I couldn’t believe I had done it. We had been apart for nearly a year at that time, what was the point? Why had I made the call?
Thinking back on it now, seeing you out there on the deck, sitting in that rocking chair, I still have no idea.
All the wine we drank that weekend. I remember the night air being cool and hearing the waves lapping at the shore. I always loved the sound of the water drifting back down between the large, round stones; each small wave folding ashore and being reclaimed again.
The summer home belonged to your family and we had been there several times before, back when we were a couple, back when there was talk of marriage. When I called and suggested we spend a weekend there again (for what? old time’s sake?) you paused for the briefest moment before saying yes.
I asked that you not tell your family it was my idea, or that I’d even be there. You said it was fine, it was none of their business anyway. You had the house two weeks of the year, every year, you said. You could do what you wanted with it. It’s only for the weekend anyway, you said. Isn’t that right? They won’t know a thing about it, you said.
In the time we had been apart I had tried many things. I had moved into a small one bedroom apartment. I was seeing a woman from work, a divorced mother of two; a collector of Russian nesting dolls, an avid reader of historical fiction.
Things were going well between us, her young children liked me. She liked me. In bed her limbs were smooth and supple. She would rub herself against me to get warm. She would come quickly and often, her eyelids fluttering like tiny wings each time. She always slept on her stomach with her face turned to the wall, her dark hair curved down the length of her back like a snake. She soon began using the word love.
I remember handing you the glass of white wine, the screen door clapping closed behind me. You smiled when you took it.
On our first night that weekend we slept apart. It was warm and I went out on the deck with a sleeping bag and a book of poems by Philip Larkin. You stayed inside in the guest room.
During the night I awoke and went to your room. You were sleeping on your side, the covers having slipped down, your broad swimmer’s back exposed. I felt invasive after a while and went back down to the deck where I finally slept.
The following morning we ate a light breakfast then walked along the stony beach. We talked about many things, but not about why we were here. We skirted around the subject of other partners. We said nothing about our families.
In the afternoon we swam. At some point something large and pale brushed against my leg and I thought of sharks and of drifting jellyfish. I moved to catch up with you, you were always the stronger swimmer. You laughed at my fears and kissed me on the nose.
Later we made love on the sandy part of the beach, under the cover of large, rough towels. We slept together that second night and the following day hiked for miles along the empty coast.
We picnicked at the opening of a small cave. After a meal of cheese sandwiches and wine, we crawled a hundred yards or so down into the maw of the cave, before it became too shallow for us to stand and we had to turn around.
The wine was sweet, I remember. And there was so much of it. Stars wavered in the clear night air. We had done little with our last day there. You spent much of it on the beach, reading and resting. I borrowed the old kayak that was stashed beneath the house and paddled out into flat, gray water. At one point I looked to shore and you were nothing but a tiny dot of color. You could have been a stone or some bather’s forgotten item.
That last night on the deck you rubbed your foot along my leg. Jellyfish, you said, and laughed. You were already drunk and I recall feeling terribly confused. I was thinking of my woman with her dolls and children. I was thinking of the heart’s impulsivity and of its cruelty. I was thinking of what you may be thinking.
I drank the wine quickly. This is good, you said. This is nice. I’m glad we did this, you said. I’m glad you called. I remember something shifting inside me then, something turning. I became so unsure.
We drank three more bottles that night. And at some point you went inside to make a phone call. When you returned your mood had changed. It had darkened. I thought about the someone in your life, the someone I didn’t know. The someone I had no interest in knowing. I’m glad we did this, you said again. I’m glad we came.
Later we reached for each other again, though words were stifled and the ones released, quickly lost meaning. We thrashed our bodies into a state of near nothingness. But there was no great challenge to it, no victorious chant. The pleasure I felt was merely a normal, constant thing, like the motion of the sea, like the strange life living in its dark depths.
God, you said that night, as you hooked your heels around mine, good god, yes. Your wet hair gathered in my hands. The bright sheen on our aging flesh. I see it again now. Clearly. Kisses on your cheeks and at the corners of your soft mouth. The moon squatting fat in the window’s narrow frame, clear as an honest confession.
I awoke to whale song our last day there. No, that’s not right. That is only as I remember it now, as I wished it could have been. I know I awoke instead to a soft, quiet brightness, and to the compartmentalizing of our time there together.
How would we be from this point on? Where would the significance lie? What good could we possibly take from it? I remember leaving you asleep on your side, an arm folded beneath your head, and going quietly downstairs.
I wanted to know if you were happy. I wanted to know with certainty if you were content. But I remember doubting I would ever know such things.
I made coffee and drank a beer while it brewed. The ocean thrived beneath the morning sun and a strong wind. I remember there were three text messages on my phone. I checked yours, there were four. I knew I gave a little thought to that back then, but only a little. I sat in the kitchen with the pleasant smell of coffee, beer bottle in hand, I thought of you and of our many mistakes.
I’m made to remember this now, though it happened nearly six months ago and we have not seen each other since, because you have just this minute called.
And your voice, though still known to me, of course, came to my ear as a series of brand new sounds. It came as the sound of waves breaking, of wind moving through the mouth of a small cave. It was the soft sound of the bright moon’s lament, if only such a sound could be heard.
And in that amalgamation of inhuman sound, buried deep within some lightless, undisturbed depth, there were clear words to conjure dark associations, to make me question again the fallibility of remembrance: we could make this work, the words said. DSS
Adam Middleton-Watts, 49, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, whose pen name is F.X. James, has been a tour guide, tobacco picker, bus driver, actor and fruit picker. He was born and raised in England, has back packed around the world, and loves blues music.
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