I’m driving around the airport in circles. Harry’s plane just landed at noon. He will be emerging outside at the Arrivals area any minute now. The weather is a perfect Buffalonian 22 degrees and dropping, with delicate snowflakes fluttering around peacefully. I hope he brought a coat.
After my third lap down Genesee Street and around to the terminal, Harold finally materializes with nothing on but a hoodie and carrying a single backpack. This guy packs light. And he already looks cold. I park and get out of the car to give him a hug, for warmth.
“Hey!” I say. “So you’re here! Exciting.” Harry looks tired and skinner than I remember.
Wow, here he is, on my turf. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t racked by anxiety.
“So, I am waiting on my boss’s permission to bring you with me tonight.” I already told Harold I had to work the check-in for the Defense Trial Lawyer’s holiday soiree. “It’s at the Mansion on Delaware.”
“It’s ok, I might just chill,” he says. He really does look extremely exhausted. “I had to wake up at three and drive to my buddy’s in Shreveport. I thought it was an hour from New Orleans but it turned out to be much, much more.”
“Oh God!” I hope Harry likes the music I have on – The Casualties. “Well of course you can hang at the cabin. I’ll bring home some hors d’oeuvres.”
Wind swirls around the car like we are inside of a gothic romance, icy and unrelenting.
I get on the thruway and zip out to Varysburg, 15 miles outside of East Aurora. Cousin Phil was a total PEACH for letting us stay here. It’s fully-furnished with heat, two fireplaces and (slightly-stinky) well water, although he just put in a purifier. Oh, and a bathroom, duh. There is a kitchen that I made sure had some eggs and bottled water, soup and some other stuff so I could make breakfast tortillas with salsa, and a big huge bed and pull out couch, TV and Netflix, the works! Sure, it is a shack, but it’s nice shack that will surely set the tone for rustic love-making. Given the fact Harry has his own cabin in Montana, and being an outdoorsy guy, I think he’s the type of man suited to the wilderness.
My bright blue two-door crunches up the gravel driveway. I came here last night to make sure the heat worked and water was on. It was a total blizzard, white-out conditions.
“I couldn’t open up the water box to flip it on.” I have been seriously worried, tossing and turning all night. “What if it’s frozen shut?”
Harold flips it open easily, with a flick of the wrist.
“Seriously?!” I crack the hell up. “I was prying at this thing for a half-hour last night in the dark. I knew you would open it right away.”
Next, we realize the enclosed front patio is full of broken glass, with a skinny tree trunk through the window.
“Ugh!” I start sweeping. So does Harold, and before long we have it cleaned up and just leave the tree where it is. “I hope no raccoons come in.”
Mild demolition aside, the cabin is cozy in no time. Once we turn on the woodfire stove that runs on wood pellets, the warmth soothes my soul. The fire crackles and burns – symbolic of our passions. Either way, we have a few hours to relax. I took off the next few days, and then it will be the weekend. We are really going for full rustic living, out here in the wild, and I am hopeful that the romantic mood will endure.
“What is your boyfriend’s name?” asks my boss, emanating from speakerphone as I kneel on the pull-out couch before Harold.
“Um. Harold,” I roll my eyes. We don’t do labels. I fold a sweater, some jeans, and tuck them back into my suitcase.
“He can’t come to the party,” my boss continues. “Sorry, but Jerry Connors was firm in that in prior years we never brought dates.”
Jerry Connors is the attorney who is president of the association. My boss is treasurer, and every year I work the check-in table for $50, free wine, and hors d’oeuvres, plus the chance to mingle and schmooze, of course.
“It’s really ok, he is beat up from traveling and wants to relax.”
After I hang up with my boss, there are a few hours before the soiree. I am still wearing my work outfit: a sexy yet professional LBD, and stockings. So I climb on top of Harold, and before long, we are transported back into the abandoned tiki hut on the beach in Cancun. I’m riding the waves, all right, it’s a rollercoaster of emotion, and this time, the pounding is hard.
