Down the street some distance away she sees a man. He is walking slowly in her direction. He seems to have no particular place to go or any reason to get there very quickly. It's obvious he’s not out on an evening stroll. He's wandering aimlessly. Such a man in this neighborhood at this time of night would ordinarily cause Sarah concern. But tonight, the man’s presence doesn't frighten her. She recognizes his posture, his gait and his humble profile. As he approaches more closely, she speaks:
“Why Peter, you ‘ole farm boy.“ she says coyly, “You’re sure a long ways from home.”
Up until this very moment, Peter had been completely lost. He had started up the hill to Compton Point on Kinston Avenue, turned to his right at a promising intersection, trusting it the correct decision and was immediately dumbstruck by the confoundingly intertwined side streets of Alabaster City’s residential neighborhoods. He would turn one direction and then another, thinking at each juncture he had at last found his way out of the bewildering labyrinth. Of course, he was wrong. He wandered around clueless for an hour or more. Coming off a drunk didn’t help in the least.
As a Midwesterner, Peter believes that getting somewhere is simply a matter of pointing yourself in one direction or another and going. If you need to get east, you get on a road and head east. If you want to go north, you take a road headed north. In the Midwest, the same is true for each of the other cardinal directions. If you want to go someplace in a particular direction, you get on a road headed that direction and go. If your destination happens to be oblique from your present location-say to the northwest-you tack first a few miles west and then a few miles north, repeating this pattern until you arrive wherever it was you intended to get to.
As a consequence, you can never get lost in the Midwest. A road in one direction always connects to another road moving at right angles in another direction. If the road becomes progressively narrower, you know you are headed into wilder country. If the road becomes wider and better maintained, you are nearing a town. Midwesterners’ instinctively understand this orienting template and move from one place to another rarely referring to maps. They traverse their vast geography without forethought or deliberation. It is a landscape they describe as being “right with the world,” a colloquialism that neatly summarizes their appreciation for a land and the life it has spawned as being completely free of ambiguity.
Because of the rigor of this roadway system and also because of the prairie’s very flatness, destinations in the Midwest appear to come at you from a great distance off. As you drive those lonesome plains, you will see some landmark on the horizon-perhaps a grain elevator marking a small town. It will stay in view for half an hour or more, drifting from one side of your field of vision to the other. You know that beneath and around this grain elevator is a community of people more or less the same as yourself. You can go to this place or not go there. The choice is always yours. Regardless of your decision, there is never any question about how you would get to this place or what you will find once you arrive.
This is the connection between the landscape of the Midwest and the psyche of a Midwesterner. Like that grain elevator, the future is always out there, completely predictable and conspicuously in view up ahead. The future may move and shift within your field of vision, but there is never any question about where it is or what it holds in store. You may move towards it or away from it, but you cannot doubt what either choice will yield. There is comfort in this expectation of the future. There is security in it too. It breeds a kind of characteristic Midwestern sternness and a reassuring faith in predestination. People say Midwesterners are slow. This isn't true. Midwesterners simply see the future with clarity and are likely not in any particular hurry to get there just yet.
The topography of the Midwest and the comforting rhythm its overlaid orthogonal fabric is therefore always completely obvious, transparent and foreseeable, in part because this is exactly the way it was conceived. When Thomas Jefferson brokered the Louisiana Purchase from the French in 1803, he had in mind more than an expedient land grab. Jefferson envisioned the plains of the Midwest as a template intended to give physical substance to his notion of government “deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.” In 1804, Jefferson set Lewis and Clark out into the uncharted wilderness in search of the new American frontier. They were followed by teams of surveyors charged with defining the limits of this vast landscape, square mile by square mile. The survey teams established orthogonal measurement grids that laid down the pattern of democracy across the Middle West. The grid begot the limits of states and counties, of townships and towns, the orthogonal network of their interconnecting roads and ultimately, at the heart of every community, a town square.
