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A Melody So Plain

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In the years afterward, Sue would decide it had all begun in the back of Tommy’s car. She considered the Locker Room Incident to be more of a prelude, or the first rumble before the big quake hits. It had cracked the door but she hadn’t looked through the opening until that evening when she began to cry after making love with Tommy. Thinking about the way things were and would be, going steady, getting married, having babies, and yet also thinking about Carrie and the look on her face as she was surrounded by screaming, hateful girls, dripping bright blood onto the tile floor. Sue thought of that moment in the backseat as the crossroads between what was, what could have been and what is.

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From the September 15, 2019 edition of the Westover Enterprise-Gazette:

A great time was had by all Saturday as the Class of Ewen High 1979 held their 40th reunion shindig. The party is one of the first to be held in the newly renovated Old Town Hall, and featured cover band Frankie and the Swingtones. Two time Mayor of Chamberlain and former Senior Class President Vic Mooney gave a brief address to the assembled crowd of seventy-three Ewen High graduates and their invited guests. Special thanks go out to Norma Johnson for the excellent catering (Parties By Norma) and to the daughters of class member Tommy Ross for their lovely a capella rendition of the Ewen High School Song. Thankfully, this time there were no shenanigans, as many in attendance recalled the extremely unpleasant prank pulled by persons unknown on Prom Night in 1979. “We definitely had all the ceiling beams checked beforehand,” said Chief of Police Henry Stampel. “We were lucky last time that no one was seriously injured.”

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Hello Tommy!

Thanks so much for your email; I didn’t intend for it to take me so long to answer. Carrie and I have been renovating the house since Tom and Peter can’t make it for the holidays this year. (Peter’s parents bought them a Caribbean cruise to celebrate their 10th anniversary so they’re short on vacation time.) Seems as good a time as any to get the roof patched and the kitchen redone, though of course it’s taking twice as long and costing twice as much as we budgeted.

Though I can’t say I’m sorry to have missed the class reunion, I do wish we had been able to catch up in person instead of through email and Facebook. Maybe we’ll make our way back up there this summer, but maybe not. Carrie says she wants to go camping in Canada, one of those big parks out west. The pictures of the girls in their outfits were precious. Tell Sarah she really outdid herself this time. They must have inherited her singing voice. You could never carry a tune in a bucket. Did Chris H bother to show her face at the reunion? You know she’s still one of the prime suspects in that bucket business, but God knows she’d never admit it.

Did you see that our garden’s been going gangbusters this year? Carrie says we’re going to have to sneak zucchini onto people’s porches at midnight like ninjas. Her heart doctor gave her a decent report last month, so yoga is in but vegetable martial arts are probably out. Gotta dash, it’s almost time for work. Tom and Carrie send their love.

Yours,
Sue

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From the June 17th, 1979 edition of the Chamberlain Clarion: “Cause Determined in House Fire That Killed One”

The Chamberlain Police Department and Coroner’s Office have determined the cause of death in a fire that destroyed a house on Carlin Street just over two weeks ago. According to the Chief of Police, the fire was started by overturned candles, a great number of which were found inside the home. Margaret White, aged 49, the owner of the home, died of heart failure caused by smoke inhalation. White had resided in the home for 17 years with her daughter, Carietta. Ralph White died in 1963, and Carietta was their only child. She was away from home on the night of the fire. Services for the deceased will be private.

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Sue would never breathe a word of that night to anyone. Tommy had been such a sport, agreeing to take Carrie to the Prom to help Sue atone for the Locker Room Incident. She had thought of talking to him about that night over the years, but something always held her back. Some premonition of danger, or sense of disaster averted. Of course, that seemed silly most of the time. What disaster? Sure, the events of Prom Night had been awful, even though she had been more of a bystander to both. The lesser, someone’s rotten prank on the Prom King and Queen, seemed more important to the town at large. It had sent Frank Grier to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder and thoroughly freaked out those in attendance. Pig’s blood all over the stage, ugh! The more important to Sue’s mind had been the confrontation between Carrie and her mother when Carrie had arrived home from a root beer and hamburger with Tommy after the dance. Sue had never asked for details, but she knew it must have been bad, bad enough to end with an ugly gash along Carrie’s shoulder. To this day, Sue isn’t sure what drew her out of her own house that night and across town to Carrie’s front porch, but she had been there when Carrie came slamming through the door, bleeding on her pretty dress and crying piteously. In retrospect, it wasn’t surprising that a nut like Margaret White would manage to burn her own house down. Sue was only glad Carrie had agreed to spend the night at Sue’s house.

Sue wrote two postcards from Boston and dropped them into the mailbox on the corner. She didn’t really care about her own parents, though she felt vaguely that she probably should be more concerned about them, what they must be feeling and thinking now that she’s up and went. She couldn’t explain, couldn’t put into words the interior scream that had built in her chest from the moment she sat in Tommy’s old Ford and thought about the person she had glimpsed herself becoming when Carrie had stood under that rain of pads and tampons. All the card said was “I love you, I’m sorry, I’ll write when I can.” The card to Tommy was only slightly more illuminating, saying also “It wasn’t you, it was never you. Please understand.” Sue heard them hit the inside of the box before she turned and walked back toward a girl in a plain skirt and sweater, standing anxiously with one hand pressed to her shoulder as though to ease a hidden wound. Carrie had no postcards to send.

Sue had known in her heart that it wasn’t just an irregular period. She couldn’t say how she knew; she just did. It took Carrie a long time to notice, but to judge by the Locker Room Incident, that didn’t surprise Sue. Carrie was a quick study in the ways of the New World; she had been paying more attention than Sue had ever thought, but even still. Once she began tossing her cookies in the mornings, even Carrie wondered what was wrong. When Sue finally broke down and told her, Carrie had shaken with a tremor like wave breaking over her, and Sue could practically see the words crawling up her throat: “Sin.” “Fornication.” Abomination.” Then, just as sudden as a heartbeat, they stopped. Carrie touched her own shoulder, in that spot where the flesh was still raised and angry. Instead she asked softly “will you go back? To Tommy?” Sue took a deep breath and held it for long seconds, considering the question seriously now that it had manifested. “No,” she said at last. “I don’t want to go back.” They made it as far as Georgia before she started to feel like she needed to feather a nest, and couldn’t quite tie a waitress’s apron over her bump anyway. Carrie had taken in sewing in the small town where they came to rest, and Tom was born with the turning of the year, soft and gentle in this warm place instead of the harsher winters they were used to.

Sue couldn’t say when she realized what she felt for Carrie, a love deeper than anything she had known or imagined she knew before. It seemed to be a revelation and a fact that had always been there at the same time. She had looked over Tom’s bassinet at Carrie, smiling and dangling a toy to make him kick his little feet and wave his chubby arms, and she had just... known. Sue Snell loves Carrie White, just like writing on the bathroom walls back at Ewen High. She had figured she’d have to keep it to herself, Carrie’s upbringing being what it was, and she had done that for quite a while. But then, one late night after Tom had been feverish and they were both exhausted with caring for him, Carrie had just leaned against her and Sue had kissed her forehead, same as they had both done for Tom so many times. But Carrie had looked up at her, so startled like the deer that crossed behind their tiny rented house in the evening, and then had leaned forward, asking for more, asking for the gift of understanding. And there it was. Sue loves Carrie, and Carrie loves Sue. What else did you need, in the end?