Polly 2

02 Nov

Rachel and I talked earlier tonight for the first time in a few weeks. She criticized me for not having consulted her about chronology. Her mind, as she loves reminding me, remembers things much, much better than mine does. With mine, the gaps only get bigger. I try to fill them in. It is like a kid with crayons, except the kid is typically better at staying within the lines.

The drive from Columbus to Dayton felt different depending on my reason for going. Long, flat miles of truck stops and billboards lay between them. I set the cruise control for 65 inconspicuous miles per hour (a ticket could bankrupt me) and drew my left foot up into the driver’s seat. Balancing my elbow on my knee, I reached my hand forward to press my index finger on the steering wheel, keeping it steady. My other hand fidgeted with the pewter pendant around my neck. Unmoving from this position, I sat and thought through the slow minutes of I-70.

A detail: From the late 90s until the time of my narrative, I’d constantly worn a round Celtic knot on a cord around my neck. Pretentious douchebaggery aside, this is both more and less significant than it seems. The knot represented Brigid, the patron goddess of poetry, along with a variety of other, more traditionally feminine vocations. Originally I’d chosen it not out of any sense of faith, but because I thought that I liked writing poetry (I was incorrect) and because, if it ever came up in conversation, its other significance would be useful to impress girls (I have insufficient data to make a conclusion). Mostly, I didn’t think about it. I wore the necklace every day because the knot on the cord was too tiny to undo with my fingers and because the loop of the cord was too small to fit over my skull.

I have a giant, psoriatic melon of a head. Sometimes a mesh-backed baseball cap will claim to be one size fits all. It lies.

The necklace had, through long association, come metonymically to signify me, and all the identity that implied, among the people I knew. Polly had expressed her desire to possess it. I remained incapable of refusing her. In return, she promised me an heirloom ring. She’d worn it as a child. So had her daughter. It was small and silver, reinforced with greened copper. It was also something we both knew she’d someday want returned. As with everything else, I pretended that the truth was something different.

We met at a park. The park was the sort with approximately genuine wildlife, the suburbs’ idea of nature. Probably we spoke. Probably we kissed. The details are indistinct, calloused over with a sore and deliberate forgetfulness. She led me down a paved, sanctioned path through fields and stands of trees until we couldn’t see any other visitors, and then we stepped over the undergrowth lining the path and past the tree line.

Beyond existed that parallel existence peculiar to suburban woods. The trees became less dense, and we were able to see easily out to the path, but none of the patrons walking it could see in without deliberate effort. Fallen leaves, mostly brown but some green, carpeted the floor. We walked to a fallen log and sat. Her hand felt soft and warm in mine. Two deer stepped into view, looking curiously at us and calling to each other with a noise that reminded me of sneezing. We laughed. We kissed. We formally lied to one another, promising undying love, friendship, and respect, and placed our tokens around each other’s necks.

In four or five months, she’d lose the necklace I gave her. In six or seven months, she’d get around to admitting to me that she’d lost it. Soon after that, just before we stopped speaking to one another, she’d ask me to return her ring.

We kissed again. She presented me with programs she’d made specifically for the occasion, one for each of us. However, she informed me, I needed to keep both of them, because her husband would be displeased to know about them. Sure, I thought. That’s reasonable. She gave me a candle made from paraffin infused with her perfume, something floral. She included a CD with songs chosen, she’d told me, especially for me.

I felt happy.

As we drove to her house, she told me that the ceremony felt like something after which people made love. In her basement, we repeated a truncated version of our fumbling and unconsummated sex. Later, in the privacy of her scented and antiseptic bathroom, I’d notice a CD she’d made for her husband. The track list seemed familiar. I took mine out from my bag and compared them. A creeping nausea slipped under my thick layer of denial. My eyes felt itchy, and I rubbed them.

The sick feeling stayed with me throughout the drive home. Every so often, I’d reach for the candle. It smelled nice.


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