Well now Marina’s crying but you can’t bring yourself to say you’re sorry even though you are. Kind of. You’re kind of sorry. But like with most things, part of you doesn’t give a shit. You think about going to one of those classes. Don’t they have those? Fussy people meeting in the basements of churches or on the wooden decks of local coffee shops or in the depressing conference rooms of shitty hotels where they hold small styrofoam cups of weak coffee and talk about their childhoods or whatever. You think about finding one of those even though you probably wouldn’t say anything. You would probably nod and smile politely and if things got really intense, you’d probably get up and either go to the bathroom or pour yourself another cup of coffee that you didn’t plan on drinking. Maybe you could glean something. Some goodness. Maybe if you sat in a room at a meeting like that, some of the advice would float around and eventually settle on you somewhere. Maybe little puffs of it would land in your hair or mix with the lint and pennies in your pockets. Not AA. Not anger-management. But some sort of meeting with other people like you. People who are assholes sometimes even when they don’t mean to be. Do they? Maybe you can get better.
But right now you think about reaching out to touch her shoulder and you’d like to smell her hair again. She has the best smelling hair. Your apartment smells like her. Welp. Now she’s picking up her purse and standing by the door. Come on. You should say you’re sorry you should say you’re sorry you should say you’re sorry.
“You owe me an apology,” Marina says and you nod.
“Well where the fuck is it?”
“Hey—,” you start. You look down at your hands.
“Forget it,” she says as she snatches the door open and you peek your head out a little bit to see her walk down the hallway and out of the apartment complex door. And you’ll call her tomorrow. Probably. Maybe. You don’t know.
You can’t blame Marina for being angry. You’re moving and didn’t tell her and you didn’t ask her to come with you because you don’t want her to come with you because you don’t want anyone to come with you. And she’s right. You should’ve told her before now. That wasn’t fair. But you didn’t want to hurt her. Wait. Go back. That’s a lie. You didn’t want to hurt her too long before you were leaving. You wanted to make sure you hurt her two days before you left and not two weeks because you didn’t want to see her around and have even more awkwardness and today’s Friday and Sunday morning you plan on starting up your truck and heading west. It’ll take you two days to get to Santa Fe.
Late that night you go out for drinks with some of your friends and one of them gives a funny little toast about how you always leave but you’ll be back because you always come back because this is your home and you love it here and he’s right. Asshole. Ha ha. Eh. But he’s totally right.
You do. You will. It is. You do. He hugs you and buys you another beer and your buddy from high school is there and your buddy from college is there and two of your buddies from work are there and today was your last day at work so it’s good to see them again because you won’t see them on Monday morning, like usual. You won’t see them in the break room getting coffee and the three of you won’t talk politics or Sunday Night Football while you pick at a white paper box of bagels or assorted doughnuts and ask each other who brought these and say awesome and look through the drawers for napkins because no one ever remembers to put the napkins out.
Scarlett is there at the bar and her dress is so beautiful you notice it; butter-yellow and there are ruffles involved. You haven’t seen her since Christmas and you wonder if she’s dating someone but you really don’t care. The two of you have a complicated history so it trumps all of that. You know she’s not married (yet) and that’s all that matters. You do have (some) boundaries. And Scarlett was pregnant with your baby once. Years and years and years ago. The both of you were pretty sure she wasn’t going to keep it but before any decision could be made, she lost the baby. Bright red then red then red-brown blood stains for weeks – her panties, the sheets, every piece of toilet paper. Her name meant red, every shade of it, and look – there it was all around you.
She gave herself one week to mope about it. One week of lying on her couch or on your couch, watching reruns of The Jeffersons or Sanford and Son and staying doped up on painkillers. Bring me back a Bible please she’d said once when you were going out for potato chips, beers and gasoline. There’s a Bible over there you’d said and pointed to your bookshelf. You have a Bible? She’d asked, wide-eyed like you’d said you had four alien sex slaves locked downstairs. Of course you’d said back to her. And then the two of you played this game of pretending like before she miscarried she was going to keep the baby and that maybe the two of you could get married or something and maybe try again and at first neither of you really believed it. But then you started believing it and it wasn’t a game anymore. It wasn’t quite real, but it wasn’t a joke, either. It was something not definite. Something floaty. It wasn’t rain or sun. It was something else. Dreamy. It was fog. It hung there. Clouded things. But if you looked away and turned back, it was gone.
Tonight you want her to come back to your apartment even though all that’s left there are boxes and boxes and boxes of books and books and books and the stuff you didn’t sell or give away yet.
She sees you and smiles and walks over. Kisses you on the cheek.
