Rona with her red hair and Frank with his dark bushy eyebrows met in high school. Rona was good with math and sang in the show choir; Frank was second string in basketball and had a small role in Arsenic and Old Lace. After graduation they married at city hall and Rona got a job as a checker at the A&P; Frank worked at his uncle’s carwash on 21st Street; they could both walk to work from their studio apartment on 36th Avenue. When Rona got pregnant Frank worked double shifts in order to save up. When she lost the baby in the fourth month Frank continued to work constantly although Rona couldn’t understand why and felt abandoned in her grief. For his efforts his uncle promoted Frank to assistant manager which meant he no longer went home with prune hands and the extra money got them a one bedroom on Steinway Street. When Rona got pregnant again Frank was right to suspect the baby wasn’t his and through screams and sobs Rona admitted she didn’t love the other man who was a fellow checker but who made her feel she mattered. Frank stayed with his brother for a time and then told Rona that if she quit her job and never saw the guy again and never told another living soul, they could raise the baby as though it was theirs together. They named the boy Francis Carl and called him Franky and by the time he was walking at nine months people commented how much he looked and acted like Frank. Rebecca was born two years later and was named for Rona’s mother who died after a long illness less than a week after Rona delivered by C-section. Frank held his wife’s arm as they walked slowly from the family car to the graveside at New Calvary, Rona feeling the pull of the stitches with each step. Rebecca made both Rona and Frank feel a general completeness. While Rona raised the kids and volunteered at school and balanced the checkbook and gave blood and made birthday cakes and Christmas cookies and sometimes still sneaked a cigarette after the kids were in bed, Frank opened his own carwash in Lynbrook which is where they now also lived. By third grade Rona and Frank had been told repeatedly by teachers that Franky was gifted and far exceeded his peers even though he was often sick and missed school, and he would go on to skip the sixth and ninth grades. Somewhere along the line because of his keen intellect and his lesser constitution Rona felt obligated to tell Franky the Truth and swore him to the same secrecy she had sworn to his father. Franky was upset but also understood what his father had sacrificed and why his father would never be as close to him as to Rebecca. Rebecca bragged of her brother’s successes and never felt the lesser for being merely average for she was still Daddy’s little girl and she loved that more than anything. And Frank still loved Rona and Rona did her best to still love Frank and for her fortieth birthday Frank bought her a Cadillac and when she said it was too extravagant Frank told her it would also cover their upcoming twenty-second anniversary, which would turn out to be a lie because for that he gave her a trip to Hawaii, and Rona’s red hair was now mostly bottled and Frank’s bushy eyebrows grew ever bushier and grey. And after Franky graduated from Princeton and Rebecca was commuting to NYU Franky told his parents and his sister all together that he was gay and Rebecca winked and said she’d always known and Frank sat stoic in his recliner and Rona ran out back and smoked, not caring if anyone saw. And then Rona and Frank were alone again and Frank started voting republican at least at the local level and Rona began donating blood every week and they didn’t see much of Rebecca who was dating an older man from Scarsdale and saw even less of Franky who was living downtown and then at the age of twenty-seven died, and Frank and Rebecca and everyone at the funeral knew or suspected the truth but Rona chose to believe it was one of the many little illnesses that had plagued him since childhood that had finally bested her little boy. Rona and Frank sold the house and moved back to Queens, to a one bedroom garden co-op where Rona planted verbena and creeping thyme and tended to her Mister Lincoln roses and Frank liked to lie in his hammock and read his Raymond Chandler books or let Rebecca’s girls Frankie and Yvette chase him around the old magnolia. They went on cruises and Frank sold the carwashes and Rona taught him to play two-handed pinochle which he became very good at and they brought back high school like the time Frank swiped the ugliest tie from Woolworth’s to give it to his history teacher as a joke, only to have the teacher die soon after and his widow wanted Frank to know she had buried him in it. They found things again to laugh about and watched reruns together and then Rona started sleeping late and getting headaches and then it was almost like it had been one long run-on sentence that was now about to end and Frank asked Rebecca and her husband to leave the room and he crawled into the hospital bed with Rona and took the oxygen tube from her nose and pressed his lips tight to hers and then pulled away by only inches and said what seemed to be the only words to have ever mattered and the only thing to have ever mattered:
“I love you I love you I love you….”
J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. He is a Best Short Fictions nominee, and his stories have appeared in several journals, including Soft Cartel and Typehouse Literary Magazine. He loves fried zucchini blossoms and wishes they were available year-round. He lives with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha, in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY. His recent fiction can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com
he can be followed on twitter: @jedwardkruft.