She lay next to him in that field, the one up the hill and through the path behind the water tower where the wall of trees suddenly opened into an oval clearing. The moon was so bright that at first she could only make out a few stars, the obvious ones on Orion's Belt and a few others sprinkled about in no particular order. The ground held the heat from the day and the dry grass prickled the skin of her back just above her skirt. He wore the shirt he chopped wood in and he smelled thorough, the way she imagined honesty might smell, or perhaps the way a man was supposed to smell, she couldn't be sure. For the moment he had the good sense not to speak. She feared that in such a setting he might be inspired to say something absurdly sentimental that would poison the moment and all its tranquility, but he seemed to know when to withdraw, or at least when not to overextend himself. She paid special attention to her senses, thinking this might be one of those moments she'd want to hang on to, to call up later in life and smile about quietly to herself.
She tried to count the stars, but each time she did more would appear, and soon she began to not trust her eyes. There were some stars so faint that it was entirely possible they weren't stars at all, that in her effort to see she'd created something in a space that was in fact empty. She felt the eyes held so great a potential for deception that she began to question the credibility of her other sense organs and to mistrust them as well. She heard crickets chirping in the grass and the rhythm of his breathing next to her, but she couldn't be sure that the noise of the crickets was harmonious nor could she know that his silence was not on account of his discomfort. She felt the grass tickle her back, the same grass that housed legions of thirsty ticks, and in her mouth lingered the taste of a strawberry shake that might not have contained a single fresh strawberry. So much of what she'd once thought to be pure had proven otherwise: Dylan, her first kiss, long summer drives in her brother's Wrangler that got twelve miles to the gallon. She couldn't help but become a cynic. Such was the extent of her cynicism that when her mother asked her if she would attend her Aunt Marie's wedding, which would be the aunt’s third, she'd scoffed and said, "Naw, I'll make it to the next one." The realities hiding behind each curtain were almost too much to deal with. Disappointment and despair seemed ubiquitous in the world and the expectation that they would eventually surface poisoned any occasion for fondness or enjoyment. Even children were no longer safe; she remembered her ten year-old sister moping through the house like a war widow on a beautiful afternoon, muttering, "He's dead. I can't believe he's dead. That heartless bitch killed Dumbledore."
She closed her eyes. Maybe none of it was real: the stars, the crickets, the warm earth, the grass, the strawberry shake, maybe they were all tainted. She was on the verge of giving up on the moment at hand, of leaving the field and its apparent serenity and slipping into her bed, alone, allowing her dreams to wash over her and usher her into the next day. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak, but when she inhaled she caught a whiff of his scent, the musky odor of cut wood that combined with sweat to create something that seemed impossible for anything to infiltrate. It was a smell that could not be reproduced artificially, one that spoke truthfully of what he'd been doing and perhaps of the righteousness of his character. She thought for a moment that the smell too could be an illusion, but she didn't believe it; she wouldn't. If that smell was simply another agent of trickery then it was all a joke and there was nothing worth holding onto. It had to be real, as did his shy smile, his gentle touch, and the glint in his eye when he looked at her. She wouldn't let this moment disappear like so much else. She'd save it, protect it, and if its validity ever came into question, she'd defend it to the end.
They stood up without speaking and looked at their crisp silhouettes, cast by the moon onto the ground. She could see his sleeve rolled up to the elbow, the slight slump of his shoulders, and his right ear that was just a bit smaller than his left. She noticed that he looked not at her, but down at the ground in front of them, at the shadows standing side by side. She remained still, not wanting to disrupt the scene before her, but she watched as his shadow lifted its arm to a forty-five degree angle and offered its outlined hand to hers. His shadow hovered there on the ground next to its companion's, waiting. She continued to stare, and after a moment she saw her own shadow's hand reach out as well and merge with his, and although her actual hand remained behind his and did not touch it, the silhouetted hands held each other. She saw the head of her shadow tilt to the side, and she thought of what her mother had told her about certain memories, that their mere existence as memories were over time as powerful in recollection as they had initially been in person, and that she only had to look at her husband's neck in order to recall the first time she'd nuzzled her nose against it, and with just that look she would once again feel the prickly sensation on her face and know that she was in love. The girl smiled at the connected shadows, the image before her already transforming into memory, and, trusting that her mother's prophetic narrative would in time prove true, she took hold of his hand.
Ben Bellizzi has published works of fiction and nonfiction in various domestic and international magazines. He has completed two novels pending publication and has written for several nonprofit organizations both in the US and abroad. He is a graduate of the California College of the Arts MFA Program in San Francisco.