The Last First Day

The Last First Day by Carrie Brown

Book: The Last First Day by Carrie Brown Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carrie Brown
couple in the antebellum South that owed a good deal to
Romeo and Juliet
. Peter had faithfully read both the play and the novel, but she’d known they weren’t any good.
    This is really pretty darn sad, Ruth, he’d said, rubbing hishead in a distressed way after turning the last page of her novel. Did both of those young people have to die in that fire?
    She’d taken up plein air painting for a while, signing up once for a weeklong course on an island off the coast about two hours from Derry. Peter had framed one of her paintings from that course—a seascape—as well as one she’d done at Derry. She’d enjoyed the hours executing them, but she wasn’t an idiot. She could see that she had no real talent.
    She still played the piano from time to time, but mostly she’d given up on the rest of it. And she did not really regret having abandoned these pursuits—except occasionally, she thought now, on evenings such as this one. The world felt to her on this night full of mysterious, blazing beauty and also fear and tragedy. The unsettled day, its little portents, her sense of dread and loneliness … and yet also the stars, and the deep blue of the night sky, the white silhouette of the chapel’s spire. She wanted to be able to
answer
the world somehow, to
say
something about how extraordinary it was, how extraordinary it was being alive. And how complicated it was, as well.
    For how did it happen that sometimes the goodness of things—the beautiful world, her love for Peter, her gratitude for the life she had led, as opposed to the life she
might
have led, without Peter—made her feel like weeping?
    She had no answer for any of this.
    After that foolish business over the weathervane, she had apologized to Peter. She’d perfected that in their marriage, saying she was sorry.
    She had gone to his study later that evening after their quarrel, bearing a tray with cake and a pot of coffee.
    Knock, knock, she’d said, pushing open the door with her shoulder, entering the room, tray first.
    Peter had not turned around from his desk, looking down studiously at the papers on his blotter, as if he had not heard her come into the room.
    She’d set the tray on the table in front of the fireplace, poured the coffee.
    Next to the word
pedant
? she’d said finally. In the dictionary?
    Outside the study window, rain from the gutter had made a distinct, dripping sound. Peter had not spoken.
    A little picture of me, she’d said. Boring mistress of the crossword.
    Peter had taken off his glasses, rubbed his eyes.
    She’d hated herself then. Who could
stand
to live with her?
    I come bearing cake, she’d said instead, busying herself with the plates.
    Finally he had swiveled around in his chair to face her. She had made an apple walnut cake, his favorite. She could whip up one of these and get it in the oven and have it out in under an hour.
    He’d taken the plate when she handed it to him. He never could resist food. It was wonderful to cook for him, his delight boundless. You had to watch out for him when he was hungry—he was capable of knocking her practically off her feet when he needed to eat—but he was always so
grateful
to be fed.
    She’d given him a fork, put a napkin on his knee.
    Then she’d perched on the ottoman by his chair, knees together, chin on her fist, watching him.
    It’s a little crumbly, she said. I left it a couple of minutes too long in the oven. Sorry.
    She meant, sorry for being such an awful bitch, but she didn’t say that. She said
god damn it
and occasionally
shit
, but neither of them used the f-word. They just didn’t do that.
    He’d eaten the cake, hunched over. She knew he was not above acting a little pathetic when he wanted to extract an apology. This is delicious, he’d said at last. Thank you.
    She’d leaned forward from the ottoman and put her arms around his neck, her forehead on his shoulder. God damn it, she’d said then. Stop enjoying that cake so much.
    When she let go of

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