“I know,” he said, patting her back.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t talk about it at home. Jonah doesn’t think it makes sense to worry yet.”

“But how can you not?”

“Exactly. Hey,” she said, propping herself up on one elbow. “Did I tell you what Bev said at work?”

“No, what did she say?”

“God, it’s awful. I wasn’t going to tell her about Kara, but she caught me crying in my office.”

“It’s probably good to let people know.”

“I know. I had forgotten how terrible it is to tell people though. Everyone says the wrong thing, but they mean well, so I just have to stand there and thank them for making me feel angry and shitty. Like with my grandmother. People would ask if she had been a smoker. Why would you even ask that? Like if she had been then she had it coming? What a terrible thing to say.”

“People are scared of cancer,” he said. “They’re looking for reassurances. They think that if they don’t smoke and do yoga they’ll be safe.”

“I know,” she said. “That’s why I would tell them that my grandmother never smoked a day in her life.” She contemplated the tissue wadded in her hands. “There is no such thing as safe.”

“Is that what Bev asked?”

“Hmm? Oh right.” She laughed. “Sorry. I have sex brain. It’s all fuzzy up there.”

He laughed and lightly massaged the top of her head with his fingertips.

“No, she told me that she had read this thing on the internet.”

“No,” he interrupted.

“Yes! Are you ready? Avocados. She had just seen this thing on Facebook about eating avocados as a cure for breast cancer.”

“Oh God.”

“I know!” She laughed.

“What did you say?”

“I said, yes, Bev, it is amazing that my sister’s oncologist did not consider the magical healing properties of avocados before deciding to go with chemo.”

“You didn’t.”

“No.” She laughed. “I didn’t. I just nodded and was like, thank you. I will look into that.”

“I can picture this conversation.”

“It was perfect. Doesn’t it make you want to come back to work?”

“Not really.” He laughed, but it turned into a yawn.

“You’re tired,” she said, resting her head on his shoulder.

He felt his breathing slow.

“Do you think it’s possible to love more than one person at a time?” she asked.

“Sure,” he answered.

“I used to think it wasn’t. I thought that if you fell in love with someone new that meant you had fallen out of love with the first person,” she said. “Because loving someone means not loving anyone else.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” he said. “I don’t think love comes in finite quantities.”

“So you aren’t worried about diluting it?”

“No. I don’t think it works like that.”

“Okay,” she said, sighing into his neck. “It would be easier if it did.”

He fell asleep thinking about the Pollock, about oil paint thinned with turpentine to achieve the viscosity at which it could run and dry in streaks and blobs, and when he slept he swam through pools of paint, emerging as if from water, shaking his head and sprinkling drops of blue pigment all around.

The next morning, she murmured words in her sleep he could not catch as he slipped from beneath the blanket at 5 a.m. He laced his sneakers and ran down the boulevard lined with trees now fully dressed in yellows, oranges, and reds. “It’s funny,” Sarah had said on their last walk, “the way trees are the prettiest when they’re dying.” He had corrected her. It was just the leaves that were dying, not the tree. She said that she knew that, but thought the trees might be sad all the same. He ran hard on the way back and paced and panted in front of his building, leaning forward to put his hands on his knees and catch his breath. The honey locust was entirely yellow and small piles of leaves had begun to collect beneath it. Soon it would be time for him to go. Time for him to return to Allison. Allison, who was becoming rightfully impatient with him. Allison, who indulged the general ambivalence with which he approached life, but only, he thought, because such a stance was so foreign to her so as to be an odd quirk. Allison, who did not speak nonsense about trees and did not care for art museums and did not fall apart, slowly or otherwise. Allison, whom he loved and had loved since he was twenty-one. Allison, who would probably forgive him if he told her, because what was a month of infidelity compared to 192 months of fealty? He would not tell her, he knew, because confessing would diminish these weeks with Sarah. Would turn them into something for which he must apologize and atone, and this was an idea he could not bear.
 

 

“Aren’t you tired of living in an empty apartment?” she asked, leaning back on the hard bench.

“Not really,” he said. “I kind of like it, actually. It’s uncomplicated.”

“It seems like living in nearly empty rooms because your stuff is waiting for you on the other side of the country is the opposite of uncomplicated.”

“It’s where I am right now. That’s all I can say. What else do you want me to say?”

“Nothing in particular. I just can’t figure out where you want to be is all.”

“Where do I want to be? On the water, mostly.”

“On a wooden boat.”

“On a wooden boat that I built myself.”

“Not a lot of room for things on a boat.”

“Nope.”

“Or people.”

“Room enough.”

“There are boats here.”

“There are boats there too.”

“The wrong boats. On the wrong ocean.”

“I have to go.”

“I know you do.”

She sat up and took his hand. She ran the tip of her index finger along its outer edge, where dark hair met pale skin. He felt uncomfortable when she scrutinized parts of his body, even though she never seemed to find them wanting. He felt very seen by her.

“I feel like I’m on the water right now,” she said.

“I know. On a boat that’s making you seasick.”

“No. Right now, I’m floating on my back.”

“That sounds nice.”

“It’s not. It feels terrible. The last time I felt this sad, it felt like drowning. I was so exhausted from trying to keep my head above water that I finally decided to sink. I sunk all the way down to the bottom of the ocean and bobbed along with the tide, like fish do. I couldn’t feel anything anymore, but at least it didn’t hurt.”

“Is that better than floating?”

“Floating is just the anxiety of waiting to drown. Of waiting to want to drown.”

“Does Jonah know that you’re floating?”

“He doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t believe in depression.”

“That’s an odd thing not to believe in.”

“It’s more that he doesn’t believe that it’s anything more than proportional unhappiness. Fix the cause of the unhappiness, fix the sadness. It’s why he doesn’t believe in therapy. How can talking give a person a better job or more money or a marriage to the right person?”

“Or cure cancer.”

“Or cure cancer.” She paused. “I’m beginning to think that happiness is a poor metric by which to measure a life.”

“It’s a terrible metric.”

“It should be about more complicated measures. Fulfillment. Joy. Completion.”

“Contentedness.”

“Oh, that’s worse than happiness. I don’t think it’s in my nature to be content,” she said.

“Really?”

“Really. Is it in yours?”

“I don’t know. I think so, though. Pleasure in small things.”

“Wooden boats.”

“Wooden boats. Perfect cups of tea.”

“The lines in a Matisse.”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “I have to go,” she said. She stood and took his face in her hands and kissed him like a Botticelli this time—round and full and not floating on her back, but arriving on a half shell to save him.

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