A Four-Letter Word

By Thom Mahoney

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When Hillary left, Jenn ran through the living room to the window seat where they had read together while rubbing each other’s feet, where they’d sipped tea and dreamed of tomorrows and all the glorious days after that. She kneeled on the brocade cushion and watched as Hillary bounced down the steps from the front door to the waiting car, her hair pulled up in a high pony tail that swung from side to side as she walked. She could remember Hillary wearing her hair like that only when she washed her face before climbing into bed at night.

Then she watched as Hillary hefted the suitcase high in the air and swung it on top of the 4Runner and bungeed it in place. It was the twin to the suitcase she and Jenn had gotten the winter they took that magical cruise to Mexico.

Outside, the day was warm and the sky was bright and cloudless, and all around trees were budding a ridiculous lima bean green. Birds danced from limb to limb, fat and happy.

Jenn leaned her face against the window as Hillary climbed into the passenger seat and followed the rusty-red truck as it pulled away from the curb and turned out of sight.

Then she climbed into a pair of green sweatpants and her old, grey pullover cable sweater with the holes in the shoulders, and she pointed her toes into the Curious George sock slippers Hillary had given her for Christmas and peeled back the quilt comforters and crawled in and curled herself into a tight ball and began to cry. And she cried for a long time, talking to herself, telling herself that in the morning, she would see once again the person she used to be. In the morning.

After midnight, or it might have been later, she could no longer cry anything but air, raspy hoarse air that sounded like the spring wind passing so easily through the hole in her heart, the emptiness in her tomorrows, the sudden vacancy in her life.

So, she gathered the quilts and her pillow, and she shuffled into the living room and loaded a Janis Ian CD in the player and wandered around the darkened room, the moonless night coloring it as dry and as dead as her heart, touching first the edge of the desk and then the framed photo of her and Hillary at her sister’s wedding, the sun in their eyes, their arms linked together. Happy times.

“My heart could sleep,” she said, aloud, to the no one that was there. “If I could turn to stone.”

By Sunday night, she wondered if Hillary had left her on a Friday so that she would have time to heal, or time to grieve. It was so like her. And she knew then that she had known love.

Thom Mahoney