“I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.”
– Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
In Memory of the Old Days
In the old days the couples’ house was quaint. Black and white pictures lined the hall. A small television, overflowing bookshelf, and stacked newspapers served as entertainment. The house was quiet. The couple lived quietly, ate slowly, and enjoyed the view of the lake from the porch. Then one day the desk in the study was replaced by a bassinet. The child grew older and the life outside changed as she did. Look-alike houses were built around the lake. Two more children were born. The wife stored the small tv in the attic, soon replaced by a flat-screen television, dvd player, and Wii console. An electric fire was installed where once real flames had burned through logs collected from the nearby forest. The twin boys were loud. Their elder sister was anything but old-fashioned.
From the porch, all that could be seen was other backyards. Children played in the backyards with their phones in their pockets and a mother watching them from the screen doorway.
Twenty years had passed and now there was only a small lake to remind Jack of the old days. He sat at the kitchen table and stirred his coffee methodically, though it was black and half empty. Caroline sat across from him. Her fingers traced grooves in the table, long worn down by use and age. She knew that if she followed the groove to the edge of the table, she would cut herself on it.
“Do you have to go?” she asked.
He turned a page of the newspaper, black residue coming off on his fingertips.
Every Sunday, early in the morning, he left the house and walked down to the lake, a fishing pole, writing pad, and home-made lunch making the journey with him. He stayed there until the sun sank low over the hills and he could no longer see the bobber afloat in the water. Some days he stayed later. The lake was calm and had but one fishing pier. He sat alone on the pier, feeling the gaze of the neighbors upon him as he baited his line and cast it out, opened his writing pad and began his weekly routine.
“I go every Sunday,” he said.
“Stay. Just this once. The boys will be awake soon and your daughter is coming back home for the week. She misses you.”
He closed the newspaper, folding it until it would fit in his pack.
“You know I do this every week, Caroline. Anna will still be here tomorrow.” He stirred his coffee once more, finished the dregs, and rose from the chair. He crossed to the living room, retrieved his pack, and stuffed the newspaper inside.
Caroline usually slept in these mornings and woke as the twin boys did to come yawning down the stairs after Jack had left. She made them breakfast, watched over them as they finished homework and sat for hours in front of the television. Some days, she would call her daughter and ask how college was going. But reading took up most of her day. She would sit with a book in her lap and one eye on the clock in the back corner. The day went by slowly as she waited for her husband to return. Some days he brought fish with him.
Today she had forced herself awake when he left the bed. No alarm rang to alert him of the time, yet she was sure he left at the same time each Sunday. Fighting off sleep, she had padded down the hall after him and watched him make coffee from the table. Perhaps he would stay today, if she asked.
“Don’t you want to be here?” she asked.
Jack, his pack thrown over his shoulder, stared at her from the next room. She felt his gaze as if for the first time in years.
He stepped toward her. His palm touched against her cheek. He leaned in as though to kiss her and Caroline closed her eyes. She felt his breath against her forehead and then a quick peck of his lips. The air felt cool against that spot when he drew back.
When she opened her eyes, he was gone.