No hesitation as I fill the basket with two red apples, two beefsteak tomatoes, a bowl of figs and dates, a pomegranate, a bottle of fermented cider and a loaf of steamy pumpernickel, sliced and slathered with butter. The bustle is over. I have pondered in my heart and am ready for a visit with Dobias. A picnic I said, and he laughed with delight. Although I have tried to be good to him, he has come to know my sudden shadows and deep wells.
A red ant darts across my heel, up my calf. About to squish it, I reconsider. Let him live.
Our picnic area is stark, a clearing only a few steps from the house: caked chicken-coop, flowerpot shards overgrown with weeds, stunted linden tree by the parched creek-bed. But here Dad or Marion won’t hover.
Dobias helps spread the checkered tablecloth on the grass and we lift out provisions. Is it dog-rose I smell? Red ravenous ants invade. He shrugs. He would not have survived our eighteen-month courtship if he weren’t overflowing with patience. Ants can share our plenty, his smile says. I take a bite of a tomato; juice trickles down my chin. He reaches for a date, changes his mind, picks up a fig, drops it, settles on the Mackintosh. He lets it fall when I explain my condition.
“Show me,” he says.
My fingers stumble as I unbutton my blouse and turn. He caresses them gently. It is as I said.
In the middle of my back, covered with speckled brown feathers, sprouting from my shoulder blades, flexing. I unfurl them. He’s not frightened, not horrified, not disgusted. His startling blue eyes don’t waver.
“Marry me, Marta,” he says. “I will love you, exactly as you are, ordinary and miraculous, forever.”
He embraces me around the waist, his body fitting into mine, the outspread wings a part of us. Ants swarm across the tablecloth and feast.
Andrew Stancek grew up in Bratislava and saw tanks rolling through its streets.
He currently dreams and entertains Muses in southwestern Ontario. His work has appeared in Tin House online, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Vestal Press, Every Day Fiction, fwriction, Pure Slush and Camroc Press Review, among others. He’s been a winner in the Flash Fiction Chronicles and Gemini Fiction Magazine contests and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
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[Picture by Charlie Stinchcomb]