Contrary to Robert Frost by Renée Francoeur

He circles round.

He comes back to her in twelve-grain bread crumbs. Razor-edged squares of mirror. Pieces of memory. The genesis: a static clip of Marlon Brando’s voice, the shadow of a strong hooked nose, the thick scent of rain at night on a steel bridge, burlap coarseness on her cheek — the palm of a working man.


The mumble is closest to a prayer, the type of tone uttered only in the early watercolour hours of morning. The name, cracked on her wine-stained lips like an egg over a frying pan, pops as she says it. It slithers in a smoke around her half-sleeping body.

He fills the room. The four walls shudder and creak and rewash themselves into a barn loft; the type with warped pine boards. Sunlight streams in through the cracks. In these golden ribbons he floats, a hundred thousand flecks of straw and hay dust, doing back flips in slow motion in the stripes of light.

She’s there, swinging on a rope braided with green bailer twine. She puts her hand out, legs wrapped tight.

“Hello, Celeste.”

The morsels of him parachute around her like jellyfish until, pulsing, cackling with electricity… they implode.

Her mind wakes up and she’s in Helios’ chariot.

Golden mirages form: a fieldstone house newly renovated, smelling of cedar shingles, fresh paint on the window boxes. It’s the image she’d find tucked away in the corner of his smile, a paper crane of his drawings. He used to keep it there for her.

“I’ll build you that house and teach you how to lay the stone and you can cover it in that trumpet vine,” he’d said.

Another flashing mirage: two champagne pink peonies, dropped with gasps from a bridge into the black water below. Peonies so soft they’d split open on the way down. He’d picked them on a night he’d kissed her after a 219-day absence.

She breathes in and opens her eyes to twenty years ago.

“I like this dress,” he said, the amber fireworks of his hazel irises swelling.

She craned her neck, 18 years-old, looking up at him, drumming her fingers on her collarbone, flicking at the purple glass beads.

Lips curling into a smile, his teeth latched onto the zipper that travelled down the entire front of her white dress. She squealed and peeled away out of his arms, the star tattoos above his elbows peeking out from his black t-shirt. She tumbled down to the sleeping bag he’d laid out for them there in the middle of nowhere, down by the riverbank, kicking her wedges off into the long grass.

“This can only be bad news,” he said, shaking his head and kneeling beside her. “Look at you – all in white right down to your shoes and me all in black. What is that saying?”

“You tell me,” she laughed, grabbing his shirt and inhaling the faint engine oil smell of him.

“It’s the age old story of good and evil. Better watch yourself, Miss.”

“That’s too simplistic a story. Stereotypical. Catch up with the times.”

He was two years older and smoked and drank too much, piddled in other minor drugs and never read much. But he appreciated Picasso and Toulouse, could point up the century-old stone homes around town and deliver a labouring heifer cow without blinking.

Most of the time he had no idea why he picked up her calls.

Her skin was green.

Now her husband stirs beside her. She feels her fingers clenched into the sheets. A thick, dark hand reaches around and traces her jaw line, butterfly-like. It swoops downwards to cup her breast. It’s another August Sunday. She smiles and turns to kiss her husband but she cannot see him through all the gold dust.

Like all first loves explored in stolen spaces, they had lost track of time out there, among the switch grass and dying phlox, with the crickets gossiping and the tea-coloured Thames gurgling. Shirts long discarded and lightning bugs tracing his hand, he pointed out the big dipper to her as she memorized each hair follicle on his face and chest.

“I’ve been looking at prices, Cel.”

“Prices for what?”

She felt him breathe. She took her index finger and walked it along the stitching on the inside of his boxers’ waistband.


She raised her eyes, dark like good land ploughed for the first time, to look at him.

“They’re not too expensive actually,” he said quickly, shifting his weight. “Bout an eight hour trip is all.”

She was going to school, getting out of the town famous for its meth addicts, like she’d swore she’d do since she was ten. He was staying.

He opened his mouth to tell her more but she had slid her way up and lit a match on his tongue. A red lace rash broke out. They glowed ruby-orange under their skin, inside their shadows, all over the riverbed rocks. The sunset shook its head and left them cursed by Midas’ touch. It was one of the last colours of that summer.

“Well good morning.”

She snakes her leg around her husband’s waist, kisses him, rolls over and leaps up out of bed. “You’re up early.”

“Hey! Get back here,” he calls, scrambling for her. She breaks their Sunday lovemaking rules and slips into her robe.

“Cel,” her husband moans. “The dog hasn’t even barked yet.”

She looks into the mirror on her way to the door, arching her eyebrows, hand to cheek. She doesn’t feel thirty-eight today. She feels virgin. Her eyes look startled.

She pads out into the hallway and floats down the stairs. She can’t tell her husband she doesn’t even see him this morning.

