The Conversation, by Mary O’Brien Glatz
After a month away, the long flight from Kathmandu through Beijing had brought her backwards in time to Chicago. He picked her up at the airport. A brief hug marked their reunion. The acrid smell of booze seeped out into the air that filled the space between them. Her eyes caught his as if she were about to say something but instead considered it and packed it back down.
He broke the silence as they drove off.
“Do you want to go out to eat? There’s nothing to eat in the house.”
They went to that little restaurant that used to be their favorite and sat at a small corner table covered in its red and white gingham cloth adorned with pink plastic flowers. She struggled to keep her eyes open as she ordered her usual eggplant parmesan and he ordered his standard burger and fries. He spoke first.
“So, tell me about your trip.”
Savoring her wine with a roll around her tongue, she searched her memory for some detail to share. There was just so much and she wasn’t sure.
“Well, it was interesting. A guide showed me around the temples of Kathmandu. He explained how the gods and goddesses of Hinduism represent male and female sexual energy, birth and death, creation and destruction, the continual cycle of rebirth. A little awkward, but interesting. A spiritual lesson in a strange place.”
Silence. His sideways glare wrapped around her throat like a scarf tied too tight. She cleared her throat and continued.
“I am dead tired after that flight.”
He looked down at his plate and breathed out a stale blue sadness. Then his vacuous eyes and sullen mouth turned up in her direction. One hand stretched out toward her to make the ‘stop’ signal as he gulped his third vodka martini with the other. Both hands struggled to steady themselves from their tremors.
“Look, I will leave you. I don’t need this. It’s not a problem if you don’t want to have sex with me,” he whispered.
What? No, no, she didn’t say that. She froze and imagined a hawk swooping in for its prey. Her eyes locked on the dark haired young waiter who rushed past them as her mind flooded with so many past episodes like this one. Her heart rate spiked. The old wound opened up. She willed herself to take over the autonomic controls and directed her racing heart to slow down so she couldn’t feel it pounding against her sternum. Animals can do this – play dead – to trick predators into passing them by. She buried her longing for intimacy deeper under the heavy weight that crushed down on her. Her breath quickened.
“So how’s your eggplant parmesan?,” he asked.
His eyes glanced up for a fleeting moment, but couldn’t reach her. A gasp died in her throat. You would think after thirty years the knife would dull.
“It’s edible,” she responded as she swallowed past the lump in her throat.
To soothe herself, she switched on a Yo-Yo Ma tape in her head as she replayed the scene over a year ago when she had planned her trip. Even after he had left her so many times for so many years, and it all seemed so irreconcilable, she’d asked him to come on this trip. She’d hoped it could have marked their thirtieth anniversary. But he’d kept refusing, saying he was too busy with work. And then he was always so drunk for so long that he forgot about her asking him. So she had made all her travel arrangements by herself and began to look forward. She had kept him informed. But then he had forgotten, again. Only one week before her flight out, he had reached into the refrigerator to get milk for his morning coffee, and with his back to her had called out to the air in his thick, foggy voice, ‘Looks like October is the best time to go to Nepal. Do you want me to get our tickets?’ As if it were even possible to get tickets one week before.
Panic had gripped her heart back then. She had imagined herself screaming, Call the paramedics! And then when they arrived to resuscitate her, she wouldn’t have it. They attached electrodes to her chest and yelled CLEAR!
What a joke, she remembered thinking, It’s too late and it’s certainly not clear at all. It’s a mess of enmeshed feelings and bad memories. Her heart was covered with too many layers of thick scar tissue. It wouldn’t restart. I’ll come back when I’m good and ready, she had pouted to herself. She told him, “No, I already have my ticket.” One week later she had left on her own.
“Do you want dessert?”
The sound of his voice snapped her out of her reverie. She gathered all her resources, the red wine not the least of them, and made an offering.
“No, thank you. You know, I missed you and I’m so glad to be home. How was your burger?”
“It was ok. Let’s go.”
The next day the phone rang to wake her from a dead sleep. She pressed the green answer key on her I-phone and waited for him to speak first.
He said, “Sorry about last night.”
She asked, “What are you sorry about, specifically?”
He replied, “Well, I didn’t want to get into an argument your first day back from your trip.”
She told him, “That wasn’t an argument. That was just a conversation.”
Copyright © 2016 by Mary O’Brien Glatz