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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
Puzzle Pieces Image

Bee Meyer
151 S. Resler, Apt. #189
El Paso, Texas 79912

THE TWO OF THEM
[First written circa 1977 in Miami, Florida]

 

His face is silvery in the light of her bed lamp. His mouth is open, even though he is breathing quietly. She is frightened when she looks at him sleeping. He could be dead and look like this. She wants to shake him, wake him, hold him. But her body holds still, rigid. They fought so bitterly before they came to their room, she didn't think she could stand it or sleep through it. Something cold, constrictive, held her back from him. More than anything she ached to say, "Hold me, kiss me." But she didn't. She couldn't. How she hated herself when she hated him. How she loves and hates him. How old he looks she thinks. He looks quite dead. Oh no, not dead. Please, not dead.

She thinks she must have been asleep when he came to bed. She falls asleep quickly, heavily, but not for long. Sometimes it's two o'clock and more often three, when she can no longer lie back, her book fallen unread from her hand. She can't concentrate on her books nor the stacks of her magazines. The words run off the pages by themselves. She reads one paragraph over and over without meaning.

She wonders when this began. Was it when she realized he'd be seventy-nine in March, that he'd already had a long life? How much could she hope for? How much could she stand? How much pity is love, how much self pity is hate?

Before she undressed, she mended his heavy beige sweater which her mother had knit for him. As she folded and put it away, she saw him as he had been the, always there for her, doing all the things she didn't like to do. Errands, shopping, taking the children to their lessons, their doctors, caring for her mother and father through the years they couldn't manage, couldn't cope. He was always there, holding in his feelings, walking away from his angers with her. But there. Now where is he? So much of him still here, so much gone. Her brother says, "No wonder I love your old guy. He's the kind of man who will take care of you all your life."

No, she thinks. Some taking care, when now he's so quick to answer, to scream his frustrations. Where is he for me now? He sleeps. She gets up, leaves their bed. The night is at her throat, on her chest.

She has learned how to use touchstones to get her through her waking hours. She can use symbols, sounds, a voice on the phone. She has found how to overcome the spaces between by using her hands or walking, or in yard work, heavy cleaning or laundering. Cooking doesn't help much. To cook well she needs the faith which has somehow deserted her, that flavors will blend, textures will build, coordination and time can be achieved.

Her cooking has become erratic. A chiffon dessert turns sullen and stiff. Cakes burn. Puddings stick. She pleads with ingredients. "Don't be ridiculous," she hears herself saying to a chicken which remains tasteless, "when I've given you all the salt and pepper and garlic and Rosemary you are entitled to."

There's still enough of herself to smile at her attempt to make friends with a dead fryer, to try to coerce a custard from curdling. She feels as if she weren't still able to be for a moment amused, she couldn't cross this pressured space to the next safety zone.

She becomes temporarily free at a phrase, at concentrating at a picture-hung wall which has always given her pleasure, or at the height of the tall glass doors to the patio. If she follows the line of shutters from the floor to the top of the glass with measuring eyes, she can use the vertical pull and return as an exercise in concentration. When this works, the pressure of her chest is eased.

During the days, an occasional phone call will free her. She stays as long on the phone as she dares, fearful of breaking the connection and returning to the isolation of her fears.

If she believed in prayer, she could be said to pray. Always compulsively verbal, she talks to herself aloud now, but carefully. She is as careful of how she speaks aloud, alone, as she is of looking past the shelf in the medicine cabinet to the label, "Take one every four hours for pain only." Percodan. She holds the little bottle and rereads this instruction and thinks that is for pain only, means only pain. She thinks longingly of how good it would be to know actual physical pain. She wonders whether she would know release if she were found to be dying. She knows, however, given her ego drives and lifetime need for good grades, head-patting and gold stars, she would probably join with her doctors to put everything she has or once had into a battle to survive. She even admits in the longest hours of the night that if she really thought herself incapable of making it through every next day, she would somehow manage to find a way of doing away with herself and the bones of her chest, pressing, pressing.

She is packaged in two layers. The one on top smiles, laughs, makes contact. The other one under her chest bones wants to close doors, to hide, to have nothing expected of it. She tries out the words saying aloud, "I want to have nothing more expected of me."

