Summer has given way to autumn as they step out for their evening walk. The sidewalk, split from years of icy wear and tear, forebodes the winter ahead.
“Do you ever wonder if the best part of life is behind us?” she asks.
A surprised laugh escapes him.
She bends to pluck a bold dandelion and holds it up to the sunlight. “I’m serious. What if it came and went and now it’s gone forever?”
“So it’s just a downhill slide to the grave from here?”
Her mouth pinches into a tight frown. “Stop fucking around, Tom.” She tosses the dandelion onto the sidewalk.
He’s overstepped the line, the line that has become an invisible border around their conversations. But unlike a county line or a state line, once he’s crossed it, he isn’t allowed to turn back. No return to the State of Marital Bliss without her consent. She has become a frontier.
She’s walked ahead, but his eyes follow her out of habit. She’s heavier now, yet more fragile than ever. A strip of gray peeks from her crown. She slows to wait for him and picks another stray dandelion from a neighbor’s lawn.
She turns and a slant of light has crossed her tired face when a memory escapes her amber eyes, ambushing him with the past. They were in a park that day, her tan legs stretching out from a summer dress, her golden hair stirring like honey breezes, and a happiness that swept him up like a warm embrace.
Caught up in the memory, he has forgotten she’s angry. But her judging eyebrows blow out his smile. He mumbles a guilty sorry and they walk on.
But the questions turn in his mind. What is he sorry for? Is he sorry their one day and their when the kids get bigger have turned out to be empty promises? Is it his fault she’s aging—they’re aging.
She nudges him and manages a half-smile as he shields his eyes from the setting sun. “Sorry, dear. These hormones are a bitch.”
Put out, he shrugs. Menopause. The dragon that swooped in on their marriage, setting fire to their conversations and destroying their intimacy. She rejected his chivalry, reduced him to a knight without a sword in an unknown land. Her Highness will have to save herself.
She notices his furrowed brow and delivers a light kiss to his cheek. “How about Luigi’s for dinner?”
He takes her by the hand with good intentions, but his mind wanders to the waitress who joked with him the last time they ate there.
“Italian sounds good,” he says.
Stopping before they reach their porch steps, he bends and plucks a dandelion from the grass.
She holds hers out and they tap them together like wine glasses.
“Here’s to a long autumn,” she says.
Valerie Hilal is an American writer who has been living between France and Dubai since 2007. Her flash fiction can be found at medium.com/@valeriehilal on such publications as P.S. I Love You, Lit Up, and The Junction, and her microfiction is at twitter.com/valeriehilal. She is currently editing her first novel.