I catch my husband using one of my eyeliners to color in the spot where part of his eyebrow is missing, a scar from the accident three months ago. Mark snatches his hand away from his face. “Don’t you knock!” he says, his words clipped and his voice dipping low. I would have knocked, if the door hadn’t been open a crack.
“That shade doesn’t match,” I say. “It’s too sparkly.” He scowls, so I say, “Okay, okay, I’m leaving,” and pull the door shut after myself.
My husband has become a vain man. He shaves daily instead of twice a week. He trims his fingernails carefully and scrubs underneath them with a toothbrush he bought expressly for that purpose. He’s stopped getting ten-dollar haircuts at the barber’s and instead sees a stylist who takes three times as long and charges five times the price. The haircuts look just the same once all the gunk she’s massaged in washes out. He has to go all the way to the mainland to do this. It’s an all-afternoon expedition, just getting half an inch cut off.
He still wears those stupid fishing T-shirts, though, the ones he gets for free from Bob Ingold, owner of the drugstore that doubles as a souvenir shop in the summer. They are the least popular ones, the shirts left after a season of tourists have picked through the racks. They say things like Real Men Still Play Go Fish and It’s Not How Deep You Fish, It’s How You Wiggle the Worm.
And Mark hums under his breath. He never used to. It makes me crazy, that humming; it always sounds like a song I know, but gone so flat it’s not quite recognizable.
This morning he’s at it again. “What’s that song?” I ask as I butter my toast.
“The song you’re humming, what is it?”
“I didn’t realize I was,” Mark says, his eyes flitting away from mine, back down to the newspaper spread out on the table. The faint smile that had been on his face closes up, like a flower pulling its petals back into a bud.
I kiss the top of his head, inhaling the fragrance of his dandruff shampoo. You know you’re in love when dandruff shampoo smells sexy. I want him to wrap an arm around my waist, pull me close, rest his head against my stomach. He brushes a hand through his hair, smoothing it down where I kissed him. “What have you done with the sports section?” he asks.
“I didn’t do anything,” I say, and he rolls his eyes and grabs the arts section, which I’m reading, convinced I’m holding what he wants hostage. I do make a mess of newspapers: pages get separated from their sections, crumpled, damp from coffee I’ve spilled. I’m not a morning person. We used to laugh about it.
The neurologist who read the CT scans and had Mark spell world backward says the concussion didn’t cause any permanent brain damage, but Mark is different since the accident. It’s not just the finicky grooming habits or the humming or even the temper. When I put on A Love Supreme, his face screws up. Now he listens to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath; he tells me they were always his favorite bands, puzzled this needs saying. But what bothers me most is that Mark doesn’t look at me the way he used to, that deep looking almost like touching. And there’s no touching going on. I lie next to him at night, wet and ready, and he curls up facing the wall.
“I was lucky,” he says when I try to get him to talk about the accident. As if there’s nothing more to it. As if the world doesn’t have a new shape now. The impossible world without him in it is now possible, and I see it behind my eyelids when I try to fall asleep.
“Why don’t we go out this weekend?” I say. “We need some us time.”
“It’s us time all the time,” he says. Mark’s frustrated because he still hasn’t recovered enough to put in the hours he’d like. He’s a fishing guide. Most winters, he leads a group out onto the iced-over surface of Lake Erie every day, making for the shanty towns that mushroom up wherever rumor has it the fish are biting best. Now each day spent on the ice requires a day of recuperation in front of the TV.
“You know what I mean. Out-of-the-house us time. A date.”
At the hospital, I watched the woman cry and thought, What is wrong with my eyes? This woman had hit Mark as he crossed the street, and now she was sitting next to me crying about it while my eyes were dry. I pressed my fingers against the lids until the black swirled with purple and orange blobs. When I opened my eyes, I noticed how giant Mark looked in the small hospital bed, his big feet sticking ov the end, one sock blue, one sock gray. I wondered if he had been knocked right out of his shoes. They’d been placed in a neat pair by the wall. If he dies, I thought, they will give me his shoes and his wallet and his watch in a plastic bag. I traced the whorl of his ear with my index finger. Mark is handsome except for his big, fleshy ears; they are my favorite of his features.