She’s familiar with the process, the subtle sting of a carefully guarded memory slipping from its cellar storage, dripping slowly from her control, staining her like beet juice. It seems to be happening more than usual these days—he’s dancing in the froth of her coffee now; he had shown her how to put a creamer in without opening it, melting the seal with the steaming liquid. That was centuries ago in a small town diner after her prom, about an hour before she turned the corner at Rannoch village, one hand on the wheel of her daddy’s pick-up truck, the other stroking his thumb. She’d decided she was really in love for the first time as she let the wheel turn back. Jeremy Fisher had been singing “Cigarette” on the radio.

Years later she would only stumble into this lagoon of sunken ships if she stopped to touch a brick house or someone mentioned his name.

The name. His. So geographical. Each letter had its own flashing red pinpoint on a map folding and unfolding with the expansion of her lungs. Four little letters that marked the corners of a nailed down Ferahan Sarouk. Scarlet. With medallions. Hand made. But worn out. And lost in a black market.

In her kitchen the toasts pop up with a terminal zing. Isn’t it comforting, she muses, how the word past, with the simple addition of an e, morphs into a mess, an ambiguous glob, a texture. An adherence.

It was nothing extraordinary, what happened to them. It happens to almost all young loves. The inevitable seasoning, or shrivelling. The re-enactment of Deanna Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” song.

The only physical thing he ever gave her was a tin rose. She bent it and tied it into a knot when he phoned long distance to say, “I can’t anymore. I just can’t.” It was six days after he’d endured the long train ride to spend 48 hours shut up in her dorm room. They lived that weekend off of grapefruit juice, almonds and toast.

Later, in a Quebec cab on the bridge to Ottawa, after a night of dancing, she promised to delete him. After all, Dickens’ Miss. Havisham passages left her with the taste of sour milk in her mouth. So she tried to make it so there would be nothing for cobwebs to dust.

She went home that summer after her first year at university and still she wrote “I’ll have you in the end,” in the sand at Bayfield.

“Have to chase you this morning,” says her husband sliding up behind her at the stove. He pecks her neck and reaches for the orange juice she never forgets to pour them both. “What you think? A hike later today?”

She stares.

He cocks his head. “Alright. We’ll spend it in the garden.”

She put her arms around him and smiles. Rose hues peek through the blind, stamping his face in stripes.

She was sweating so much in the August sunshine she was stuck to the tractor seat. Larz was laughing as he drove the John Deere; she waved at every other farmer they passed. They sipped their beers. It took them a long time to get to his uncle’s barn for the hay.

“You’re dating then?” he asked.

“Yeah. He’s good. It’s good for now. We party a lot with friends and it’s just nice to go home with someone, the same someone,” she said. “How’s your girlfriend? Does she know I’m here?”


They didn’t say anything for a while, squinting in the sunlight. She could sense the static electricity hanging in the air between them. Magnetic, too.

“You love him?”

She snorts. “No. You know that.”

“No I don’t.”

“You know.”

He touches her knee. “You’re getting sunburnt.”

Two days later, before she went back up north, he called her to come get him. She did of course. When she showed up at his parents in her daddy’s truck, he pulled her out and snatched up two peonies from his mother’s garden.

“Close your eyes.”

“No,” she said. But he kissed her anyway.

They wound up at the old bridge beside the sheep farm, where she’d painted their initials a couple years ago.

“Make a wish,” he whispered as they dropped the flowers into the water below, blush skirts unfolding, changing colours as they brushed the surface.

She didn’t, though. Instead she said, “Let’s run away.” And he said he couldn’t.

The next time she heard of him, another August of another year, it was on page eight of the local paper, his surname yoked to a drunk driving headline.

Her husband’s peonies are white. They crash into her gardenias, the icing crowning their tomatoes, peas and beans.

The heirloom watermelon seed he picked out with her this winter is thriving and snakes through the corn. Unlike the others, its skin turns golden when ready.

He stoops, snaps a vine and stands, waving his prize above his head, shouting her name.

Chamomile in her nostrils, she shades her eyes and pauses, her left cheek tingling. Helios. She runs to him to grab the sun and he pulls her down in between the rows of potatoes.

Renée Francoeur is a Canadian communications professional from St. Marys, Ontario, currently living in Whitehorse, Yukon. She was formerly a magazine editor and journalist. She has been published by Fearsome Critters, Bracken Magazine, Three Line Poetry, Standard Criteria, and the Poetry Institute of Canada and Young Writers. She loves wild buffalo, whooping cranes, old tombstones, sprinkled donuts and community gardening. She is also passionate about sharing skills and fuelling a positive conversation about higher quality end-of-life care and planning. She hopes to become a death doula later in 2022.