By Barbara O'Byrne
When he came down to breakfast, he noticed the tablecloth, one side hanging nearly to the floor, the other barely covering the edge of the pine slab. Amid the plates and cutlery were a jumble of travel brochures and maps. As he sipped his coffee, he asked about their daughter and her kids, was she seeing them today. She eyed him with a distant, distracted look, as if she’d been interrupted in the middle of something important. She held up one of the brochures, suggesting a trip, just the two of them. He was intrigued. It would be nice to get away. A week, even a few days might be just the trick. Perhaps she was tired, needed a break.
She picked up a second brochure with a picture of a resort, one they had visited years ago when they were first married. He recognized the massive standing bear outside the lodge and recalled how she had posed beside it, her small frame flanked by the nine-foot wooden statue as he snapped the picture. When it was developed, he noticed that that she was staring into the vacant, glass eyes of the bear, with a look that was at once loving and bewildered.
She had the same eyes today but there was no nine-foot bear, only the travel brochures. Before he could form an answer to the weekend away, she dropped it and picked up another. This one of a cruise of the Thousand Islands. Again, he was amenable.
“Do you want to go in June or July?”
”Yes, and let’s not forget my mother’s birthday. It’s at the end of July.”
“We’ll plan something special. So what do you think about June? I can take vacation.
“You didn’t take vacation when I had Vi; I was all alone.”
“No, your mother was with you in the hospital. You went into labor early. It was all so sudden. I came in the evening, and brought you violets for our daughter. Don’t you remember? About this trip, do you want me to book it?”
“All that blood and nothing to hold onto but a cotton sheet.”
Her tone sharped, the way a person’s does when challenged. She peered down at one of the world maps that unfolded from one of the brochures. “There’s lots to be done in Africa. The children are starving and have no teachers.”
“I have to catch the train. We’ll talk about it this evening.”
He eased out of the chair and made his way through the hall to the front door. Her conversation, a jumble of one-way fragments, followed from the kitchen, words bouncing off each other like billiard balls ruled by some unfathomable geometry. Her blue marble eyes, at once, fixed and distant. She was good at this, leaving without saying good-bye.