The woman, Catherine, had come to the hospital as soon as she’d finished filing a report at the police station, and all afternoon she’d been showing me up with her easy tears and her worried questions. Nurses mistook her for a relation. The dark smudges under her eyes—as though someone had pressed his thumbs there, hard—only enhanced her prettiness. My own fear and grief were shut up inside, a lump of metal in my stomach. I could hardly speak. At first, I’d wanted to say to the woman, “Listen honey, I’m the wife, and you’re just the bad driver. You should give me and my unconscious husband some freaking space.” I’d wanted to hate her, but part of me was glad she stayed. The pastel walls and beeping machines filled me with anxiety, and while there were people I could have called—my friend Margie, my mother—explaining what had happened would have felt like spilling a terrible secret. As long as no one knew where I was, I could pretend Mark’s still body and the doctors and nurses who prodded it were a dream from which I might soon wake.
“I just keep thinking about how things could have happened differently,” Catherine said. “Like if I’d stayed and helped Ron get the boat in order after we docked, I wouldn’t have been driving down the street at that exact moment.” I took a sip of the coffee she passed me. It tasted bitter, medicinal. Catherine told me she’d come to the island to take sailing lessons and learn to fish. I’d seen her around; we all had. Except for the hardcore fishermen, not many tourists came to South Bass Island so late in the season, once a chill had invaded the air. We’d made up stories about her. Margie thought she’d come to escape an abusive relationship: “She’s got to be running from something.” I was more fanciful: “She’s never seen snow before,” I said. “She’s from Georgia or Mississippi and she came here to find winter.” It turns out she’s from central Ohio.
Catherine was untouched by the accident, except for a bruise the shape of Africa floating in the milky sea of her thigh; it marred her leg just below the hem of her khaki shorts. I reached out without thinking and pressed on the bruise with my fingers, pushing down on the purpled skin as though I were checking a fruit for ripeness. Catherine cried out and stared at me, her mouth falling open so I could see her neat white teeth.
“That hurt,” she said.
I didn’t apologize. “He’s the one who hurts,” I said, gesturing in the direction of the bed. Catherine shifted away from me.
We looked at Mark. His pallor made his skin seem delicate as tissue paper. He had regained consciousness briefly in the helicopter that brought him from the island to this mainland hospital in Sandusky—the nearest one—but not since. His head was wrapped in bandages that held an ice pack to his skull. Some overzealous nurse had put a sticker on the bandages that showed a smiling monkey and read, “No monkeying around. Get well soon!”
I wanted to crawl into that bed and feel his chest rise beneath me. Once, on a hike in the Grand Tetons, the sun went down before Mark and I reached the bottom of the mountain. The only flashlight we had was the penlight on my keychain, which just pointed a thin finger of light at all the darkness surrounding us, so we could better understand how blind we were. We curled up together on rocky terrain that jabbed our sides and tried to keep warm, and as the owls started calling, I wondered if this was what love was: feeling safe even when you’re not, feeling like you could live through the aching of your feet and back, the knot of hunger in your stomach, the chill of being stranded in the dark on a strange mountain.
I stood and walked to the ladies’ room. My legs, my arms, they didn’t feel like my own. In the bathroom mirror, I saw I’d spilled coffee on my shirt, and I traced the stains with a finger. I washed my hands in scalding water with powdery pink soap that felt like grit in my palms. Then I walked back to the room. The air was thick like glue. When I parted the curtains and stepped into Mark’s section, I saw he was awake.
“I think he’s okay,” said Catherine, stepping out of my way.
Two weeks after the accident, I ran into Catherine at Ingold Drug, where I was purchasing eight bottles of liquid Children’s TYLENOL, every one they had on the shelf. Mark had decided he preferred swigging the flavored stuff over swallowing pills.
I was on my way home from the Victory Avenue Trekkers Lodge, a bed-and-breakfast Margie and I run together. There’s no stav, so she and I do everything, including the shit jobs like cleaning toilets and picking pubic hairs out of shower drains. My skin and clothes reeked of Pine-Sol.
