by Sue Sorisky
I'm in a low-rise apartment complex 25 miles from Tampa, I've just turned 40, and my husband has been missing for two-and-a-half days. Not missing as in, "Oh, my God, I'm so worried, what could have happened to him," but missing as in, "I can't believe that manic-depressive motherfucker has done this to me again." He's got my rented Dodge Neon, the last of my cash, and his latest paranoid delusion du jour: that his boss at the Friendly Fisherman Oceanfront Grill is out to get him, that he's just been waiting for the perfect opportunity to fire his ass.
Well, I think, at least this dump has a pool.
So I settle in, stranded and broke and trying to act normal. I stare at the faded hibiscus and trail my feet in the shimmer of chlorine. I can see him out there, all up and down the Florida coast, too crazy to eat, wash, or turn on his cell phone. I can see his mind, cut off, shut down, pain and panic twisting inward.
But even though this is the weekend when I pretty much decide I can't do this anymore, even though I've gained 20 lbs and am bordering on some kind of depression of my own, none of this is really as bad as it seems. Because as it turns out, in the middle of everything there is Sam, a neighbour, strong arms and a wicked smile, who shows up at the pool that first morning and who takes me in a slightly different direction from where I thought I wanted to go.
He knows I've come from Montreal and that I'm in the middle of some kind of long-distance thing. He can see it's not going well, but that "unhappy" is a word I'm not ready to use. He notices that I'm on my own, but he doesn't ask too many questions, he just talks to me, and I lean in a little, and I listen when he tells me how flattered he'd be if he were the one I was visiting, if he were the one who could show me around.
Later that day he's at my door. He's been swimming, droplets running down his chest.
"I checked the parking lot," he says. "I see the car's still missing, so he must be, too." He's not being unkind, he's just stating a fact.
I'm thinking of explaining that I'm married, I'm wondering if I should even mention it, but Sam is standing so close to me now that I don't really know where I'm headed with this, or how much I even want to talk about it at all. I'm not sure how I can know that I'm not ready to do this, but at the same time imagine what he would feel like, what he would do to me, on top of me, down the length of me.
He asks if he can kiss me, and then he asks if he can touch me. And his mouth is sweet on my face, and his hand is soft under my dress, and I start thinking about all the impossible pleasures out there that are nowhere in sight when you need them the most, and the ones that crash down on top of you when you don't have a clue.
I spend about ten minutes kissing him back, I want to fall right down into whatever he's offering, but he knows he can't stay, he knows I'm caught up, that there's no room inside me yet for this sort of kindness, for this sort of surrender. So he leaves, and I watch "Golden Girls" reruns for the rest of the evening, and I tell myself that maybe by 60, I'll have it all figured out, too.
In the middle of the night, Sam calls. He's a little drunk.
"I've got a bottle of Canadian Club—I'm thinking of you." I have to smile at that. "Do you want to go out tomorrow, just for a walk?" And I agree, partly because I like him and partly because I'm hoping to find something good out there in the Florida sun, but mostly I agree because I'm worried that without this, the anger and loneliness will start to set in.
So the next day it's Madeira Beach, breakfast at the Waffle House and a stroll around the pier, herons and pelicans flapping all over the place. We look at the t-shirts and the big straw hats, we take a ride on the ferris wheel, we spend the rest of the day like that, on the edge of the ocean, kissing like we know each other, like we know what to say. I'm having a hard time picturing what this would be like. I can't figure out how a man's hands, light on my shoulders, smooth on my back, could lift me up like a question that I can't even hear, that's how loud the waves are crashing.
For now it's just this, Sam and me on the Treasure Island boardwalk, dusk coming down, holding us there for a minute.