Photo by Johanna C. Leahy
‘Almost Home’ by Cheryl Diane Kidder
It wasn’t going to be easy getting over that fence. He was taller than Mildred in his cowboy boots, but holding one in each hand and tiptoeing through the wet grass at three in the morning, then hitting the fence, well, it wasn’t going to be easy. It wasn’t like he could step back, take a running start and vault it. The rough, weathered planks were at least six feet high and old man DeGracio, Mildred’s dad, had sharpened the ends into pitchforks, but when Bruno, the family’s Rottweiler / German Shepherd mix raised his head off the porch he knew he was going to have to make a run for it.
He should have kept the boots on. Instead he had to throw first one then the other over the fence, Bruno running at his heels, mostly sniffing, but that could change at a moment’s notice. The last time he was climbing out of Mildred’s window at three in the morning, he’d landed right in Bruno’s water dish. Not good.
He put his hands on the top of the fence and was immediately greeted by a crowd of splinters. If he yelled, Bruno would no doubt immediately realize that something was not right and raise the alarm. So, so far, so good. He kept a running banter with the dog as he tried to figure out how to get over the fence. Getting into Mildred’s room had been much easier: car parked down the street, nobody else home, secret knock at the back door, Mildred’s hands on his butt as they ran upstairs to her bedroom. So much easier. Should have left earlier.
He hoisted himself up, his belly scraping the wood, splinters easily gaining access through his cotton shirt. Bruno sat down at his feet dangling about a foot off the ground. He eased back off the fence and removed his hands, cradling them close to his chest.
“What are you doing?” Mildred whispered/yelled out her bedroom window.
He turned around. She was watching him. Standing in her open window, completely naked, watching him cross the yard.
“What are you doing?” he low-yelled back at her, crouching down as he spoke, not wanting to alarm Bruno. Bruno looked attentively up at him, then up at Mildred, stood up and sauntered back over to the porch.
“Go home,” she whispered back.
He rolled his eyes and tried to remember he loved this woman and then tried to forget the pain in his hands. “I’m trying,” he mustered up, then “Get back inside.”
“Don’t you like me?” She giggled and stuck her chest out the window, hands on hips, hair still messy from his hands.
The moon lit up her nipples and shadowed her face and for a moment he saw her as if he’d never seen her before, as if she were a stranger showing her body to him and he wanted to climb back up again and reintroduce himself.
Then a light went on downstairs and without thinking he ran toward the house and crouched under the kitchen window. The screen door opened and he heard Mildred’s dad say c’mon in boy and he almost stood up and walked over until he heard Bruno get up off the porch, take one last look at him hiding in the marigold bed, then hung his head and padded softly into the warmth of the kitchen. The screen door closed, the bolt was turned, the kitchen light went out.
He peered up into the night sky remembering her body, remembering her standing at the window. He tilted his head slowly out of the shadows and took a step onto the lawn, then two steps. The window was closed, the curtains pulled. He walked around to the front of the house, confident that everyone was asleep and despite the moon, walked right down the front walkway making an easy escape to the empty sidewalk, his stocking feet padding softly in the warm night air.
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Cheryl Diane Kidder has a B.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work, nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared or is forthcoming in: CutThroat Magazine, Weber–The Contemporary West, Pembroke Magazine, decomP Magazine, Tinge Magazine, Brevity Magazine, Brain,Child, Identity Theory, In Posse Review, and elsewhere. For a full listing see: Truewest – http://cheryldkidder.blogspot.com.