Do his angers come from not wanting her to continue expecting so much of him? How long has he wanted, needed, to be free of being expected of? When he shakes his fist at her, when he pounds on the arm of his chair, things he had never done before, is he saying what she is saying, too, that his time of being expected of is over, over and he wants no more of it? But how can she stop expecting of him? How can she stop assuming that he is here for her? That he will be here for her? That he will remember all the things she has not had to think about, of where to find things, where to put things, where to buy things. That he can once again walk quickly, lightly, that he can reach the ringing phone before it stops.

Face it, she thinks, you hate it when he gets up so painfullly from his chair, when he takes so long to get out of the car, when he walks so slowly, when his hips hurt, when he can't hear, not only what you're saying but what you really mean.

She thinks sometimes that her greatest suffering comes from her own sense of shame at not meeting her own expectations. Then how much is he feeling? She rubs her hands together as if washing them. She wants to wash this out, blot it out, put it away, forget it.

She denies that this is what's the matter with her. She walks quickly now through the dark house. She switches off her mind about him, like turning off a light. Maybe she feels as she does because of their children. Is this one of her sticking points, that of all three, only one can be considered self satisfied? The younger daughter still says, but not as often, that she isn't sure she really likes herself enough. Their only son doesn't say, doesn't open.

"I will think of the day the twins were born," she thinks. "I am in my room at the hospital when I wake up from the Caesarian." The first thing she saw clearly was his face. He was sitting next to her bed, his hand on hers, where the IV tube was attached. He was waiting for her to wake, to stroke and pat her hand so she'd not pull out the tube. She had never seen his eyes so brooding, so filled with love, suffused with tenderness. She loved his eyes, hazel and what she had always called "trout speckled." He smiled at her when he saw her eyes open and on him. "Wouldn't you know," he said, "that you'd have to do twice as much as anybody else. Do you know we have twins?"

She needs to remember this man as he was and when she demands it of herself she can see him. Only yesterday he said, looking up from his paper, of their younger daughter soon coming to visit them, "My arms can't bear to wait much longer for Debby." And when was it, not so long ago, he held her, enfolding, not merely giving her a hug and said, "The way I love you is something awful -- the whole damned ball of wax." She looked up, they both laughed. At exactly the same moment they had remembered what he said the first time they danced together. He had already begun to know he was in love with her but he was surprised at himself and her. Seriously, unsmilingly, he said, "I have never danced with a fat girl before." She was both hurt and amused. Mostly amused. She recognized what was happening to him and that he was wondering how all of it had come about, that here was such an armful of woman and he would never want any other woman the rest of his life.

"I will concentrate on how lucky we are to have lived long enough so that now he has begun to be able to say aloud what he possibly hadn't even realized he felt about the children. Oh surely he thought he loved them. I can't deny him that, " she thinks. Yet would they have grown as they did if from the beginning he had been able to value them consciously as he does now? It wasn't so long ago, maybe only two or three years, when suddenly he placed his hand over his heart and said, "I love Roger so much it's like a physical sensation." Roger, the son who at eight had said coldly, "Tell him to stop giving me those bats and balls. He ought to know I'm not the athletic type." Even now she smiled at remembering the precision and precocity of his speech so young. But for how long now has she asked whether Roger would have grown more open, more demonstrably affectionate, if his father could have shown him such love when they were both young enough to have found each other. Could they have done it then? Did it have to take so long?

She has tried to shut the children out of her night hours. She had begun to feel she had learned to cope with her feelings about them but that was when there were more safe places in her head than now. Now the wounds are open again, bleeding against her guilt, her unanswered questions as to why their children who had such promise, such quick and facile intelligence haven't yet learned how much they have to give, how they deserve recognition and happiness.

There she goes again. There's the crux. There she goes equating recognition with happiness. She remembers when their older daughter wrote in a freshman theme that she and her twin brohter and kid sister weren't ever told they had to earn the best grades, to be most outstanding in their classes. They just knew it was expected of them.

She has chosen all her life to consider herself free of outside judgments, demands and expectations. Now she knows she has lied. She has been performing all her life for the audience outside her window.

Her mother often repeated the story of what an enchanting baby she was, set up high and sweetly dressed in the sunny bay window of the old brownstone apartment on Van Sicklin Avenue in Brooklyn and how men and women coming home from work would vie for her delighted, laughing attention. Her mother said she was like a first night in the theatre every day. Now her adoring, blue-eyed, sharp-tongued mother isn't here to tell her how wonderful she is, nor her father, either. Years before their deaths she mourned them as their once clear, bright minds became confused.