The next morning, sun slices through Venetian blinds directly into Cousin’s Phil’s “room” at the back of the cabin, past the iron wood-stove and kitchen, and into the living room with Harold and I cuddling under sheets on the pull-out. Discarded shoes and underpinnings mark a trail leading up to the pull-out couch, and the sliding glass door showcasing unblemished snow dusting over the forest. Harold is snoozing next to me, curled up like a wooly bear in an afghan. The wood stove sizzles, smolders, and outside, pretty snowflakes descend from the cloudy sky.
It is very quiet, very silent, out here. No traffic noises can be heard, no sirens or screams. Precarious, skinny ash trees encircle the shack.
“It is soooo quiet out here,” I turn to Harold, lustfully.
“There is something about being a cabin,” he gets out of bed, looks around for his socks and some clean drawers, “that induces sensory deprivation.”
“Oooh,” I say, all sexual-like. I rise, stretch, collect my shower case and makeup bag and make a dash for the bathroom. Cousin Phil added it post-occupancy, as a renovation, and while the shower does work, the water comes from a well and is full of “minerals” he claims are good for your skin. But I am hoping to snag a real shower at some point back in civilization. For now, toothbrushing over the industrial sink, the only sink, Burt’s Bees cucumber wipes for the complexion, and spraying my mane with volumizing dry shampoo has to suffice for my glamorization routine.
Back into the living room there is a leather couch covered in pillows shaped like logs and various wooden signs with phrases like “Life’s Better in the Cabin” and “Cozy Living.” There is a shaggy rug, and pictures of bears on the walls.
“I’m looking forward to watching lots of holiday movies,” Harold says as we lay back down on the folded-out bed.
“I just have to do one thing in town today,” I hate to punctuate the mood, but there is one errand in Williamsville I could not cancel. Yes, it’s true, I have a gynocologist’s appointment I could not get out of this morning. “But we can get some supplies while in town.”
Going to the gyno with a guy I barely know – seems like a big step in our faux-relationship. First our honeymoon, and now an appointment to the OB/GYN together. Is this what real, serious couples do?
We swoop downhill, over the rolling hills of Wales, breeze by a subterranean tavern in a gravel-strewn ditch (could be my escape, should things become tense with Harold), cows and horses frolicking in pastures, firewood for sale, a gas station, guy holding a pitchfork, and even a homeopathic facialist/yoga place. We get on the thruway as Harold stares out the window. On Main St. in Williamsville proper, the looming GYNO sign can be seen from two blocks away. I pull into the parking lot.
“Don’t worry, it’s just, like, a routine check-up,” I turn to Harold. He remains unfazed. “Here, take my car for a spin. I won’t be an hour.” I hand him my keys.
“I do have to run to the post office,” he says, “and mail this to my buddy.” He holds the embroidered baby onesie he purchased at the mercado back in Cancun, “hola amigo, nor senor,” eggs divorciados and guava smoothies.
Afterwards I’m in the waiting room paging through People. It is here, in the waiting room, where I realize that my hair carries a faint hint of mildew. A pregnant couple’s in here, too, making their next appointment, and then my car whips into the lot so I run out and get in the passenger seat.
“Let’s go to Alton’s for some chow.” Wow, really, I’m actually bringing my trans-Atlantic boo thang to a local hot spot. “It’s a place to see and be seen.” It’s still super early and I know Harold is hungry.
“I can’t believe you are actually here,” I examine Harold over my menu in the early-morning light. Outside, amidst the Walden Avenue pollution and smoggy snow, cars crash about in search of Christmas presents and weekend groceries. The tropical glow from Thanksgiving has given way to dark circles under Harold’s eyes. A skinny, gaunt, edge has taken hold of his face. He looks tired and drawn. “Right here on my home turf.” I hope he perks up.
“More coffee?” offers our waitress in white eyeliner. I’m sure she has seen her fair share of awkward couples. Harold digs into his waffles doused in fruit syrup and whipped cream.
