Sunday, June 14, 2009

Along the bay

She is, he thinks, as beautiful a girl as he has ever seen. She is studying the cello and he -- without great conviction -- environmental science, but even before they become friends he spies her one day making her way across campus, in subdued but easy conversation with a friend, her long hair loose and falling midway down her back. At first she reminds him, he thinks, of a painting he remembers seeing somewhere, a Rossetti or something like that, but when he gets a closer look he sees that he is mistaken. There is nothing remote or iconic about her face; her features are delicate, her expression open and unaffected. Eventually they meet and become friends but nothing more. He has a steady girlfriend through most of his junior and senior years and she, he believes, has a boyfriend who goes to some other school.

After college they lose touch, but by chance a year later they each spend the summer months in a resort town on the coast. When he runs into her unexpectedly, just as the tourist season is starting to hit, he is waiting on tables in a seafood place on the docks and renting a room by himself in a rickety backstreet walkup, his future plans unknown. She is living by herself in a tiny cottage on the bluffs outside of town, rehearsing for a festival with a local chamber orchestra and preparing to begin her MFA. He calls her up and stops by for dinner one evening and with what seems to him almost miraculously mutual avidity they wind up in bed together. Within a week he has moved in, carrying the few essential possessions he hasn't stowed at his mother's house or his father's place back home: a backpack with an aluminum frame, a sleeping bag, a sackful of CDs, and an outback hat.

On warm evenings, while she waits for him, she moves a chair onto the porch and plays to the distant bay, watching the shadows of the walnut tree that overhangs the building quiver and drift across the floor planks. Then he comes home with fish and chips and a bottle of wine purloined from the kitchen; he is tired but his eyes brighten when he sees her face. She lights a pair of candles and sets them on a table by the picture window. While they eat he tells her stories of his day to make her laugh, and before long they are once again entwined.

Late at night, when the embers of their desire are at last consumed, he likes to lie back in the dark with his eyes open and imagine his future with her, and she curls silently beside him and thinks about how to tell him that he has none.

No comments: