Table of Contents - Vol. VI, No. 4
As they have planned, he arrives first. He leaves his home in Princeton at eleven AM and heads north up the Jersey Turnpike. He is delayed by traffic on the turnpike, but he has anticipated that and has remained on schedule. He decides to cross the Hudson in New York by the George Washington Bridge so that he can drive north on the Taconic Parkway. The trip across the bridge and the northern tip of Manhattan onto the Deegan adds an hour to his journey, but he likes driving on the Taconic. North of the suburbs, the beautifully scenic road runs through rolling farmland and hilly pine forests. It eventually narrows down to two lanes in either direction and its twists and turns made driving it in the silver roadster exciting. He drives fast, making up for the time lost crossing Manhattan and the car seems to explode with joy at finally being unleashed from the bumper-to-bumper crawl.
As the car gets farther and farther from home, so does his mind and spirit. The chauffeuring the children to soccer games and dance lessons, the orthodontist bills, the cold indifference in the bedroom, the lecherous neighbor with the Prozac dosed wife recede in the distance as the sports car roars its way north.
When he left Princeton, the leaves on the trees were still green from a lingering Indian summer. As he heads into the heart of Duchess County, New York, the leaves are just beginning to turn. By the time he crossed over from New York State into Massachusetts, autumn is in a glorious full bloom of red gold and purple, and there is a crisp chill in the air.
She leaves work mid afternoon. She carries with her a briefcase containing some copy she hopes to edit while she is away. Her suitcase is in the trunk of her car. Her daughter’s father picks the nine-year-old up from school that day. She tells told her mother that she was going away for a “mental health weekend.”
She sips from a water bottle as she makes her way through the traffic lights on the local streets in Cambridge and then sets the bottle down in the cup holder below the dashboard as she merges onto the Mass Pike and heads west.
"God damn it,” she says. Disgusted, she turns away onto her side, showing him her back.
He sits up and slides his feet over the side of the bed onto the unvarnished oak floor. The room is lit by the grey light of a cold October afternoon. Outside the window, some pines are visible in front of the dense fog that envelopes the Inn and hides the blazing red hillside in the distance. It’s getting dark quickly.
He leans his elbows on his bare thighs and leans toward the bottom of the window. It’s open a few inches and he feels the air flowing in across his face. It’s damp, chilly and scented with pine needles, earth. He inhales deeply, tries to collect his thoughts. “Again?” he silently asks himself.
“Why does this happen every time we come here?” he asks.
“Why can’t you just let it go? Why do we have to relive it over and over? I’ve spent my whole life trying to forget.”
“I can’t forget,” he says. “I need to understand.”
“It’s gone- it doesn’t matter.”
“Why can’t you just tell me why?” he asks. “What were you thinking?”
“I was young, I was confused,” she answers. “So were you. Can’t you just accept that?”
She turns over on her other side and faces him. She reaches up and touches his back with her fingertips. “It’s over and done with. We can’t change it. We have each other here and now. Isn’t that enough?”
“I guess.” He turns to her. Her body is ghostly in the fading grey light, almost transparent in the darkened room. The edges of her form dissolve into the bed sheets. All he can see are abstractions: her tousled brown hair on the pillow, her trimmed eyebrows over the shadows of her eyes, her sex hidden in the shadows beneath the edge of the sheet. He sees her in black and white except for the flushed patches on her chest above her breasts.
“You guess?” she asks. Her hand slides down her side to the bed sheet that is draped over her hip. Her finger hooks under the sheet and pulls it down to her thigh, exposing herself. “Tell me this wasn’t enough,” she says, “Tell me this isn’t enough.”
His eyes glance down between her legs and then back up to her eyes. She is smiling slyly.
“It’s enough,” he says. He leans over and wraps his arm around her thighs. His fingertips trace the curve of her behind and his lips kiss the outline of her hips. “It’s more than enough. I’m sorry.” He lays his head on her side, in the valley above her hip and breathes in her scent. “It hurts.”
Later, he is quiet at dinner. His mood is somber and his face downcast. She sips her merlot, tries to read his thoughts, knowing full well what they are. The amber glow from the tea light candle on the table softens the shadows cast by the fireplace . The nearby newlyweds are leaning over their table engrossed in quiet conversation, their eyes wide and locked. Maybe they are twenty-five, but in the older couple's judgment, they are certainly no older than thirty, and looking forward to a lifetime of evenings just like this.
Without a word, she reaches across the table and gently places her hand over his.
By noon the next day, the fog has lifted, the sky is clear. They stand next to her car, warmed against the chill by the bright sun. They have loaded their bags in their cars.
"I'm okay," he says, unconvincingly. "How about you?"
"As good as you are," she says, forcing a smile.
He cradles the sides of her face in his palms and says, "Drive safely." He kisses her lips. "I'll call you next week."
"My in-laws are visiting all week," she says. "Better make it the week after, I'm sorry."
"That's all right, the week after then."
He smiles at her again and holds it until she smiles in return.
Retracing his path south towards the city and his
other life beyond it, in his mind he sees only the newlyweds, their faces aglow
in the firelight. He wonders what it would be like to not live only in brief
moments and to hide in shadows.
(An earlier version of this story appeared in the online journal The Square Table.)
© Fred Bubbers