(The following is an excerpt from a longer work.)
I agree to drop magic mushrooms at the cottage, on the eve of my forty-sixth birthday. I’m no virgin to drugs but Cole, until recently, was monolithically against them. When he proposed the idea, he was wearing his dad’s purple-swirl sweater and said, “The constant tension is preventing release,” followed by, “Sometimes not being yourself is the point.”
The pug scampers past my feet as I open the door. It’s Winston’s first time at the cottage. His claws scrape hardwood until he reaches carpet. Cole comes in hoisting two bags. At the sound of his voice, Winston sits at Cole’s feet.
“Do you wanna go for a swim?” The pug’s tail wags. Cole comes over and leans into me. I coerce a smile grateful this is the extent of the romance.
I sit in the living room and he presents wormlike shafts. Their brittle shells quiver on the coffee table. His share of worms rests in his palm. He tosses them back with childlike zeal. I eat a quarter and sweep the rest back.
Cole turns on the television and settles on a show where couples bid on a storage shed. It goes on for half an hour. I miss those early days of marriage. How exhausting performance is. Like when you have lust to look forward to. The way a man sees what’s impressive about you. When, in that charged way, he narrows his eyes, and I can see the possibility of a new life. A new self.
I could go back to acting. Community club stuff. I could move near Waterfront Drive, where all the divorcees rent. Get a small place and decorate it midcentury modern. Meet interesting people, frequent little eateries and debate politics at corner tables.
I miss excitement. I miss verve.
Vee is a crack in the moulding,
The head of a viper.
pointing to hell
quake in your voice,
As you shrug off old skin.
“Do you feel anything?” says Cole. His face is magenta. He thinks something’s funny.
The neighbour’s Labrador Retriever sniffs along the water’s edge. When she stops, her head hangs toward the opposite shore, where a chainsaw’s scream pierces the distance. Voices. Men. They call to one another. The dog’s barks fall between here and the bank of trees on the opposite side.. She barks at its echo.
Can’t be bothered to pretend to give a care about whatever.
Except adventure. At the centre of a good adventure is a question. Should I leave right now? The thought tingles behind my jaw. So I test-drive a scene: Me. I get up as though I’m going to the bathroom. Disappear to the bedroom. Noiselessly pack a bag. Creep downstairs, through the mudroom. By the time Cole hears the engine turn over, I’m in third gear.
Here’s the hitch, though. If I do it, I can’t turn back. It has to be it.
Cole’s studying me. “We in this together?” he asks.
I’d sprint to the airport, boy. “Anywhere,” I’d say to the attendant.
It’s a humid, windless afternoon. Just washed-out sky under workaday sun. Only a beaver fishtails along the surface. Otherwise, the lake lacks the hustle to heave.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Cole says. He’s up and pulling a ball cap from a shelf. “Leave the dog. What? We’re not going to lose our minds.”
Pine cones crack underfoot. A deer bolts through the underbrush. Our eyes meet. Hers are blank and beautiful. Then solitude. And an earthy scent that brings me into the moment. Everything is eating, sleeping, fucking or dying.
We come to the highway, a low-to-medium-sized vein that connects to our property. Cole gestures towards a side road that’ll skirt us past a row of cottages, with long driveways that obliterate the buildings from view.
A simple Jack pine grows in the ditch. Perfect, this little one. One day, her branches will curve with music. Doing what they were meant to. With roots so fragile, they can’t transplant.
God. Nature is everything.
A screwlike line forms between Cole’s brows. Suddenly, I’ve lost a piece of the puzzle.
“Where are we?” I ask.
“We’re here, fire road nine.” Cole laughs and walks on ahead.
What is “here?” To the astronaut, the view from here is the earth. For a baby turtle, the view from here is the ocean’s ledge. Here, to the scientist, is a plop of water on a slide. To a baby birthing, here is a canal pointing at a glowing slice of light.
“You’re feeling it,” Cole says. “You never smile like that.”
We circle back. A woodpecker nails a tree. Cloud shadows glide over the lake. I feel the earth turning beneath my feet. As Cole mounts the cottage steps, Winston barks.
Sitting at the picnic table on the deck, I think of sleeping with the window open and loons with a birdsong that’s blue. I think of parent loons swimming in the glossy wake of a crescent moon. With their baby by their side. Learning to dive. They call over the lake.
Emotion has grown wings and burst from the treetops. Cole’s Cat in the Hat smile curls to his temples. “Let’s get some food into you,” he says. “How ‘bout Maui ribs?”
What is this thing, “food?” A punishment, surely. I don’t know what the question is, but it has something to do with a white flag planted on scorched earth.
I lean back and put my feet on the coffee table. He looks at my knees and says, “Are you gonna pop a kid?” I realize I look as though I’m in stirrups. He laughs like three unrelated men.
He goes into the kitchen. Soon I hear a frying pan sizzle. I walk to the deck. In the moonlight, grass blades glisten. The air is sweet, as if the trees wear crowns of ripened fruit.
An eagle is high in her nest. She is learning, too. As the parents dive, she soars, for she knows they will dive deep, but baby won’t. A baby bobs. When the parents surface, their baby is missing. Their spine-chilling song cries past a sleeve of cottages. I swear I hear them every night.
“Dinner’s almost ready,” Cole calls. He comes outside and says, “Whoa!” I follow his eyes, my hands clamped to the railing, allowing my feet to suspend in mid-air. I put my feet down and unwrap myself from my perch. I’m exhausted. The intensity of what I don’t feel is too much.
The kitchen smells of flesh. Cole puts down a plate of ribs. Cole puts a hand on my back. “Without you, my life would be a blank hole on a map.”
“That’s nice.” I can’t eat. I leave and lay flat on the living room carpet, with my arms stretched overhead, testing gravity’s pull. A salve-like feeling climbs over me. Why, all can be solved with a change of heart. What is greater than love? Who among us doesn’t possess the power to push aside the clouds? What problem is too big?
I roll on my side. Beside my head is a basket of dog toys. Kitties and rabbits and trolls. But new toys have been inserted into the ripped bowels of old ones. I reach, and my hand lands on a wiener dog jammed into the ass of a tropical bird. It’s cutely sinister. Like an ex-Soviet playground.
“Here,” says Cole. He holds out his hand. I reach up, but my head barely clears the floor. I push myself off the floor and stalk him, walking with the gait of a mature elephant. In the kitchen, I collapse on a stool.
“You have to end it,” I say.
Cole slips outside. Through the window, I see him walk to the shed. I move to the window and watch as he soaks firewood with gas and drops in a flame.
I linger at the window with a ketchup chip in my fingers. I see something in the reflection of the glass. Between the moonlight outside, and the lamp’s glow within, I see fissures in the window. No. A web. A spider the size of a cashew is between the panes.
“What are you doing?” says Cole. A ketchup chip is inches from my mouth.
“Inside.” I point with the chip. “The spider is stuck inside the glass.”
“Let’s get you some air.”
We go down to the lake. He helps me into an Adirondack chair set back from the fire.
Dear world. If I could put everyone I’ve known in a theatre and show them my life as a play, show them the “everything” of it and the why, they’d understand.
Sparks send ashes into the night air. I track the passage of two caught in a sudden breeze. The ashes rise and wobble, swirl and couple on their way down in ever-slackening spirals, like mating dragonflies.