Louise dumped peaches into a bowl, added brown sugar, and rolled the dough into a ragged circle, all from memory. She remembered this pie. When it was done, she drove to a motel overlooking tall marsh grass, mudflats, and a bleak river basin. She’d always wondered who would ever stay in this godforsaken place, but now he was here. She pulled into the almost empty lot of the dive bar motel and retrieved the pie from the backseat.
He came to the door in jeans and a T-shirt. The soft dark curls that once framed his face were slicked back into a wave at the nape of his neck. “I brought you a peach pie, just for old times,” she said. He looked confused. “Remember?”
“I like peach pie. I remember that,” he said. She followed him into a room with a stained comforter on a double bed, and beer cans lined up on the dresser. “We got in last night. We’re playing tonight at that bar you might have seen up the road.” She nodded. The small building with weathered clapboards and a flashing green neon sign was a far cry from the places he’d told her he’d be playing in back when they were in high school.
While she sliced the pie with a silver cake knife, he said, “You’re looking good, Louise. Tell me what you’ve been doing with yourself.”
She handed him a piece and launched into the speech she’d rehearsed. “I’m a fabric designer. I’m divorced. Happy. How about you?”
He grabbed two beers from the mini fridge and handed her one. “Can’t complain. We’ve been playing all across the country. This here’s our last stop. Can’t wait to see the old crew. You in touch with them?” She shook her head. She had no desire to see any of them. When he’d called the night before, she’d almost told him she was busy. He speared a peach. “You’re still my fan, right?”
She sipped some beer. “I’m not anyone’s fan.”
“Be that way.” He winked, trying to turn on the old charm. She fidgeted with the fringe of the scarf draped around her neck. “You make that?” he asked.
He ran his hand over the sheer grass-green fabric that she’d silkscreened with leaves and flowers. “Sure is fine, and you sure were a fine-looking woman then; still are.”
Woman? She’d been a high school senior whose height had embarrassed her. Even when she was chosen Winter Carnival queen, she’d hunched her bare white shoulders in her blue satin dress to appear smaller. But she’d believed it when he’d taken her hand and told her she was the prettiest girl in the world.
“You really don’t remember, do you?” she now said.
He grinned. “My mind’s had a lot substances put into it. I don’t remember much.”
“I brought you a peach pie the night before you left to tour with that guy who you said would make your name.”
“Great guy, taught me all about the blues.” His frown deepened the lines in his once-boyish face. Things hadn’t gone as well as he planned.
“Remember how you told me that night you couldn’t have a girl back home while you were on the road, and gave me a picture of you as a going-away present? That killed my appetite, but apparently not yours, because you finished the whole pie.” Before he could make some excuse, she went on. “I suppose you’ve forgotten how I took all those Seconals too.” He opened his mouth. She said, “No need to apologize. I understand. You were too busy chasing your dreams to notice the death of mine.” She lifted the pie plate, then put it down. Her original intent had been to throw it in his face, but he was too clueless to waste such a gesture.
“Louise, I had no idea. You were always such a quiet one, quiet as one of these leaves or flowers.” He touched her scarf again, and she could see his hand through the designs.
For a moment words deserted her, like they used to. Then she said, “No worries. I got over it.” She glanced at her watch.
“You got time to let me play you something?” He picked up the cream-colored Strat from the floor, plugged it into a portable amp.
“Why not?” At least witnessing the deterioration of his skills might be some solace. The first twang hit her like a bolt out of the blue, or rather out of the blues. A chorus of memory traveled like the light of a star from the past, right through to now. All she could think of was tears piling up like leaves and flowers.
“Thanks for listening.” He paused. “You still have that picture I gave you?”
“I don’t,” she said though she knew exactly where to find the photo with To my love Louise written on it. For years it brought back feelings, until time eroded the talisman’s magic, its power expired. “I’m not a sentimental person,” she added.
“Me either,” he said.
She stood there uneasy. He stood there, uneasy too. “I’ve got to go,” she said. He didn’t stop her.
The radio came on when she started the car, but she shut it off, preferring the engine noise. She felt a lightness she hadn’t felt in a long time. Maybe she’d never felt it before. She couldn’t wait to get home to work on her designs. She loved them, though the leaves, the flowers, really had no voice. She straightened in her seat and as she backed out of the lot, his music swept through her like the wind through the tall grass in this place at the end of the world, and for the first time in a long while she heard herself singing.
Emily Ross is the author of Half in Love with Death, an International Thriller Writers Thriller Awards finalist for best young adult novel. She received a Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist award in fiction for Half in Love with Death. Her work has appeared in Boston Magazine, Menda City Review, and other publications. She is an editor at Deaddarlings.com and a graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator program. She is currently working on The Black Sea, an adult mystery set in her hometown of Quincy MA. You can find out out more at www.emilyrosswrites.com on Instagram @eross816 or Twitter @emilyross816.