Sometimes he wondered what the boy would have grown up to be. Who he would have become if Mina hadn’t snuffed out his flame before he’d had a chance for it to catch fire and really dance. It had only flickered before Mina whispered and extinguished it, like the small waxy candles on her birthday cakes each year.
At times, Luke’s wonderings got confused. His imagination wandered down paths that didn’t exist, twisting and bending reality, until the boy was his and Mina’s son that they’d lost. And then he grieved even harder than he’d ever grieved for him when he was just a helpless stranger who crossed their path by unforgiving coincidence. It became easier to forget this way that he and Mina had never actually had any children of their own or even gotten married, leaving them with no tangible links to tie them together after they parted ways. Only the invisible bonds of memories and disappointments.
“We don't deserve to have any children,” she said when their efforts at getting pregnant failed yet again. “Not after what we did.”
Then they thought of the boy’s parents together in agonizing silence, so thick they couldn't find each other through it. His hurt made no dent in her resolve. She just stared out the window, though with the curtains closed, she couldn't see outside.
Luke had held Mina close, eight years earlier, as they danced cheek to cheek on cobblestones under the streetlights on Montmartre. With him humming la vie en rose into her ear.
“You can hardly claim to be drunk on only one glass of wine,” he said as she swayed away from him afterward, her movements unsteady and hypnotic. He said the same thing three years later, the night they left their favorite restaurant, as they argued over who was sober enough to drive.
The sky was a rigid obsidian and the street winding through the woods that Mina preferred to the busy highway was quiet with no lights anywhere. When their car thudded, rough and violent, they both breathed, "deer", before continuing home, shaken.
It wasn't until they saw the boy on the news in daylight-- he'd been getting high with his friends in the woods and ambled over to the road to get better service on his cell-- that the fear of possibilities gripped them and wouldn't let go.
The boy glided through each room of their small yellow and white house, caressing their skin with shivers on the off chance they'd forgotten him. He speckled Luke’s strawberry blonde hair with silver. He drew lines and pressed creases into Mina’s face, one for each year he'd been dead. The boy watched as the silence between Luke and Mina billowed and rippled like strong trees with weak branches in merciless winds, littering the ground with leaves too tired and dry to fight anymore.
The day finally came when Mina said she was going to turn herself in. “Just sleep on it,” Luke pleaded with her. So she did. And in the morning, they didn't go to the police station together. He went through his usual getting ready routine and drove to work. She, on the other hand, packed her clothes and books into a suitcase, and left forever.
Haunted as they’d been, the world had still managed to drizzle rose petals every so often. Thick as satin, airy as silk. Luke never sang to Mina again, but the tune lingered in their heads anyway. But after she left him and the obligation to protect her and her guilt had long since atrophied, the sky was flowerless.
One morning, as Luke sat in his Chevy outside the boy’s home, quite unsure if his parents still even lived there or if he’d been financing another set of strangers all these years, he thought he saw Mina’s head of wild curls across the street and her brown eyes staring straight ahead. He didn’t go check to be certain. He preferred to imagine her there, sitting in a car like his, nursing a debt that could never be repaid.
Anna Vangala Jones’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Kartika Review, Fiction Southeast, The Airgonaut, and The Fem, among others. Her stories have earned honorable mention at Glimmer Train and placed as finalist and semi-finalist at Gigantic Sequins, American Short Fiction, and Ruminate. She will be pursuing her MFA in Fiction at Antioch University Los Angeles. Visit her online at annavangalajones.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter @anniejo_17.