BellaOnline Literary Review
For Authors of Olde by Carol Dandrade

Table of Contents


One Thing

Nancy Zhang

The doc told me I had three months left. He said mine was the calmest reaction he’d seen in years. I had a good life, I said. Good, long life. I circled back into Pensfield Cemetery and walked among the gravestones. There was only one regret. One sin I’ve carried with me all my life.

She was the first one to ever talk to me. I was afraid of the other kids. I hid myself like a turtle in his shell, scrunched up so tight I could only see pitch black. She was wearing a pretty bright frock and a white lily danced on her curls when she walked. “Hi! I really like your origami frogs. Can you teach me how to make one?”

We were in music class. The teacher had us pair up and practice the national anthem we were to perform for Veteran’s Day. She ran to me and grabbed my hand and sang. I told her her voice was beautiful. She told me mine was horrid. As soon as class ended, she flew out the door. I opened my mouth, but I was too late.

That year, the school play had too many spots for students to fill. I learned that she played the lead role. I decided to audition. I practiced within the dark confines of my room for days on end, but on the most important day, I became fearful. I sat with the audience and watched the brilliant sparkle in her eyes light up the stage. At the end of the performance, her face flashed with a tsunami of emotions, threatening to overtake her. I mustered up the courage to hand her a rose backstage. I walked a little straighter that day.

We applied to different colleges. She was always yearning for more, so she decided on a small elite college out of state. I enrolled where my parents went and where my grandparents went. My family did not like change. On the last day of high school, I decided to get her phone number. Stay in contact. But when I arrived at her locker, she was already gone, like a mirage.

I woke up to the sound of drunk and naked and painted college students. My roommate dragged me to the game. It would be good for me, he said. I hated crowds, too noisy and sweaty. My annoyance instantly evaporated when I saw her. Her pure visage had not changed, but her body had grown to an undeniable appeal. She had another man with her. My neck bristled.

Hey, long time no see! Her smile was truly blinding. We talked a little. My palms were sweaty, and I stuttered. Then the game started. I lost her among the crowd soon after that. Later, I found out that she had become pregnant and dropped out.

My coworkers wanted to go out for dinner. It was Jim’s last day, so they figured they might as well celebrate. He’s finally broken out, they joked. None of us had much money, so we settled on a middle-of-the-road restaurant. She was our waiter. I could tell that her face had become weathered by the sands of time. Her body had lost its youthful glow, but her radiant soul had remained intact. My coworkers said I was even quieter than usual that night. At the end of dinner, she approached me. “Hey, it’s really been too long since we’ve met up. What do you say you and me reconnect? Here’s my address. It’s near Pensfield Cemetery.”

She gave me an honest smile that hid the stink of desperation. But I was afraid that day. I was afraid and ashamed. I gathered up my courage the next day, but I was too late again. I saw on the news that a man near Pensfield Cemetery had committed a double murder-suicide, taking with him his wife and child.

I finally reached her gravestone. Out of my pocket, I pulled out a bouquet of origami frogs and lay them down. The sun buried itself and darkness enveloped the world.

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Reader Feedback:
I loved this so much, the poignancy of longing and regret, and the twist at the end. I thought that he would get to speak with her, to wipe away his one regret. It was surprising, but the bouquet of origami frogs on her grave was a beautiful symmetry with the beginning of the story.