Is she terrified she is becoming like them? She asks herself this often and insists this isn't basic to her fears. Is it because she isn't able to accept that what happened to them may be beginning to happen to her? At sixty-five she is fifteen years younger than they were when they began to lose their competence, their crisp ability to think and express themselves.

Does she prefer to think her husband is becoming like her father rather than admitting she's the one it's happening to? Why else does she compare what he's doing to saying or not hearing to actions she remembers of her father?

Is this why she walks the night? She denies this as a serious enough fear to bring her to this -- this what? Depression. She says the words out loud: "I am depressed. I am deeply depressed." She checks out self-tests in newspapers and magazines which are, "Are you Depressed, Incapable of Coping?" She denies that she shows a completely depressed profile -- yet. She can function during the days and is somehow even managing the long nights. She can make decisions.

Hold it. How is she with decisions? What happens to her when she is trying to do something as simple as decide the kind of soup to have? All the soups run through her mind like a paper strip through an adding machine. She sees the chicken and cheese chowder flying past and the deep sea chowder and the black mushroom soup and she is cooking a chicken and shaping matzo balls. Hopeless, she is walking even faster now and lighting a cigarette, fighting with soup bowls and spoons and table settings.

She walks into the kitchen, looks out into the patio to see if there is any chance of morning, but she knows better. It's the hour of the night that the sins of the old Chinese emperor sit upon his chest and crush him near death with the weight of guilt that comes from all the wrongs he committed.

She was six when she first read the story. That winter in New Haven, when she walked to school on a wooden bridge across the railroad tracks. What a miracle, to stop and watch the small puffings of smoke when a train passed underneath and to feel the trembling of the bridge under her feet.

And to come home with books, as many as she could carry and to look up to watch her mother light the gas mantle lamp which exploded softly into light like a white puff ball, a flower. The night she stayed as long as she could hide in the bathroom, reading the Emperor and the Nightingale, was a night of terrifying excitement and fear. She remembers how their upper duplex became the Emperor's court and she could see the stiff brocade skirts and feel the weight of the heavy gold headdress the Emperor wore. She felt the Emperor's joy when the real nightingale first sang to him and told him of the world outside the court. She knew the Emperoror's sadness when he heard of the poverty and unhappiness of his people and she rejoiced when he became thoughtful and generous as for awhile a new spirit came alive in his court. Her heart broke when his courtiers and their ladies brought the Emperor the mechanical nightingale which could sing better and longer and only needed to be wound up and never sang of pity of pain. How she suffered when the Emperor lay dying and what happiness she felt when the real nightingale came again from the woods to save the dying old man.

When she was even younger and deeply, irrationally frightened, she woke to another kind of horror. There was somehow in her mouth the thickness of castor oil, as though it was gelatinized. It had no flavor, but the weight of the substance clung to her teeth and gums and prevented her from swallowing easily. Soon after she would feel this terror and the dry, yet oil-like sensation in her mouth, she would be running along a city street, always a city street, she had lived so little of her early life in cities, and she ran and panted and then, somehowe pursued, felt herself rising hither, higher than the buildings, higher than -- then the plunge. And then the catapulting downward, not a fall, not a dive, but as a projectory downward to wake, drenched and shaking, choking, crying, "Mama, Mama!"

When she cries "Mama, Mama" now who will hear? In these long, tight-chested nights, she needs to be held and patted, returning to her husband who sleeps too quietly at the other side of their old double bed. She wakes him. "Please," she says, "please put me to sleep, sing to me, knock me out or put me to sleep." And in his old voice, crackly but amused, possibly one of the few moments of his own long days when he consciously feels sweetness and amusement, he will turn and hold her tightly . He passes his free hand down her back from her shoulders to her buttocks saying, always saying, "Somehow you have the softest backside. How come it's so much softer than anywhere else on your body?" And she turns from him, wanting to hold him and love him and take him and yet denying him, incapable of letting him be at her again. There have already been too many years when, even as he begins to breathe quickly and feel mounting excitement, she knows that quickly, without his realizing most of the times when he happens, he would have wet himself and her with no feeling that he was coming or had come and she'd exclaim, unwilling, "My God, not again!" and he would ask, "What happened? What happened?" And in shame and revulsion, the sick sisters of pity, she'd throw off their covers, go quickly into her bathroom and scrub and scrub as though she had been defiled. How could she think this, feel this about him?

