He traveled on business, sending special occasion checks and tuition in Ritz Carlton envelopes. She became custodial parent. He whirled his daughter across a ballroom floor on her wedding night. Sparse wisps of brown, the color of the bride’s thick locks, clung to his head.
The mother, her fading red hair pulled into a matronly knot, held a damp tissue. She danced with the groom beneath twinkling chandeliers while the band played smooth jazz. Stray guests conversed at the buffet. She circulated among them, passing by white clad tables and recessed pillars. He swept past. She turned away, uninterested, unimpressed.
Ten years on, perfumed stationary fell as his wife packed his suitcase. In breathless script his new fling wrote, “See you in Chicago.”
Furious, she left the note, as witness, on rumpled cotton sheets that smelled of morning sex, the quick kind that happens between waking, stripping bare, and showering. She placed his empty bag on the pillow. Stepping over soiled clothing piled on the floor where he dropped it, she slammed the door.
She left for the
park, where she pushed their daughter’s swing like a mantra. On the
way home from the daycare drop, she shopped for groceries she didn’t
need and stayed clear until he collected his baggage.
Her apartment, a one room walk-up covered in flowered wallpaper, occupied a Victorian attic in the Haight section of San Francisco. Propped against a Laura Ashley covered double bed, they ate cherries and drank white wine. He breathed her almond scent, nosing the curve of her neck. Stretching, she touched his face, rough with evening stubble, soft with desire. They cuddled, warm at first and then wet. Wrapped in Peruvian blankets, they talked about childhood, and raising children, and work, and the sensual feeling of skin on skin. When they married, it was as if they had never been apart.
That first day, and most days after, they met to ride the MUNI home after work. Without planning or calling beforehand, they stepped to the curb at quarter past five in a kind of rhythm they found hard to explain. Theirs was a love that rose like yeasted dough. Water and flour and biga that became silky smooth with kneading. His fingers, feather light as a sigh, brushed her hair aside, the copper strands falling in waves against his wrist.
She smiled, leaning closer.
He followed her between dented seats, along the sidewalk and up a dingy flight of stairs.
It was warm in an autumn way. He treated her to lunch. Carrying take-out bags, they found a quiet spot where golden red leaves, the color of her hair, decorated the ground. They bit into egg salad sandwiches and broke a peanut butter cookie, sharing the pieces. He swept the shoulder of her blouse, sending dried leaves into a spiral. She thanked him, a hint of embarrassment in her voice. He wrapped his jacket around her. She filled the awkward silence, busy fingers turning a napkin into an origami bird while he nodded, both waiting for the other to start.
They approached each other on a slippery concrete walk. Their eyes met. Though she was usually unflappable, she missed a step. He was sometimes oblivious, but noticed, reaching for her elbow, sliding his hand to the meat of her tricep, steadying her wobbling frame. She blushed, a warm pink starting low and blooming high. In that moment of contact, it seemed to her that he would never let her down. Even as her legs splayed and her arms stood akimbo in the earthquake of feminism that cracked glass ceilings and rocked couples to a new generation’s music, she trusted him.