Literary Magazine

The Picnic | Rebecca Redshaw

Joe couldn’t sleep. The still night air was interrupted only by the soft clicking of the blinds as the ancient floor fan whirred slowly. It wasn’t the steamy heat that was causing his restlessness or the constant rhythm of Marth’s nasal breathing as she lay by his side, but the memory that wouldn’t fade from early this morning–the memory of the two women.

The morning wasn’t that unusual really. He’d opened up the souvenir counter as he had every day for the last four years, since retiring from the mill. Outside the intense heat, even before the sunrise, was just cranking up, and he knew he’d repeat the temperature for most everyone that came into his air-conditioned shop. Sure they browsed, but he knew they needed to cool off and stretch their legs after the long drive up the mountain. That was fine by him. People were generally friendly and some had traveled from pretty far away so, for the most part, it was interesting conversation.

This particular morning there were several customers near the postcards when he noticed out the window over his left shoulder two women walking. They strolled toward the shaded end of the backyard. The women carried a paper bag and a big white blanket not unlike the one Marth had in the spare room. They stopped on the edge of the clearing and Joe made a mental note to keep an eye on them in case they littered the area.

Joe got busy with the noon trade; giving directions, selling a few postcards, and visiting with Charlie. He was also retired and managed to spend his spare time talking to Joe and watching Joe work. As Charlie kept talking away, Joe glanced out back to watch the women. He watched them quietly share some fried chicken and oranges, putting the notion of them littering out of his mind when he saw them carefully place peelings and napkins in the paper sack. Joe really had no reason to be preoccupied with activities in the backyard. But he was that day and now with the moon casting a shadow on his empty bed, those were the only moments on his mind.”

Joe closed his eyes and remembered the tall, leggy woman gently brushed an invisible insect from around the younger woman’s head as she lay on the blanket. He still remembered his registered surprise when the woman, lying, gently held the hand close to her cheek if only for a moment.

Throughout the hour Charlie kept talking and it seemed like customers endlessly purchased postcards, yet all the while Joe kept stealing glances. As time passed, the women stretched out on the blanket for a rest, bodies slightly touching, but still, very still.

Marth called. She always called at noon to remind him to take his pills. He never forgot but she felt he needed reminding in case the store got busy. As he hung up and waved good-bye to Charlie, Joe turned toward the women only to see the blanket askew and the brown bag crumpled to trash. For a moment his heart raced. At once he felt like an intruder and a protector, yet he felt deprived of the moments, the first in a long time, when he had witnessed tenderness and unspoken passion. As his eyes darted over the blanket he saw as one, his two women embracing in what they believed to be safe shadows of the trees. Feelings long forgotten were instantly rekindled.

Embarrassed, he quickly turned away but his desire to share the moment forced him to look again. But the moment was gone. The women, blanket and bag in hand, strolled toward the parking lot. As he turned away from the window he breathed a sigh of relief and understanding. He remembered the passion of loving and being loved in return.

No. Sleep was not what Joe wanted this night. If he slept, he might erase the moments of tenderness. If he slept, he might lose the special warmth of his own memory of youthful passion. If he slept, he might forget the look of understanding the women shared with him when they walked in his store and realized he had shared their moment.

Rebecca Redshaw is a published author and playwright who lives in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to extensive articles and short stories published in national newspapers and magazines. Her play, A Conversation with Hattie McDaniel was commissioned by the Clallam County League of Women Voters and has been produced successfully at numerous venues. Rebecca was awarded First Prize in the 2009 Lakeview Literary Review for her short story, “Somebody Special.” Currently, she is at work on her fourth novel, The Girls Go Fishing and eighth play, Into the Wind.