Thursday, September 16, 2010

merge ahead

"You don't even know what I used to be like," he snorted, reshuffling himself into the passenger seat and burying his elbow deeper into that seam between where car door ends and the window begins. He got like this sometimes, feeling down like just about everyone can from time to time, but then refracting those feelings into a general loathing for himself and pretty much every decision in his life. She understood this, but tapping on the nubby little grip on the underside of the steering wheel wasn't helping. Hell of a way to spend a Saturday.

The turn signal blandly metronomed to itself against his continued fidgets against his trousers and the Escalade's leather -- were they leather? Did they book that option -- seats as the car idled quietly under the light. She wished she could turn on the radio, or maybe one of the two TVs queued up along the upper spine of the cabin, anything to cover up the silence she was offering him in return. But what else could she do, really?

Was, in fact, the car worth this? The house in the foothills, the one that she had seen on "Extra" even before they met, was that enough to balance another conversation like this out? Maybe it was part of growing older, this need to reevaluate, to reconsider your every move in life just as you're close to its end. Is that the same motivation that drives people who stayed in the movie theater to read all the credits, so enthralled with the experience of the movie that even just by sitting in the dryly unyielding theater seat for just another five minutes will somehow keep the magic onscreen from dying down quite yet (even though the houselights were already up). She never was that kind of person, even when she couldn't afford seeing movies on her own.

The Escalade lumbered quietly through the intersection smoothly as a refrigerator coated in oil and she realized he was talking again, something about his time onset with Gary Fisher, or maybe it was Gary Cooper. Someone more important than who he sees now, which was basically just her. First thing in the morning she would wake up before him, pad into the kitchen, turn on the TV and the coffeepot and decide when waking him would be worth it, when she should end her own little scene of quiet morning solitude and step into the real world, their real world. One that was very comfortable, of course, with sixteen bedrooms, three pools and a jacuzzi that came on if you clapped your hands just so, but still, she was tired. She woke up tired.

Eventually she'd wake him up, he'd creak his way into the bathrobe crumpled on the nightstand, stumble for his slippers and kiss the top of her head. Some days she'd tilt her head toward him, like there was some greater intimacy in the left third of her scalp over the center, but he seemed to like it. Coffee would be consumed and he'd flick on the big screen, which was usually turned to that classic movie channel, that one always playing something starring someone dead. She'd hear his voice rise and fall like a gravel-spiked slide whistle in some kind of appreciation and that was her cue to start her day for real, to step into the bath and commence with putting up her hair, putting on her face and beginning the Appearances. This was daily.

Today's appearances were fine. Lunch at the Pompano. A brisk walk through that outdoor mall across town where she'd pick out something nice and he'd pretend not to want to buy it and she'd pretend to be grateful. Now here, back in traffic heading to the golf course to meet Saul, who always seemed to wear that gold chain with the nugget pendant no matter what time of day. Then dinner someplace nice, then back to the big screen and it started over again. This, as her mother in Bakersfield told it, was the life.

"Aren't you going to say something? Argue with me, say, 'You're just being silly Walter,' or 'Let's not fight on a Saturday, Walter,' isn't that what you always do?" This was not getting any easier.

The ninth hole at Cloverdale is a par three, a consideration made both for its short approach and its proximity to the side of the Boulevard, a necessary geographic quirk that always seemed to get in people's heads and make them push the ball exactly where they're not supposed to. Every week, it seemed like, a shot went bad and sailed over the fence like a moonshot, arcing deliriously toward parked cars and oncoming traffic like it was born to do nothing else. The man in the khaki shorts wasn't thinking about that, or at least he thought he wasn't thinking about it. He thought he had his nine iron but, by some quirk of a really bad misadventure on the pin-side green on the eighth, he actually had his six. The man in the khaki shorts was a good golfer, but not a great one. Mishits and mulligans, they're part of the game.

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