Contributor: Cezarija Abartis

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They had courted under the branches of the oak tree sixty years earlier, and she wanted to bury him in its roots. But there were city regulations about burials, and in the end she obeyed. She even wished they had made love in the cemetery the way the other high school kids boasted they did. She and Hank held hands and walked to the library and back–hardly models of steaming romance.

Hank brought her a copy of Romeo and Juliet for her seventeenth birthday. “Well, your name is Julie.” He drew a circle in the dirt with the toe of his shoe.

“Does that make you Romeo?” she had asked, knowing he would be embarrassed.

“I didn’t mean...” He sighed. “I only wanted to give you the book.”

She patted the cover. “I’ll keep this always.” She held the book to her chest and kissed him on the cheek.

The book sat on the shelf between their photo album and the first novel he published. She became a high school teacher and he a mid-list novelist. He was at his computer when he slumped over at the desk.

She dusted the monitor. He’d been writing a mystery:

“The detective feared going back to his apartment. When he unlocked the door, he smelled the cordite in the air. His heart thumped. The kitten meowed piteously. He almost tramped on the fallen body sprawled on the floor. The kitten meowed again. He turned over the body and recognized his best friend.”

She read the first page: “To my wife, my muse, my sine qua non.” He had dedicated all seven of his books to her. Their children were not much interested in mysteries, though they politely accepted his gifts of books and displayed them prominently on their mantels. Susan practiced law and Ricky sold corporate real estate.

Her neighbor told her about the stages of grief, and that people do come to acceptance. Julie shook her head. Her neighbor said she was almost relieved when her Reynold died after the long illness.

“That was hard,” Julie said. She caressed Dolores’s shoulder, and Dolores burst into tears.

“I guess it’s never over,” Dolores said. “It’s been three years, and I’m still crying.”

The curtains fluttered at the open window and the September breeze. She still thought of September as the real beginning of the year–all those years teaching school and welcoming the students back. The curtains seemed ghostly. Their old kitty, Agnes, jumped on the window sill and watched the squirrels scampering down the oak tree and the cars turning at the corner.

Julie picked up Agnes and held her like a baby in her arms. She was now a skinny cat. The bones of her haunches made her like a halloween cat. Agnes nuzzled her upper arm.

“I remember her as a kitten,” Dolores said. “She tore up my garden once.”

“She’s better behaved now. Hank chose her at the Humane Shelter--the friskiest one in the litter.” Julie hugged Agnes to her chest. “Hank lavished love on this one.” The fur was scraggly. Julie petted her and petted her. She would groom her later.

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Cezarija Abartis' Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Pure Slush, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer,” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012.“The Argument,” was chosen by Beate Sigriddaughter as a runner-up for the Fourteenth Glass Woman Prize. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is
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