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This story is part of an archive of short fiction by Miriam N. Kotzin that is no longer readily available. All are copyrighted by the author. If you wish to reprint them, please contact her.




Armor

Signs of long drought were everywhere. When I arrived, Ann was leaning against the porch railing, while Burt sat across from her on a davenport. What had she told him?

Ann had changed as age and fashion had changed us all.

When he had gone we stood looking at one another like two women guardedly posing for a photograph we might find years later.

She offered lemonade. I looked at Ann, imagining her strong hands applying themselves to the task of squeezing lemons, mixing sugar with the pale liquid. I hoped we would get past these civilities.

Burt paused in the doorway that was flanked by suits of armor, then stood watching us as Ann sat beside me. I asked about the armor. Ann said that they had been there when they'd moved in, that she'd hated them at first, bu, "now I wouldn't think of this as home if they were gone."

"They may be rusted on the outside," he added, "but inside, they're shiny and as good as new."

"Surely, you don't mean you wear them?" I saw Burt and Ann confronting one another from within the suits. Suddenly I felt the metal against my own bare skin, and I was immobilized, suffocating. I said nothing more.


Exiled before dinner, I lay on the white chenille spread, watching the play of sunlight and leaves on the curtains. While I waited to be readmitted to her world, I remembered the only time that Ann had acknowledged my feelings about her marriage.

She hadn't said anything earlier while the others were with us. She had waited until we were back in our narrow dormitory beds, lying in darkness. "I know you're against him. It doesn't make any difference; not to Burt, not to me." She paused, but I was silent, and then she said, "We can still be friends if you choose."

I closed my eyes, wanting her voice to stop, wanting it to go on and on. She said, "He isn't in the least cruel. He has a horror of cruelty."

But I had not accused him of cruelty. That night I dreamt of Ann who lay crumpled, as Burt stood, silent, looking down at her. She allowed him to pull her to her feet. Ann was small; she gave the impression of frailty. Only her strong hands with their blunt fingers and prominent veins suggested a woman who might be a match for this stranger.

A hot dry wind moved the curtains.


The next day Ann and I went out into the meadow that stretched between their house and woods that dropped down into a valley leading, she said, to a little stream. In the slight stir of air the feathery tops of the grasses wavered, merging with the shimmer of heat. We moved through the scent of vegetation and dust. Branches and stalks brushed our bare legs. Ann pointed out the thistles that had darkened to a deep purple. "Just a few weeks ago," she said, "they seemed eternal."

I thought that we had seemed eternal once, too.

The sun caught in her hair. I saw the sparks that had always taken me by surprise when she had sat in bright light. I wanted to reach out and trace the line of fire that was the tendril of hair at the nape of her neck. I held my hand back as though her hair might burn my fingers. "Are you happy, Ann?"

he looked up at me, eyes widened. Then she laughed. It was her only answer.


The days of the visit passed. We talked much, said little. The last evening after supper I started the dishes, expecting Ann to sit with me. Instead I felt him standing directly behind me. "I'll dry."

He took dishes from the drain board, dried them and lifted them onto shelves above the sink. I tried to concentrate on the warm soapy dishwater. We worked in silence.

Afterwards, I went out onto the porch where Ann sat. She looked up at me, "Finished?"

I could not find even a trace of irony. The empty, rusted shells stood sentinel. She pushed the soles of her feet against the porch deck, and the davenport moved, a creak filling the space where an answer might be.


That night, as if on cue, it rained. I lay, listening to rain against the window, on the sill, on the roof, in the leaves of the maple. In the morning the creek would be brown and swollen with run off. I lay thinking about rain dripping from leaves until, finally, I slept.


Ann stood by the car, stroking a fuzzy leaf of lamb's ear. "It was just like the old days," she lied.

Burt stood, chin up, looking off into the distance as I answered her conventionally. Then he turned, and looked me in the eye. "Come again," he said. He might as well have taken my face in his hands. "Don't be such a stranger."

2004 Miriam N. Kotzin
"Armor" appeared in Littoral, March, 2004.



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