Celebrated (part seven)
Alone, his apathy as to whether things got done or not showed itself a burgeoning hazard…now there was no one to pick up, and no one cooked.
“You’re feeling pretty down these days,” one of his friends had said. Like that, as a statement of fact. When Tom had been feeling relieved, puzzled…vaguely optimistic. He’d wondered for years if his marriage was bad enough, if there was any point to divorce. You spent a few hours a day under the same roof…
And those old couples in their eighties couldn’t be that happy, just armored in place by union, human memorandum-books of routine and common reference. So it must be a question of adjustment. His wife had been not letting him drag her down, in performing this grim minimal duty…although he had dragged her down. Witness the cheese. She hadn’t, at any rate, been waiting on him.
He edged, having trouble with the anxiety, eyes on the bedroom.
In the apartment’s living room, a channel parted through cardboard grocery boxes on which Shannon had already markered, “Free. Take It.”
He saw a couple of the knick-knacky things his mother had gifted them. He was still gripping his duffle. He had even told it to himself on the way up the stairs, I’ll just say I’m unpacking…gotta put this stuff away.
“So you’ve been getting some stuff done,” he said.
“Take off your coat. Stay awhile.”
It was frostier than they’d ever been when he’d come home from a trip. Awkwarder. Even California. (“I understand you can’t ask him to pay for me. But I could stay at a motel…”)
He regretted, scuttling to the bedroom and shutting the door, glimpsing Shannon roll her eyes outside the bathroom, that he hadn’t done one of those clever things…what you read about. Putting a hair between the pages. A booger maybe.
The mood he’d put her in, though, she would speak up. He thought she would. He could even suppose, Shannon being Shannon, she wouldn’t deign bargaining with this chip.
“I married a fraud. I’m done.”
Tom squirmed underneath the spread. He found his box, and found, crawling backwards into light, the packing of it exceedingly tidy. He could not himself have arranged books with such evident sarcasm.
Two days passed, all that could be spared.
Then reconciling…also up to no good, but concealing it: “Why don’t we take a drive? See everything one last time.”
She liked drives. It was spring, late March. It was that poignant season when only the grass is green, the trees in russet bud. When rain leaves behind a smell…earthwormy, thawish.
Still pleasant, nostalgic.
“We’ll go across on the ferry.”
“I hate to…but we should visit Mom,” she’d said.
Her mother never bothered Tom, while clearly she didn’t like him. The fact that she didn’t bothered Shannon. He hadn’t married in a tux or tie, just a v-neck pullover; his hair wasn’t long…just not short, not combed. Mrs. Coghlan had been happy with informality, a living-room service at hers, not his parents’ place, a banquet dinner at a corner house of smorgasbord, next to a bowling alley, across from the apartment of a friend she played euchre with, all her life enshrined on this block, forever the 1940s; a grocery even, a branch of her bank, a Kresge’s. She was divorced, and tended to see all of it going downhill, wedding vows a sort of sucker’s game. But she wished them well, her daughter and the hippie writer.
“What else are you doing?” she always greeted him.
He might, this time, say, “I’m giving up writing for a while.”
They were out of the car, as were all but those people you never could understand, who (like Tom’s father at the grocery) sat behind the wheel the whole time. The wind strong and cold, the bay choppy and grey. The crossing at this neck took about two hours. There was a little lounge on deck, a refrigerator, snacks, an attendant wearing a change belt. Shannon twice had said she might go in.
He needed to stage the accident right away, then.
He was carrying his old knapsack, slung nonchalant over one shoulder, though weighted with two pilfered bricks, wrapped in a towel so they wouldn’t make edges. Even on this detail, Tom had gone back and forth…one brick, two bricks. He had a suspicion about air bubbles, that the canvas would for a minute or two resist water, the knapsack’s top-gaps allow for a parachute effect. A crewman with one of those long nets might snag it, helpful.
And his dialogue, made to prompt Shannon’s role in the drama, on consideration he felt overplayed. He had seen her think of something he might have thought of himself, maybe ought to have.
“Okay, so…you’ve got your camera in your knapsack. Am I supposed to look in there, or something?”
“No, no. Just don’t let me forget. I mean.”
From embarrassment, that he was proposing at all, he’d gone with a Christmastime ruse, his grandmother’s diamond (“But…you’re really going to marry this girl?” Grandma Ellis, rueful eyes on the ring in its box. “Oh, well, I promised.”) tucked in Shannon’s bedroom slipper, where she was bound to find it.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)