All Stories, General Fiction

Donating Love by Amber Hart

Edmund eased the donation truck into the woman’s driveway. He thought he had been here before, to this exact house, when spousal donations had first become a trend. It should not have surprised him—the courts ordering such a thing. With the divorce rate at nearly 70% now, the courts had to do something.

Still, Edmund had found the idea disturbing. The donations had not gotten any easier over time. He’d spent a disproportionate amount of the past year in these upscale neighborhoods. The houses, sprawling masses of brick built on elaborately landscaped lawns, had perhaps protected its inhabitants from disease, but not dis-ease.

The woman’s house had a spire, a gaudy shade of blue. Yes, he’d been here before.

He recognized the house. With its gaudy blue spire. He recognized the woman. With her streaked blond hair and overly manicured eyebrows. He had a knack for remembering faces. This caused contención between him and Esperanza when she was in a certain mood. Her thinking every woman he recognized was a past lover.

The woman standing on the walkway? She was not a past lover. But Edmund had seen her before, he was sure. Yes, damn near pacing a hole into what was then newly set flagstone. Edmund remembered her eyes. Innocent and pleading. Her over-sized lips, red and puffy from crying, did not match her surgically sculpted nose. He’d felt sorry for her then. Another perfectly fine life gone to shit over love.

Today the woman stood on the walkway nodding into her phone. High heels and a crisp business suit replaced the tattered robe Edmund had seen her in before. Her eyes no longer registered warmth. Her lips were nothing more than flat lines. She appeared capable of having too many words now. The kind of woman you would beg to keep her voice down at a restaurant. The kind of woman who would not think twice about slapping your face. Edmund knew.

He hopped down from the truck. Get the court order. Verify the details. Do not ask questions. Get in, get out. Vamos, as Esperanza would say. Early on he’d learned not to rely on assumptions. He’d endured more than his fair share of outrage from both parties, as if he were at fault for the deterioration of their love.

The woman confirmed a ten o’clock meeting, snuffed out her cigarette with the bottom of her shoe, then bent and picked up the butt. She eyed Edmund and pointed in the direction of the man. She continued with her phone conversation as if donating a lover was nothing more than a mild inconvenience.

Edmund spotted the woman’s husband on his side, curled up beneath a tree. His eyes closed tight. His face defeated. Edmund did not doubt he’d made the same face himself during arguments with Esperanza, when she wanted one thing and he wanted another. Or, more likely, when he had no idea what she wanted. A feeling, she’d had that she couldn’t put into words.

Edmund walked over to the tree. The man ignored Edmund. He continued sulking like a scolded child. He stared straight ahead, his lips pursed in opposition just as he had been the last time. Edmund wondered if it was worse to change so much your lover no longer recognized you, or to not change at all? He’d been on both sides of that relationship coin and didn’t care for either.

Edmund held out his hand, but the man did not budge. This was the way it often went. Initial resistance. Followed by angry outbursts. Then, somewhere along the drive to Goodwill, acquiescence. As if the donated spouse had found comfort among the other discarded items. Perhaps the sight of the sagging sofas, chipped dishes, and rusted tools convinced the spouses that all was not lost. They were merely in transit from one place to another, from one relationship to another. Someone else would see their beauty. Their functionality. For a while, at least.

Edmund waited for the man to acknowledge him, but he did not. “Have it your way,” he said. A grunt escaped his mouth as he hoisted the man over his shoulder and plunked him onto the donation truck. The man fell back, his head thudded against the metal truck bed. Damn passive-aggressive types. They didn’t understand playing dead was more of a hassle for the driver than the spouse. Or, ex-spouse as it were.

Better get a move on, Edmund thought. He scaled the hitch steps and drew nearer to the man. He crouched, slid his hands under the man’s broad shoulders, and tugged at the lifeless form, then lost his grip and plopped onto his ass. “What the hell, man?” Edmund said.  

The man raised up onto one elbow. He pleaded with the woman. “Don’t do this to me. To us.”

