She remembered the before. Before Now hardened to Then; before Life’s Autumn, drunk, wondering. Before years like shooting stars.
Paula alone at the Inn. Cable television. Spiked coffee. Remote.
Years like shooting stars.
Paul out shopping for mussels and booze. Loose change to call his wife (“business trip and all is well”).
Paula by the pool – not quite the season: murk-skin of algae
spread like a cataract across brackish brown. Insects, rodents, birds suspended in the glop.
Not quite the season.
Paula sits and Paula ponders: how many spiders worth of
frog, how many frogs of duck, how many ducks of rabbit bison
wolf – step, step, step – steep Ziggurat ascent to talk and
code, mutant currencies of human be.
Far fetched far. Inflation of sorrow, sorrow, stark. Value. Her only real, her only own.
“It wasn’t a disastrous marriage, merely a failed one.”
Her son is eight and with his grandmother who, 20 years ago, had loved Paul like a son.
“I can try to explain,” said Paula to and of herself. “I’d rather not.”
Mussels, sauce, snacks: same small-town plaza (“nothing changes”): beer, wine, grenadine, soda, white liquor: “gin-cola, gin-cola, let the boy in, gin-cola, gin cola, I’ll love you in sin – or was it something-something ‘skin?’”
“We are twice the age we were then,” Paul said, tossing her a bag of crunch. “The time that’s passed between now and then is greater than the sum of our lives – then.”
They’re thirty-eight. Last time “together” they were eighteen.
Anti-depressants and nicotine gum.
See what develops.
“Lotta wrong turns.”
“What’s done is done.”
“God I’m a boozer.”
“Talk is stress.”
Still Life with Motor Inn. Sun, beach, parking-lot. Bushes budding, not yet bloomed.
“Just off the highway.”
Talk is stress.
Tiny, barely five feet, and weighed the same she had at seventeen. Paula practiced yoga and foreclosure law.
He’d put on mass. But hadn’t lost his sarcasm or hair.
‘Class Couple’ photo. High School Yearbook face-down on the bed.
“Were we really so special, or just young?” she implored.
“You mean was our love the love of loves forever and ever and
all that? It’s a belief system, same as any other. A lot
more plausible than religion, most of them, at any rate.
Belief systems change. Even if the god-thing or spirit
whatever, the, the faith, it was founded on was — is — true.”
Reunion of virgins.
It was Paul’s idea to return. To the water; to the motel; to the indifferent long ago.