“We can stop down at Amvet’s if you want, or Target, for you to pick up a coat.” I’m not trying to be a mom or anything, but Harold’s been rocking a thin hoodie and it’s only twentysomething degrees.
“What’s Amvets,” he says.
“It’s, like, a thrift store down the street.”
Harold doesn’t reply, just chews his waffle in silence. Hmm.
“I’ve actually had stomach issues for a while, I should probably go to the doctor.”
“I have not been to a doctor in years. I can’t remember the last time.”
“I’m Native so, I need to go to a Native place.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that. Well, we could find one.”
The idea hangs in the air between us, suspended like a blimp. Howard bites into his strawberry-whipped cream festooned waffle, and drops the subject.
Next, we head down Walden to Home Depot for some wood pellets for Cousin Phil’s stove. Harold parks in the reserved space for electricians and plumbers and the like. He grabs a big dolly flat-bed thing so I recline on it like Cleopatra. He begins to push me down the aisles.
“How much for her?” says a greyhound-esque gent looming in the light fixtures.
“Five dollars,” says Howard. I turn around and give him a diva death stare.
“More like $500,” I inform him, and remind myself to not get shitty over it. He’s tired, he’s droopy, full of waffles and cream, but a fireplace burns in our future.
Our last stop is the Rite Aid Pharmacy so I can pick up my pills.
“It won’t be ready until this afternoon,” says the pharmacist.
“What!” My face turns red. I am in shock. “No, that is not acceptable. I will be out of town this afternoon.” I can’t take Harold to my parent’s house right down the street – no, no no. Not right now.
“Ok, hang tight, we will get it ready. Sorry for the mix-up.”
I find Harold in the candle aisle, and I inhale every supposedly calming and stress relieving scent. Harold’s on the phone, on hold.
“Do you guys do RT-PCR tests? I need an RT-PCR.”
“I don’t know, hang on,” says the clerk from Quest Diagnostics, and more elevator music comes on the line.
We stand in the candle aisle for another 30 minutes, until eventually my prescription is ready and Harold gives up and says he will just get his RT-PCR at the airport before his flight for Thailand. Because this stop in Buffalo, NY is just a layover before his journey to Southeast Asia. And after that, it’s anyone’s guess.
As twilight looms over the peaceful pastures, I navigate downhill 20 minutes into the Village of East Aurora, to grab some libations and late lunch. The sky is autumnal orange as a horse grazes near the tavern in a ditch, we pass the truway entrance, and gracefully roll into the Main St. village district, where the wealthy, Libertarian-minded and farmer chic frolic and shop, congregate and kiss.
“Mandala School,” I read from a sign in Roycroft font on a quaint schoolhouse. “I wonder how much it is to send your kids there, and what they learn?”
“Isn’t that the guy from South Africa?” says Harold.
“No, ha, that’s Nelson Mandela,” I say, not trying to be a know-it-all. “Mandalas, I think they are, like, chakras, or chi…I think you will see some in Thailand at the Buddhist temples.” I can’t believe that Harold is actually leaving for Thailand so soon.
“Maybe,” he says.
“I could see you as a Buddhist.”
I park in a lot near Beauty Organix for a sweet reprieve for me, myself, and I to slather on some contaminant-free salves and vegan lip glosses and procure bath salts for my mom. Harold heads to the farm-to-table co-op across the street for some snacks.
“I’ve got a friend in here,” says Harold as he skulks into the shop like a zombie. I’m sniffing blood orange hair conditioner. This is not the type of appearance I’d like to project to the beautiful blonde Xanax wifeys in here; apparently I should wrap this up. I snap some choco-coco milk bath packets and an enzyme facial peel for my mom, and an eyeshadow palette in “Sunset Canyon” for myself. Wink. We leave Beauty Organix and delve into my car parked back in the alley.
“I need an ethernet cord, a new episode of Wheels of Time dropped today,” says Harold deadpan.
“My cousin has wi-fi and internet,” I remind him. “I can text him if we can’t figure it out, but he should already have what we need.”
Harold looks perturbed, perplexed, and starts searching on his phone.
