Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Unity

                                                  It was dark in the Logan Airport Lounge. It was past eight o'clock by then. He had not noticed the waitress patiently standing there. When she said, "Sir," he started as if she had woken him. He settled on a Heineken dark. But he didn't drink any. He sat in a corner near the window staring out at the moving lights on the flight line, the big planes taxiing and taking off. The colors of the lights shifted and the lights blinked. Inside was the hush of the big noise of the planes. Sometimes the hush became a big noise as a plane accelerated down the runway. He waited. He hardly looked up as a middle-aged woman approached. She was well put up for a working girl. She took care of herself, and she didn't get her clothes where ordinary people got their clothes. She looked around nervously before she sat down. He hardly looked up as she sat down.
  "What are you doing now?" she said.
  "I don't know."
  "You don't know?"
  "Well, I know, but I doubt you'll understand."
  Then the waitress came by again. He didn't look up at her either. Her name was Sharon. She was a very pretty young brown girl. Sharon wore a white outfit. The top was tight around her throat and the skirt went down to her knees, but her arms were bare. They were round and handsome looking arms, and she had a big smile. "Can I get you anything?" She said.
  The well put up woman politely took care of it. She had to take care of everything with him lately.
  "Just an orange juice for me. Max?"
  "Another dark draft, I guess." He gazed at the earlier dark draft, which was still full.
  She looked up at the waitress, who nodded and walked away.
  "Do you want to tell me why you're here?" She was not angry; there was no anger in her voice. She would try to save that till later.
  "Plane leaves at 9." He shrugged.
  "Where is it going? Can you tell me that?"
  "Mexico. I was down there for a couple of years in my younger days. I liked it. And I think I can live there for awhile without working. I've taken leave from work. They seem okay with it. I don't care. I'll just get another job if I have to."
  "Max, why did you call me at work and tell me to meet you here? I want you to tell me really." She felt very cool. There had always been this childish side of him. She was quite used to it by now. He would sit quietly for a long time, dreaming, and when he came out of it, it was usually with some ridiculous notion that he never acted on.
  "Because I'm going away for awhile, and I wanted to tell you so you would know."
  "This is all news to me," she replied. "Would you like to talk about it?"
  He stared at her for a long time, as if it were a question so weird and outrageous it was almost unbelievable.
  "Now what?" She said, puzzled, when the stare didn't pass.
  "We're not?"
  "Max, there's a kind of detail…missing…"
  "I've told you I want to go to Mexico. There are places in Mexico where you can live without spending…a lot of money? And my thought is that with your job and the money I have tucked away…we could split that, and you should be able to get by for awhile."
  The big roar of a jet blasted the window and he said something else. But she couldn't hear. It was probably like money is not important or worth worrying about, or something.
  The young waitress, Sharon,  came with the drinks. She put down doilies and placed the drinks on the doilies. Then Max followed her hand and arm up to her face. Her hand was large and brown almost boyish but very graceful.
  "You walk attractively," he said.
  "Thank you, sir."
  "Are you an athlete?"
  "Oh yes. I play tennis as much as I can."
  "Drinking is bad for the wind. Lose your wind, life is harder. Never lose your wind. You know?"
  Sharon grinned at him. She had good teeth and no signs of braces or caps or anything ever having been wrong. She didn't say anything. Just smiled. Then she said, "Anything else?"
  "No," the woman said, "good."
  While Sharon walked away, he almost smiled. Then he turned, stared out the window at the flickering lights on the runway and across the river toward the jumble of East Boston.
  Sharon stood at the bar where she waited with the bartender. She had been friends with the bartender for a long time. They had gone to Chelsea High. They had both been dreamers. He dreamed of being a writer, and she dreamed that she would one day become a professional tennis player. She told him at least ten times a night how she wanted to go to Jimmy Connors where she might be able to turn her Massachusetts State Championship into something important. He told her at least ten times a night how he wanted to be a student in Frank O'Connor's writing class at Harvard. That's why they were friends since childhood, because they were dreamers. And when this strange man who didn't know her from Eve said to her "You walk like an athlete" she had to tell her friend the bartender. He stopped washing glasses for long enough to say, "Well you do. You walk beautiful, Sharon. I love watching you walk. Makes my little heart go pit-a-pat." And her grin spread from one side of her face to the other.

