Their padded Adirondack chairs faced west, angled towards one another on the large front porch of their log-cabin vacation home. Her husband sat with his elbows propped on his knees, his face covered by shadowed hands.
She watched him; she felt a shivery thrill, the same rush of emotional satisfaction that she’d first experienced forty years ago. She flounced back in her own seat, unable to contain herself, even after all this time. She aggressively zipped up her jacket, an image of broken flesh and bones, a shock of yellow hair covered in blood danced in her mind.
He moved his eyes–she could see one, the other remained covered. The white of the eye glistened in the waning light.
“Steve, what is wrong with you?” she asked, her tone practiced kindness; she knew exactly what was wrong. “Look at that sunset. Look at those lavender and salmon colors.” She pretended to gape with pleasure at the scene along the western horizon, above the large, irregular lake that rippled with reflected pastels and darkness a mile below. She inhaled dramatically, threw back her arms and laced her fingers behind her head. “The air is so crisp and clean in the Adirondacks in September. I just love it here. I’m so grateful to your parents for giving us the lodge.”
He straightened. He wiped his eyes with a thumb. “I know,” he said.
She smiled, but sensed something sour. “You know?” She tried to make it sound like a joke. The other side of the coin–reliving her triumph while he relived his pain–was the fact that he still was reliving his pain after forty years. “You know what?” she persisted. She leaned forward. The sky seemed golden for a moment, and a bright orange-pink Alpenglow fell across the peaks in the distance.
“What?” he replied. He stared at the oil-lantern balanced on the porch railing to their right; the wick was turned low, but the flame seemed to brighten.
She laughed once. “I didn’t mean, ‘you know what?’ like I have a secret. I meant … what do you know?” Again came that tug, that nudge in the gut, that something this year was different, not quite right.
“But you do have a secret, Rebecca. You have lots of secrets.” His voice sounded gentle, subdued. He wasn’t looking at her, but at the single flame of the lantern.
Her back prickled a little bit with surprise. She was usually in complete control–of herself, of him, of their marriage. “Ooookay,” she said, gripping the arms of the chair and crossing her legs. “Something on your mind, sweetheart?” she asked with a tinge of irritation.
“I think you know.”
“Well really, Mr. Isaacson, I do not. Are you trying to tell me something? I think I’ve kept my figure–I’ve had a little work done–but you know, for a sixty-year-old broad I’m not half bad.” She paused, but he didn’t respond. She waited a minute longer then said slowly, “What’s the matter babe, I’m not young enough for you any more?” It was a deliberate move, she was prodding. She straightened expectantly.
He came to his feet in one fluid motion. He had always been stocky–hairy and muscled and quite handsome when young–now sixty-seven and overweight, his dark curls white and receding. He stood at the railing, next to the lantern. The sunset was fading. A bird cried.
“Oh Steve, I love you so much,” she said, this time with the passion of truth. “I’ve loved you since we were kids in Brooklyn.”
“But I didn’t love you.” There were crickets now. Something rustled in the branches of the fir trees nearby.
“That doesn’t matter,” she said. “We learned to love one another.” She thought she saw his mouth twist in the flickering, pale light. “You’re still thinking about her?” she blurted. “Because you brought her up here forty years ago….”
“And she disappeared, forty years ago today….”
“Who cares, the little slut. She was a thirteen-year-old girl, Steve. What the hell? You were twenty-seven. Your little blonde doll. Perfect in every way. And you were fucking her, and her parents let you because they were some kind of Esalen freaks. So she left you, are you surprised? I’m not. Hippie bitch. Why waste another moment thinking about her?”
He turned and folded his arms. “Because I loved her so much,” he said calmly.
She felt rage building and tried to tamp it down. She remained seated, her upper leg swinging slightly. “You were obsessed with her. She was a snotty brat. She made you a pervert. Once she was gone, you grew up. You came to your senses and married me. We’ve had a good time together all these years….”
“You’ve had a good time. I’ve been waiting. For the just the right moment.”