Half of All of What Was True

by Josh Weil ’04SOA Published Winter 2011-12
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She took a long inhale, blew out, and tossed her cigarette onto the sand. “Instead of what?” she said.

He stared at her. “I don’t feel right about this.”

“What do you have to feel wrong about?”

“You’re another man’s wife.”

“Are you telling me this because you think I don’t know?”

“We aren’t neither of us gonna feel good,” he said. Then added, “Afterwards.”

She knew he meant that he wasn’t going to feel good about it. She knew he meant that she should think about him, about his coming feelings of guilt, what burdens her actions might place on his mind. She worked at the ring on her finger while he talked of the repentance they’d feel, of other men he’d known, buddies on the patrol who had done such things and regretted it after, of the fact that he used to drink and had to be careful not to do things that would drive him back to it. When she got the ring off, she pulled her bikini top out a little and dropped the gold in. It was cool against her skin, a small hard circle weighing at the fabric against the bottom curve of her breast.

“You know,” he said, “the thing is,” and he said, “I have a fiancée,” but he was pulling up on the hand brake, yanking it hard, and turning to her when she leaned across to kiss him.

She missed the mustache. Where there usually was the thick, soft warmth of it nuzzling above her and Rolly’s lips, there was just the patrolman’s shaved undernose skin smearing its sweat against hers. It was like cuddling in bed without a blanket. She missed the tickle of the hairs and feeling her own smile against Rolly’s lips. Plus, the patrolman kept on doing something with his teeth. She tried to use the pressure of her lips to guide him away from whatever biting, nipping, scraping thing he was trying to do, but he wasn’t paying attention. She became aware of the fact that his hands weren’t touching her. And then that, instead, they were doing something at the level of their laps. At first, she thought he was trying to untie the strings of her bikini, but then she realized that was just his knuckles touching her by accident; he was unbuckling his own belt. She put a hand over his to make it quit.

He stopped trying to bite her long enough to say, against her mouth, “What is it?” and then, before she could answer, “I just need to give it air.”

She pushed away from him.

“I just need to get it out,” he said. “I wasn’t gonna do anything. I just need to give it a little room.”

Every time he said that word — need — she felt herself wince. “Tell you what,” she said, and tried to rid her mind of hearing Rolly in the phrase she’d picked up from him, “Why don’t you just sit there.”

His hands were frozen on the zipper of his uniform slacks. “It was just starting to hurt,” he told her. “It gets cramped.”

The whine in his voice was almost enough to make her get out of the truck right then. It seemed to her that, in some way, always, day after day, she couldn’t get away from the pleading, the needing, the wanting her to take care of it and make it better.

“Give me your hand,” she said, and told him to stay still as she took it and brought it to herself.

When she was done, she gave the patrolman his hand back. He said something she didn’t listen to enough to remember and took out his wallet and a card out of that and offered it to her. His hand was shaking. She took the card, got out, shut the door, and dropped it to the sand. Standing in the full slam of the sun, she fished her ring out of her bikini top while he stared at her through the window. It took her some time to get the ring back on. When she crossed in front of the truck, he called to her. She turned to him long enough to say, “Now you don’t have anything to feel guilty about.” Then walked away to her car and waited for him to leave.

When he did, she turned and watched the road winding into the distance until she could no longer see even the occasional sun glint of the fast-disappearing truck. In the quiet after, she slowly waded out into the river. By the time she was deep enough to wash between her legs, she was feeling sick. She scooped a handful of gritty mud and stood in the cool water, her swimsuit bottom pulled down around her thighs, scrubbing at the fabric as if she could wear away even the pattern. For a while after, she just stood on the beach Rolly had built, feeling her lower half slowly dry. The sand was strewn with a few empty beer cans from their last picnic. Her car, and the beach towel, and the cooler all looked to her like someone else’s things. For the next half hour, she cleaned the beach of all the leavings of all the picnics they had scattered through the last years, piled the rusted wheel-rim fireplace with beer cans and chip bags and bottle caps and a hundred other things so distorted by the gnaw of time she could no longer even tell what they had once been. 

This is an excerpt from a novel in progress.

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