All Good Things
What I write, at its very best, is some illegitimate hybrid of South American magical realism and Southern Gothic I like to think of as Southern Fabulism. Here, I will be periodically posting a few short stories, as a little taste of my forthcoming novel, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings, which will be available through SFK Press in September 2018.
Gregory Maroney was not a hero, not even to himself. You might even say he was the quiet type. Simple, yes. And quiet. He mostly just passed the time, the in-between time, with his shotgun. His father had taught him to shoot, when he was young, and Gregory Maroney believed the one thing he was ever really good at was shooting things.
So that is what he did. He shot things. He took his shotgun out of the closet, went out to his porch and shot squirrels out of the trees and the possums in his yard. He did this mostly on the weekends and mainly at night. He did this because he couldn’t think of anything better to do. He did it to pass the time. If the neighbors complained, he took it inside and shot at things around his house. He shot roaches and mice and any other critters he found creeping around in the shadows. One night, he even went as far as to shoot out all the streetlights on his block, after the one outside his bedroom window kept him up all night.
Yes, Gregory Maroney was a quiet and simple man. He enjoyed the calm of his solitary life; he enjoyed his porch late at night, and he enjoyed the dangerous company of a loaded gun. All he ever wanted was to be left alone. All he asked was that he be allowed to practice his shooting whenever and wherever he liked. Other than that, he only really wanted one other thing: Sarah Lynn Boyle, his neighbor down the street.
He never imagined, in all his years, that it was possible; he never imagined that he, of all people, could come to know and love a woman at first sight. Then one bright Sunday afternoon, the unthinkable happened; he came across Sarah Lynn Boyle on his way to the store. She was out in her yard, tending to her flowers. One glimpse of her was all it took, and Gregory Maroney swerved right off the road. He nearly killed two boys in the middle of a spitting contest, before he crashed his car into a telephone pole.
It didn’t take him long after that to find out that, in the afternoons, Sarah Lynn Boyle was always in her yard, and every day, he took advantage of the opportunity to see her, venturing out immediately after work to jog the neighborhood. He would wave to her, and she would wave back, but he could never quite bring himself to say anything to her, not even hi. What made their daily encounters so odd was that Gregory, as awkward and in love as he was, never once thought to change out of his work clothes. Having thought about her incessantly all that day, he’d be so eager to see her by the time he got home he’d simply go racing off down the street in his shirt and tie and, more times than not, a suit as well. As you can imagine, this made for quite a spectacle. Sarah, of course, was intrigued by this, by this odd apparition appearing, almost inexplicably, on her street afternoon after afternoon, and while she never said it (nor would she ever, seeing as she was polite and all), the mere sight of him, huffing and puffing and sweating so profusely in his business attire, well, it made her smile.
Sarah had a moat of flowers around her house, which is what brought her outside every day. In fact, she called it that – “a moat of flowers” – the first time they met. She had tried for days to get his attention, and did finally, but only after she cornered him in the middle of the street. “Water-lilies,” she called them, though they were far more than lilies. There were foxgloves and roses, jasmines and petunias. “A flood of petunias, by the looks of it,” he said. “Petunias… huh. Petunia’s a good name for a girl.” And with that, Sarah touched her belly, as if referencing something, and Gregory realized, for the first time, that she was pregnant. He glanced away into her yard. “So much water,” he said, nodding at her flowers. “Kinda makes you wonder who opened the damn.”
He thought this was funny.
His name was Gregory. (He would want you to know that.) And it didn’t matter if you were his closest friend; he simply refused to answer to anything else. “My mother named me Gregory,” he would say. “Gregory. Not Greg. Greg is a four-letter word. Especially not Greg.” To him, Greg was an amputation, a single solitary limb without a body, his whole person cut clean at the torso. And yet, when Sarah Lynn Boyle called him Greg, he did not mind it so much. Actually, he kind of liked it. Actually, I kind of like it, it occurred to him. It was the way she said it, sort of soft and cool, like she was taking him apart letter-by-letter and piece-by-piece.
He started stopping by, at the end of his jogs, and with time, their little talks took on a certain kind of ease. With her in his life, everything seemed a little crisper. How he moved, walked. The air. Even the light along the edges of the sky. He felt he didn’t have to go anywhere by himself anymore. He never wanted to, but he felt he had to. He felt he had to go everywhere by himself. But not now. Now, he didn’t.
He started to study up on various flowers, even spent his lunch breaks at the local flower shop, talking the florist’s ear off. He wanted to impress her, yes, but it was more than that; he wanted to know her, and this seemed to be the best way. So he began with A (as in Alyssum and Asters) and did not stop until he’d learned all there was to learn about Violets. One day, he asked her, “What’s your secret? I might be mistaken, but the Evening Primrose doesn’t typically bloom this late in the year.”
