Jul/Aug 2020  •   Nonfiction

My First Fiance

by Carroll Susco

His brother sits in his room playing Game of Thrones while Ed sits in his trying not to think of his dead dog. He's in love with a girl he knew 35 years ago, but I don't know her anymore.

At first, last summer, when he called me out of the blue, I wanted to find her in me. So, I looked. She's not there. He said he used my picture as a bookmark and that he still thinks I'm his true love. I looked harder, but it gets worse. I think I never was her. Still, he keeps talking to me on the phone. He sent a zombie for Halloween, plants for Christmas. He gets depressed. He holds on. I hold on.

He's been housebound awhile, but the hole in his foot healed. The hole in his leg did. He could drive. I said I would meet him in Richmond, but when it came time to get in the car, I couldn't. And so I left him there, somewhere, nowhere, in southern Virginia.

He got a paper route to supplement his disability. He delivers papers in the middle of the night. He delivers three kinds and has a flashing light atop his car with 22 ways to flash. He can't come up because he works seven days a week.

He stops delivering papers. It is costing him too much money in gas. They haven't given him a paycheck. But he'll miss driving around in the middle of the night, except the almost driving off the cliffs part. He's a nice guy, driving slowly so he doesn't hit any animals. One night, he dodges a cow. We used to do that, drive around at night.

Instead of cutting ties, I give weekly calls, slow torture, where we reminisce about being young—the stolen stereos he installed, drinking, having sex, steaks on Sunday night, fixing up his Nova, teaching me how to change my oil. But mostly he just bullshits about his day. And I remember the girl who told me my senior year of high school that she had danced with my boyfriend at the Wild, Wild West bar. He hadn't told me he'd gone there. I listen to him bullshit about his day, and if I have a drink, I can talk superficial bullshit.

He was busy those years we had no contact. He has five children and a wife and two grandchildren. His wife has a hole in her throat from smoking. She is having surgery. He left his family in New Jersey and moved to bumfuck. His mother is down the road, and his brother, but something's not right. The story doesn't hold water. He has neglected, again, to tell me the truth. And then he always says his wife stabbed him twice, but I got him to admit he was the one to spend the night in jail. He even admitted he might have done something to provoke it. She is, apparently, 105 pounds, and, I think, his actual true love.

I saw her 35 years ago, a week after Ed and I broke up, beautiful blond by his side. I smiled for him. Friends? He smiled, and I drove away. I wasn't jealous. I wasn't in love. How do I tell him I broke it off not because my parents didn't approve but because I didn't feel it? He says he used to drive by my house. As for his wife, he says she was his connection and had been giving him the eye. That's how he said he replaced me so fast. And then he knocked her up and had to marry her, as he put it. She gave him an ultimatum. He waited until the last possible second to tie the knot. That must have hurt. I knew when I was dating him he had a secret life. Glimpses of it spill out in conversation. I say nothing.

Apparently, the shots continue to come from the woman's house a ways down the road from him, and all the dogs go to Ed's for shelter. He calls the cops and tells me of his crazy neighbors, eccentric gun shooting, wild women, and the leader of the Hell's Angels. But I am hard-pressed to know for sure what's true. He is spinning another yarn, and I spin this one to untangle him, but he is slippery and once again gets away. I tried to catch him when we were together, I realize, and couldn't then, either.

Ed is going to die soon. He did too much meth with his wife. His aorta did not forgive and forget. He quit his job really because he can't afford to lose disability. Working will kill him. He can't lift 25 pounds. He can't work an eight-hour day. He drinks coffee though still, lots of it.

Maybe somewhere he simply walks off into the sunset like the cowboy he is, down the porch of the house onto the grass, into the woods, into the mountains, to the edge of a hill and on up, away from pain, regret, hopes and dreams, to a mountain where he can drink moonshine forever and bullshit all he wants to, and when he needs cash, he can work under the table. It'd be pretty and peaceful and once and awhile he'd wrangle a coyote because he's a man. And he'd talk of the fiancé he once had, and the woman I am now wouldn't mess up the picture. I'd be somewhere else, walking into my sunset, calling him on the phone once and awhile to shoot the shit.