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Gone for the Winter

Another Sunday Story, but on Monday, because for some reason it was just so hard to put this one together. And even now, it isn't really done. There are all sorts of words missing. You'll have to read between the lines and use your own stories to complete this one.

Joe puts the last box in the cab of his pickup and closes the door. He turns back to the house, stuffs his cold hands in his pockets as he walks up the path lined with things he once planted. All of the color and size and scent is gone for now, but he knows they’ll be back. In just months they’ll return.

He wonders where he will be when they do.

He gets to the open front door, steps inside. All of the boxes and bags that crowded the foyer are now gone, packed neatly into his truck. It all fit. Every last thing that he has decided to take from this house has fit. He wonders if that’s good, a sign that he doesn’t need very much.

Or is it sad, troubling? Not needing much at all.

“Joe,” he suddenly hears behind him, and he turns to see his neighbor on the top step.

“Fuck,” Joe whispers to himself. But out loud he says, “Hey Dan. What’s up?”

“What’s up? You’re asking me what’s up? You’re the one who’s been packing your truck for the last hour. Dude, what’s going on?”

Joe looks around the foyer. He looks for something to say, for someone else to say it.

But there is only him.

His neighbor, continues. “Where’s Caroline?” Dan says.

Joe wonders. Where is Caroline?

“Man,” his neighbor continues. “Are you okay?”

“Oh yeah,” Joe replies quickly. “I…I just,” but he doesn’t know what else to say.

“Are you going somewhere?” Dan asks him.

Joe hesitates. Dan continues.

“Man are you movin' out?”

Finally, Joe thinks. An easy question.

“Yes,” he tells his neighbor, this guy he’s had some beers with at neighborhood firepits over the last three years, but who is not his friend, who really shouldn’t be here asking him to explain things he can’t explain.

“Uh, yeah. I am,” Joe repeats.

“Dude, is Caroline going with you?” This neighbor he hardly knows peers into the house then, sees all of the furniture still in the rooms and the artwork still on the walls and he must know that she is not going with him.

“Uh, no. She’s not,” Joe answers.

“Fuck Dude that’s rough. I’m really sorry. Caroline is such a great girl.”

And there it is. Just like that. It’s always the same thing.

“Yeah, well, you didn’t live with her man,” Joe replies, then instantly regrets it.

Caroline is a great girl. So many men would be happy to have her. But not him.

“Oh. Yeah. Well, I didn’t. That’s true,” Dan replies. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Joe says. “I mean she just wants different things than I do. You know?”

“Oh yeah. Like getting married, kids and shit?” Dan asks.

Joe pauses. No. Caroline didn’t want to get married. She didn’t want children either.

“Well no. I mean, like, I mean…”

Can he say what he really means? Can he?

Dan just waits. He stands there looking at Joe and the empty foyer and then back at the pickup full of stuff and then Joe finally says it. He finally says out loud why he’s really leaving her.

“She’s just so driven,” he says.

And suddenly it is so quiet then, and in the silence the men can feel their confusion, those troubling words hanging in the air between them.

She is just so driven.

They understand something that they cannot speak and so it gets more and more quiet until they both begin to shift on their feet and you can hear the sounds of their discomfort, their understanding that this is a problem.

But that it should not be.

Joe tries to recover a bit. He tells his neighbor that Caroline’s work takes her away a lot and that it’s created a wedge between them. He says that even when she’s home it seems like she’s still at work and that he just isn’t a priority to her. But even as he speaks and as Dan says that he gets it, Joe knows he’s not telling the truth.

He knows it.

He knows that he doesn’t mention how important Caroline’s work is, that she’s changing lives.

He doesn’t say that she gives as much of herself to him as she can and that it’s actually a lot, but that he can’t accept it because he’ll never be as full and vast and real as she is.

He doesn’t speak about how much he admires her and resents her and doesn’t measure up to her and how he knows he will never find anyone else like this woman that he doesn’t want and how he doesn’t want her because she reminds him how little he contributes, how small and unsure he is.

He doesn’t say any of the other things either, about money and family and race and all the lies he’s told to her and to himself.

She lied too though, he thinks. She lied about just how big she would get in this world. She lied about that.

“Well dude,” Dan interrupts. “Take care.”

“Yeah,” Joe says quickly. “You too man.”

And then just like that the men shake hands and Dan walks back across the yard as Joe turns toward the house once more. Standing in the foyer his gaze moves through the rooms and lands on the windows at the back of the house, moves then to the trees at the edge of the yard and back to a form sitting on the patio, a glass of wine beside her on the table, her legs folded into the chair. He sees her long red hair flowing around her and knows that tears are streaming down her face. Tears are streaming down her face for a man who contributes so little, is so small and unsure.

But she is full and vast and real, he thinks. And so she will be okay.

With slow movements, Joe turns toward the door and walks out onto the front step, then gazes back into the house a final time, his attention returning to the windows at the back.

And he sees her.

She is standing close to the windows now, her gloved hands at her heart as she watches him leave. Her face is etched with pain and loss and he knows that she is thinking of going to him.

This woman who is changing the world is thinking about going to him.

And for just a moment he thinks of going to her too, but then he doesn’t.

He doesn’t go to her because he knows that he has nothing to give.

He has nothing and so he turns away and closes the door behind him, walks down the path lined with things he once planted, their vibrancy gone for the winter.

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