This pattern would become Jefferson’s grand orthogonal template of Democracy. Each citizen, from shopkeeper to farmer to wealthy land baron, would be bound by the same egalitarian construction of the landscape. Each would be joined by it. Each would be governed by it. Each would be empowered by it. It became the topological analog of representative government itself and accordingly, the pathways of political and social power, like the path of every roadway of the Midwest, became by association, evident, transparent and completely comprehensible.
Alabaster City, Virginia and indeed the entire American eastern seaboard is completely different. Its routes of passage and portage were laid down long before the existence any grandly unifying vision of an American nation. And so, even when not compelled by topography, roadways of the eastern United States seem to aimlessly wander, unconscious of the compass. They turn back on themselves without reason and end up arriving in some place other than where they might have initially seemed headed. They are an analog of a political and social order completely at odds with Jefferson’s more egalitarian vision for the American republic.
This is why the politics of the East seem so confounding to those from the Midwest. This is why the social strata of the South appears to be so impenetrable. This is why it is nearly impossible to give anyone coherent directions in North Carolina. Each system of order, be it political, social or geographic seems intended, not to illuminate but obfuscate. This is why Peter is so desperately lost on this cold December evening. As another Midwesterner once observed, Peter was no longer in Kansas.
Of course, Peter hadn’t intended to arrive on Sarah’s doorstep, at least not consciously. He had set out with the vague intention to do something-anything-to put his present misery somewhere else. The idea that one such place might be Sarah’s apartment had crossed his mind, but it was more wishful thought than deliberate plan of action. Besides, he had become so hopelessly lost it was uncertain whether he would ever find Compton Point, much less a single apartment within it. And even if he were to stumble across Sarah’s place, would he have the nerve to approach her door and actually knock? Probably not.
Peter just walked aimlessly, thinking about his soon-to-be ex-wife, Faith, thinking about Sarah, thinking about architecture, thinking about life in general, thinking about his wounded heart in particular and thinking about the mounting headache lodged between his two chilly ears. By the time he came across Sarah’s address, he had pretty much given up hope of ever finding her place. He was now just walking to be walking.
It would be tempting to cite the coincidence of Peter’s arrival at Sarah’s porch and her decision to take a smoke break as being ordained. It's not. It was just simple dumb luck. Peter knows this. Sarah is less sure. It would seem Sarah too has a Midwesterner’s cautious respect for the penchants of predestiny.
“Peter. Come. Sit on my porch step. Take the load off your feet. What on Earth brings you up this way on such a cold night?”
Peter clumps down on the steps. Sarah sits down beside him, drawing her loosely draped bathrobe up across her knees.
“I was...I was out walking.”
Sarah is unpersuaded. She also observes that Peter smells like the inside of an empty beer bottle; malty and stale. She guesses he’s on his way down from a pretty decent bender.
“Quite a coincidence just walking would get you here, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. That’s something, isn’t it?”
Peter stares out into the darkness. He does want Sarah to ask him again why he’s in her neighborhood. He wants her to ask him what he’s been doing since 3:00 this afternoon. Somewhere deep inside, he wants her to ask him about Faith. It will take more prodding before he’s willing to talk to her. He's never been one to spill his guts. Sarah understands this. She knows it’s too soon to prod.
“Peter, why don’t I make us some cocoa? It’ll do you good. And I’ll get you a jacket. You must be freezing.”
“I’m fine really. Don’t go to any trouble, but you know… some cocoa, that would be good. Really good.”
“O.K. I’ll be right back. Don’t’ wander off, O.K.?”
Sarah slips back into her apartment. While a saucepan of milk simmers on the stove, she pulls on a pair of jeans and an old sweatshirt. She grabs two coats out of the hall closet. One is a letter jacket that once belonged to her ex-husband. She pulls it on and brings Peter the other, a parka that her boyfriend, Morgan, has never remembered to take back. She opens the front door and throws the coat out to him.
“Here. Take this.”
The parka falls in a lump behind Peter. He doesn’t bother to put it on, but only drapes it over his shoulders. Sarah returns to the kitchen. Peter looks up at the moon. It's half full.
