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“Do you think your mother was the love of your father’s life?”
It was the last thing Dave had expected her to say, if anything. This was, after all, her meditation spot, the place by the river where she went every morning while he was on the bus to the agency. Here, she took in the gold-green play of sunlight and river, tuned in to the languid determinism of the water as it washed against the rocks, and kept a lazy bead on pair after pair of gliding ducks. He felt privileged, on this rare midweek Day Off, that she had invited him to join her here, atop her sacred jagged peak, just off of their leaf-drenched neighbourhood. Though they had been together for over twenty years, rarely had she offered him anything so personal, in any way. Not that she was, as a wife, generic or distant. Simply that there were parts of her around which, from the get-go, he had sensed that a fence existed, a convention he had dutifully respected. And now, this other summons into sacrosanct territory: her asking him to forage the mental cubby in which he kept his long-dead parents, a cranial compartment guarded by a “No Trespassing” sign of his own.
“I don’t know,” he answered uneasily. He breathed deeply, the cool air off the murmuring water helping to clear his mind. After a short while, he became happy that she had forced him into this surprise and unstable state. It reminded him that he hadn’t thought about his not-so-dearly departed for some time, too long a time maybe.
“Certainly, he loved her very much,” Dave concluded — yet there was more, a larger question: “But were they soul mates? I don’t know.”
Soul mates! Where did that terminology come from? Some TV series? A book? A conversation overheard on the bus?
Across the water, a fisherman struggled to pull something in. “I don’t even know if there’s such a thing as soul mates, people who are a perfect fit. But who knows? Every marriage is bumpy, isn’t it?” Even theirs, Dave had to admit. Well, not too bumpy. Their arguments rattled nary a dish. “What’s that saying: never judge your inside by someone else’s outside?”
Jeanine surprised him with her “Hmm…” Given where they were, he had expected her to have tuned out by now, to have been lured into the collective calm of the water, the balm of the overhanging foliage, the scent of life-death that was the perfume of nature.
Today, though, she was present not to the natural features, but to him.
Dave, as a result, felt obliged: “I may never get the answer to that in my lifetime either,” he, coerced, confessed.
Was Jeanine opening the door to it all — his musings, his longings, his pain?
“Certainly, if we go the distance,” he added, as if the thought were a bare foot negotiating the slimy shale that jutted out before them into dark, mysterious territory. “I never will get the answer — I mean if I die before you.” Death. Heartache. Let’s throw those into the mix. Why not? “Because we’re not soul mates.” And honesty, too — complete honesty. “We know that.” Dave, emboldened, turned, made her take him in, made her forsake the last possible escape into something else. After all, she had started it. “We just kind of...fell in.”
Indeed. Pieces from separate puzzles, fused by the power of an inexplicable but determined hand. She’d been rich, he poor. She was a Ph.D., he was an autodidact. She could steal, with her smile, any photograph; him you could miss in a selfie. A blind date it was, very blind: neither had seen anything in the other. A chance reunion — a friend’s wedding a half-year later. A drunken New Year’s Eve at someone’s cottage, later still. Another date, a good one this time. A pregnancy. Marriage. Another pregnancy. A house. “But hey, we’re still here and probably will be till one of us croaks.” Dave expected some fat, distant frog to pick up, cheekily, its cue.
Disappointed and done, he squinted into the sun. It left an afterimage in his eyes which, when he turned away from it, imposed fuzzy swaths of white-yellow over his perspective on the ducks. He felt like a painter, a naturalist with Italian instincts, both capturing and canonizing his subjects.
Still squinting, he heard himself turning the tables, but not as an act of courtesy nor revenge. Could it be that he was actually enjoying this? “What about your parents?” he asked. “Do you think that they were meant for each other?”