Five minutes ago on the phone Eve said she's been talking to her lawyer. It’ll be exactly $475 for a no-contest, no-fault divorce, and she wants us to split the fee.
"Does that strike you as reasonable?" she asked.
"Whatever," I said.
She sounded uncomfortable. But then I know she'll quickly get over it because she's getting exactly what she wants, with no hassle from me.
Despite the content of the conversation I found her voice pleasing. I imagined her sitting on the couch, the phone in the crook of her neck, Buster on her lap. I actually was savoring the abbreviated discussion even though she was telling me things I didn't want to hear.
Savoring is the wrong word. To be more precise, I was just glad to once again hear her speak. My wife. My soul mate. My best friend in all the world. We'll always have each other, and that's all we’ll ever need. You can count on me, babe. I'll be there for you, forever, no matter what.
I close my eyes. She intends to make this legal and permanent, and she wants to do it sooner rather than later. Her determination, her desire to do it now, right away, takes me by surprise.
What's the big rush?
My task is to say nothing and absorb it all. I have no choice. There's nothing I can do. I don't like it. Yes, I know—it’s nothing personal. I'm not being singled out, this sort of thing just happens to people.
I remember: One winter afternoon Eve held Buster up and made him dance. She moved his paws up and down, and then she laughed and smoothed back his ears, and stroked his fur and scratched behind his ears.
"Buster-bunny!" she said. "Isn't this the greatest cat you've ever known?"
And she turned to me, expectantly.
"Yes," I said. "The greatest."
Eve knew how much I loved Don Quixote, a blue-eyed seal point I had a long time ago. HE, of course, was the greatest cat I'd ever known. But Eve expected—demanded—that I put Quixote aside and acknowledge Buster as the greatest. And so I did.
In the kitchen. She says to me: “Wanna dance?”
“Deed I do,” I say.
"Do you come here often?" she says.
"As often as I can."
I slide my knee between her legs and lift her right off the floor, turn three quarters of a circle, then gently set her back down again, and we continue our dance to a tune we hear in our heads. Will I be able to do that with the next woman in my life? Will she be light enough? And as willing? Somehow that doesn't seem at all likely.
When did Eve know? Probably last Thanksgiving. Yes. She knew it was over, but despite the downward slide I thought there still was a chance we could work it out. That was my last solo at the piano with Ma, and the rest of them singing the chorus.
"When I was a lad, I served a term as office boy to an attorney's firm,” I sang. “I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor, and I polished up the handle of the big front door."
Eve was quiet, remote. She wouldn't join the singing as long as I was there. She and I would never sing together. She knew it. I didn't. Ma later said I was "morose." Eve told her I was morose all the time. Not true. I was in a bad mood that Thanksgiving for a compelling reason—my wife was getting further and further away and there wasn't a damned thing I could do about it.
* * *
I show up at the wire service and I tell Chuck that I need to keep myself busy, otherwise I'll be crawling the walls. So he sends me to The Philadelphia Art Museum. He needs a good illustration for a story about Modern Art. When I get back I show him the picture of the pig on a merry-go-round. He laughs.
"What happened to the horses?" he asks.
"I guess they ran out," I reply.
Then he sends me down to The Naval Academy. I take photographs of a Marine gunny shouting drill commands to a bunch of midshipmen. Poor babies, their hearts just aren't in it. A perfunctory performance. Also shoot some of them preparing to cast off in a small sail boat.
The Academy is formidable, massive. Grey granite buildings that seem much, much larger than they need to be. Big boxes clustered together, with no way to walk between them, you have to walk a long way around. On their facades are hundreds, thousands of windows. I pass a young man in mufti, and he says good morning and I nod and return the greeting.
I leave the Academy grounds and walk the streets of Annapolis, below the tall bell tower of the State House. A charming little village, except it's still early and most of the shops haven't opened yet. I find a coffee house, get a cup of Columbian, a piece of carrot cake. Sit at a table outside in the sunshine. I eat my cake and read The Washington Post. The cake is surprisingly fresh, moist. At Borders, where Eve and I would go at least once a week, the cake was stale. Always.
After a while I put the paper down. I like the feel of the sun on my face. I concentrate on sending Eve some mental telepathy.
Tell me you want to try again.
You know I still love you.
I'll love you forever.
I bear down on it. Repeat the phrases over and over.
When she gets this powerful message she'll realize she made a huge mistake. She should never have asked me to leave. I hope her new lover has turned out to be a pain in the ass. The novelty surely has worn off by now and she realizes with regret that he just isn't right for her. The guy is SO jealous. Controlling. Demanding. Complaining all the time about how distant she is. Not at all willing to respect her need for solitude.
Peter Matthiessen says, quoting Zen, that sorrow is the essential fact of life. And an even more essential fact is that everything passes, even unhappiness. So I must remain in the moment and be attentive to everything, even this.
* * *
After the Annapolis shoot I polished all the lenses, wiped down the camera bodies, put the bag in the storage closet. Then I hit the speed dial for a pizza delivery. They knew what I wanted: Double cheese with sausage, green peppers and anchovies. I continued reading "The Snow Leopard" as I ate, to keep my mind occupied. I didn’t feel like watching Channel 6 Action News, which is what Eve and I would do when our weekly pizza arrived.
The taste of the pizza took me right back to our living room in the Bryn Mawr house. We’d sit together on that big couch I got at the flea market, and eat from the coffee table Eve made out of a remnant of a bureau drawer and a small tabletop.
After the pizza she'd linger for about a minute or two, anxiously searching her mind for the right words to announce her intention, then she’d bolt upstairs to our bedroom, to resume her reading from a big stack of paperbacks.
So here I am now, belly full of pizza and Diet Coke, just like at Bryn Mawr. And what's the difference between being in this apartment alone, or being in Eve's house alone? At least here I don't get a sense of somebody not willing to meet my needs. Or betraying me. I like to believe she thinks of me at least half as much as I think of her. But most likely not.
Her new lover, I learned just the other day, is a standup comic who works clubs in Center City Philadelphia. He’s perfect for the rebound thing. The expectations of a new partner are enormously distracting and all consuming, so she won't be giving any thought to the sad sack she's just dumped. But then, bummer: The comedian is sure to start complaining. He will want it all, her full attention and absolute loyalty. Not the weak tea that she offers up as love.
I think about the photograph one of the guests took of Eve and me at our wedding up at the lake. We stood at the end of the dock, in the sunlight, our heads bowed toward each other. That's the moment I believed I’d finally found the real thing.
But then if she were to call me later this evening and say, "Raymond, are you really serious about wanting to try again?" I'll not hesitate a second. I can imagine the two of us sitting at our usual booth at the Marlane Diner. Comparing notes.
"Well?” she’ll ask. “Did you have a lover?"
And I'll say "Sure, dozens! Couldn't keep the babes off me!”
And then I’ll say, “No, I’m kidding. The last sex I've had was on December 9. You crawled into bed. Damp, warm, fragrant and naked--after your shower. Do you remember?"
* * *
Fitful sleep. I awake with the sheet tangled in my legs. I've had a vivid dream, in which I'm still with Eve, during that awful period between her announcement that it was over and my final departure. We're sitting close together and she's playing her guitar and singing a sweet love song.
When Eve finishes singing she and I embrace. And I think, Christ this is great, she's actually changed her mind! And yet at the same time I'm hesitant, I don't want to open myself up for another great disappointment.
Oh, but it's lovely feeling her in my arms again. I close my eyes. Her warm closeness envelops me. I get an erection, which I press against her. She pushes me away.
"Oh, no, that's not what I meant a-tall," she says, quoting Prufrock.