After the theatre, we walk through the damp tunnel to the parking lot. The concrete walls are stained. We avoid the inexplicable puddles. You take my hand, but we do not speak. Hollow sounds.
Nothing is as we imagine it might be and yet we persist in imagining. A table by the window overlooking the river. High white moon throwing light on the dark water. We linger for hours. Your hand on my hand across the white table cloth. White plates bearing the last traces of our indulgences. It is a stage set that I design. And you. It is my words in your mouth. My longing that is written on your face.
No matter. The hours pass and the days. The years exact their costs.
I walk downtown in the early morning in the cool, damp air. The river is high and swift. A branch has fallen. Water rushes past. Near the bridge, the rusted skeletons of old machinery. Notched wheels and levers. I wait at the corner while the buses glide past, half-empty. A woman edges past me pushing a stroller. There is no child in it, just plastic shopping bags tied by the handles.
I walk past the empty buildings of the main street. The storefronts abandoned, one after the other. The pawn shop is not open yet, but soon will be. In the window, scale models of race cars sit atop their dusty boxes. The medical supply store has taped cardboard santas and candy canes to the windows. A length of garland is draped across the doorway. Just past, there is a fountain in which a mermaid, caught mid-dive, is perched on a pedestal. The water beneath her is green with algae and stagnant.
The doctor arranges to come to the house. He calls himself “Doctor Bob,” and pulls a suitcase on wheels behind him. He wears a sweater vest over a long-sleeved collared shirt. His hair is gray. We sit at my dining room table. He spreads out his papers and points to where I should sign then. Here and here and here. He takes my pulse, asks a series of questions without looking directly at me.
Have you at any time in the last five years?
(nervous laugh): No.
He takes a box from his suitcase that has rows of lights and switches on it. It is like a child’s rendering of a piece of medical equipment, its purpose unclear. There are wires attached by one end to a series of nodes on the box. To the other ends, he affixes adhesive discs, lays them out on the table next to me.
I will need you to take off your sock, he says and two wires are placed on my ankle.
I will need you to lower your shirt. Two more on my chest.
And now, lift your shirt to just beneath your bra, and I have the sudden and fleeting realization that I am alone in the house with Doctor Bob. He presses three adhesive discs across my abdomen. The machine spits out a narrow strip of paper like a cash register receipt.
Very good, he says. Very good.
He writes a few things down. He wraps up his wires. He hands me a green plastic cup and asks me to fill it. So I do.
There is a man in an orange vest standing at the entrance to the highway. It is closed now as it has been for some time, with the construction. He has a stop sign in one hand, but he is not pointing it anywhere in particular. I look up as I get closer and our eyes meet briefly. I smile then look down almost immediately as I pass. A few steps later, I hear a high short whistle like the call of a bird. And then once again. I keep walking.
By the time I make my way back from the gym, the pawn shop is open and the medical supply store. They have propped their front door and I can hear a radio playing tinny Christmas music. A woman is sitting at her desk, staring at her computer screen.
Back at my desk, I sit staring, too. I am stalled a bit, searching. Waiting.
I imagine us back at the restaurant by the window. I imagine us back in the dome of the cathedral.
I imagine us in the hospital room on the day our son was born. How you hovered as the nurse combed his hair. You gave me an apple and I ate it, the sweetest fruit in the world. When they finally left us, the glorious silence. How we slept there so lightly, so radiant and pulsing.
We try to go back. Back to these moments. To recapture something that has been lost to time. That we are afraid we will forget.
Or perhaps I should say I.
I am fearful that I will not remember. And what then will I have? These empty storefronts? This stagnant pool? These rusted machines?
Is it nostalgia to linger so long between memory and imagination? Is it sentimentality? Is it a kind of pathology, to move forward through these days, muted. To imbue memory with such sweetness? To give oneself over so fully to anticipation?
The leaves of the red maple tree outside my window have held on to their branches. They have shriveled and are dry, but they cling even when a breeze blows through them. There is a wind now, picking up and all the branches are trembling. Eventually these leaves will fall and we will rake them into piles. But for now they hold fast.