The very well put up woman, Nancy, who had come in and had sat down with the man sitting by the window, was in no hurry to pick up the pieces. After all, she had married him almost twenty years ago because he had silences. He had told her once that when he was he couldn't remember exactly when he was eight or nine or ten he decided not to speak, and for a long time, almost a whole year, he didn't speak at all. He was surprised at how easy it was for him to do. But his parents started to go batty, and he felt sorry for them, so he decided to speak again. So she waited a couple of minutes to pick up the pieces.
  "Details? Max? Like your sons, Steven and John? They need their father."
  But he didn't move away from the window.
  "It's getting to be winter." She continued. "Aren't you proud of how well they ski?"
  "They ski well."
  "Of course, Steven will have to leave Phillips and go to a public school." She made this sound very, very important.
  "Ah, I don't believe in private schools. I don't like the way they act around everyday people."
  "They are your sons, Max."
  "Borrow. I'll pay everything off eventually."
  Then she said a little more loudly, "What are you doing?"
  "They've got that pond. Just let it be."
  "You say to me borrow, you'll pay it back, and then you say you're going to Mexico so you won't have to work?"
  "Yes. Just let it be. For awhile."
  At the end of the road their house was on there was a pond. To the boys that pond was a big biology experiment. They both knew all the names of the plants in detail, the fish and where they were. With their father they developed theories about this and that. They had purchased a kit to analyze water samples, and then another kit to analyze the soil. It was all very scientific. She heard them arguing about ferns and which fish was which. They often came back from the pond soaked and muddy.
  "It will give them the real." He said after awhile. "They will have it all their lives."
  "The pond will not teach them how to act," Nancy said.
  "Hell, I don't know how to act. Do you think I know how to act? That's why I'm going away…to learn how to act."
  "What? I mean adult. Grown up?"
  Sometimes a fog, a haze would come into her head when she talked to him. She shook her head. "Max, don't you love us? Won't you miss us? I mean your boys? They're your sons."
  "Don't you understand. Everything is miss-matched, out of kilter, empty. There must be some way to get back that feeling of completion. To move it back in place. You know? That's why I've got my books, The Bible and the Talmud like I've been reading. So I'm going to get into shape to study…" he held out his arms as if to push something away "then I'll find the unity, and…"
  "Why do you have to go to Mexico to read?"
  A jet started blasting and he said something and he raised his eyes to watch the young waitress walking by.
  So the uproar of the jet ceased, and he said, "She has little explosions in her ankles. Young I guess. Remember how we were? We could hike all day. Remember?"
  "Sure. But we grew up. We got older, and life is not all walking in the woods or playing tennis. It is responsibility, and so on."
  "That's right. And when I get this unity in my head…you'll see, it will be better."
  "Unity?" She said. She didn't know whether to laugh or scream. Max was big city. They complained about everything. She had grown up on a dairy farm in rural Maine. If it didn't bleed why worry about it. But they had always shared the outdoors. They had hiked in the Skagit and the Bitterroot. Hardly just kids, no money.
  "You don't have to be flip about it," he said.
  So she did not speak for a long time, then she drank some orange juice. She looked out the window. When she was finally ready she said, "Unity is only another word. There are other words like family, for instance."
  "I knew you wouldn't understand, but why should you understand?"
  "Okay. Suppose I don't understand. But why do you have to go to Mexico? If you want to take an extended vacation…"
  "I can't think around you!"
  "I don't know what that means."
  "It means that you aren't…thoughtful…superficial…I don't know." His voice trailed off into silence.
  "Even if I were as you say, what difference would that make?"
  "Huh." His eyes, dull and lackluster, returned to the window, focused out.
  "Okay, Max. Suppose it is true, superficial me. I don't see why you have to go two, three thousand miles away, whatever it is, because why not take like a sabbatical leave right here in Lynnfield. Your boys…I could say to them, your Dad is wondering, and life is short, and it is important, and so on. They are so looking forward to skiing with you this winter. John has made the team at school, they have both been jogging all summer and they love skiing with you."
  "I don't have time. I want…I want to think, dammit." He had raised his voice. He turned to look at her but didn't. "Why should that be so hard to understand?"
  "Max, I get it. Okay! I'm just curious about Mexico."
  "How many times do I have to explain to you about Mexico?"
  So she became silent. He had turned away and was staring out the window again. She watched him but there wasn't much to watch. She was afraid he'd simply cease talking. He was almost at that point when she might not find out anything more for a long time. But she had so much more to ask. She waited for him to appear calm. Then she said, "Did you talk to somebody about this Mexico thing? Eddie…"
  "Well then somebody?"
  Well now the silence. There was a very odd stillness that had come over him. A diaphanous shroud of stillness. His face actually changed color. He always had a healthy color, which was now pallid.
  "I have to go now," he said. "I'm sorry that you don't understand. I just wanted to make sure that you knew that I wasn't…missing."
  Then he left. He always carried a fat briefcase, and recently he had started to take a small knapsack full of books with him wherever in case there was a free minute. She paid the waitress. She hardly noticed the waitress, she hardly knew what she was doing. He had not drunk any of the beer at all. He rarely drank, even when the world around him was getting sloshed. She was thinking about his not drinking, and she didn't remember walking out to the parking garage. Sitting in the car, she had a splitting headache, said, "Oh no" over and over, thinking about the boys. They dogged his footsteps. He was an encyclopedia of information about nature. He knew what fish did what. He had skied with Karl Schranz. She waited till a little past nine, went back to the lounge, fully expecting that they would meet and they would go home together but he wasn't there.
  She went up to the waitress.
  "The man I was talking to? Did he leave, I mean get on a plane."
  "Yes ma'am. You were with him by the window? He was boarding on 23, which goes to Mexico City tonight. I noticed when I was walking by. Are you all right?"
  "Yes. I'll manage."
  "Please sit down. Can I get you something?"
  "No thank you. You're very sweet. I'll manage."
  Sharon watched the older woman walk from the bar into the lobby and sink down the escalator. Her shoulders were bent as if an old woman. But Sharon was really thinking about how she'd do when she got to Jimmy Connors. She admired his hard passing style so much! She had a backhand; she could always count on that backhand. And she was working with a coach out in Brookline on her serve. She was plenty strong and she thought she could drill a hard baseline drive with either forehand or backhand. She told the bartender, "At Jimmy Conners I'm gonna be tough." He laughed. "Yes, I know."
  The well put up woman, mother of two boys, hardly remembered driving home, but she did make it. Max had always been a dreamer, but he had never disappeared like this. She didn't sleep at all that night. Never bothered to go to bed. It was raining through the dawn.
  "Mom, you don't look so good. Where's Dad?" Steven said.
  "I'm not sure, but he's okay."
  "Wow, he's not like missing?"
  After breakfast they went out to the pond. John took a fish net. They came back soaked and muddy and happy. But after awhile they were less happy.

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