Is this why she walks the nights, is this why she feels the bones of her chest against her heart, her lungs, crushing her breathing, keeping her skin taut, crawling? She knows this is a part of her self pity and defeat. She had always believed and confidently said that a woman can keep her man vigorous and young forever. But when her husband's last small stroke came simultaneously with his prostate trouble, there was almost total lack of control for months. It wasn't so much the physical problem of the enlarged prostate as that his coordination never completely returned. Nervous now, wherever they went, she asked if he wanted to use the bathroom, knowing the question would trigger his annoyance which turned so instantly to anger at her constant interference and goading.

Was she reminding him for his own sake? She needs to think so but she knows otherwise. She does it for herself so that she won't have to feel the distaste that wells up in her for his lack of ability to control. As much as he hates her interference and questions. He has begun to share every act in detail with her. Even though he had never been able to share feelings, was never verbal about how he felt, now he is colorfully explicit about every accident, listing each detail. He always begins with, "I just had the damndest accident...." She wonders whether he does this to shame her or because ne needs to verbalize his humiliation. When he tells her, she becomes instantly defensive for him, pointing out to him that it is ridiculous to feel shame about his condition, as if she constantly were to feel shame at how the skin of her body sags, how her face wrinkles, how her arthritis gnarls her fingers. How she loves him. How she needs him.

If she feels this love for him so keenly, why does she feel such revulsion when he describes his accidents? She knows why. She is aware that she indulges herself, justifying her compulsion for neatness, cleanliness, ordering, straightening, always straightening, putting to rights.

He has begun to scream at her, "Leave my things alone, goddamn it, leave them alone. Let me put my own dirty clothese in the hamper, let me hang up my own pants for god's sake. Leave my things alone."

She says she only wants to help him. Another lie. How can she continue to pretend to herself that she helps him when he keeps telling her how he hates what she does for him? She can't stand disorder, the heaped-up clothes on his chairs, the many pairs of shoes on the floor, his limp trousers heaping up, their suspenders hanging loosely. If she keeps out of his dressing room, she can hold back from cleaning up. But she can't stay away often or for very long. Her hands ignore her promise to herself to hold back. Her hands live their own compulsions, putting to rights, mixing him up so he can't find what he wants and once again he complains bitterly, "Leave my stuff alone for godsake, leave me alone."

But they can't leave each other alone. They know too well the words and actions which goad the other and each, lemming like, is driven to do or say that one thing, the many things, which drive the other to fury and in her case nearly always, to tears. Not the quiet tears down her cheecks in her room alone, but noisy crying so he can hear her and be made to feel ashemed that he has wronged her and ought to comfort her.

But even before he comes slowly to this, to turning toward her, she flings herself against him, clinging and wild with fear that he will become so upset he will die and she won't have him to hurt nor to hug nor to deride nor to lean upon.

She is the first one to say, "Come darling, come back to bed." Or, "Please, darling, we mustn't do this to each other," and she comes up onto his lap in his old black lounge chair and curls around him and he holds her as he says, "Why do you go on so, what do you ask of yourself?" She answers that she is purposeless. "Your purpose," he says sternly and clearly," your purpose is to be happy. You are old enough to deserve to be happy."

Happy. "I must be grateful,' she says aloud, walking through the hours of the night. She looks at the pool in the moonlight and the silhouettes of the hanging baskets against the beginning light of morning. How beautiful it is. How lucky she is. How grateful they should be that they have each other and their gracious house and are still able to manage and maintain it and keep it as a welcome to their friends.

Then why doesn't she really want people now, she wonders. All her life her homes have been staging ground for the people she wanted. Some were good friends. Some were asked because they helped to delight, such friends who could enjoy the uniqueness of the young scholar from Parkistan, the fat young gourmet chef from Denmark, the brilliant political analyst from Ankara. She collected people with unusual life styles and achievements, enhancing what she considered her own lesser abilities.

Functioning in what began to be called the communication arts, she considered the word overblown for her radio, television and consultation skills. She had an ability to come quickly to the essence of information or expressed ideas in what a later instructor described as an "instantaneous integrative skill." In the same way, she was able to bring people together so that they meshed.

Now if she thinks about her obligation to invite people who had once delighted her, she feels such sinking in her stomach it is like physical pain. She has even felt a cramping as though her intestines were turning and knotting. She turns from the thought of entertaining. She says aloud, over and over, "I'm done with that. I don't want that." But she is afraid that as she turns from friends, friends will forget her. She isn't ready to be totally forgotten, if at all.

