They all did it, Andrew had noticed over the years: they all left their home in the same way, as if they would never return. For Elena, it had made some sense to cover the bed, close the shutters, but for Annie, who was now watering her houseplants—
“We’ll be back in a week,” he said.
“I know,” she said. “But it’s a relatively harmless eccentricity, right?”
Outside in the dark, the car sat packed in the driveway. In the passenger seat, Andrew had made a nest for Annie, with beach towels and a pillow.
“Don’t bring food,” he had said as she divided supplies between a carton and a cooler. “We’ll eat out.”
“There is no coffee shop downstairs from this house,” she said. “I’m bringing breakfast.”
“The house will have a coffee pot. “
“I like this coffee pot. Would you like to take a nap? Lie down on the bed for a while.”
So he had stretched out on top of her bed by himself, fully clothed except for his shoes. He observed that he hadn’t been in her house in the dark since their first date, during the blizzard, and that this week, seven months later, they had both been working like maniacs just to take a few days off together. Like normal people.
Next thing he knew she was offering him coffee from the pot she wasn’t taking to Truro. Then she cleaned that up.
Now she refilled the watering can so it would be ready when she returned. “Do you remember that scene in Jules and Jim?” she said.
“. . . The three of them are setting out, and she burns some papers . . . letters?”
“You remember it! What did you think? I was horrified.”
“I was probably stoned. In an effort not to experience it as intensely as you did. You were horrified . . . that she would destroy something. Someone.”
“A part of her life, I guess. I was in college, what did I know. No life yet to destroy.”
He sat down on a kitchen chair. “What would you burn here?” She had stopped what she was doing, but it didn’t matter, they had time before midnight.
“—Some notebooks,” she said, sitting down on the piano bench. “I threw Ed’s away, but mine are still here.”
“Did you read Ed’s first, before you threw them away?”
“No,” she said, looking away from him. “Too much of a coward.”
Andrew shook his head. “It was brave to let him go.”
“It wasn’t like he was writing a book,” she said, straightening up again, “and I could finish it and get it published for him. They were personal journals . . . maybe I could have learned something.”
“No reason to look to be hurt.”
“That, and his handwriting was impossible.”
Annie checked her list. The girl was crazy, but she kept lists. She crossed things off her lists. Now she did that and said, “OK, all I have to do is change my clothes.”
“Into your pajamas.”
“Remember, we can’t get in the house until four o’clock tomorrow.”
“OK. I’ll be out in the length of one cigarette.”
Crazy. Sensible. Non-judgmental. Everything he could love. He leaned against the car, having his last cigarette for a while in a darkness complete except for the stars sprayed over the trees and a sliver of light from her bedroom. At the end of this cigarette they would pull out of the driveway at midnight on this hot, still night, and when the sun rose again, the sea would be spread out before them.
“I’m reconsidering this whole trip,” Annie had said a couple of weeks ago.
It made sense, of course, not to go to this house where she had spent a week two years ago with her lover, now dead, who had bequeathed her this next week without telling her, who may have had some sort of mystery plan.
But all she said was, “I hate driving there so much. It’s six hours and no matter what you do, the traffic is terrible.”
“I’ll drive,” he said. On the surface, at least, her problems were so simple.
Annie observed him, in this way she had, as if she were visualizing whatever he had said. He had passed his driver’s test a week before, on the first try.
“It’s really ugly,” she said.
“What if we leave at night? If we leave your place at midnight, we’ve got an easy six hours before the rest of the world starts driving.”
“Don’t bet on it,” she said. But she was intrigued, he could tell.
“We can sleep on the beach,” he said, “get something to eat.”
“You’re OK driving at night?”
“I’m fine driving at night. In Cuscutlan we always drove at night. And no one had a license. Or knew how to drive.”
“You won’t hit any deer?”
“Have you ever seen me hit a deer?”
She thwacked him gently with the Observer.
“Let me wrap my head around this,” she said, and presumably she had run it by Jaime and Kathleen, who had given their approval, whole-hearted or otherwise.
“Except for the deer, it’s probably safer at night,” Jaime had said.
“And the drunks,” said Kathleen. “Call me when you get there, OK?”
Driving alone, Andrew would have scanned the dial for different radio stations and sung along, but he wanted Annie to sleep. Staying up all night was foreign to her, and they would need her to drive during the day. So he breathed in the air, waiting for it to cool. He watched the road, and he thought. He had made a mental list of things to think about, so he thought about them and he listened to the car, and tried out phrases for something he wanted to write. He sipped his Coke—
“No stimulants, right?” Warren had said, and Andrew had said, “Right, just Coke and coffee.”
“And safe sex,” Warren had said mildly, almost but not quite casually, as if he didn’t really need to say this, did he, they had talked about it many times—
This time Andrew made a face. “I’ve been clean for months.”
Warren looked directly at him. “You know that doesn’t mean shit.”
In the car, Andrew shifted in his seat. In Warren’s office, he had stood up and walked around, looked out the window to the sidewalk six stories below. HIV can take years to manifest itself, Warren had told him. That he hadn’t done guys didn’t matter, he had done needles, he had done girls who did needles, who did guys . . . in his idiocy he had stuck himself with this needle.
Copyright © 2014 Debby Mayer