Posted on May 14th, 2014
The lack of surprise on Reg’s son’s face when the door to room number forty-three had swung inward allowing a slice of the blank heat outside to penetrate the dark in an elongated white pyramid should’ve told him something. What registered there was disappointment. He might’ve missed if it hadn’t been for the light, the angle of the bedspread, his last minute decision to look in immediately instead of down at his shoes and then up as he’d contemplated in the truck.
Happiness, he’d said out loud on the drive over, is as ordinary as a sandwich. He wasn’t sure what he meant by that but liked the sound of it leaving his mouth. There was a notebook in the glove compartment that held some of these things written hastily at stop lights, because Reg had at one point written fiction and suffered the notion that he might at any time take it up again. Last week at the corner of Durrega and Roseland it had been “Never and always are the countries of the young”. He’d rolled that around his tongue for a while, testing the heft of it against his molars. Something in it made his prick lift and he’d written it down at the intersection, the woman in the minivan behind him blurring her hands into a white fan after the light had turned and his truck had remained inert.
What he’d meant by that, he thought at the dinner table watching Ethan saw into the grilled pork chop and his wife’s face turn towards the window, was that the young have many rules for things they don’t know a lot about. Love will wear these pants, have this record collection, those glasses, when it shows up. You’ll never find it in this list of locations or with these outlawed types of people. For all their recklessness, what they do, these young people, is insulate themselves against loss. Experience seems like a thing you can buy. Bodies are objects that you do things to as opposed to things you’ve come to terms with, live in, dwindle down into. He thought of his own body, if he thought of it at all, companionably. A faithful hound. ‘Always’ was a privilege lent to those with a limited willingness or capacity to be surprised, which everyone seemed to think was a state reserved for the aging on account of their having seen enough to be dulled into complacency. What they don’t tell you, Reg had written in that first email, is that the actual aggregate of experience is being able to see that you’re never going to know or predict with any degree of certainty what something, anything, will be like. You shed ‘never’ and ‘always’ across the lost days, and work harder to see what just is, instead.
The first email was, he told himself later, almost an accident. A literary exercise. During the still hours of the night, restless for some semblance of his bachelor apartment in Martindale and the purposeful tick of his sleepless ambitions, he began to browse the website. In the long scroll of women, lists of books, wants, weights (lies), heights (accurate), there were alternate histories of the world. Some kid had called this the ‘information superhighway’ and Reg saw it, some ganglion of branching backroads and byways that ghosted in the profiles, offering him alternatives to the carefully regulated track he’d found himself on. The imagined multiplicity of the untried paths was as heady as the parting of so many pairs of hallucinatory legs. It was inevitable, it was gravity, that by the time he reached the shimmering delta of Amelia he was going to send this one lone epistolary boat upstream as an experiment. As an assertion of his willingness to be surprised.
He hadn’t thought, strictly, to woo her. That first letter didn’t even reply, in any real way, to the direct content of her profile, which was a list of musical groups he didn’t recognize, a handful of novels he’d scorned for being overly complicated and self-referential, and photographs clearly designed to make the viewer imagine this woman as a good fit for that spot in your living room labeled ‘Girlfriend’. She was someone who was used to Seeming Interesting, that much was clear. But she wasn’t, he mused, someone who was likely to receive a letter informing her that she seemed bereft, and that would then go on to describe the migrating paths of hawks and foxes west of the river, comparing the white tender unguarded throat of a wild animal to the hidden quiver of the upper thigh in a winter bed. No. He wrote it for himself. To see that he could. He told her the truth about never and always, and crawled into bed at around three, where the steady slope of his wife’s shoulders began the broad statement that ended in the flat punctuation of her buttocks. He slept, soundly, dreaming nothing.
He hadn’t expected a reply.
But, two days later, there it was, blinking away at him. ‘So,’ it began, ‘you’re a nearly-fifty-year-old man who believes in faithfully chronicling detail and that I’m suffering from a secret sadness and that I have too many rules based on too little information. Fuck off.
p.s. here’s a picture of my thigh.’
And there it was. Close to the unlit heart of her, the white biteable business of it, but, disembodied, so that it might have been anything. A brightness in a dark room. A fox in a field. She wanted him to say something. It was positioned as a refusal, he knew, but, it was really a question.
So, there at his desk at the back of Hurley’s TrueValue Hardware, he’d written a reply. “I’m going to tell you, and you’re going to listen, about the fine hairs on the legs of the large moth that was resting on the screen door of the back porch this morning. This is a photograph of my ankle.”
The following days were the steady accumulation of minute things. A pale elbow, balanced against the new leaves. The small cushion of an earlobe, and the life cycle of the caddisfly. The sudden startle of her pink nipple, and his rushing paragraph that outlined the cellular experience of one long leaf of tobacco, drying in a hot swath of sunlight. When he lay down at night, he found that the world had contracted into single utterances that seemed to exist solely for this one electronic record: an untrimmed nail strafing the bedsheets. The dim music of his blood. The note of grass that crept through the crack in the window, and made the darkness green.
At the end of the fourth week, she suggested that they meet. This had been accompanied by a photograph of her mouth. He had gone out to refill the nails. With each bin that he topped off, he thought ‘no’. What he wrote, when he sat down again, was, of course, ‘yes’. He sent her a photograph of his palms, silvered with the particulate of a thousand sharp objects.
“I don’t get it.”
Is what Ethan is saying. It is Ethan in the hotel room, and not Amelia, and Reg is beginning to suspect that there never was an Amelia, that it was always going to be this way and the weight of the weeks of detail is a brick that is sitting on his chest.
But he hears himself, blandly, mildly, say, “Get what, son?”
Ethan is holding something out, a piece of paper, an envelope.
“Mom. She said to give you this.”
The back isn’t sealed, just tucked into itself. He watches his finger slide the paper out. It is taped, at one corner, to a photograph. A hand. The palm stares up at him.
“This”, the paper reads, “is the good part.”