“How is he?” Catherine asked me. “Does he feel any better?” Mark had been released into my care after two nights in the hospital, but his head still pounded. He told me that whenever he stood to wobble to the bathroom, the world pitched and heaved under his feet.
“Not really,” I said, watching the lines around her mouth tighten. Her flaming red hair was gathered in a thick braid she tossed over her shoulder as we spoke.
“Can I come and visit him? I want to apologize.”
“That might be kind of weird. I’ll ask him, though. How long are you staying on the island?”
“Oh,” she said, waving a hand in the air vaguely.
“You know the ferry will be iced in by mid-December. You won’t be able to get your car back to the mainland until spring if you wait too long.” I wondered if her car had a Mark-shaped dent in it. I hoped he did some reciprocal damage. I suddenly wanted to see the car that hit him, so I walked with her into the parking lot, swinging my bag of cherry-flavored painkillers.
“Can’t you just drive on the ice in winter?” she asked as we walked. “Isn’t that what you do?”
“Never as far as the mainland.” There were certain spots between the island and the mainland where the ice broke apart every year, no matter how long and cold the winter.
The smallest dent graced the front bumper of Catherine’s dusty Ford Focus. I covered it with my palm. I told her Mark didn’t remember the moment of impact. “The whole day has been knocked clean out of his brain.”
“I wish someone would knock it out of mine,” she said.
As I turned to walk home, she overed me a ride.
“You want me to get into a car with you?”
She blushed. “Of course I’m the last person you’d want to drive you anywhere,” she said, her voice tiny. She pulled at the hem of her sweatshirt and shifted her weight and, I don’t know, it was like a warmth clouding around me seeing her look so uncomfortable. A mean sort of happiness. I slid into the passenger seat, telling myself I’d gotten into her car to make her feel better, when really I just wanted to observe the blinking, apologetic confusion that had overtaken her face.
She eased up to stop signs and braked around curves, her eyes fixed on the road as she chugged us along at precisely the speed limit. Sunlight glinted through the windows and turned her lashes iridescent. The skin of her throat was very pale, and her lips were moist and shining. She had the mystique of a beautiful, unknown woman, the sort of aura that wears away as you get to know someone, marred by the specificity of personality.
“If you want to make things better for Mark, you could leave,” I said. “Let us move on with our lives.”
Catherine gripped the steering wheel more tightly. “Seeing him on the pavement— God, he was so still.”
I willed myself not to picture Mark crumpled in the street. I’d stayed home with him for a week, lying next to him in sheets that were rank with the smell of his skin, watching gangster movies when he was awake and reading magazines when he wasn’t. I needed to be able to see him there and whole, to touch him, anytime. Mostly he slept. We watched the movies in twenty-minute stretches, and even when I summed up the plot, he said he got the storylines confused. I was always disappointed when he fell back asleep; in the middle of a shoot-out, his eyes would close. Sometimes, I’d wake him right back up, just to make sure he could wake up.
“Do you have a family to get back to?” I asked Catherine. “A job?”
She said she was on sabbatical, and recently divorced. “My ex and I just stopped connecting. All of a sudden, I was living with a stranger.” She told me her ex-husband had been an aerodynamics researcher, but he’d been fired for publishing papers based on data he’d fabricated. He couldn’t abide his exile from the university, and he became pent-up and furious. Finally, he began to take apart every appliance in the house, one after another. “With our stereo in pieces and a pair of pliers in his hand, he seemed to calm down, but it never lasted long.”
Outside the window, my neighbors’ houses slid by. I didn’t want to talk about loneliness with Catherine, or men who changed. I didn’t want to talk about the way longing inhabited the body. I’d always thought that, having married my highschool sweetheart, I knew much more about love than other people. I knew how to find it without trying. I could make it last and last while other people’s love quickly burned out.
The night before, I’d slipped ov the T-shirt I’d worn to bed, shimmied free of my underwear, and cozied up to Mark. I ran my hand over the curve of his belly. “Please,” he’d said.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. Once he’d had strep throat so bad, he stopped eating for a day, and we did it without kissing, holding our faces apart. I remember how hot his skin was. Another time, when he’d pulled a muscle in his back, he lay there under me, keeping perfectly still. Desire had never failed us before. Desire had been invincible.
“I was falling asleep,” he said. “Having a dream.”
“But I’m better than dreaming.”
“I just want to sleep, okay?” My body went cold under the blankets then. When Catherine pulled into my driveway, Mark lay on the front porch, his head resting on the welcome mat. He was smoking a cigarette, sending puffs of gray up to join the clouds. He pinched the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger as though he were smoking a joint.
“How’d you get down the stairs?” I asked.
“I wanted to get some fresh air. As long as I hold onto something, I’m okay.”
“But you’re smoking. You quit four years ago.”
“Really?” He looked surprised. “I just felt like I needed a cigarette, so I bummed one from the postman.” Mark handed me our mail, all bills. Shielding his eyes with his hands, he looked up at Catherine, who had gotten out and stood beside me, her shadow crossing his body parallel to mine.
“This is Catherine.” I said. “She hit you.”
“You’re the one, huh? I would stand, but when I do it’s like riding the Tilt- A-Whirl.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
“You didn’t mean to.”
“Maybe she did,” I said, trying for a joke. “Maybe that’s how she meets people.” They both just looked at me.
The ice is fifteen inches thick tonight. It’s date night, and we are driving across the frozen lake to a neighboring island to have steak dinners. Every fifty yards or so, we pass an evergreen tree that’s been propped up in the ice, marking the route that’s safe and solid. I watch constellations blur above me through the hole where the roof to our Honda should be. If the ice beneath us opens up, we’ll be able to swim free as the vehicle sinks, or that’s the idea. My mother would make us wear life preservers if she were in the car. She’d have us holding ice picks in our fists—even Mark, who’s driving—ready to hack our way out of the water and back onto the frozen surface. My mother wasn’t born on the island; she’s never gotten fully comfortable out on the ice. “All those fish swimming under my feet, it makes me nervous,” she says.
Me, I fell in love with Mark out on the ice. In high school, the kids in my grade, all ten of us, would light bonfires on the lake in January and February. We’d bring boom boxes and thermoses full of hot chocolate spiked with vodka we’d filched from our parents’ liquor cabinets, and we’d flirt and dance, our feet sliding over the lake. Cigarette smoke and the vapor of our breath floated around our faces. I liked Kyle then, but Kyle couldn’t dance, so when Mark asked me, I said yes. Mark gave me this look when we danced together like he didn’t see anything but me, like he wasn’t dancing to crappy hip-hop funneled through cheap speakers but to the sound of our hearts beating fast in our chests. Our toes went numb, but our bodies got hot in our quilted coats. When I slipped he’d grab me, and though I couldn’t really feel his gloved hand through the goose down of my jacket, even with all those layers separating my skin from his skin, his touching me gave me a thrill.
I am trying hard to feel happy now. Mark has put on music, though the wind that circles through the car, sandpapering my face, shushes away all but the steady bass line. He bobs his head to it, and I can see he’s humming along. I ask him what he’s thinking, but the wind snatches the words out of my mouth, and if he heard he gives no sign. So I say other words, whisper my fears as if I believe the wind can blow them so far away they’ll never touch me again. Can one moment in time really change a person so much he starts to love differently?
At the restaurant, we sit facing each other across a flickering candle that throws shadows onto our faces. I realize my hair must be knotted something fierce after the windy drive over, but I stay, reluctant to leave the table.
Mark tells me Catherine has asked him to teach her how to ice fish. I notice the faint flush that creeps up his neck as he says her name. Catherine, it turns out, is an anthropologist who writes about island communities. She says she’s not writing about ours, she just came to finish her book, dryly titled Social and Economic Challenges in Island Communities. I don’t believe her for one second.
“We’re going out on the lake tomorrow,” Mark says.
“Tomorrow’s your day of rest. You’re not going to want to be out there, lugging all that gear around.”
“That’s why snowmobiles were invented.”