“Isn’t there a Target around here, a best buy?”
“Um, probably?” All down the sidewalk prance festive revelers and early-evening winos, moms getting organic mani-pedis, and dads with hot nannies. “I don’t know! Why?”
“Here, Sammy’s Electronics,” Harold taps his phone screen, calls Sammy on speaker.
“Sammy’s Electronics,” a jolly voice echoes from Harold’s palm.
A long pause…
“Yeah, ethernet cords, you got ‘em?” says Harold in a very rude tone. I can tell from the long pause that Sammy is caught off guard.
“Sorry,” he says, “Maybe try Target.”
There is no way I am driving around aimlessly for a ridiculous ethernet cord.
“Let’s just go back to the cabin,” I say. “We’ll figure out the wifi password. You’ll stream your show. Everything will be fine.”
The blank flat-lined expression on Harold’s face looks anything but reassured.
Bar Bill is hot and cozy. All tables are packed with sweatered dudes with gray hair clinking tumblers full of ice and so Harold and I perch at the bar. Outside, a bearded guy wearing a Buffalo plaid button-up, skinny jeans, Vans slip-ons, and a Buffalo Bills flat-brim is putting a carton of Timbits into a mini Toyota.
“That must be the look around here,” Howard eyes his rotund frame perched atop two skinny legs. It is a notoriously Buffalonian, frog-esque physique, and I love him for it.
“He’s got some Timbits,” I reply, “Maybe he is heading out for a road trip.”
“What are Timbits?” says Harold.
The look on my face: stunned.
Harold and I perch at the bar, where I am to finally ease my anxiety and sense of impending doom with perfectly-chilled pinot grigio, and Harold can enjoy the Beef on Weck house speciality.
“You know, young local hipsters aren’t really out here chowing down on beef on weck regularly,” I inform him. “It’s more like old-school dad fare.”
“What are we having, guys?” asks the bartender, in a beard and flannel of his own.
“I’ll have an old fashioned,” says Harold. “And one of those beef sandwiches -” he trails off. I offer him a quizzical glance. Since when does he indulge in bourbon?
“Since I’m having what old guys have,” he explains.
“Hm. Ok,” I say, “I will have a pinot grigio, and some wings, of course.”
“Suicidal hot,” says Harold. “With ranch I guess.”
Everyone in Bar Bill puts down their napkins and stares at us. Silverware clinks, and then the room falls silent.
“No, no,” I stand up, look Bartender dead in the eye. “Blue cheese. He’s not from around here.” I plunk back down on my barstool. Everyone turns back to their lunch and resumes their conversations with their companions like nothing happened.
Howard and I turn back to our own private world. Outside, groups that look to be a live reenactment of the L.L. Bean catalog mill about, Christmas shopping, mingling and schmoozing down Main Street. I have not bought any gifts, and my holiday companion this year, well – instead of getting to know him on a deeper level, we are sitting here staring into space again. Sure, the hookups are hot, but Harold’s personality is sort of nonexistent, inscrutable. Who is this guy, anyway?
“You’re not from around here?” asks a scruffy Gen X-er in an Aalyiah tee shirt.
“No, um, Alaska originally,” says Howard, open and ready for conversation with a local.
“Me neither,” says the guy. “Niagara Falls.” And he sticks out his hand. I previously mentioned to Harold that mostly everyone who lives in Buffalo is from here, everybody knows everybody, and if someone says they’re from out of town, well, they typically hail from The Falls.
“Blue cheese all the way, baby,” he says, “Ah woo-woo-woo.” And he stands up and does a little dance by moving his butt in circles. I am overjoyed to be adding some Niagara Falls flavor to the local pastiche, to show Howard what he is really missing out on, traveling around like a nomad and all.
“We met down in New Orleans,” I tell the guy, “But I’m from here. Well, Cheektowaga. Harlem and Genesee.”
“Oh shit buddy,” our new companion suddenly gets serious. “She is the real OG. You don’t get much more real than her.”
