She remembered the Before. Before Now hardened to Then; before Life’s Autumn of confusion, sadness, lonely drunk wondering. Before years like shooting stars.
Paula alone at the Inn. Cable television. Spiked coffee. Nicotine. Remote control.
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 stretched like a cataract across dead water. Insects, rats, frogs, maybe a bird or two 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 currency of Human Be.
Emotional black-market yields inflationary sorrow: stark. 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. This was before Paula married someone else.
“I can try to explain,” said Paula to and of herself. “But I’d rather not.”
Mussels, sauce, snacks: same small-town plaza (“nothing changes”): beer, wine, grenadine, soda, rum.
“We are twice the age we were then,” Paul said. “The time that’s passed between now and then is greater than the sum of our lives – then.”
He tossed her several snack-size bags of Crunch Nuggets: the variety pack, bursting with flavor and colorful designs.
They’re thirty-eight. They’d been a “couple” at eighteen. At nineteen, not.
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 at Motor Inn with Prom Queen. Sun, beach, parking-lot, bushes budding, not yet bloomed.
“Just off the highway.”
Talk is stress.
Paula was tiny, barely five feet, weighed about ninety pounds. Like when she was eighteen.
She practiced yoga and foreclosure law.
Paul had 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 ‘our love is 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 at any rate. Belief systems change. Even if the god-thing, or whatever faith, was founded on was – is – true.”
Reunion of virgins.
It had been Paul’s idea to return. To the water; to the motel; to the indifferent long ago.