Outwardly he appeared much like anyone else, formal attire, black tie and tails, but there was a definite air about him that said he did not belong, like a Bentley parked in front of a Seven-11 or a cigar band around the finger of the newly betrothed. She could sense such things; it was a sixth sense of hers or a superpower. Regardless, she meant to corner this interloper and press him for information, most importantly to learn how he had evaded the security of the venue and managed to gain access to such a prestigious event. He was a fish out of water and she meant to land this fish and gut him.
They made plans and planned to plan and even planned to make plans. She would be a doctor; he would be a lawyer. Both would retire by thirty, have kids, one of each. They would all move to a lovely house in the countryside, large back yard safe for exploring. Summers would consist of hiking and camping. They’d explore the world together, stay on the Galapagos Islands and sail a boat. They’d become chocolate aficionados and open a little store next to a charming french cafe and become fast friends with the owners. They’d rent an apartment on the second floor above the shop and never leave if they felt like it. Over time they’d grow old together but never notice all the wrinkles or a few extra pounds. Their kids would be healthy and do well at school, which would be mostly done at home or as they travel the world. After they turned over the shop to their children, who would grow up to be fast friends, they’d co-write a book which would become a best seller and fund their retirement when the movie rights were purchased by a large well-funded studio. They didn’t plan for rainy days, for moments for silence, for weird smells, for doctor visits, for parking tickets or too much drinking. They didn’t plan for a plan that failed. They didn’t plan for a time when they wouldn’t be together.
“Did you pack your bag?” Mother always asked me to do things by asking a question, like ‘is your room cleaned up?’ meant I was supposed to clean up my room.
“Yes,” I said. “I have it right here.”
I lifted up my little suitcase. It was the right size for me, but it still felt heavy with two sets of all my clothes and an extra pair shoes.
“Do you remember the game we play?” The game was The Quiet Game. We played that one a lot. It was her favorite. Sometimes we’d play The Quiet Game with Daddy was asleep, or if he was in the next room yelling at the football players on the TV, or even if Daddy wasn’t home at all. We played it a lot, and I knew I wasn’t supposed to say a word, or I’d be out. I nodded.
Mom smiled at me and took my hand. She had her own suitcase in her other hand. It was much bigger than mine. Maybe she had three set of everything in hers. I bet it was really heavy.
As we walked toward the front door, the garage door clanged. It always did that when the garage door opener started lifting. I wasn’t supposed to use the garage door remote, but sometimes, if I was home, I did anyway, just to listen to it rise up and go back down.
Mom looked at me. She had a funny face, like she was scared of something. I could see the veins in her neck pulse. Why would she be scared of the garage door? It was probably just Daddy coming home. She squeezed my hand but I didn’t cry out because we were playing The Quiet Game even if she did hurt my hand. I don’t think she meant to hurt me.
Moving through water, the ether of dreams, reaching for something, anything: your hand, a rope, dry land, a purpose. It could be, just around the next corner, on the other side of this door, at the top of the stairs, at the bottom of the stairs, revealed when the lights are turned on, shimmering in the morning dew, a sound to follow, the rustle of paper. Sigh again as you drift off to sleep in my arms, our bodies breathing together, moving together through warm water, between the tide and sunset.
He removed his clothes from his luggage and stacked his shirts, pants, socks, and so forth, on the bed spread. Then he tried another approach to getting everything to fit in the space he allowed. Sometimes the pants would go on the bottom layer with shirts on up leaving underwear on the top, a sort of geologic stratification of clothes. Then he removed everything and tried another assortment. When he continued to have a few items, sox usually, left over, he considered adding a third bag, but knew that wouldn’t work. In his earlier attempts, he’d practiced carrying around different numbers of bags and found that two was really his limit. Any more than that and he wouldn’t be able to carry the weight far enough. Finally he took to rolling everything up into two giant balls of clothing and stuffing them each into separate bags. He found that sitting on the bag after stuffing left the contents compact enough to secure the zipper.
Much of his spare time, that which existed between his arrival home and that of his spouse who’s job ran into early evening, was devoted to these practice sessions as he thought of them. For him, these sessions represented all he could hang on to as a semblance of freedom: a possible escape from his current situation and a scary unknown of what to do and where to go if/when he left. He knew he’d need to leave, eventually, although he also knew he wasn’t as ready as he wanted to be, needed to be, to embrace a necessary grieving over his current self. He wasn’t brave enough for that. Still, practice provided a framework for a plan, an architectural diagram of a hazy future.