“There, you said it now!” I jump up from my barstool and do a funky little dance of my own. “Ah woo-woo-woo.” I’m getting louder and crazier by the second. Finally, the perfect opportunity to showcase to Harold my true crazy and see if he can handle it. I need a man with cajones, if you know what I mean.
“The girls who are the most real around here, the ones that will cut you and then make sweet passionate love to you like you have never been made love to before, are either A) from West Cheektowaga, or B) South Buffalo,” he says definitely, then sits down to focus on his bottle of Michelob. This information finds Harold in good spirits, or at least his pleasant smile has not waned. And I am happy too, here inside this warm, inviting, packed-to-the-rafters tavern. It is the Holiday Season. I suck on Howard’s bourbon-soaked cherry; it’s back to the cabin for us, for a mid-afternoon roll in the hay.
Later that night, we’ve selected 12 Christmases starring Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn (it’s actually very funny, I recommend) and House of 1,000 Corpses. Harold unwraps the organic chocolate bar from the barn-to-table co-op, and I’ve poured two giant glasses of cab sav. The TV casts a flattering glow in which we bask.
Drip. What was that? Drip-drip. Yep, drops of water definitely patter on my forehead. Drip.
I run into the kitchen and flick on the light. Sure enough, drops of water are dripping from the ceiling right in front of the sliding glass door to the patio!
I grab an old, dented-up cooking pot and place it on the floor. Dripdripdripdripdrip.
As the water drips from the ceiling – luckily not right on top of the pull-out couch – Harold puts his arm around me. I place my leg over his, and we cuddle the entire night.
I park my car behind Vidler’s 5 & 10. “This is a really popular shop, a landmark of sorts,” I say. “Buses of tourists show up here all the time.”
As soon as I open the back door to Vidler’s I am hit with a wave of frenzied and fried holiday shoppers. The melee envelopes me, sucks me in, until I am whacked with some lady’s purse, accidentally but annoyingly, in the arm. I plead with Harold as the crowd closes in. “Please, can you, like, help me out?” I am ready to grab the collar of his stupid limp hoodie, shake him so that his blood starts flowing. “Don’t you need to, like, buy gifts for anyone?”
“I’m not a holiday type of person,” he says.
“Uh, ok. I don’t need anything here, either. I just thought you would want to look around. Let’s go.”
I am breaking a sweat feeling completely burnt out and alone. In the back parking lot behind Vidler’s there is an industrial garage featuring 42 North Brewing. I drag Harold through its threshold. A holiday artisan market is going on. I pick up a 6-pack of IPAs for my dad.
“I think IPAs are totally bitter and gross,” I say. “I think guys are into them as some sort of dare to one another; the more bitter and nasty each one is, the more they recommend it to their colleagues like, ‘Hey guy, try this one!’ to see if anyone says anything.”
Eventually, I am tired of pseudo-shopping with my pseudo-beau. He’s a limp dick. We go back to my shiny blue coupe, and venture back to the cabin.
Ascending the rolling hills of Wales this time, Howard is on his phone non-stop. I glance over; it is some GIF of dancing girls in thongs on his screen.
“Ok, enough is enough,” I veer to the curb, almost into a cow pasture, and slam on my brakes.
“You are on your phone 24/7. What is up with that? It’s super annoying and rude.”
Harold stares at me, a wombat in headlights. He looks kind of scared.
“Don’t you have friends sending you memes?” he says.
“No, not really, and not porno memes, and I’m one to talk. I tend to block everyone.”
I give him the death stare until a cow shows up behind him at his passenger-side window and he looks over and jumps up with a shock.
“You’re weird,” he says.
“You’re weird!” I retort.
Turning the key in the ignition, I attempt to smooth out this little wrinkle in our timeline on the way back home. The twentysomething degrees of earlier in the week are creeping up to the forties. The sun pokes out from the clouds, an offering, a consolation. I toss my coat into the backseat, swerving into the oncoming lane but quickly alighting before crashing into an approaching semi.
