Calvados, Part 1
Her voicemail lasts eight seconds. “It’s me. I heard you stopped by, and…” There’s a silence, then, “We should talk. Call me.”
I play it twice before calling back. As it rings, I try to subdue my hair in the mirror. Given recent weeks, I have a full revolt on my hands.
“Hello?” she answers.
I’m struck dumb a moment, hearing the voice I used to wake up to. Finally, I manage, “It’s me.”
“Oh,” she says. “I’m sorry, the ID on my phone isn’t working.”
“Did you drop it?”
“Did you drop it?” I ask, louder.
“No, I dropped it. The ear piece, too.”
“Did you get my messages?”
“Would you have time this week to meet?” she asks.
“Yeah, of course,” I say. “Anytime that works for you.”
“Whenever you’re available.”
“Is Spud okay?”
“Ginger said —”
“He misses you.” Silence. “Are you still there?”
“Sure. Maybe our old spot by Grand Central? I figure, if you’re coming from your parents.’”
“Will you tell your dad I said hi?”
“You’re breaking up,” she says.
“Can you hear me?”
“What time tomorrow?”
We finalize logistics. As she’s hanging up, I say, “I love you.”
“It’ll be good to see you, too.”
I arrive early the next day and wander between the restaurant and the station. I scope out the track where her train’s due to arrive. My heart’ is a jackhammer, a new condo being built. With my chest on the verge of gentrification, I seek out flowers in the grocery. I sift among the big blossoms to unearth the most pitiful assortment. Color matters not. The shrunken orange one complements the purple bud. These are the ones no one chooses.
I wait by her track with my bouquet clutched tightly.
The train from her hometown slides into place but she is not among the crowd. I check the time. I shuffle to the main hall where the ceiling is besotted with stars. The looming board offers guidance. Down to the lower level I go to await the next train, flowers threatening to fall apart.
For thirty minutes, I am that guy. The one who elicits sympathy from errant eyes. I want to inform these random passersby that I am aware these flowers are ugly. My wife values inner beauty. She seeks out lost souls. She has a sense of humor and she is fucking intelligent. I do not need your pity.
The train arrives. The passengers disembark. My wife is not among them. I call and accuse her of standing me up. She says she has been at our old spot, waiting.
Within seconds, I rush up to its arched front entrance, out of breath and sweating. I don’t remember running but my reflection is a mess. I fix the flowers then hide them behind my back.
She chose our old table, in the far back corner by the windows. She gives the slightest of waves before recalling her hand.
“Our old table,” I say, slipping into the booth without revealing her flowers.
“It’s a nice memory,” she says.
My wife wears a purple dress I don’t remember. Its long sleeves become lace by the time they reach her wrists. I am wearing a suit she’s seen a hundred times before.
“Would you like to order something?” she asks.
“What are you drinking?”
“I’ve been trying it on for size.”
“I’ll stick with water.”
“Are you sure? It might, um.”
“Take the edge off,” she says.
“There’s no edge,” I say. “I just ran from Grand Central. Anyway. I haven’t been drinking much.”
She gives me a look.
“What, you don’t believe me?”
“No, it’s just. A surprise.”
“I thought about what you said –”
“You don’t have a problem,” she says.
“I know I don’t.”
“That’s not what I was saying.”
“I know it wasn’t.” The waiter interrupts us. “Water’s fine,” I say. “Thank you.”
A truck rumbles past our window, heading south. A cold rain begins to fall.
“Did you bring an umbrella?” I ask.
She nurses her glass.
“I guess you don’t really need one unless you’re stopping by work.”
“The overhang. If you’re heading straight onto a train, I mean.”
“Would you like a sip?” she offers.
I accept, and it’s the perfect drink for a damp cold day. Full of heat and syrupy sweetness. I return the glass and our fingers touch a moment. Her left hand’s hidden under the table. “It’s good,” I say. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. So I —”
“Spud’s not —”
“Sorry,” she says. “You first.”
“No, go ahead.”
“Please? I want to hear how he’s doing.”
“He misses you but otherwise he’s okay.” I clear my throat. “I told him I was coming to see you and he got excited. I told him I would do everything I could to bring you home.”
My wife falls silent.
“I, um. I didn’t mean to worry you. He’s really just fine.”
Her eyes fix on an orange construction sign outside.
“I started playing again.”
“I played an open mic, if you can believe it.”
“I’m glad for you.”
“I’m trying to be more present.” I down my water. “I’m sorry I’m so sweaty.”
“I know what you look like when you sweat.”
“I know. It’s just. You look so beautiful.”
“Is your hair different?”
“You got it cut?”
“A little while ago.”
“It looks good.”
“I brought you these,” I say, handing the flowers across the table.
As she takes them, the orange one keels over on her wrist. “They’re, um.”
“Grape soda bouquet.” I catch her eye at last and it steals the breath from my lungs. “I don’t know. Old time’s sake.”
She sets the bouquet on the table. “Nolan…”
“It feels like another lifetime when we came here,” I say. “I used to think I couldn’t feel any more tired. Waking up that early to catch the first train in from your parents’? Me in that associate’s position, you studying all hours.”
“But we always made time for breakfast. Sleep be damned. If we’re going to work all day and commute in while it’s still dark out, we’re making time for coffee and waffles.”
Her left hand emerges at last to cover her face, wedding band missing.
[To be continued]