I watched him from the screened in porch of the weekend share that we owned with two other couples. We had all met years back in college, all except one of the other wives, who had emigrated from England long after we had graduated. I watched as my husband slowly slid the oars into the water slicing the glassy top of its surface. His back was to me now and from where I stood I imagined I could see his sinewy muscles under the thick wool cardigan, stretching like a trained oarsman.
He crossed to the other side of the narrow lake disturbing a clutch of white ducks, which fluttered their wings in desperate flight, only to land right back where they had been sunbathing. I watched then as Stephen, turned the boat into the sun and traveled behind the cover of the reeds.
Clutching a thick woolen throw around me, I stumbled out the side door just in time to see a squirrel scamper up a nearby tree. I walked around the concrete slab path, kicking some pebbles out of my way and made it down to the small wooden dock.
The temperature on this early Autumn morning was crisp, and "smoke" curled out of my nose and mouth, causing me to pull the throw closer to my body. I could feel the air grabbing like a vice around that part of my ankle that neither my bobby socks, nor my long pajamas covered. It was going to be a cold winter I surmised.
Stephen was once again in sight. The man-made lake was very small surrounded only by six or seven houses. The additional three empty lots had already been sold though a colony of beavers had long made that their home base. Sadly they would soon be displaced. Stephen's voice was barely audible as the wind whipped it behind him. I couldn't make out what he was saying, but I could read "coffee" on his lips as he pointed his coffee cup back towards the house.
He had indicated the coffee was ready, and yet I did not budge. I gave him the universal o.k. sign, but I stood watching him as he made another lap around the lake appearing lost in the beauty of the surroundings. He seemed content just rowing aimlessly and it brought me a certain peace to watch the tranquility of the scene.
After a while he rowed back towards me and reached out to loosely knot the rope through the mooring ring at the side of the dock. I leaned down to help him steady himself as he climbed from the boat. Kneeling down he pulled at the rope, causing it to slide loose and handed it to me. Wordlessly, Stephen walked around to the shoreline and started to drag the edge of the boat up onto the sand and silt shoreline. I threw the thick rope back into the boat when I could see there was no longer any danger of it drifting away and I went to help Stephen. There was no need then. It was a small boat and Stephen had tugged on it so hard that it couldn't go anywhere even if a windstorm had decided to disturb the stillness on this early morning lake.
I watched my husband with his bent back still securing the boat, and I could not help but go to him and wrap my arms around his waist, and there laying my head flat on his back. I held on tight with my eyes closed and I could feel the movement of every muscle. His sharp inhalations came from deep in his lungs. I thought I could feel the water lapping against the sides of the boat, and vibrating through the soles of his shoes.
Stephen unlaced my hands when he was done tugging and tying the boat, and looking down on me, repeated the word coffee, as if it were a final valediction; like at the end of a letter saying see you soon. I hadn't been ready to be torn away from him so I hooked my left arm around his waist and knitted it through his belt loop. He did not push me away as he sometimes did in his preoccupied way, but neither did he hug me back in return.
We walked back on the same concrete slabs, me still kicking pebbles and Stephen crunching everything in his wake including errant weeds with their tiny yellow flower heads. He held the front screen door as I entered, and then I pulled the wooden entry door, inward, holding it open for him.
Stephen had always been good at making big weekend breakfasts; it was the only time we allowed ourselves to cheat on the healthy diets we both maintained during the week. We would buy thick slabs of bacon from the butcher to serve with eggs and bagels. We would go to the farmer's market and buy farm fresh unpasteuriesed milk and cheeses and an assortment of local furits to go with the fresh cream. On these weekends we didn't want to go anywhere but sit inside and eat to our hearts content. We would rent discounted movies, and laugh at the horrible sequels to what was an originally decent flick.
Sometimes we'd head into town to mingle with the unsophisticated people in this rural part of Pennsylvania. Other times we would go outlet shopping, buying unnecessary gadgets at prices so affordable it was foolish to pass on the deals. Mainly though, we'd stick close to home, lying in the large hammock reading novels during the summer months; swimming naked if no other weekenders were around, or just making love in every room of the house.
There hadn't been a room in this three bedroom, three bathroom house that we hadn't christened with our sweat of primal passion. There had been the one time that we had pushed all of the breakfast pots off the kitchen counter just so I could climb up to the "right height." It had been a foolish idea as we had not only broken two plates that belonged to the English girl, but I had burnt my rear end on one of the still hot burners, causing a horrible boil that prevented us from having sex for the rest of that weekend.
I laughed at the memory, it seemed as if it had been years ago, though I remember clearly it couldn't have been more than two years prior.