“Woo! Spring has sprung,” I turn up the volume on my punk rock CD, the Transplants this time. “We are doing a grill and chill!” I roll down my window and let the cool, refreshing breeze flood the car. Harold is shivering again, looking anemic and displaced.
“What?” I glance his way, swerving and veering into the wrong lane again. “This is warm for us.” I narrow my eyes. I’m starting to really not trust this bozo.
We are chilling in the breakfast nook, where I’ve just prepared eggs on the hot plate, toasted a couple tortillas, and assembled cute little breakfast tacos for us with avocados, corn, and pico – Southwest style. If you really want to know how to make a man fall in love with you – ask him to open a jar of salsa. I sip the strong brew steaming in my mug, glance at the local news spewing from the television. Luckily for us, the coffee is still plentiful, unearthed from Cousin’s Phil’s cupboard rattling full of pots and pans.
“Do you think you will be in Thailand long?” I really hope there is no salsa on my face. I’ve already given up on doing makeup, and hope the lasting image burning into Harold’s brain isn’t that of a disheveled hillbilly. I want him to know the real me, see me and like me for who I am, a city girl with trust issues who can never open her home and her heart. Wouldn’t it be way too soon to introduce this dude to my family? My childhood home, my regular haunts? I probably will never know his, plus, he doesn’t even have a mailing address.
“I don’t know,” he chews and savors his breakfast, stares back down at the table. “I sold my truck on Facebook Marketplace.”
“What?” Memories of New Orleans, cruising around the cemetery in his brand-new silver truck, comped from his employer, finding oyster shells by the train tracks, and then hooking up at the Quisby. It seems like a million years ago. “Um, ok.” I roll my eyes. The bitch is back to showcase her disapproval.
“I might stay there a couple years. I took a leave from work.”
“It’s always nice to take a break. From life, and everything.”
“If I like it there, I could always stay. I’m going to study electrical engineering.”
“Do you think maybe you are having an identity crisis of some kind? It’s not so bad, having mid-life crises. I’ve had at least five already.”
“Are there any roofing jobs here in Buffalo?”
I hiccup, almost spew coffee everywhere.
“Yeah, of course.”
“I used to have a roofing company. I was thinking of getting back into it.”
Hm. When Harold tires of Muay Thai and monks, maybe he will move back here to me. He can start a roofing company, and I’ll make breakfast with salsa and ask him to open the jar and then he can rub my feet, since I’ll be pregnant with our child and all. But I am starting to think I don’t really want him to, and am not really that sad about him moving far, far away. There’s mixed signals, and then there’s getting involved with a traveling man fresh off the cusp of a hurricane.
“What are we going to do, where are we going to go first, I have to get my life together. I need to go home and fetch my vinyl. I need…”
Harold’s prostrate on the pull out streaming Wheels of Time and scrolling through his damn cell again. I start reorganizing the kitchenette, dirty old spatula from brekkie lying next to Ed, our pet sweet potato, with his cheerful aluminum foil face. Harry put Ed together and showed me when I came home from work. Over tortillas, swear to God. We really are one big cozy flannel family, out here in the woods. Spatula in hand, I march over to Howie and stand over him.
“Unless, of course, you’re busy.”
Howie stares up at me, as I’m wielding this greasy spatula. What have I become? A stale old housewife, who cooks and cleans while her man scrolls fantasy fiction forums or god knows what out there in …the Thai metaverse? This is too much.
“Look, love and light to you.” I sit on the arm of the couch. “Weee!” And I throw myself across Howie’s lap in mint green panties and a sweatshirt.
“That’s better,” he says. Sigh. Ed and Howard; I live with two potatoes out here in the woods.
Later that evening, a windstorm warning has been disseminated from all news stations, including a text from my mom warning of power outages and not to go anywhere. In true anxiety-ridden bad-decision making form, I double booked for the Friday night during Harold’s stay and promised my acquaintance from the vinyl collective that I’d be his DJ understudy tonight at Black Dots. But, I was so busy and overwhelmed prepping for Howard’s arrival, I didn’t bring any of my own gear or vinyl records out to the cabin.