I tuck my hair behind my ears in a nervous gesture I want to take back as soon as I make it. “I think you’re avoiding me,” I say.
“I live with you, how could I be avoiding you?” Mark says, putting down the menu.
“I don’t feel like you’re talking to me. Something’s on your mind, but you’re just letting it circle there.” I picture silver trout turning figure eights in the cold water of the lake. “And I don’t like you going on fishing expeditions with that woman.”
“It’s not as if you tag along anymore.”
“You never ask me to.”
“You know you have a standing invitation.”
Back when we first married, I went out on the lake with Mark often, just to sit by his side. While I admit I’ve complained about how boring it is, I still want him to ask me to come.
I won a prize once: three thousand bucks for a fifteen-and-a-half-pound walleye I wrestled out of the lake without any help. I didn’t get it made into a trophy, though Mark wanted to be able to brag about it to his buddies and gesture at the proof. He was so proud, even though I’d shown him up. “I’m the best damn fishing instructor on the whole island, and this here’s my star pupil,” he said to everyone, beaming. Still, I didn’t want a dead fish hanging on my wall. With some help from Mark, I ate it, all but the head with its blank eyes and all in one sitting. I wanted all those pounds of prize-winning fish inside of us, in our cells and in our blood. I thought it would bring us luck.
“You’d tell me if something was wrong, wouldn’t you?” I ask.
Mark lifts his glass of water to his lips, the ice cubes clinking against the sides, and he drinks every drop. He sucks down that water like he’s fallen prey to a terrible thirst. “I don’t know why you’d think anything’s wrong.”
After a pause, I say what I’ve been holding in. “I realized today you don’t call me by my name anymore, ever. Not once since the accident.” I wait for him to say the right things, make me understand.
“That’s not true,” he says, thinking this over. I can see from his face he realizes that maybe it is true.
“Say it now. Say my name.” My body is taut in the chair.
“I’m not going to say things on command,” he says, childish and angry with me.
“See,” I say. “You can’t do it.” Silence opens up between us. Mark eyes the melting ice in his glass, and I study the menu. When the waiter comes, we order, but it’s not until we’re digging into our salads that we begin to talk again, about who’s been getting the most fishing-tour business, and what I should buy my mother for her birthday. I could be talking to anyone. I feel like I inhaled too much of the cold winter air, and it is hardening something inside my chest. The words I really want to speak are there, like the fish under the ice of the lake, moving in an inaccessible realm.
My mother calls to ask if I have a carbon-monoxide detector in the house.
“You don’t remember that you bought us three of them last winter, one for each floor? You watched Mark install them.”
“Perfect,” she says. “How is Mark feeling? I saw him the other day at Java and Juice, and he seemed tired.”
“He’s a little better every day.”
“He was with that anthropologist,” she says. “What’s her name?”
“Catherine.” The shape of that name in my mouth makes me frown.
“Isn’t she the one who ran him over?”
“Yes, but it was an accident, Mom. It’s not like she has some vendetta.”
“No, I’m sure she doesn’t. They looked very friendly at the coffee shop. Are you two doing okay?”
My fingers tighten around the phone. “Of course we are,” I say.
“Honey, maybe you should buy some camisoles or a fancy dress.”
“You need to make an effort,” my mother tells me. “You’re always wearing sweatpants. A man likes his wife to look like a woman.”
Mark has never given me a reason not to trust him, not before the accident at least. We used to play a game during the summer when the tourist population outnumbered us locals. I’d point to a blonde in a halter top and say, “What about her?” Mark would smile. “No, her arms are too skinny and that hair, I think it’s a dye job.” “What about the girl with the freckles,” I’d say, “sitting alone and reading? I bet she’s smart.” And he’d say, “No, only you. There’s only one woman I want.”
After I hang up with my mom, I call Margie. She’s slept with some of the fishermen who’ve passed through the Trekkers Lodge, undeterred by the rings on their fingers, so I figure she’s an expert of sorts.
“How can you tell if a man’s cheating?” I ask her.