“The wayfarer,” she says to you, to herself, to everyone, to anyone.
“Indeed,” you say back to her. And you ask her to come back to your apartment and she says no let’s go to mine. And so you do.
She’s how she always is when the two of you are together. She’s funny and not delicate. She’s honest and never mean. Why don’t you tell her those things? You should tell her those things.
“You’re not delicate. You don’t cry at everything or make me feel like shit,” you say.
She gets up from the bed and heads towards her bathroom.
“Why would I want to make you feel like shit?”
You shrug and sit up against her headboard. It’s soft and grass-green and you love how women always remember to buy things like that.
“By the way, wayfaring refers to walking mostly, I think. You’re not walking out to New Mexico but I’m gonna call you that anyway because I like the word,” she says, leaning against the wall. One of her hands is on her thigh and the other is on the wall and she could just as easily be standing there fully clothed considering how comfortable she seems, but she’s not. She’s naked except for her earrings; long, wispy black feathers.
“I’d walk out there if you’d go with me,” you blurt out.
“You don’t mean that,” she says.
“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes you would.”
“Not to you. I don’t say things to you that I don’t mean.”
You reach over and turn on her lamp. The yellow light fills the room. Her cat stretches through the bedroom doorway. Scarlett laughs with her mouth wide open and turns and you watch her bare ass disappear as she closes the bathroom door.
In the morning you ask her if she has plans for the night. You’re leaving for good tomorrow. You don’t know when you’ll be back. You’ll make her dinner you say. She says yes but you have to make it over here because I know you don’t have anything in your apartment. And you go to the store to get things. Asparagus and bison steaks and purple Peruvian fingerling potatoes; a big bottle of Shiraz and a little chocolate cake with raspberries.
She stands leaning against the counter while you cook. She drinks a glass of wine while you sear the meat. You hold your hand underneath her chin when she tastes the pan sauce from a wooden spoon. And you’re never like this and she knows it. You don’t even know what happened but you want to tell her everything and you don’t want to go now if she won’t go with you and you know she’s not going with you.
And after dinner she parts the beaded curtain that separates her kitchen from her living room and it makes a shh shh sound like rain. She pours you both another glass of wine and she says you know I can’t. She rests her cheek against the palm of her hand then she reaches out to touch your face. You lean into her hand and say I know.
“But you’ll be fine. You’re a good man,” she says.
“Yes you are,” she says, lightly kicking your shin underneath the table.
“I’m really not.”
“Fuck you. You are,” she says.
“You can come out there whenever you want,” you say.
“I know,” she says leaning back.
“Maybe I won’t go,” you say.
“Please,” she says. But it’s not a please stay or please don’t it’s a you’re full of shit please and you want to tell her you’re not full of shit. And hey Scarlett maybe we really could’ve kept that baby if it’d stuck. Maybe we could’ve had something solid, heavy. Maybe I’m real and maybe you’re real and maybe our ticking hearts are keeping time until we figure it all out.
She rolls her eyes at you and leans forward, cups your chin at first but then she ends up smushing your face in her hand.
“Do what you want. Nothing changes that much,” she says, letting go.
And you grab her wrist and pull her back to you and kiss her like the whole world is watching. Like this is it. This is really it. Do you see this, world? See me grab her and hold her so she can’t move and see how much she likes it? See how much I’m a man-man and she’s a woman-woman and we fit together and go together and how our mouths are hot and wet and smashed together? See how much I want this. Go ahead, see.
You eventually take her to her bed and bury yourself inside of her over and over again while the moon rises. And you kiss her full on the mouth on Sunday morning when you leave. She gives you a bag of organic apples from her fridge. Pacific Roses. She doesn’t cry. She kisses you again and afterwards, punches your arm. You pretend it hurts. You say okay. She says okay bye. You think about how pretty and small her hands are. That poem where the guy talks about how not even the rain has such small hands. You want to say Scarlett, not even the rain has such small hands but you don’t know what it means. Maybe you know what it means. You want to say Scarlett, maybe I know what it means.
But you just wave at her and leave.
And with your truck all packed, you gas it up and head out. From here to Oklahoma you pretend like she’s next to you, smiling over at you, loving you. From Oklahoma to New Mexico, you let the windows down and try like hell to think about nothing but God.
Leesa Cross-Smith is a homemaker and she likes that word. Homemaker. Her short story collection “Everyone Breaks Everyone’s Heart” was recently listed as a finalist for the 2012 Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award and a semi-finalist for the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Award. “Wayfaring” is one of the stories in that collection. She is co-founding editor of an online literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. Find out more at LeesaCrossSmith.com.