When a Man Loves By Ben Friedman
High School Short Story Third Place Winner, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School
Once there was a man. And this man loved a woman. He loved her so much that one night they decided to make a life together. One day the doctor told the man that it was a girl. The man had hoped it would be a girl.
One night the man drove the woman to the hospital. And as she strained and screamed, he soothed her and caressed her hand; and the whole time he looked at her gently—for he loved the woman.
On that night, the woman went into labor but something wasn’t right. The doctors said everything would be OK, but their faces didn’t agree. The man became very worried. He kissed the woman again and again and again. If he just kept kissing her, everything would be OK. And he loved her harder.
One morning a little girl was born. One morning a woman died. And the man held the girl in his arms, and he cried.
One day the girl said her first words. And the man laughed with joy and clapped his hands.
One day the girl said she was not to be treated as a child anymore. And inside the man laughed with joy, but on the outside he was stern, and he told the girl yes, she ought not to be treated as a child anymore. So, since the girl was no longer to be treated as a child anymore, the man bought her shoes with adult laces. And the man taught the girl how to tie the shoes. And the girl tried to learn but it was too hard. So she started crying and leaped into the man’s arms. And inside he laughed with joy, for she was still a child.
One day the girl said it was time to go to school. And the man agreed she ought to go. So one day the man took the girl to school. And the man watched the girl walk away.
One day the girl said she wanted to learn how to ride a bike. The man said yes, she ought to learn. So the man and the girl went to the store and they bought a bike—a pink one, because that was the color the girl said she liked. And the man and the girl and the bike walked to the park, and the man helped the girl onto its seat. Then he pushed the bike into motion. And while he did this, he ran beside the bike and held the girl firmly by her waist, because he would not let her fall.
One day the girl said she wanted to know how to tell time. The man said yes, she ought to know. So the man took off his watch and showed it to the girl. And he showed her the short hand and the long hand. And he told her about seconds and minutes. And he told her how it was funny that the highest anything could go was 12 and 60, not 10 and 100. And he told her how there were those who hated time and those who loved it, though the latter group, he said, was less common. He told her how some people feared getting old and—but then she cut him off and said the hands of the watch looked like chopsticks.
One day the girl said she wanted to know what happened to her mom. And the man said yes, she ought to know. So he told her how one night the woman got really sick, and how on that same night the doctors couldn’t save her. And then the man stopped talking because he did not want to cry in front of the girl. And the girl turned to the man and said, “I understand” even though she didn’t. And inside the man laughed with joy because she was her mother’s daughter.
One day the girl said that since she was older she needed to buy some new clothes. And the man said yes, she ought to buy some. So the man and the girl went to the store. And the girl bought low-cut shirts and neon bras, even though she was not yet old enough to fill them. And she bought small shorts that pressed tightly against her legs. And inside the man was annoyed because he did not like this one bit—but on the outside he smiled and told her she looked beautiful.
One night the girl had pains and cramps and there was blood. And the man asked her what was wrong, but she screamed at him and told him to go away. So the man called his sister who came over and helped the girl. And when it was over the girl embraced her aunt. And inside the man laughed with joy because the girl was no longer afraid, but inside the man was sad because he hadn’t been the one to help her.
One day the girl said it was time she learned how to drive. And the man said yes, she ought to learn. So the man and the girl got into the man’s car, and he taught her how to drive. And while they drove, he told her stories. He told her how the woman always wanted to go to Paris and how she told everybody she was French, even though she wasn’t. And that was how she knew how well she knew someone, because if they called her by her name then they must be friends, but if they called her mademoiselle then they were just acquaintances. And he told her how the woman loved photography, and how one time she had left photo liquid in the fridge and he had accidentally swallowed it because he had thought it was water, and then he had had to go to the hospital because it wasn’t water but actually photo liquid. But he wasn’t mad at her, not even for a second, because he loved her. Then the girl said she missed her mom. The man said he did, too.
One night the girl said that she wanted to go to a party. And the man said yes, if that was what she wanted, then she ought to do it. So that night the girl made herself up and went to a party. And when she came home she was crying and she yelled at the man for letting her go. And she said she missed her mom.
One night the girl came home from a party and got very sick. So the man put towels all over the bathroom floor so that the girl could lie down. And when she threw up, he held her hair back and soothed her. And the next morning he made her coffee and put a cool towel on her forehead. And on the outside he was stern, but on the inside he laughed with joy because she still needed him.
One day the girl said she loved a boy and that she wanted to live with him. And the man said yes, if that was what she wanted then she ought to do it. So the girl left to live with the boy, and the man watched her walk away. And the man cried because he had not wanted her to go.
One night the girl came home. She was crying and sick. And as the man held her hair back, he was confused, because she smelled not of alcohol but of something else. And he was concerned because he could see odd track-like marks running along her arms. He was afraid he knew what that meant. He lifted her face firmly and raised it up so that his eyes were staring into her puffy yellow eyes with pupils that were too exaggerated. And he wanted to tell her to stay with him, and he wanted to tell her to be careful, and he wanted to tell her to forget the boy. But instead all he said was that he loved her.
One day the girl came home and said she wanted to marry the boy. And the man said if that was what she wanted to do, then she ought to do it.
One day the girl sent the man a letter telling him that she had moved away with the boy.
One day the man called the girl. And when he did he found out that her number had changed. And he did not know her new number. So he screamed at the phone and pleaded with it, and then he screamed at it again. He had never screamed before.
One day the girl forgot about the man. But this hadn’t come of her own volition.
One day the man got a letter from the girl whom he hadn’t spoken to in a while because she had forgotten about him. And the letter said she wasn’t OK. So the man got in his car and drove 514 miles to the return address of the letter because the man still loved the girl. And then he went to the hospital. And he saw the girl on the bed. And he saw that she wasn’t OK. And on the outside he said hello and he smiled, but on the inside he cried because he had seen this before.
One day the man met the boy in the hospital where the girl was…but he knew the girl loved the boy.
One morning the girl lay on the bed. And the man kissed her, kissed her and kissed her. And he stroked her head with the soft of his hand. And he held her hand as hard as he could without it hurting. And he ran his fingers over the wounds of her arms—but the wounds were much deeper than the surface. And he let the boy stand there because he knew she loved him. And he kissed her. He asked her to stay with him, but she couldn’t hear him. He told her to stay with him, but she couldn’t hear him. He demanded that she stay with him, but she couldn’t hear him. He said he loved her, but could she hear him? And he kissed her.
One morning the man fell asleep. When he woke up, the girl was gone. Her hand was still in his. And his hand was still in hers. It was cold. He didn’t cry, because he did not have any tears left to lose.
He hoped she knew how much he had loved her.