When her phone rings, more often than not she answers it reluctantly but her phone voice is always up and lifted as it was when she meant the tone of it. Now it is the surface layer of her, making the sounds of pleasure and airy mouthings. Underneath, that other layer cringes and presses and only wants to go into her bedroom, shut the door, turn on the air conditioning and the television set, so there will be noises around her but not of her making, rather than those which must be responded to, expectations made of her.

She resents being asked what exciting things she is doing now for she is hard put to continue to create such excitement. She still manages to create the illulsion of being busy but in herself she feels limp, unneeded, undone. Friends say they can't find her at home. "I phoned and phoned but of course you're so busy." She protests, "Oh no, I'm not that busy." She would like to be able to say honestly that she is trying very hard to feel busy and it is useless. She compares herself bitterly to anyone who has had enough sense to remain employed, involved, treadmilling.

But no. "Oh god no," she says aloud to herself. "I don't want to be on that push-push-wheel-deal-treadmill anymore." She has lived too long by her wits. She wants out. She wants to be able to sit on the pine-needled slope above the lake in Maine and only look down at the water and up at the great pines and not be expected of.

Yet even as she thinks this and says it to herself, she knows it to be another lie. She envies her younger, busy friends, envies her own children, worriedly tied to their jobs and responsibilities.

She is pulled in every direction. She wants not to be expected of at the same time as she wants to fly up in one last hurrah, always just one more, to arrange, accomplish, achieve, to perform. She also knows that she can't take and doesn't have what it takes to make the effort. She has spent many years pulling out her connections with groups and jobs and individuals. She grows tired quickly of anything which demands more than a few hours of her. She long ago began to find excuses to disconnect, to run.

She reminds herself of the little gingerbread boy who ran away from the little old lady and the little old man and who kept saying, "I can run away from you and you, I can." The little gingerbread boy. In his frenzy for freedom, she remembers how he hopped on the back of a fox who offered him a ride across the river and who, in midstream, gobbled him up with one flick of his clever, narrow tongue. Gone, gone, this runaway boy of cookie dough.

"I am my fox and he is me. I've crossed my river and I am being gobbled up." She feels herself on the back of the gliding, easioly swimming fox. Now she feels herslef swimming deep, deep, trying to get up to the surface of the water, trying to draw a breath of air, but the water presses her down as she struggles in weak, choppy strokes, trying to force herself upward.

Wait a minute. Maybe she can come up to breathe if she remembers that lovely April morning, could it have been a whole year ago....she wrote about it, scrawling with her felt-tipped pen in the large, running script she had begun to use when she could no longer see the smaller letters she once wrote so carefully, with such pleasure. That day she had tried to capture the morning in words before she forgot it.

"I am cleaning house. No pressures. No deadlines. My man is off on errands. I am puttering, fiddling. I have never worked like this before. There was always drive, compulsive pressure in everything I did, as though I constantly attempted to meet a deadline or beat a record.

"I have been certain all my life that I hate housework. Then why am I filled with this ease, this conscious sense of pleasure? I'm not only cleaning, I am feeling. I am listening to music, to the birds, to the child next door. And I am sitting here with drawers and doors open, in the kind of disarray usually intolerable to me.

"Is it possible I am beginning to find a part of me long denied and ignored? Have I found a little place of inner peace? Amd I actually happy to be doing simple, physical chores without reward, applause, ego feed? Maybe this is a need I never knew or one I could have scorned. Maybe I am beginning to accept a part of myself which doesn't perform, achieve, posture.

"I am a stranger to me. If this woman is me, will she be a friend? Will I enjoy her? Will she and I be able to develop a sense of affection and respect?

"I am suspicious of me. I don't know if today's me is for real. She has a long way to go to be whole. She has a long way to go before I can accept her as dependable. How soon will that other me be at her, cynical, mocking her pleasure as a cop-out, denying it as growth?

"Which is it anyway? If the use of self and time can be accomplished with self-acceptance, maybe it's just giving up. But giving up what? The image I always need to project of drive, achievement, a kind of spurious glitter?

"If it is true that there is a time for all things and for each there is a season, could it be my season following the time of harvest? Whatever the crop, it has been put by.

"But how sweet this moment is. It it were possible to describe it, I'd call it conscious joy. It will be spoiled if I try to hold it, try to own it, as though it were a "how to" I could rerun on demand.

