City women bucked when you tried to do a nice thing. To carry this or that, to open a door. To offer guidance in a terrain they weren’t used to. Danny remembered telling one young woman with a gristly attitude that she shouldn’t get too flustered about the noises at night. Houses out here make noise; nature is a talker. She was there to buy firewood. He was trying to do her a favor. But the girl just raked her tongue ring across her teeth and looked the other way. Danny wanted to reach into that mouth with his fingers and yank the ring right out. But he took her money, tossed the wood into the trunk of her car, and watched her get the fuck off his property.
This woman wasn’t like that. The feat to mask a certain softness immediately endeared her to him. She reminded him a little of his Josephine is why. He liked the way she studied her surroundings, his property. The way she offered, in earnest, to help wheel the wheelbarrow across the rain-silken earth. Hesitant, she asked: was the wood dry? He assured her, he wanted to. Dry as bone. It’ll catch quick. Come see for yourself. Come closer. Close.
But she would not.
Josephine liked it, he thought, even under all her lecturing. Liked how ridiculous Danny found it when she’d go calling up specialists for the house’s little things. How by the time some jackass quoted her a price like he was going to drive her around in a limousine while the pipes got replaced, Danny would return with the parts to do the work himself.
This was early, when he was courting. Trying to teach this city mouse in an ugly, old, inherited house how to lean back and relax. What needed mending? She need only show him.
“Daniel,” she’d whisper.
“Danny,” he’d correct.
He rose with the sun. His hands, eager and aching to meddle, to fix. But fixing’s not what partners are for. She called him that. Partner. Like they were fixing to rob a bank.
Always a musky fear when Josephine climbed on top. She rode him and looked up, or worse, inward. He burned holes into her eyelids trying to will her out of a private celebration and back into bed with him. He felt not like her husband then but some thrill dispensary. A utility. He’d let her work herself until he swelled with wrath. Then he’d fake boredom, pluck her off, and turn her on her stomach. He’d grind to find her tool parts, isolate them, but it would come to naught. Softened by adulation, always.
Josephine left him in the winter, in the middle of the night. The inherited house was his if he wanted it. He chopped what he could into wood to sell. He chopped the trees. He torched every last living thing on that plot of land but mother nature sneered. Spring came. Shrub returned lush and grass soothed scalded earth.
But what of the rot of loneliness? What of that?