The Road to Pomona’s
“Elinor.” He sighed; she was off again.” You’d think she didn’t want–
“Hmm? Did you say something, Charles?”
“Did I say — Elinor, we are trying here to plan our vacation — something I think we both want very much?” It was lost on her. She only looked at him, face composed, eyes empty of any hint of emotion. Of involvement.
He tried a different tack, pushing the papers and travel brochures together into a hasty pile and stacking them atop the refrigerator, theoretically out of the cat’s territory.
“Listen, I’m beat myself. Tomorrow’s Saturday, we’ll have the whole day to just mess around and talk about plans. It was stupid to try it tonight, anyway. Let’s go to –“
Amazement stopped him. Elinor was sitting stiffly upright, face, for once, intent. “What did you say?”
“What did I — when?” He was honestly baffled.
“You said tomorrow’s Saturday. Saturday. It can’t possibly be Saturday…”
“It can’t?” Charles stared. “Why can’t it? I’ve waited a whole –“
Again, her face interrupted him. “OK, suppose you tell me what day tomorrow is.”
She looked a little bewildered herself. “Well, all right — Saturday. I guess. It’s just that I promised Pomona –“
“Pomona? Who’s Pomona? And why’d you promise her anything? You knew perfectly well that this is the first Saturday I’ve had off in — HEY!”
But Elinor was already gone, racing down the short hallway to their bedroom.
The road to Pomona’s is tree-lined and dim. You move for a timeless time over white gravel, the breeze that cools your face scented with roses and lilac. Suddenly, you stand out upon the hillside and there it is, set like a jewel in the very heart of the valley, an island of serenity in a sea of deep red grass…
“Elinor? Elinor, why’re you sitting in the dark?”
She stirred, focused. “I’ve got a headache. The light bothers me.”
“Oh.” He moved into the room, sat on the corner of the bed. She could just see him, a dim, slumped-forward outline, hands clenched between his knees.
“Listen, Elinor…” He paused.
“I’m listening, Charles.”
“I — well, look, if you don’t want the vacation, or you want to go someplace else — I mean, you should say so, right? It’s not like we have to — I just thought — hell, all the overtime I’ve been doing, we ought to get something out of it. But if you’d rather not…”
“Oh, no. No, Charles, Las Vegas sounds lovely –” she suppressed the mental image of hot, bright lights; too many bodies; too much noise. “I think we’ll have lots of fun. Really I do.”
The outline of his shoulders straightened in the dimness. “That’s the truth, now?”
“Cross my heart.” She moved to sit beside him; rested her forehead against his arm. “I warned you, didn’t I? I’m impossible. I told you so — moody, irascible. But, no, nothing would do but that you marry the wench –” She pounded him lightly on the back with one half-serious fist. “I warned you, you bully –“
He laughed; swung an arm around to pull her close. “OK, you did. The blame’s on me. Sometimes, it’s almost worth it…”
Much later, at the very edge of dreaming, he remembered.
“Elinor. Who’s Pomona?”
He was already asleep when she answered, “Oh, nobody — really.”
She woke before him next morning; snuck away for a quick shower; pulled on jeans and a bright red sweater and went down the hall to the kitchen, running fingers through still-damp hair.
The cat was fed first, as always, she murmuring breakfast pleasantries; he aloof, but polite. She clicked on the radio, pushed open the window above the sink and turned back, hands on hips, to frown around the kitchen. “Pancakes, I think?” and then grinned. “Why not? Saturday comes but once a week –“
Eggs, milk and sausage were out of refrigerator like a conjuring trick; the skillet was set to heat and the coffeepot primed. She sang with the radio as she worked. The breeze came through the window, carrying the scent of fresh-mown grass from the park across the street.
The road to Pomona’s is tree-lined and dim. You move for a timeless time over white gravel, the breeze that cools your face scented with roses and lilac. Suddenly, you stand out upon the hillside and there it is, set like a jewel in the very heart of the valley; an island of serenity in a seat of deep red grass. And within, Pomona herself, whose house is but a reflection of her own deep and healing peace. She busies herself, perhaps, at her spinning, or makes music upon a crystalline keyboard. Though, again, perhaps not today. For tonight there is to be celebration in Pomona’s house, and there are preparations to be made. Best you not tarry, then, upon the hill; for here is one place where actuality surpasses anticipation.
“Morning, Spike!” She felt herself whirled about, mechanically returned an exuberant kiss. “Pancakes, huh? Super!
Real coffee? Time for a fast shower? I’ll be right back — save some for me, now!”
She was humming with the radio again by the time he returned.