“Do you want to drive?” I ask Harold; I’ve already dipped into my stash of red wine.
“No. I hate driving,” says he.
Darkness descends and hurricane level winds pummel my car on all sides. Harold’s staring out the window into the shadows, creases deepening under his brown eyes that definitely lost their luster. We are heading to my acquaintance’s abode on the Lower West Side, more accurately, his lair – that the punk rock couple, DJ Troy Fritz and Jessie from around the way, occupy. After getting a text that Dj Troy Fritz is back from picking up his boo from the diner, Harold and I scale their porch steps, still decorated with skulls and Halloween decor in mid-December, cobwebs both real and faux, and copious overflowing ashtrays.
“Come on in,” Troy Fritz opens the door halfway, into the the living room which smells of cigarette smoke, vodka sweat, plum incense, and death. Their three dogs run up to greet us, Layla who is deaf and 90 years old, blond Ted and a black-and-white Oreo creature whose name escapes me. I sit next to Honora on the couch, an orange cat with no eyes; they had to be removed and sewn shut. I pet her for emotional support. There is another cat around here somewhere, maybe hiding within DJ Troy Fritz’s thousands of vinyl records organized thoughtfully on professional-grade shelving; he worked at a few radio stations in Toronto.
In Cancun, I mentioned to Harold that my friend, DJ Troy Fritz, needed to take three U-haul trips to move his vinyl record collection into his boo thang’s. Harold didn’t understand ever accumulating that much stuff, a personal collection, of well, anything. He seems like a man unable to make a trail, set down roots, put his individual stamp on any dwelling or location, or with anyone, for any length of time. While I bond with the animals, and Troy and Jessie get the DJ gear together, Harold hides off in a corner of the living room.
THE MORNING AFTER BLACK DOTS
The early morning light streams into the bedroom and I am only mildly hungover but experiencing the familiar shame of not knowing how Harold feels about my state of continual inebriation.
Next to us is a Beanie Baby platypus that I found near Cousin Phil’s bed. It’s become something of a security blanket for me. I place Platy between Harold and I.
“Isn’t he cute?” I place the platypus on his bare chest and attempt to snap a pic.
“I will not contribute to your madness,” he says, turning to the side before I have a chance.
“Honestly it would have been a super-sexy pic.” I am dead serious. If I saw a burly, bare-chested man with a Beanie Baby resting on him on a dating app, I would mail him my panties. “You could use the pic for –” But I stop myself before mentioning a dating app. Aren’t we, like, dating? I fetch my phone and start to scroll my Gmail. A promo/spam from “Elite Dating,” which I did not even subscribe to, is the first thing, and I swear Harold saw it while looking over my shoulder!
“Ah, just junk,” I nervously laugh. “What should we do today?”
I slip into some moccasins, Cousin Phil’s – and shuffle into the kitchen. “It is freezing in here!” I flick on the overhead fixture. Still dark. Flickflickflickflick. Nothing. “Oh. My. God. The power is out!” Damn windstorm. My mom was right. I poke my eyes through the blinds and gaze outside at the vastness of the forest. There are a few neighboring cabins, but God knows if anyone is currently in them. “I guess we will have to wait it out.”
I get on the phone with Cousin Phil.
“Put a call in to National Grid,” he suggests. “I’ll give you my account number.” And he gives me the account number.
The woodstove: dead. I toss in some firewood and Harold gets out of bed and lights a fire, then goes back to bed. Working in hurricanes, floods, and forest fires rendered him completely unfazed by a simple power outage. Survival mode. I place a skillet on top of the cast iron stove, crack in two eggs, and simmer up a breakfast good enough to satisfy Daniel Boone on a whiskey-n-rye bender.
“You look hot,” Harold admires my bra and wide-leg pants ensemble. “I dig those pants on you.”
“Thanks, babe,” I say.
My car crunches up the long, rocky drive. My hair endures permanent tangles, and my undereyes have dark circles. I slide my car into the slight ditch with Cousin Phil’s dented-up truck parked alongside, away from the unpredictable ash trees. The overhead ceiling fan light glows from within the cabin as I trudge up the stairs to the sliding door leading into the bedroom.