"I won't try. I will treat it with gladness. I will go now, put my clothes in the dryer and live the day."
She tries to hold on. She reaches her hands out in front of her and tries to grip that April morning. It won't stay. It doesn't work. Her mind is off it, against her. Instead she remembers only another morning, an ugly morning.

It began well for her. She was up early. She had slept nearly five hours and felt refreshed and eager for the day to begin. She breakfasted, walked around the house to take the feel of the day, set his table, prepared his breakfast and was already at her housecleaning and laundering. When she came back into the house from the laundry room, she found him in his bathroom and cheerfully wished him a good morning. He seemed amiable and in good health. She went into their room, finding her small housecleaning tasks good companions, good reasons for being up and doing in the morning.

As she squeezed the mirror cleaning spray, the cloth she used to dry the glass gave out a long, sustained squeak. She grinned at the sound as she heard him ask sharply and with concerned, "What are you doing? What is that noise?" She answered, "These are the sounds of the workplace."

Was she being sarcastic that she was up and working and he had only arisen and it was already well after nine? It was that, too, although she insisted to herself that she was only sounding cheerful and enjoying what she was doing. But now he was angry. As he did so often now, he began to feel as though she were deliberately baffling and eluding him. Now he was asking sharply, angrily, "What was that noise?" She could very easily have answered that she was washing the mirror and the too-dry cloth caused the squeaking like chalk on a blackboard, but some perverse humor forced her to say, "These are the sounds of complaint at the workplace."

Within a second he was at her bathroom door. "I asked you to tell me what you're doing and you can't give me a straight answer. What in hell is happening?"

She was startled. And frightened. "Please," she said, "don't do that. Don't look like that." His face was contorted and furious. What was he saying to her? Was he saying he could never understand her and why in hell didn't she speak straight to him instead of obscuring everything. Was he really saying that he had enough of her so-called humor and her sarcasm, too. She was so frightened at his anger that she could only plead, "Don't look at me like that." And she tried to close the door against him. He stoof strong in the doorway in such a fury that his face was a working mask of deep wrinkles and snarling mouth. He screamed, "Don't ever do that again! Don't do that to me!"

But it was too late. The day was already spoiled. How she hated him. He frightened her. He was out of control. Did she deliberately want to trigger him, was she playing a game of trying to make a joke of something while all the time she actually intended the basic message to come through, that she was working and tending his house and him while he slept and only took care of himself? Her wellspring of self pity was at the full again. And he was responding to feelings in her which were coming through to him, as sometimes radio signals come through the gold fillings in a tooth.

She is walking quickly now in a circle that tightens her steps like a skein of yarn. Living room, kitchen, front hall and round. She has walked herself a circle as tight as the tightness of her chest, the pressure in her head. She stops this exhausting circling and walks down the hall back to their bedroom.

He is sleeping now, too quietly. She walks to his side of the bed and feels his face with her hand and then reaches to his wrist to feel his pulse. He wakes and mumbles, "You all right?" "Fine," she says.

He asks her to turn out her damned light. She says she will in a minute. Maybe one Valium. She knows in the dark wht the Valium bottle stands. She had one last night and slept until nearly eight this morning. How good it was to wake in the morning instead of walking the night. But now it's three o'clock and the Emperor's sins are heavy on her chest.

What will become of her if she dies before her? He mustn't. He can't. She won't let him. "Darling," she says. "Don't. Don't." But there are days she screams into her closet, "Go ahead. Call it quits. Die. Die."

What will she do without him, how will she learn to live again? Where? Here in the heat of South Florida. Up in Maine, lost in the darkness of the huge pines, there at the end of the old camp run as it runs down hill to the lake under the heavy summer rains.

She turns out her light and crawls up against his back. She puts her right arm over his hips and presses her hand hard against his firm belly. "I am sick, sick," she says. "What? What?" he asks.

He insists that there's nothing wrong with his hearing and it is she who mumbles. He asks, "You all right?" He doesn't remember he has already asked. She answers, "Not really," and begins to cry. He turns to her and holds her.

"Now, now, " he says. "Try to sleep. Try to sleep." "I can't," she says. "I can't." He turns again, his back is warm against her belly. She holds onto him with all her strength. "Oh god," she says. "How can I keep calling on you and I don't even believe in you but oh god," she says, "please please let me sleep with him awhile. Just a little while."

And soon she does.

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