We rowed out onto the pond. You on the oars, splashing my back, the wild geese flying overhead. I didn’t mind the wet, the mist crawling over the water. We tried to find the secret place of Chris’ childhood, but it was blocked off by stiff yellow grass and red water lilies. You picked a lily and gave it to me. It was slimy to touch. I dipped a finger into the cold water and watched it part as we glided by.
You, me, and Chris sat cross-legged on the deck that first night after Alexa went to bed. Micah and Eric had not yet arrived. We dropped a nugget of weed between the wood panels of the deck, and could not pick it out with our fingers. Your fingers were too large, even mine and Chris’. I can’t remember if we left the nugget there, or if we pushed it off into the darkness below, or if Chris fetched a butter knife from the kitchen. I can picture each scenario as if it happened.
We slept in the room that had belonged to Chris as a child. We slept in the child-sized bed. Flannel sheets and a fleece blanket that sparked with static. You ran your hand back and forth over the blanket and lit up the dark. Magic, I said. I could not see your face.
We followed Chris into the woods, walking single file but still trying to hold hands. Pine cones littered the ground and we started a war, throwing them at one another, hiding behind the trees. The bark of the trees was sticky with sap. Chris showed us the man-made streams that met at right angles, and a patch of bramble we named the thorny forest. We hiked up to the little chapel at the top of the hill, and Micah and I filled the pews with pine cones and needles.
There was no dishwasher at the house, so among the six of us, someone was always washing the dishes. It was often you. We ate kale chips and gluten-free pancakes and drank apple juice, and you promised to make me potatoes every morning of our married life. We were young enough to joke about marriage. We were young enough to eat Four Seas ice cream by the pint, to play croquet ironically, though competitively, and to shave our heads on impulse. You gave yourself a mohawk first, we gave Micah a tonsure, and Eric a receding hairline.
Your beard was red in the sun and your eyes lighter. I picked eyelashes off your nose and we took turns making wishes. Was your wish selfish or not-selfish? we always asked. For all beings, you said, not-selfish. We picked pebbles on the beach and threw them back into the ocean.
At the playground after dark with Chis and Alexa, you climbed up the slide on your elbows and I kissed you at the top. The weight of your body pulled on my hand, and I let you go. You slid down the slide again. Later, at the gazebo by the pond, you spat into the water and said you had become one with it. Your spittle floated white like sea foam. I refused to spit. We took the midway to Chris’ grandmother’s house. His grandmother gone, but seashells left on the tool shed. From her backyard, we had a better view of the pond.
We walked, single file again, to the beach. When we reached the forty-step stairs, you and I took turns counting off. At the bottom, our feet touched sand. The sea swallowed the darkness. If we are still enough, I thought, it will swallow us too. But our friends wanted to build a bonfire and make music. Their laughter pierced the sound of the waves. I walked away from their voices, walked into the darkness until I was afraid of being lost. The sky was as black as the sea, and the stars were teeming. I wanted you to come find me, but you didn’t.
On the last day, we were folding linen American-flag style in the basement, when you said, Let’s take a break. We lay down on the floor, between the couch and the croquet stand, and you moved your face to touch my face. The basement was dark like all basements are. The linen left unfolded. The evening light falling through the window was rare and beautiful and it saddened me.
The gravel was cold under my bare feet when we loaded your car. The ground was wet. We packed all the trash we had produced that week and brought it to the dump. On the drive back to the city, we talked about life after college and parenthood and eudemonics. Things that only interest the young. The city was pink when we arrived. The sunlight soft along the bay, and the ghost bridge puncturing the sky.
When you were little, your father took you on an alpine slide and overturned the boxcar and cut his leg and bled all over you, and you cried. When I was little, I killed a baby bird. I don’t remember what it looked like stuck to the bottom of my shoe, but that evening, driving back to the city, the sleet fell in fat chunks, hitting the windshield like so many dead birds. I thought of the wild geese we saw and wondered where they were flying. I thought of the mother duck at the edge of the pond, warming her eggs. I thought to tell you what I was thinking, but I didn’t. Then the sleet melted to rain, and, after a while, the rain stopped.
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