She picks up the Times. Next-to-last page. My God, that’s Jack. “Loved ones at his side…”
Flash back to the First Time, that meal at The Clam House, two gin slings, Great Necks on the half-shell, veal in the days she still ate veal, the red wine thick on the tongue, then to that place down the dirt road, Blue Whale Lodge or something, and from there it was the old Don’t! Stop!/Don’t stop!, no time to pull the bedspread down. This is so good, they said, so good.
And it was good, in its way, though Out of Bounds. But not, she knows now, No Harm Done. Harm done, but the wound had closed & scarred, and sometimes Carl called it her Proud Flesh, but each still loved each, and there they were.
That first night she came home at three.
Carl stirred. What time is it?
One, she said.
Good time with you pals? he asked.
Great time, she said.
Ah, that’s nice. Goodnight.
She looks at his name in the Times. Ward.
What does it mean? she asked him once.
I think it means guard, he said.
Does that mean I should stay on guard?
I’m safe, he said. I’ll guard you, if you need it. But you don’t.
She did feel safe with him. Those arms, those long strong legs, all of it on the move. Stilled now.
Thinks back the day they went to the track. He laughed out loud when he saw Cock Sure on the card, bet it to win—You’re so bad, she said, and they cheered that horse, beers in hand, and when the voice on the P.A. said it won by a length she said Seemed two lengths to me, and it was back and forth like that all day, What a great laugh you have, he said, and in the last race she one-upped him, bet All of Me to show. When they walked to the car she said Now I see what it’s like when they say ‘walk on air.’ Sounds dumb, but I feel as if my feet aren’t on the ground.
Jack’s dead, she says to herself, and though twice she reads the kind things loved ones said—of course it’s Jack, has to be Jack, still she comes back to top of the page and runs her hand on his name as if it were runes, as if she might be wrong.
What are your plans today? Carl asks.
I want to buy a plant, plant something, she says. Not a cheap one this time—full-grown, a plum tree or something. Will you help me get it in?