told her stories that made her laugh. It
was as simple as that. He was wearing jeans, an old football t-shirt, flipping
through and reshelving books about The Great Vowel Shift in the university
library. Blue eyes, hair neither blond nor brown, strong jaw. She thought
he was beautiful, the kind of man that she had always seen, even when she
was not looking, in her mind’s eye.
It’s really not important if this is true
He was beautiful to her even with the soft
gut, the receding hairline.
—Oh the eyes! Seawater in sunlight. Ceramic
strawberry pots fireglazed cerulean blue. Utah sky. Perhaps, this may sound
reductive, it was the southern accent. The way damn tumbled in his
mouth... He was eight. nine. years older than she. But honestly, who gives
a shit? If you believe in life before and after this one. yes. Then age
is no more or less than some sort of meaningless quantum definition of time.
Uncertain. Uncomfortable. Too much thought on this winds too many chains
around and around.
That she was married with a small child was
a real problem. And also the most joy she had ever known. She never hated
her baby, not even once. He grew up beneath her hands. It is not wrong to
say that she could feel the shape of him changing minute by hour by day.
He loved her furiously, protectively.
Sometimes in the years after, and then often
she hated John because of the space he took.
Any at all too much.
Every every day too much.
It made her life a kind of prison.
There was a certain shampoo that had the
scent of his cologne. She bought it for the first four years until the not–forgetting
that the smell inflicted on her became too painful.
Understand this: She didn’t go looking for
It was a sucker punch that left her ribs
bruised. God? It is not a question she dares to ask. And never in all the
years after did she call John or see him or. This should count for something.
But he looked her in the eyes when he told her she was beautiful. And he
said those sorts of things. About how she made him feel and because she
had not felt anything for a long time it came as a crazy–in–the–limbs shaking.
And then she was letting fall her hair, a sheet of gold. It was damn beautiful.
It was the worst kind of cliché.
is eleven. twelve. years younger than she.
This is the first thing that needs to be said because it is the thing
that makes the least sense. The second thing is that she now has three
children. She has moved, very recently, away from her husband. It was
unavoidable. So much pain. Taking a break quote unquote. But she is both
frightened and intrigued by the fact that she smiles.
It will take time to balance the scales.
There are so many things to cry about.
Like the note on the back of a white paper
sack her eight-year-old son slips to her it’s okay if you move out
so that you and dad won’t fight anymore. Or another sameshit day crying
crying and her baby, a girl just beginning to navigate language says,
daddy did it? And her middle son, six, who seems oblivious but
still can’t read…
There’s a way that John teases her to show
how crazy she is without hurting her. There’s a way that he makes her
feel beautiful even though she knows it is no more than an indication
of his kindness. And he touches her, strokes her arms, her hair, while
they talk. A strange sensation that is both nonsexual, like mother comforting
child, and sexual in that she realizes there are places in her that are
not yet empty.
He tells her stories. About his life which
so far is enough life, too much life brimming over. How he loved a stripper.
He was thirteen years old. He bought the stripper a car with cash. drug
money. She is neither repelled nor sad nor even amazed. It is as if the
story were inevitable.
Words inflected on her skin, in the smell
of his shirt which she is keeping in a bottom drawer.
She needs this. To be touched. Not the
meaning of it. Not the anticipation of what comes next. This is all there
is. The biology. This is what it is. How.
It is difficult for her to think about
the years wasted. It is difficult to think about her children. She loves
them more than being happy. And what they have learned for themselves
is the shape of. what it feels like.
The hole between love and happiness.
In the mornings she wakes up stinking.
She recognizes the smell in her skin as the airing out of a deserted house.
How had she forgotten it?
John is really not that much older than
her son. There is nothing to be done about this. When he says that sex
is happiness it is not a come–on or a joke. Sordid?
is just a name just as numbers are only
numbers. Her name is Naomi: Whither thou go I will go. She has always
thought that to set down one life while picking up another belonging to
someone else is somehow noble. As if she could ever pick it up: A tin
can. A bead. A rock. A life.
Her husband. ex. cries so much his looks
have changed. More chiseled or carved or. ex. She is, lately, superstitious,
and it feels as wrong as walking beneath a ladder without looking up.
The landscape of his face frightens her
when she drops the kids and their shoes off at seven o’clock. He says
to her, you’re not that nice either you know. And the truth is
she does. Know that. But what she feels more than anything is disorientation.
A not–fitting. As if she has picked up the wrong suitcase and now she
is sitting on the edge of the bed in a hotel room feeling the loneliness
of someone else’s shirt held at arm’s length in front of her. Perfume.
Detergent. Odors of the body. Nothing registers.
Think of wearing someone else’s skin.
upon a time she is nice. He tells a joke: Chameleons are green… Sometimes.
She laughs. She is surprised that she is laughing. His face pinches up
around the corners of his mouth. The end.
Is it? Or was the bucket that is she
never deep enough and his voice just echoed around in the bottom of it?
On the way back to the walls of her apartment
she sees a bumper sticker on a tan Subaru: Is this all there is?
Four. Five. Quantum. Meaningless. Just
a name just as. Whither thou go. My god. A tin can. A bead. A rock. I