My boyfriend came with a lot of rope.
The day he moved in with me, along with boxes and boxes of his stuff, I was worried that he would fill up every corner of what used to be just me. He’d filled the boxes with the usual things—-shirts with stiff collars and shoes, some he’d never worn and some without laces. I saw a navy blue belt buckle engraved with a ship. My boyfriend collected stuff. Stuff like albums and model railroad trains, I could understand.
“But why do you have so much rope?” I’d asked him that Saturday morning. His brother-in-law was there, too, wearing a doo-rag and carrying boxes.
“Because he’s a nut,” the brother-in-law quickly replied as he hefted a box of ping pong balls. My boyfriend looked at him with a dropped jaw. Then the brother-in-law quickly did an about-face. “Only kidding.”
“Thanks a lot,” the boyfriend deadpanned while glaring at his relative.
“I was only kidding!” the brother-in-law repeated, his tone begging for forgiveness.
My boyfriend sure had all kinds of rope. There was nylon rope and jute rope with tiny fibers. The boyfriend had used some of the rope, and some not. I liked the unus best, so clean and smelled so earthy and still in its cardboard packaging. My boyfriend gathered all the lengths of rope and stuffed them all into a large plastic container; “Put this rope in the garage.”
That incident marked the beginning of our unraveling. My boyfriend seemed to think it was okay to order me around now that we lived together. Mrs. Hannaford, who lived next door, no longer said hello to me when we went to get our mail. Mrs. Hannaford avoided me ever since I threw the clay pot, and smashed the boyfriend’s car windshield.
Once, though, after dinner, when we were eating pie, I think it was blueberry, something was different. There was a stillness in the air. I could hear the hum of the refrigerator.
“Would you like ice cream on your dessert?” he’d asked me.
I looked up with my fork halfway to my mouth, “Ah,” I replied. “Okay.” I wasn’t used to being asked what I wanted.
I held off eating while he opened the freezer door with a releasing sound and took out a carton of coconut vanilla. Then the boyfriend opened the utility drawer. The silverware clinked. When the boyfriend first moved in, he’d told me that my forks looked like one of Poseidon’s tridents, and I’d resented it. Then he pried off the frozen cover and dug in with one of the forks. Soon, a scoop of ice cream with an indent of a weapon was on top of my pie. I could smell the vanilla bean and felt the cold in my mouth.
We ate in silence. Now and again, we glanced at each other, but not at the same time.
“I want you to move out,” I told him a week later. His eyes widened, but he didn’t say anything, just looked down at his scuffed brown work boots.
The next day I was grocery shopping and asked the manager if I could have some Boxes; “Moving?” he asked politely.
“Ah, sort of,” I stumbled. “Not me, a friend.”
I’m sure the manager wasn’t surprised since two months earlier, the boyfriend and I fought in his store. We were arguing about which green beans to buy, the frozen or the fresh when the same manager came over and asked us to tone it down. At the same time, a dark-haired woman I recognized from the bank, wearing a blue printed blouse made a wide arc around us. That was after I’d shoved our shopping cart, and it banged into the freezer compartment.
“This isn’t working out,” I told the boyfriend. He exhaled through his nostrils like a large barn animal.
So, I came home from the grocery store that day and had just entered the kitchen. It had been a relief to go shopping without the boyfriend and not have to put up with his criticizing me. Suddenly, something in the backyard caught my eye. I put down the brown paper bag with celery sticking out on the kitchen table so I could get a better look. I squinted my eyes. Then I saw it. At the same time, I heard the grocery bag fall to the floor with a bang. My boyfriend’s body was swinging from a branch of the beech tree. Rope was around his neck.
Later, the fire department cut the rope and laid my boyfriend’s body on the ground. It was the used jute rope. I stood there taking shallow breaths and noticed my hands were shaking. Then I slowly walked over to the body, got down on the cool grass. I noticed for the first time that my boyfriend’s hair was thin and delicate and I covered my face. I could hear the beeping sounds from the fire truck. The firemen talking back and forth on their talkies. At that moment, I figured out why my boyfriend had filled my garage with so much rope. I figured it out. Then, for a moment, I laid down on the grass beside the body like a long length of jute.
Cyndi Cresswell Cook is a short story writer and a photographer.