“What’s going on? Did you and Mark have a fight?” I confess he hasn’t kissed me in weeks, that we lie next to each other in the dark as though our bodies have been chiseled out of ice and a glancing touch would break us both to pieces. I hadn’t wanted to confide in her before. She’s always winking at me as she fills some broad-shouldered guy’s coffee mug in the morning, her look saying, “This one too. Isn’t he hot?” Secretly, she wants me to be jealous.
“He’s been through this big ordeal, that’s all,” she says. “Mark wouldn’t cheat on you.”
“That’s probably what the wives of the men you sleep with think about their husbands.”
“Whoa,” she says. “I’m trying to help. Have you talked to him?”
“He’s not very communicative.”
“Stop all this worrying and go talk to the man.”
But I can’t. I linger in the living room, where Mark is holed up watching football. Every now and then he hoots or groans, and during commercial breaks, he gets up and rummages in the kitchen for snacks. He doesn’t ask me why I’m alphabetizing the stack of magazines we’ve piled on the side table, doesn’t do more than glance at me when I perch on the couch next to him. This is a man who used to read my moods as though he’d heard them forecast over the radio. I study his neatly trimmed hair, his perfect nails. If he’s trying to look good for someone, I’m sure it isn’t me.
I’m wearing heels, lipstick, and my tightest jeans. Mark didn’t comment on this at breakfast. Margie notices though, and she isn’t the only one. After the first frost, only men come to spend the night here at the B and B. Fishermen and their buddies. I’m unfolding a sheet and tucking the corners around a mattress, bending and leaning, my hands efficient and sure, and when I look up, a man is standing in the doorway watching me. He is lean and tall with an angular face. His eyes are very blue. He grins and says he forgot his gloves.
In this house, almost every room has a bed. The sheets on the bed between me and the man in the doorway smell fresh and clean. I smile at him. I could never imagine fitting my body against the unfamiliar contours of someone who wasn’t Mark, but now I try. I want to understand how these things happen. I lift the gloves ov the bedside table and hand them over, letting our fingers brush.
That’s all that passes between us, just that brief touch, but there could have been more, I’m sure of it.
Later, I check our reservation book: Scott Gibson of Allentown, Pennsylvania, has the yellow room reserved through the end of the week. Finding a name to keep like a souvenir rouses a sick, muddy feeling in me. Already I regret smiling at him. I tell Margie I’m not feeling well, and she says I look feverish, she can see my pulse beating at my temple, and I should just go. I throw on a parka, gloves, hat, and scarf, and replace the heels with wool-lined pack boots. I have to talk to Mark.
As soon as I’m dressed, I’m sweating, and it’s a relief to step out into the winter day. I walk straight through town, past the Skyway Bar and Grille and past Fox Books, right ov the edge of the dock. I pass the ice-locked ferries. Fishing shacks jut up ahead of me, black against the sky like rotten teeth, and the wind lifts snow ov the ground and tosses it in my face. The other islands in the distance, dense with leafless trees, look like balls of steel wool sitting on the horizon. Snow squeaks and crunches under my boots, but otherwise it’s very still, very quiet.
A crowd huddles to the east of the shanties, and curiosity makes me veer toward the knot of people. Once I’m close, I can see a dark crack where solid ice gave way to water. Two coast-guard enlists in Gumby suits have fished someone out of the lake. Anyone who takes a dip in the water during winter is hypothermic in a matter of minutes. The rescuers have slipped an oxygen mask over the man’s face, letting him breathe in warm, humid air that will heat him up from the inside out. As they move around the prostrate figure, I get a glimpse of his face—wide forehead, thick nose, black eyebrows—and he’s clearly not Mark, or anyone I know. Instead of relief, I feel a nervous giggle rise up in my throat. I try to swallow it down, catch the laugh in my voice box, but it slides out of my mouth and hangs in the air. The woman next to me turns. It’s Judy from the post office. She’s all bundled up, so I can only see her eyes, dark with scorn, two tarnished nickels set in a bed of wrinkles. Soon I am out and out laughing. “You better stop that,” she says. “He could die.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “It’s just . . .” But I don’t know how to explain myself. I tuck my scarf around my mouth and try to breathe deeply. I can taste the fuzz of the wool on my tongue. Judy edges away, squinting at me over her shoulder. She is one of those people who doesn’t laugh much, whether laughter is appropriate or not. She sorts our letters, bundling them by address, and I bet she never once wondered what secrets all those envelopes might carry.
