There are two pillows on this wide, white bed. Over each, a plastic tag is draped. One says: “soft,” the other “firm.” I squeeze each of them in turn. I cannot detect the difference.
A sliding glass door leads out to a small balcony overlooking a courtyard, a bean-shaped pool. Palm trees. I stand out on the balcony. Stretching out in both directions on either side, more balconies. Each one the same size, shape, and proportions as the last. The same peach-colored stone. I imagine all the hotel guests standing out on all the balconies at the same time for just a moment, leaning over the low wall, looking down to the courtyard. How viewed that way, by an onlooker from above or below, we might seem to be part of some strange choreography – a kick line or a water ballet, waving our arms in the same slow arcs over our heads.
At home, my son does not sleep well. M. tells me over the phone in the morning, when I call him before breakfast. “He was awake at four, never went back to sleep. Now we are in a battle,” he says.
“Over what?” I ask.
“He didn’t eat the pear I put in his lunch. And he told me he did. I asked him why he didn’t and he threw himself on the ground and won’t speak.”
I murmur sympathy.
“I’ll have to call you back,” he says.
We hang up and I return to reading. The bed is so wide I could spread myself out across its width. Instead, I stay near the edge, on my side of it, trained as I have been by decades of not sleeping alone.
It is warm here in January and I wonder again why it is that I live in a place where I am comfortable in the weather for less than half the year. I talk with another woman about this. “I would miss winter,” she says.
We are walking back to the hotel from the place where we gather to write, to read, to talk about writing.
“What I think I would miss most is seeing the crocuses push through the snow in early spring.”
I consider this briefly. We walk past azalea hedges, their pink and purple blossoms trembling. Past rows of tall palm trees, fronds casting shadows on the street, across the sidewalk.
“Just when you feel like you can’t take another day of winter, they pop up, that little burst of color and then you think, oh, ok, we are almost there.”
We approach the hotel lobby. "You could probably just get a photo,” I mumble as the doors close behind us. If she hears me, she chooses not to respond, and for this, I find that I am grateful.
At night, we meet up at a noisy outdoor bar where we order by shouting over the din at the polo-shirted waiters and by pointing repeatedly at the laminated menus. We are huddled around plastic tables that are bolted in place. I am animated, chatty, wave my hands around. My table companions are quiet, and so I step in to facilitate conversation, throwing out prompts like a talk show host: “Tell us about what you’re studying,” I say to the young woman about to graduate. “And tell us then what you will do next.”
As my first marriage is ending, I run away. I beg my high school friend D. to meet me halfway from where she is spending the summer on a research fellowship, for a weekend by the beach. I rent us a hotel room – cheap, spare – where the rooms along the back open right out onto the sand.
We order fried fish and onion rings from the hotel restaurant, carry it out in styrofoam trays. We sit facing the ocean. The plastic straps of the lounge chairs dig into our thighs. We talk about the boys we knew in high school. The way they stood in the hallway outside the gymnasium with their hands in their pockets, waiting.
“I thought I would stay married forever,” I say. “I thought it would be so easy.”
D. reaches her hand out, squeezes my arm. “It’s not like you could have known,” she says. “How could you possibly have known?”
When the light comes up, I run on a creaky treadmill at the far end of the courtyard, past the pool. There is one other woman in the room, lifting weights in silence. It seems strange to be in such quiet.
The woman moves through her circuit. I can see her reflected in the mirrored wall. She keeps her eyes focused on a point in the distance, does not move her head.
As I leave, she calls after me, “See you tomorrow, honey."
Her voice is big and loud, reverberates in the small room. She is still staring straight ahead, unsmiling.
"Yes,” I call back as I push the door open. “You will.”
One morning, in the months before the end, when we still think that it is possible, B. leaves a note on the bed when he leaves for work. He says that I am beautiful in the morning light. That my brow is furrowed even in sleep. That he knows what we are trying to do is hard, so hard. But that we are trying. He says he loves that we are always trying. He says: “In the end, what more can we do?”