I found it in a thrift store in the East Village, in a shoebox jammed full with cards under a sign that read “20 for $2.” The postcard was a black-and-white photograph of a man embracing a woman. The rounded refrigerator, blurry behind them, had a 1950s feel. I couldn’t see their faces; only his huge, square back, her slim hands, and her black hair above his shoulder. His big, inelegant body in its dark, boxy sweater folded over her, covering her completely apart from her hands. In one hand, she gripped a frying pan, holding it away from his body so as not to burn him. The other hand clutched the back of his sweater, the fabric stretching into wool streams under her fingers. His hair had gray at the temples. Her nails were short and unpolished.
I paid for my twenty postcards and left. On the subway, heading back to my apartment in Brooklyn, I pulled the card out of my bag. Ian, my boyfriend, had a sweater like the one in the photograph, made of thick gray wool. He’d found it in a vintage clothing store in the East Village a year ago and bought it for fifteen dollars. On him it was loose and stylish, but in the photograph it pulled tightly around the man’s thick waist. Ian and I lived together, but he was in Prague at that time, performing with his jazz trio. We’d been together five years. Before he’d left, he’d told me that after a year of sobriety, he felt he needed to “explore his relationship to cocaine.”
“What do you mean, ‘explore?’” I asked.
“I just want to explore it,” he said, rolling his T-shirts into a thick cylinder and tucking them into his suitcase. “I mean, I wonder if—never mind.”
“What? You wonder if what?”
He sighed, standing up to look at me. “It was very important to you that I quit absolutely. It’s very extreme. I just wonder if that’s really what’s right for me, that kind of all-or-nothing attitude. I want to use this time apart to really explore that. To find out what’s right for me.”
Now, on the subway, huddled in a corner seat next to a blonde teenager sleeping with her mouth hanging open, I stared at the photograph. I imagined that the couple had been married for decades. They sleep in separate rooms, because he’s a snorer. They have two children: self-centered, difficult teenagers. She’s tired all the time; he barely speaks. He’s having an affair with a housewife who wears blue eyeshadow. On the rare occasions that they have sex, she fantasizes about Marlon Brando.
And then, the day of the picture, he walks home from Blue Eyeshadow and sees his wife cooking, and she looks like a girl again. He remembers the day he first saw her, serving pie at the diner in his hometown, setting the plates down so lightly they could have been made of clouds. He sees the same lightness in her wrists as she lifts the pan, and he feels such a surge of love in his heart that it makes him gasp. “Maureen!” spills out of his mouth.
She turns around, annoyed at him sneaking up on her, but when she sees his face, her eyes go wide, and she’s silent. He pulls her into his arms and curls himself around her, one arm grasping her shoulder, the other pulling her waist hard against his stomach. She holds the pan out carefully, tensing up momentarily against the unnatural curve of her spine. Then she breathes out through her mouth, and her free hand reaches around his back and clutches at his sweater. She presses her nose into his chest. He feels her heart beating madly, and he imagines her heart is a wild bird, hammering its wings against his chest as he murmurs to her.
I fished a pen out of my vegan leather tote, turned the card over, and wrote, “Missing you! Hope you’re having an amazing time in Prague—so cool!!! Love, Sarah.” I drew a heart and a little picture of my face with curls around it. The next day, I put an international stamp on it and dropped it in the mail.
Three weeks later, Ian came back, having chosen sobriety. That lasted a month, and we broke up soon after. Recently, I heard he’d gotten married to another musician, someone he’d worked with in Prague.
I miss the card.