It is a canal boat on the Thames but it could just as well be a hermit’s hutch, on a small island in a small lake, reachable only over rotting planks. A hutch no one saw let alone visited.
My canal boat on the Thames is where I close myself on weekends after a week in the City. It’s where I spend my time writing. Self-pitying, rarely-revealing prose about myself and my fate. Repetitive prose no one will read let alone care about. As I were in that hutch somewhere in the Midlands.
I am a fool. Writing that line a thousand, a million times will not alter the fact. Yet it is what I do. Write “I am a fool” a thousand, a million times.
It was a big deal. A very big deal worth celebrating and about half the department went to one of those Canary Wharf pubs that cater to City Boys, though at thirty-eight I was no longer a City Boy. We requisitioned an area for ourselves and our drinks.
I’d noticed her before of course. American. 5’ 6” or so with a round face, olive skin, and almond eyes. Her black hair long and loose and her navy skirt short and tight. A Harvard B-School degree. But now she was next to me and I could make out, just, her perfume. She must have dabbed it on after we arrived.
Small talk. What’s it like growing up in New York? Where do you vacation?
She rose to go to the loo. She “stumbled” and I reached for her waist to stabilize her. Holding her a second longer than necessary. Both of us noticed. Apparently they’re used to this sort of thing; the stalls just big enough and private enough for quick hookups. She said, “on the pill” and I was in her. Over in a flash.
I had no experience at this sort of thing. It was less than a month later. That flash played over and over in my head. I hadn’t slept well the entire time.
It was Sunday morning. I was up early, as usual, and had taken the dog out. I put on water to make coffee and sat with my cereal and The Guardian. The dog curled up in her bed after eating, snoring. Normally I have music on lightly but not today. It didn’t seem like a music-on-lightly morning.
I heard her flush and a minute later she walked into the kitchen. She clipped her “morning” when she saw me. She looked away as she took down a cup and poured coffee for herself. She turned to me. “Refill?” I shook my head.
“Tell me what it is.” Always so reasonable. Which made it harder for me to tell her what it was. But I told her. Her eyes got steely. A hardness I’d never seen before.
“OK. Go to her then. Go upstairs, pack your suitcase, and Do Not Come Back.”
She stood, grabbed the car keys, picked up her bag, and left.
After three nights at a hotel, I got a sublease on the canal boat. The rent is exorbitant but I find the light rolling of the boat on the River a comfort. It helps me sleep. Insofar as I can sleep, it helps me.
So another Sunday. Another tale. I find I cannot, when I write, blame my wife. If I wanted to, I could not blame her. She is not perfect. She is human. She is more perfect than I deserved.
The morning is appropriately cloudy but with a forecast for clearing skies after noon. As I write, there’s a tapping on a window. I pull the drape aside. My wife. I cannot read her. I wave and go to the door to see what she wants. What more she wants.
When I reach her, her eyes are not steely. They have their usual softness.
“Come home. You get one more chance.” As I reach for her, a glint of light blinds me for a moment as I again see the sun.
Aug. 7, 2019