They ate, Charles putting pancakes into his mouth at an alarming rate and, at the same time, chattering about the proposed trip to Vegas. Elinor pushed bits of soggy pancake and sausage around her plate, remembering to glance up every now and then, and smile.
He ran down, finally, and leaned back in his chair, third cup of coffee held reverently in his hands, and grinned at her. “My dear, you have outdone yourself. If this is what I miss by working on Saturday –“
The road to Pomona’s is tree-lined and dim —
She was jerked to her feet, “– to the zoo!” Charles was laughing.
“The zoo?” The shock of transition made her stupid.
“Sure, the zoo. It’s bright sunshine; we should take advantage.” He leaned forward conspiratorially, “I’ll buy you an ice cream.” Then he was charging to the front door, Elinor in tow.
“The dishes!” she cried.
“Let the cat do ’em!”
And they raced down the apartment-house stairs and into the street, laughing identical laughter.
The road to Pomona’s is tree-lined and dim. You walk for a timeless time over white gravel, the breeze that cools you face scented with roses and lilac. Suddenly, you stand out upon the hillside and there it is, set like a jewel in the very heart of the valley; an island of serenity in a sea of deep red grass. Dusk is approaching now and already candles are being lit in the windows to show the way to those few who do not know it by heart. A festival tonight, the candlelight murmurs across the valley; a celebration for our true friend, our Elinor. Come, come all, to meet Elinor; to welcome Elinor…
“…Elinor. Come to bed.” He sat next to her on the loveseat, reached out uncertainly. “Hey, are you all right? I mean, can I get you anything or something?” His hand smoothed her short, rough hair. “Spike? You there?”
She focused slowly, read the concern in his face, made the effort: “Too much excitement today, I guess. I’m not used to doing much on Saturdays, since you’ve been working. I’m a little — keyed up.”
He looked relieved. “Keyed up, eh? Well, ol’ Doc Charles has a cure for that, little lady. Just you stay right here one minute while I mix it up.”
He vanished, and she heard him rummaging in the kitchen. His minute stretched into five while she carefully noted the signs of wear in the carpet; the pattern of the traffic light on the shade.
It had to be tonight — the Gate would only admit her fully tonight. Elinor closed her eyes, hearing Pomona’s voice explaining it, over the sshussh of her spinning: “It will not be difficult. You already know the way. …To the ones you leave on the other side — it will only look to them as if you had died.”
Charles thrust a warm mug into her hand. “Down the hatch.”
She swallowed obediently. Warm milk and brandy.
“All of it.”
She showed him the empty mug. He took it back to the kitchen, reappeared and pulled her to her feet.
“Now to bed.” A finger across her lips stifled a fledgling protest. “Don’t argue with your doctor, girl; he knows best. Woman your age needs her sleep. So, c’mon; let’s tuck you in.”
After he had turned off the light and settled in his side of the bed, she murmured, “Charles?”
“I love you, Charles.”
“I love you, too, Spike. G’night.”
The road to Pomona’s…
# # #
Well, this is a strange little story, written in 1978. Long time ago, 1978. In July, the month in which this was written, original title “Secrets”, so it says here on the Story Card, I’d’ve been 25 years old. In April of that year, I’d moved in with a guy I’d met in my creative writing class in college. In May, I left my day-job as Administrative Aide to the Dean of the University of Maryland’s graduate school of social work, in order to tend the used bookstore my boyfriend and I had opened, not quite on a whim, but without really much idea of what we were doing except that it would be a Grand Adventure, and we would be together.
Prior to 1978, I’d been a model citizen, more or less. I wasn’t the kind of person who had adventures; I was invisible, efficient, and dismissable; fated to die young — or, at least, to stop caring early. Freedom, when I thought about it, was something that would come. . .later. I’d open a bookstore. After I retired. I’d be a writer — by that point, I was a writer, in that I was writing and submitting. But I didn’t consider that my writing would set me free, or do anything more than give me a few more months of caring.
All that changed when I met Steve Miller, and when I say it all changed — that’s a literal truth — and it all changed fast.
I had to adapt — I’m not good at adapting, even now; change scares me. But — I had to adapt. I’d burned every single bridge that connected me to my old life, and I knew — I knew, that life hadn’t been sustainable.
And into that time of turmoil and adventure came Elinor and the promise of Pomona, reminding us that change is scary, and, when one thing changes, everything else changes, too.
So, the Story Card. “The Road to Pomona’s” was submitted to every possible short story market between 1978 and 1996. It was accepted twice — and then returned, as projects failed to find funding. It never did find a home, poor thing, so here it is, for you.
— Sharon Lee
October 23, 2016
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