I reached back as Stephen handed me my coffee. He always fixed it for me, though there was never anything to fix as I never took it with cream nor sugar. It was our ritual. We were accustomed and perhaps had been trained by our own self imposed rituals. When had things changed? I could never tell, but reaching back once again, Stephen handed me a plate with two slices of whole wheat toast and a pat of organic jam. That was my breakfast; the same breakfast that we ate almost everyday.
Years ago we would try to extend our weekend vacation well into Monday mornings. We had no children, and both of our jobs allowed us enough flexibility that we were envied among our friends. If we could, we would even stay until noon before setting out for the two and a half hour drive. Now we left on Sunday nights so we could beat the Monday morning traffic.
We had always driven in relative silence, though in the early years we would share an audio book. We both enjoyed listening to suspense stories and were fond of a very cheesy series called the Patch Mahoney Chronicles. Patch Mahoney never made it to the New York Times Bestseller's list, but what it lacked in plot and dialog, it certainly made up for in sound effect and the actors who read were always very good. I couldn't now recall the last time we had bought a Patch Mahoney book.
Now the silence in the car was occassionaly punctuated by the pinging of incoming text messages sent from Facebook status updates. Jokes and amusing quotes was the only thing that brought forth laughter, and I shared the funniest of these with Stephen.
Arriving into the city, brought reality back into sharp focus. We would return to our roles; our rituals. Stephen unloaded our Honda SUV and dropped the overnight bags at the elevator. While he parked the car in the garage a few blocks over, I brought our things upstairs. Three short flights that we could now walk as we no longer returned laden with goodies from our trip. Years ago we'd go shopping at all of the outdoor markets returning with homemade jams, pies, sweaters and all of those gadgets from the outlet stores. This trip all I carried was a video that I had forgotten to return on our last visit, and again had forgotten to return this weekend. I hated to think what the fine was going to be when I finally did return it.
With Stephen still parking the car my mind immediately replayed the weekend like an old fashioned movie. Stephen in the boat and me at the dock waving to him: Stephen bringing in wood, though we never did make a fire: Me making a salad while Stephen read a book out on the porch, where he had sat for over two hours by himself. Where had it all gone awry, our moments of love and intimacy. I know Stephen and I had once loved each other. We had once had passion and had communicated. We had once desired to be in each other's company, finding the other vibrant and entertaining. I still felt that way about Stephen, I still loved him, yet it seemed impossible to cross the divide that had separated us. When had it all started to slide down hill and away from our grasp? Away from my grasp?
The kitchen was spotless, as was all of our lives. Our apartment in the city was a stark contrast to what we experienced in Pennsylvania, small rooms seemed cramped with the furniture, rugs and wall hangings. We kept our lives to a minimum. What we did have,were our gadgets. Each one had a story that we used to recall and laugh about: The coffee maker; the electric can opener; the battery operated wine opener. We collected these things as if they were tropheys, mementos of our trips and of the moments we had shared.
I walked into the kitchen then, pulling out pots and cups to make tea. On the counter, I let my fingers trail along the granite top, touching each gadget that we had left out for display. Oh such memories each held, and now standing there they seemed cold and static like our life had become. Stephen had already returned from the garage, and had gone to sit in his office, a small converted mudroom. He always had to check in, and I understood that and never disturbed him. This time though, I walked through the doorway only to find him staring into the dark outside.
Sitting there like that staring through the window reminded me of him back at the lake. He seemed cut off from the present and from me, and now in his own space he appeared happy and content. I couldn't help comparing his demeanour now to that of his polite presence back in the car.
I had startled him when I asked him if he wanted tea, yet he had slowly swung around in his swivel chair, reluctant to be brought back to the present moment. He had smiled then, the smile that he always used when I had done something well, and had tiredly wagged a finger at me. His words were now being rationed. I made my tea and sat curled up on the couch with just the light on the side table for illumination.
Looking back now I cannot say that I made a decision that weekend, but I remember it vividly as it was the weekend that started the decline. We would go back to Pennsylvania very infrequently, and then when we did it wasn't always together. It seemed we developed different tastes that kept us closer to the city, and eventually we sold our share of the house. Stephen became more polite with me, and more closed, and finally when I could not take the isolation I felt, I told him that we should consider getting a divorce.
He hadn't been surprised when I came to him with the papers, in fact it seemed that he had been expecting them, even with great anticipation. He had read them, he had agreed to most everything in a tired way, and had told me that he would contact his lawyer and we would go ahead with the proceeding.
I had felt a slap in the face, I had expected that he would put up a fight for me. I had wanted a last show, on his part, that he cared for me, that he loved me, but he had not done any of those things, and when the divorce finally came through it hit me that he had used me.
Copyright © 2014 SArthur, When Things Fall Apart