She looked around, as if to be sure that no one was listening. “Wait here,” she said, “And I’ll tell you.” And with that, she headed around back and returned, a moment later, with a primrose for him. “First, pinky-swear you’ll never tell. I mean it. Pinky-swear. Okay. Good. The secret to the primrose is you plant it at midnight. Don’t know how or why it works, but it works. Now, take good care of this one, okay? This one’s special. Put it someplace nice. Plenty of water, plenty of sunshine.” Then she gave him the flower.
He took this as a sign. (He took everything as a sign.) He loved her, you see. And it’s hard for a man to break that habit. So he broke into her house, late that night, and watched her sleep. And he continued to break in, every night for the rest of that week. He liked to watch her breathe, the planes of her body rising and falling with each breath. He liked to picture himself in the moons of her eyes. He wanted to touch her growing belly like a father would. He liked to picture her playing with her daughter in the twilight of her dreams, where there would be wildflowers, he imagined, wildflowers at dusk. But mostly, he liked to think of her as a mother with all the vapors of joy that would come with a daughter. In that room, it felt, to Gregory, like she was the world and the tectonic plates were shifting, continents aligned.
Typically, Gregory was not the kind of person to go and do something as crazy as break into a person’s house. Even he understood how strange this sort of behavior was. Just, he couldn’t help himself. The mere thought of her lying alone in the vacancy of that bed, just the idea of all the ways she could say his name, it dogged his mind and badgered his dreams. Sometimes, he would hear her voice over the intercom at the office. Sometimes, he would hear her whispering in the wind. No, typically, Gregory was not the kind of person to just go and do something like this, but the simple notion of her breathing, the sound he heard in her dreams, simply the notion that they could ever be apart, it made him want to teethe on his own tongue.
And so he did break in to her house, for several more nights, and he did crouch into the corners of her room and, there, take up residence with her sleep. He felt like he was creating something, and the act itself was something beautiful and lasting and not at all what he deserved. And so he did go back there, night after night. And he did continue to, for nearly a week. And yet behavior like this is neither right nor wrong for a man in love. Not entirely. Not in and of itself. If we were to be honest with ourselves for just a moment, what we’d have to admit is that Gregory was right about one thing, at least: Creation is an exploration of the unknown. And Gregory Maroney… well, he was just exploring.
He stayed in the corner, the first night. He bowed his head and prayed that God would watch over her and her baby. He hid silently away in the darkness, all that night and the next, until he worked up the courage, one night, to move a little closer and stare into her mouth. Not long after that, he was unveiling her toes; he was startled by how intimate just seeing them made it all seem. More than anything, he wanted her to be happy, so he started whispering happiness to incite her dreams. “Petunia,” he whispered. “Gregory. Or Greg, if you like.” He whispered the words Mother and Love, while he twisted her hair in his fingers, like a Boy Scout learning to tie knots. “Petunia,” he said. “Petunia.” All good things. He liked to kneel down beside her bed, put an ear to her stomach and listen to her womb. He thought he heard something when he did.
Gregory Maroney did not love his mother, but like all men, he found himself returning always to the womb. He’d read somewhere that a common opinion among psychologists is that the male sexual drive can be explained this way. Gregory, of course, considered it preposterous, “a bunch of blue-blood malarkey,” as he put it. Still, for the life of him, he could not explain why listening to her stomach, just once, had affected him so. He thought he’d heard something when he did, and his desire to hear it again was slowly consuming him.
Gregory Maroney loved Sarah Lynn Boyle, but more and more, he began to love her for the mother in her. He was certain he would make a good father some day, and Sarah’s daughter, of all daughters, deserved a good father, good enough, at least, to raise her to think only of dolls and dresses and frilly little things, while wanting for her all the things she could have in abundance. Not so much the rain boots or the umbrellas as the rain and a chance to play in it. Already, he wanted to give her everything, all the things she could treat like a candle and kill with a single breath, like any small good thing. He wanted for her all the things we take for granted until they are gone, things like light and electricity, things that just up and vanish on you one minute, only to return the next, when all the lights in the house flicker back on, as if Jesus Himself had returned.
And so it was that, later that week, Gregory Maroney bought Sarah Lynn Boyle a gift, a beehive to pollinate her flowers. He sealed the hive in a cardboard box, wrote her address on the top and fully intended to mail it to her. But he did not mail it. He did not. No, Gregory Maroney kept that box of bees all for himself. He heard the buzzing coming from inside, and he did not mail it. A constant drone filled his house, and he liked it. Sometimes, in the morning, he would give the box one good shake, and then he would listen. He never reopened that box, left the bees inside. He kept it close, on his nightstand, in fact, until all the bees had died. He simply could not bring himself to part ways with it. Only he knew why. Though I’m fairly certain that, every time he pressed his ear to that box, he thought he heard a heartbeat in the infancy of a womb.