There was a shift in the woman’s eyes then. The man had gotten under her skin. He was speaking her language now. The same way Edmund had spoken Esperanza’s language after she’d threatened to leave him. He’d explained to her he wanted to be intentional when he said “I love you” now. Somehow this had made Esperanza more furioso than if Edmund had not bothered to explain himself. He could not win.

“I’m not one of your putas,” Esperanza had said.

“That’s exactly my point,” Edmund countered. They’d argued, Edmund stating he didn’t want to cheapen the relationship and Esperanza saying he already had.

The woman stalked over to the bottom hitch step and stopped. Her face was solemn except for a slight downward curve at the corners of her mouth.

“No,” she said, as if this one word clarified everything.    

Now the man came to life. He bolted upright and pointed his finger at the woman. “Twenty-three percent of women who donate their husbands die of loneliness within a year. Over sixty percent never remarry.” His voice registered somewhere between take that and you’ll see.

The woman kicked off her high heels. She scaled the steps up to the truck bed. “You goddamn know-it-all!” she shouted at the man. She pounced on top of him, grasped him by the ears and rattled his head as if emptying a piggy bank.

Edmund peeled the woman off the man. He stood between the two, arms outstretched. “Enough!” he said, “Enough.” After a moment, he lowered his arms. He kept his eyes on the woman as he bent, looped his arms under the man’s shoulders again, and dragged him deeper into the truck. This time the man pushed himself in the same direction as Edmund pulled. Help, at last.

The last time Edmund had been there, they’d made it this far: Man on truck. Woman sobbing. Edmund not sure if he should proceed. Though conflicted, he had continued. As soon as he popped the truck into gear, the woman had called out. Edmund turned the truck off and climbed back out of the cab.

“Please,” the woman had said.

Edmund had known what she wanted. He’d trod to the back of the truck, unhinged the tailgate door and flung it open. There lay the man on the sagging couch Edmund had picked up earlier in the day, tears on his face. He’d jumped up at the sight of the woman. The woman had begun to cry even harder then but in a different way. Relief, maybe. The two had reached the same silent conclusion.

Edmund had lowered the steps so the man could descend, but the woman had not waited. She’d raced past Edmund and fallen into the open arms of her lover.

After the last time Edmund and Esperanza had made love, he’d sensed Esperanza waiting. He practiced in his head. Te amo, Esperanza. It would’ve been the right thing to say. It would’ve made her happy. Wasn’t that what love was, putting yourself aside to make another happy? He opened his mouth but the words would not emerge. Silencio. Esperanza had reciprocated with a silencio of her own, going on three weeks now.

In the commotion the woman’s tight pony tail had come loose. Sweat beaded her forehead. Still, she climbed down from the truck with conviction. She slipped into her heels, one at a time, then smoothed down her suit jacket. She was still short of breath. The side effects of love gone sour lingered.

“You’ll be sorry,” the man’s voice faltered. “You’ll see.”    

Edmund slammed and latched the rear door. He squinted up at the sky. The warmth of the sun on his face felt misplaced given the events of the day. The woman was making her way to her car now. This time there would be no forgiveness.

Amber Hart

Image: Pixabay.com

12 thoughts on “Donating Love by Amber Hart”

  1. Amber–
    This is one of those very good ideas that causes other writers to say “I should have thought of that.” But only you did. Excellent work and I’m glad to see it up today.
    Leila

    Like

    1. Thanks for the comments! I have to say that the editors at literally stories helped this piece reach its full potential.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Amber,
    I am delighted to see this on the site today.
    We know how hard you worked at this and your professionalism was a joy to see.
    As Leila has said, this is one that all of us who pick up a pen think that we should have thought of.
    Beautifully thought out and superbly written!!
    Hugh

    Like

    1. Special thanks to you, Hugh, for helping this piece reach its full potential! I so appreciate being included in literally stories.

      Like

  3. Superb writing and premise. The down to earth, yet wonderfully descriptive, style and pace anchored this dystopian idea in reality. And, like all good speculative fiction, it speaks volumes about real modern life.

    Liked by 1 person

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