Roberta M. Roy
Adele knew she had to hurry. The internet was gone--taken by the storm--leaving in its stead this swathe of time between now and when next it would call. And when it did, as had been happening so frequently of late, she would no longer be a writer. Instead she would be sucked into a kind of mindless trolling across a sea of faces, blurbs, and links in search of what never was, but might--just this time--be there.
The idea had come during her dinner of sausages and red peppers served on slices of whole wheat bread born of her desire to point up the newly painted red accent wall of her tiny kitchen by keeping some red tomatoes and large red peppers in a basket on the counter by the sink. But one of the peppers had taken on a black spot, propelling it quickly on its way to frying and hence eating and so to becoming part of this supper which she had taken alone, cheered by the red of the wall--and the peppers--and the kitchen’s warmth.
Last night she had a dream. It began with some kind of a poorly remembered crawl beneath low bushes that overhung narrow paths forking in such a way as to endlessly necessitate decision upon decision to just keep moving. No highs. No lows. Just paths and warm overhanging soft-limbed bushes hung with yellow flowers that reminded her of those of ragweed, but fluffier and teasingly prettier but nonetheless, not much of a comfort. More a cover, or a tarp, or an endless lid of sorts that forced the wearying traveler to move forward on her belly in a manner akin to any other forest low life. But then of a sudden the vista opened. And somehow she knew there was no turning back. So she lifted her head to look beyond the sharp rocks jutting skyward from the ground like double row of crooked and rotten old dragon’s teeth. But sharper. Very sharp. While beyond them as crystal clear and sparkling as imaginable stretched an reach of ocean more beautiful than any she had ever witnessed. And larger. Endless.
So now today in cutting the soaked bread and peeling the skin from the strips of beautiful red peppers it came to her another water. Another time. And Stanley.
She hadn’t thought of him in many years. He would old now. Much older than she. Wondering briefly if he were still alive, she decided he probably was. And that also, in the same instant it was exactly of no interest to her. How the mind plays tricks on one. On the one hand she knew that last night she had looked out on death to find it shockingly beautiful. Intuitively she recognized that it was the sharp stones held her back. As always, just as the beauty of the moment drew her, so too the possibility of pain had repulsed her even more. But somehow the scene of the water had brought him back to her. It was only now she knew why: The Indian Maiden.
They’d done so much together. Important things. For the betterment of the human race. For women and minorities. And even in their own way, for men. For a few years they had as good as lived together. By mail. By phone. In snatches and bits around meetings and negotiations. Sleeping in separate rooms in friends’ homes. Always separate physically, working with the synchrony of a beating heart.
Only once did it seem that Stanley betrayed his secret wanted of her as much as she him. But not by deed or word. Only the acrid scent of his abrupt perspiration when inadvertently he had moved too close to her to review and suggest an edit to something she was typing. But she knew. At the time they were hammering out position papers for endorsement by the membership of the statewide human rights organization which they headed. They were staying at the old farmhouse just outside of Albany as guests of a fellow woman activist and mutual friend.
That night when they parted, she for her room off the living room, he for his upstairs one, the magnetic pull of his body as he left the room had been almost palpable.
But they were married. She in a pain-filled roller coaster of relationship the vows to which she felt bound to honor. He in a somewhat better one to a wife who frequently and pointedly stated that if Adele wanted him, she was welcome to him. Shocking. Said half jokingly. But Adele always felt it was only half a joke left to hang on the air in a sticky, uncomfortable way that caused Adele to always wonder a bit.
And then there were Stanley drum-beat words. “I only understand what you put in words.” If he said it once, he had said it fifty times. And just as Julie’s jokes hung around to poke at Adele with a dirty kind of finger, so two did Stanley’s mantra. “I only understand what you put in words.” It seemed to Adele it was lying open on the sheets and inviting action. Except it cold not be. Not Stanley. Not she. They were above that kind of thing. It was just her wishful thinking that caused those butterflies in the pit of stomach. And after each such episode Adele would again decide that it was silly of her to come alone to visit a Stanley and Julia ostensibly to be with friends and kick around feminist issues and possibly to escape the humdrum of the repression in her marriage, but never, never to seek out Stanley for himself alone. Never.
Years passed. Adele finally divorced, leaving her husband only because she no longer had anything to give. She had dried up. Disappeared. All she wanted then was first, to sleep. And to sleep. And then, her freedom. Hard won it would come. And painful. But she would stand alone as once she had. She would need no one.
Nonetheless, in the interim, she continued to visit Stanley and his intellectual and sophisticated wife, Julia. Always, in his kindly professorial way, he would remain essentially cool but attentive and generous with his time. Julia, by contrast, would be warm and eager and less and less available. As a result, with each visit Adele and Stanley spent ever more time alone together. At first it was lunch. Then it was lunch and the afternoon. Finally it was the whole day with dinner and day trips during which Adele felt something like a mix of the visiting dignitary and an almost-to-become lover—all of which on the one hand was quite uplifting--especially during the time her husband was pulling more and more away. On the other hand, the whole thing gave Adele a kind of crawly feeling that was not helped by the fact that she began to notice small changes in Stanly: He had gained weight. He’d suffered a back injury. His sports car was less new and spiffy than as she first remembered it to be.
GraduallyAdele’s seven hours runs out to see Stanley and Julie became less and less frequent until finally they just stopped. The trip was too far. She didn’t have the time. He was in Europe. Life was pulling them in separate directions.
And then Adele divorced.