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 or not.
      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 anything.
      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.

      A story:
            Once 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?
      Three Johns.
      Four. Five. Quantum. Meaningless. Just a name just as. Whither thou go. My god. A tin can. A bead. A rock. I will go.