Congratulations to Melinda Moore, winner of the May Penn Cove Literary Arts Award. Enjoy.
Laura relaxed in the cushioned, wrought iron chair. Waves of heat radiated off the rocks at the edge of her backyard in time to the flow of the patio fountain. She lived for this moment every day: the time when she basked in the afterglow of the sun without fear of being burned. Her husband Steve would be home soon, asking why she kept the house so god damned hot. She would clench her teeth and say that it was his choice to live in a desert, forcing the nightly battle to begin.
Or maybe he wouldn’t come home.
She looked at the cell phone sitting next to the potted cactus on the table by her. If it rang, the marriage was over.
Forcing her eyes away from the phone, she stared at the cactus. It was a hedgehog variety that had refused to bloom for three years. She glanced at the phone again. Maybe Steve was on his way home.
The gate creaked. She stopped breathing while she waited for Steve to walk around the corner of the house. But Connor did instead.
She gaped both at his arrival and his appearance, which she had never gotten used to even when they dated. His two hooves clopped. The auburn fur on his legs was thick but not thick enough to cover the most protruding part of his body. His chest and arms were those of a muscular man; his horns sprouted out of the shaggy hair on his head, and the whole look was tied together by his rakish grin.
The chair scraped against stone as he pulled it out and sat down. “So, how is my favorite human?” He leaned back and waited. Laura just stared.
Finally, she took a deep breath, sat up and slapped the soles of her sandals against the ground. “What are you doing here?”
“You’ve been calling to me for about a year now. Steve was clever to hide you in a desert.” As he spoke, he leaned forward and caressed a cactus needle.
“What are you talking about? You and I broke up and I married Steve. I haven’t been calling you.”
“I heard moments when you thought of me. They were like whispers on a welcome breeze.” Laura’s eyes widened, but Connor laughed. “Oh, don’t worry. I didn’t hear your exact thoughts. I just sensed you still cared.”
“So? Everyone still cares about past loves. I’m married now.”
“Yes, I know. How’s it working out?”
Laura looked at the phone and said, “Like any normal marriage.”
“Are you waiting for him to call?”
She ignored the impulse to share her suspicions. “He should be on his way home from work.”
“Oh good. We have time to talk.”
“I’m not in a talking mood.”
“I think I at least deserve an explanation,” said Connor.
“I gave you an explanation.”
“That you loved me too much? Seems like a strange thing to say right before you get married to somebody else.”
“You made me love you. It wasn’t a true love.”
“I didn’t make you love me. Satyrs only magnify what’s already there.” As Connor spoke, he pressed his forefinger into a cactus point. Watery liquid flowed from his finger. Soon, a bud burst out of the flesh and bloomed into a bright pink flower. He withdrew his finger and looked at Laura. “You already loved me.”
Laura brushed her fingertips over the flower and whispered, “I didn’t think it knew how to bloom.” She jerked her hand away. “But this is what I’m talking about. It wasn’t natural. It’s supposed to take time to bloom.”
Connor laughed. “It’s tried to bloom for three years. It just needed a little help.”
“Well, I don’t. I can fall in love on my own.”
“Are you in love with Steve?”
Laura paused. Of course she loved her husband. That’s what people did. “I love him in the human way.”
“The human way of wondering if he’s going to call?”
“He’s just had several late meetings.”
“Meetings with his boss?”
“Or women he’s met in the elevator. Oh, hell.” Laura pushed herself off the chair and walked to the edge of the patio. The heat of the day was fading, but the air still felt like a fluffy towel right out of the dryer.
“So you’d rather be with someone who cheats on you than someone you love too easily?”
“As if you wouldn’t cheat. You’re a satyr.”
“When I find true love, I’m monogamous.”
“But how many true loves have you had? You’ve been alive forever compared to me.”
“Oh, I see. Somehow, I’ve already cheated on you. But you expect Steve to be faithful while you’re still in love with me.”
Laura spun around and would’ve slapped him if he had been standing next to her.
Synthetic tones ripped through the air. She stared at the phone and let it ring again before grabbing it. “Hello.” Her voice cracked.
“Sorry I’m late, honey. I got caught up with some paperwork.”
“Was she pretty?”
“Honey, I’m not going to discuss your delusions while I’m in traffic. What do you want from me? A note from my boss?”
“For all I know, it is your boss.”
Laura dropped the phone on the table.
“Are you ready to leave, then?” asked Connor.
“Wherever you want.” He reached across the table and grabbed Laura’s hand. She gasped as she felt her spirit flow to him, but her glance stopped on the hedgehog cactus that had finally bloomed: a bloom that had taken three years. Her finger stroked a needle. Had she done anything to help the cactus, or just expected it to bloom on its own? She pressed her finger into a needle. A drop of blood splashed onto the green flesh and burst into a flower; a warm breeze took the place of Connor’s hand as she heard a car rolling into the driveway.
Laura decided it was time to turn on the air conditioner.