Writers & Lovers (Page 4)

On my machine he breathes another long breath into the phone. ‘I need to see you,’ he says.

I wait at the Sunoco station. He’s late, and I sit on the cement border of a bed of garish marigolds. My legs begin to shake.

His truck slides up beside me, and he gets out, scrawnier than I remember. His hair is longer. It looks dirty. We hug. I can’t feel him. There’s churning under my skin, and my heart is going so fast that I’m not sure I’ll be able to remain conscious. He swings my banana bike into the back of the truck without comment, without recognition.

We get into the cab, our old positions.

‘This is hard, isn’t it?’

I nod.

‘I’ve just been moving very slowly,’ he says, pulling out onto Memorial Drive.

We head west to Route 2. He wants to go swimming at Walden Pond.

‘Loraine told me she told you.’ Loraine was the painter. ‘It’s only on paper, Casey. It’s not like . . . I’ve had other girlfriends and she’s had . . . other men. For all intents and purposes—’

‘Do you have a girlfriend now?’

‘No.’ He shifts into fourth too early and the truck shakes and he shifts back down. ‘Not really.’

The whole drive to Concord I want to get out of the car, but when we park and stand on the hot tar I just want to get back in. There’s an ice-cream truck rumbling in the lot and a cluster of kids with their heads slanted up to the sliding window. Their bodies are bouncing, their bathing suit butts drooping from the water and the sand. We step into a shady stand of pines and I nearly crash into Henry Thoreau. He’s in bronze, a diminutive man, the size of a twelve-year-old boy. Behind him is a replica of his cabin. The door is open. I step up into it.

It’s just one small room with an army cot to the right covered with a gray wool blanket and a sloped desk to the left, painted green. On the far wall is a brick hearth and a potbellied stove in front of it. All I can feel is the effort of reproduction. Nothing of Thoreau is here.

Luke takes my hand and tugs me to sit on the bed with him. There’s a dead spider on the blanket whose legs look woven into the wool. He would like that. It would probably end up in a poem. I take pleasure in not showing it to him.

‘We always seem to end up on a cot in a cabin in the woods.’ He smiles and looks at me in the old way and I know if I lean toward him the slightest bit he will kiss me and I won’t be able to control anything after that.

I get up and step down onto the yellow pine needles.

We cross the street and join a stream of people walking down the path. Below us on the small beach, bodies swarm. Children cry.

‘It’s so crowded,’ I say.

‘It’s better than usual. Last month there was an hour wait just to get into the lot.’

Last month. He was here last month. The month he did not call me. I’m so heavy I can barely move. It takes so much effort just to follow him around the bathing beach to a trail in the woods around the pond. A wire fence runs along the water side of the path, and there are signs prohibiting people from going off the path and destroying the fragile ecosystem. But people have disobeyed, and all the small patches of sand you can see through the trees are taken so we keep walking. We find an empty little beach and crawl between the wires and down the steep embankment to it. We spread our towels a few feet apart. He gets up after a few minutes and sits on mine with me. He brushes some sand off my knee and bends his head down and puts his teeth on my kneecap like it’s an apple.

I don’t touch the pale back of his neck or the boyish bolts of his spine.

My body aches from my throat to my groin. I want him to slide his fingers into my bathing suit and make all the heaviness and misery go away. I feel like a hag in a fairy tale, waiting to be made young and supple again.

I get up and walk into the water. It’s warm and clear. I’ve never been to Walden Pond before. I read the book in high school, when I lived less than an hour from here, but I never thought of it as a place that still existed. I drop into the water and push out from the shore on my back. He stays on my towel and gets smaller and smaller in his white T-shirt. The shirt smells. I remember knowing that he smelled when I first met him. Then I stopped noticing.

‘You smell,’ I call back.

‘What?’ he says, but I kick out farther. The trees are so tall from this angle, dark, with their hardening summer leaves. The sky is cloudless, and directly above me its deep blue enamel thins and I can see the black of space behind it.

When I get out he watches my body and the water rushing off of it. He’s still on my towel, so I sit on his.

‘You’re not going to swim?’

‘Come here.’

I know how he wants it to go. I stay where I am. A swimmer, a woman with strong mottled arms in a bright-blue bathing cap, cuts a diagonal line across the pond.

‘It’s like there’s this gristle between me and the world,’ he says. ‘I’m trying to work my way through it. I’m just moving really slowly. It’s hard work. It’s tough gristle.’

When my skin is dry and taut I tell him I have to get back. I am the on-call that night.

In his truck I smooth out my skirt. It’s pretty, sage green with small ivory flowers. I know I’ll never wear it again.

‘Don’t look at me like that,’ he says.

‘I’m not looking at you.’

‘I know.’

He says he can bring me home to Brookline but I say the Sunoco station is fine.

‘Don’t close up,’ he says.

The truck glides along Memorial Drive. I see my path by the river, the geese at the base of the Western Ave. Bridge.

All your life there will be men like this, I think. It sounds a lot like my mother’s voice.

He pulls up next to the marigolds. I tell him not to get out, and he doesn’t. I see his forehead resting on his hands on the steering wheel as I pull my bike out of the back.

I wheel it around to his window and ring my bell out of habit. It is the sound of me coming to his cabin at the end of the day. I want to take that sound and stuff it into a bag with rocks and throw it in the river. He smiles and rests both elbows along the side of his truck. My body is fighting me. If I get closer, he will put his fingers in my hair. I squeeze the handlebars and stay in place.

‘Off you go,’ I say.

I sit on my banana bike as he backs up, shifts, and pulls out. I stay there beside the marigolds on the side of the Sunoco station until his truck disappears around the bend where the river turns west.