is late. Only by a few minutes, yes, but her husband was never late. Not once, not ever in forty years. The suitor has only been in existence to her for a few months and on this, their first meeting, he’s late. 

She can’t be picky anymore. Not now that her husband is dead, her son is busy, his wife is frigid and distant, and his daughters are fast entering the preteen years with less interest to spare for their grandmother. No matter how long the suitor makes her wait, she finds that the mere dream of him has become necessary. To help her escape this gnawing ache.

When she read the email in which the suitor first suggested they meet, she slammed her laptop shut. Her heart thudded as she walked outside, hugging her shawl close, protecting her from the wind and what felt like her late husband’s judgment descending upon her. She didn’t know this man at all. 

So they both typed a few words on their computers and saw one picture of each other. He didn’t know that nothing made her feel more alive than wading out into the unruly ocean on a grey day and breathing in the salty air. He didn’t know that she used to teach high school English before her son made being a mother her full time job. Or that there had been a several year drought in her marriage during which she fantasized about the feel of another man’s skin against hers daily. It didn’t matter who, just any other man besides the one in her bed, the one she loved whose ring shackled her antsy finger.

Yet now here she is. Her elbows propped up on the counter. Jiggling her right foot like an awkward teenager. Her eyelashes feel uncomfortably thick and twined. She glances out the window once more. The black silhouette of a man gleams against the darkening sky. His shape grows larger as it draws closer. She turns away. A clap of thunder coincides with the sound of knuckles rapping on the bright yellow door as the wind whispers through the room, kissing her on the cheek.

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Anna Vangala Jones is an Assistant Fiction Editor at Lunch Ticket and Editorial Assistant on the Fiction team at Split Lip Magazine. Her fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in various print and online literary journals, including Berkeley Fiction Review, The MacGuffin, Fiction Southeast, The Brown Orient, Pidgeonholes, and Riggwelter Press, among others. Her stories have earned honorable mention and placed at Glimmer Train, Gigantic Sequins, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. Find her online at annavangalajones.wordpress.com and on Twitter @anniejo_17.