In the distance, I spot a couple walking. I recognize Mark’s straight back and the roll of his shoulders as he moves. He’s wearing the striped hat I gave him last Christmas. The woman at his side, the wind swirling her red hair, is unmistakably Catherine. I watch as Mark leans close to her to say something. I wonder if they came to see the man pulled out of the lake. Did they stand next to each other, awed at how alive they felt?
Together, they walk on. They will go back to Mark’s shanty, where already the hole in the ice will have filled with slush. Inside it will be dim, the light like water. I can picture that light on Catherine’s hair. Her mane will take on the dull shine of weathered copper, and Mark will run his fingers through it, shaking out flakes of snow. Or maybe he’ll touch her cold cheek. He’ll lift her face up to his and lean in, their frozen breath making one cloud. Or she’ll kiss him first, standing up on tiptoe, raising her lips, slightly chapped, to his. Maybe they will take ov their gloves, thrust their hands underneath each others’ coats, under the layers of clothing, until they find skin. They will touch each other tentatively, fingers tracing questions on each other’s bodies. Like this? Like this?
Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. I wonder what Mark would say if we played our game now and Catherine were the subject. Catherine with her translucent skin, veins visible around her eyes and at her temples. She has no breasts to speak of, and her hips are slim and boyish. “That girl’s not girl enough for me,” he’d say. Or, “Please, that girl? Too vampire white. I like my girls with some sun on their skin.” I trail behind them, watching as they disappear into a shanty.
Not a single part of their bodies is touching when I whip back the skirt covering the entrance. Mark looks up in surprise, his face creasing into a concerned expression. “What’s wrong?” he asks.
“Someone fell into the lake.”
He nods. “The coast guard got there pretty quickly. The guy will be fine.”
“You’re not fine,” I say. “You’re not the same.”
This man who looks like the man I married—exactly the same but for the scar dividing his eyebrow—tricks my body into recognition. My blood quickens when our eyes meet even as my mind tells me he’s someone else now. I look from Mark to Catherine, who is clutching a fishing rod in her mittened hand, and then back again. “You want to tell me what’s going on?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“Mark, this woman ran you over and now you act like a different person. I don’t understand why you’re hanging out with her. She drove her car into you and now you’re fishing together. That’s not normal.”
“We’re friends,” Catherine says.
“This is between me and my husband.”
Catherine sets down her rod and rises. She squeezes Mark’s shoulder, to irk me or to comfort him, I’m not sure. I’m more interested in the way his eyes linger on her, the look of laying claim in them as she slips out of the shanty and into the day. I want his gaze to press on me the way it used to, consoling and demanding.
We are alone, except for a couple of fish that lie on the ice, their dried-out raisin eyes staring sightlessly at the neoprene ceiling. “I’m your wife,” I say. “Did you forget?”
“I know you’re my wife.”
“Tell me you’re not sleeping with her.”
“She’s only a friend,” he says. “You’re my wife.” He repeats this as if the word wife will placate me, and from the way he narrows his eyes, I can tell he’s groping for my name. The silence stretches so long, I want to flee. I want to go tearing ov across the ice, across the lake, across the whole country to some hot, dry place that won’t remind me of this moment. My heart beats hard as though I’m already in motion.
The cold of the ice reaches up through my boots, and I wonder if Mark’s memories of days we spent together have been erased wholesale, or if it’s the feeling that should accompany them that is missing. This feeling that surges through me, insistent and constant as breath.
I don’t know how to forget. Still, I pull my fingers loose from Mark’s when he tries to take my hand.
Kate Blakinger is currently the emerging writer-in-residence at Penn State Altoona. Her fiction has appeared in Flashquake, the Iowa Review, the Southeast Review, and Vestal Review. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won the Meijer Postgraduate Fellowship.
“Ice House” appears in our Spring 2011 issue.