In June, the STL Scribblers held a Transformation Microprose Contest, challenging writers to produce an 800-word piece inspired by the theme. Jan Kraus's "Her First," a stark and lyrical account of a love affair, is the first of our three winners, selected by democratic vote. We are very honored to publish it here.
When I fell in love the first time, it was absolute; his hands, his eyes, his voice, his mind, his spirit. It snuck up on both of us.
It was my first full time job, civil service, and Martin was my boss. The war raged in Vietnam. Our team had ‘secret’ clearance and secured entry doors. Martin and I sat in a tiny room, my desk sideways to his. There was a little window pass through to Fred, the parts guy, and a door that the twelve crewmen used when they walked by on their way to the vault and workshop in back. As the first admin they’d ever had, the only female and very young, I think they all fell in love with me a little and I with them.
“Where’s Martin?” asked an unhappy female voice on the phone.
“He’s away. Can I take a message?”
“He needs to call Addy!” Slam.
I complained “She was NOT very nice”.
With a grin, he said “Well, that’s no lady, that’s my wife.”
Martin was married with sons my age; tall, strong, agile, one fourth Cherokee with a chiseled face someone once called ugly. He’d been US army, retired into civil service, a soldier-philosopher, serene, unflappable, and, unexpectedly, a part-time rare coin merchant.
In spite of the war, it was government work, so we had plenty of time for conversation, familiarity, and a surprising empathy to mature. Soon, I didn’t need to see him to know he was in a room.
The power of the feelings that grew alarmed us. We didn’t want to hurt Addy. We didn’t want to lose the respect of our friends and colleagues. It was bittersweet, wretched and so damn real.
I quit my job to put an end to it.
He entreated “Just lunch? Please…?”
My feeble resolve crumbled. We’d meet at a little out of the way place on the edge of downtown; formica table tops, patchy linoleum floors, florescent lights. He’d bring Herb, one of the crewmen, so we were just friends who stayed in touch; except, perhaps, when our hands brushed or we stood too close.
This went on for months, until one day he asked softly. “Meet me by the river?”
The wharf was dark and strangely quiet, sounds softly muted echoes. Barges floated by. The river sparkled with reflected lights from traffic on the bridges and anchored boats. My eyes soaked him up as he’d walk to my car. The kisses, the caress, were sweet, salty and utterly terrifying. It was thoughtless yet every cell was conscious, awake at last.
We got bold and met in the daylight on the barren, secluded expanse below the bridge. Massive steel girders stood guard as we held each other, two old souls entwined at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Life still happened. Vietnam wore on; boys I’d known gone or damaged. I lived with my parents and siblings. When my Mom died, my home life became agony. The stolen moments with Martin were my solace.
He’d talk about weekend events where he bought and sold coins. I’d drive those routes; visit towns where he’d stayed; have a meal where he’d dined; seek his aura left behind.
He insisted I start night school to get my degree. I’d been drifting without a goal and he wouldn’t have it. Thus, my life’s work and independence were set in motion.
He confessed. “If I could choose, it would be you. I want a family with you.” Calamity loomed.
Winter came. “Addy and I are moving to Phoenix. You know I hate these cold bleak months.” Yes, I knew.
It was the only way, so right and so devastating.
I whispered, “You’ve got to be the one.”
We met one night at a wayside motel in a distant little town. The vacancy sign blinked outside the window; the room out of an old black and white movie. We were both so frightened. His hands shook. I remember only bits and pieces of our coupling; just the brief pain and the sweetness of his touch.
Our meets grew further and further apart, a slow agonizing parting but the only way we could remain deeply and profoundly joined.
It he’d been single; if I’d been older; if only, if only…. It just couldn’t be.
The last time I saw him, I was moving into my first apartment, he was on one last trip back from Phoenix. His car out front, my roommate Nancy asked “Who’s that?”
I couldn’t say “My other self." So I said “A friend from work.”
Down on the curb, I leaned into the car window His hand on mine burned like fire. His eyes were full of me. I hope he saw himself fill mine.
Jan Kraus has been writing for many years, but pursuing a career in Information Technology kind of got in the way. For her final career based project in 2012-2014, she authored several modules in the open access Health Information Technology course funded by the MoHealthWINs grant program in conjunction with Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Bill Gates foundation.
Jan’s now pursuing the arts, including writing poetry and fiction, which is definitely more fun.
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/118292762@N02/27447930916">The Humber Bridge</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>