“Honey, I’m home,” I call out. Silence bounces off the wood-paneled walls. “Where’s my kiss?” Then, Howard comes out of the bathroom toweling his hair, steam creeping out from a crack in the door.
“Oh, hey,” He says. Cue the laugh track. An action movie explodes from the TV and I find the remote and turn down the volume.
“How was your day?” I ask, setting down the pizza slice I got for Howard from Gino & Joe’s. He needs to experience their NY style.
Without even a thank-you, Harold plops down at the kitchen table and starts to devour the now-cool slice.
“Do you want me to heat it up in the toaster oven?” Harold keeps chewing, “Nah, it’s cool,” and he gobbles it down.
Sigh. Married life is such a bore. I remove my work outfit, skirt and stockings and platform booties, and slip into some sexy activewear then start my Pilates workout on “Boho Beautiful” YouTube channel. “Do you want to join me?” I call out. But Harold turns up the volume on the action flick. I plank and stretch and do some abs then after 20 minutes, make a salad for myself with spinach, garbanzo beans, shredded carrots, and bell peppers. I fish a pair of my panties out of the dented-up pot full of water dripping from the ceiling, wring them out and place them near the woodstove to dry.
“Want to go out for a bit?” Harold takes me by surprise; it is our last night as a married rural couple. Tomorrow, Harold’s coming with me downtown to hang out for the day while I work, and then I’ll take him to the airport for his evening departure.
“Go out? Like, to where? I’m not really hungry.”
He shows me a google search result on his phone for the Silver Lake Diner in Warsaw. I change again, into some jeans this time, throw on my parka for the 20-minute drive down the long, dark road. I pump up the punk rock on the radio, not too concerned about his approval anymore. I don’t think I was falling in love with Harold, not in the slightest. I would have fallen by now. After our tropical honeymoon and the provincial marriage, I was simply falling in love with the idea of Harold falling for me – or not. Turns out, I’m not the marrying kind.
“Hot chocolate, peach cobbler, meatballs marinara and an apple juice,” Harold places his order to Tina, our waitress, like a fat kid on Christmas sitting on Santa’s lap.
“Just some dirty rice for me and a merlot.” Tina leaves and I tear at the edges of my paper napkin. My nails: chipped.
“So, like, are you glad that you came?” I stare at him like Bambi in the headlights of a car as seconds tick by on the universal clock. Here we sit, Mr. and Mrs. Mildew.
“Yeah. Yeah sure,” he replies, after what feels like eternity.
The sky is a dark black-and-blue, starless and vacant. Harold and I stand silently in front of the Departures gate, he still with his single backpack and me, well: it’s all more of a question than when he arrived.
There were many signs leading up to now that we are not compatible: he’s driftin’ all over the world, and I am emotionally-connected to my downtown parking space. I brought a giant suitcase full of outfits for just a few days; he has one backpack for his entire life. And now this is goodbye. Again. Perhaps it is goodbye forever, or maybe just a week. This is like something out of Casablanca.
Airplanes zoom up and away, leaving trails across the sky. Wind swirls around us and my hair flows out behind me, when I catch the familiar whiff of mildew. I don’t want to instill in him this scent memory. But alas, it is still very film noir, Harold with his droopy eyes with dark circles and hoodie hanging off his frame. Hopefully, plenty of banh mi and pad thai are in his future, and no parasites.
“I’ll see you again real soon,” he says, leaning forward to gently kiss me.
“Sure,” I reply.
And then he is gone, headed to Thailand by way of LAX. And me, I collapse into the front seat and finally exhale. I speed away in the darkness, back to the cabin, blasting my music this time – Avril Lavigne – and light up a Parliament. It feels like a whole mountain of baggage has been lifted off my chest. I’m free! I can breathe! I can do whatever the fuck I want now that I don’t have a man breathing down my neck. I’m liberated in this moment of complete freedom and I could never be happier.