“Half empty,” Peter thinks.
Sarah returns with hot cocoa and fruit. She sits down on the steps beside Peter and hands him a steaming cup. Its warmth feels good against the cold skin of his palms. He holds the cup to his chest, letting the steam swirl up around his face and into his nostrils. Sarah takes a sip from her cup, considers eating an apple, reconsiders and then lights up another smoke.
“You‘re doing that a lot lately.” Peter says.
Sarah exhales. “I do this a lot all the time. I just don’t do it much in front of you.”
“I don’t mind, really.”
“Oh, it’s not that. It’s more self-consciousness I suppose. Smoking tells people something about you. It tells them how worthwhile you think you are. You can’t do something this awful and really think much of yourself. I didn’t think I wanted you to know I held myself in so low regard, you know?”
“Oh. Do you really worry about that? With me, I mean?”
“Yeah, sometimes. It’s silly really. It has nothing to do with who you are. It’s just something you do, you know?”
“Damn, I should stop.” Sarah inhales another deep drag and continues, “This is going to kill me.”
“If not that, it’ll be something else.”
“Ain’t that the truth, Petey. Ain’t that the frigging truth.”
“Hey,” Peter snaps. “Watch the ‘Petey’ stuff.
“Yeah. Yeah. Sorry. It just sort of slipped out. But I do like the name. It’s cute, you know. I really like it as your nickname.”
“It makes me sound like a parrot in a pirate movie.”
“Well, yeah. There is that. I shan’t utter it again.” Sarah swears in mock seriousness.
You are so very welcome.”
Peter sucks up another gulp of cocoa. Sarah coughs and stubs out her half finished cigarette.
“See. It’s killing me already.”
Peter looks down at his shoes. Sarah pulls the letter jacket closer around her waist. A lone car passes. In the distance, there is the sound of a siren. The cold Virginia night spreads out around them like black swamp water.
“So what’s up, Peter?”
“Nothing. I was just walking. I was just walking and I wound up here. You know, go figure?”
“So, any porch in a storm?”
“No. No. I’m glad I am here. I mean I just didn’t really mean to end up here exactly. It just happened.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah. It just happened like that.”
“It did,” Peter protests. “I just started walking and this is where I got to. I didn’t really think about where I was going. I didn’t. But I am glad it was here. I am”
“I’m glad you’re here too…”
“You are?” Peter looks up.
“Yeah. Otherwise I’d be in the bathroom washing out my hose or doing some other stupid nonsense. If you hadn’t shown up, I might have had to balance my check book or something even more boring, just to keep from going completely crazy.”
“Glad to help out.”
Peter looks at his watch for no particular reason. Sarah reaches for her last cigarette.
“So, where’s Morgan?”
Peter already knows the answer to this question. Morgan’s attending a conference in Newport Beach. If Peter had known Morgan was at Sarah’s this evening, his ramblings would have lead him to a completely different quarter of Alabaster City.
“He’s at a conference in Newport Beach.”
Sarah knows Peter knows this. They'd talked about it earlier in the day. Still, his little pretense of ignorance amuses her.
Another car passes by. Sarah asks again.
So, Peter. What’s this all about? I know you just accidentally ended up here, so what was it you accidentally wanted to talk about?
“Aw, Sarah. It’s nothing. I just ended up here. There isn’t anything to talk about, really.”
“Oh. So you come all the way up here just to sit on my porch and not talk to me? You know a lot of people drive great distances, cross oceans, fly in airplanes just for a chance to talk to me." Sarah jokes.
“Well sure. Who wouldn’t want to talk…to you I mean? I mean, talking would be good. Talking to you…talking to someone like you is always good, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is. So what did you want to talk about?”
“Peter!” Sarah’s nostrils flare. Peter can see this even in the darkness of her porch steps.
“O.K. O.K. I wanted to talk to you tonight. I wanted to talk to you because I can’t think of anyone else to talk to.”
“It’s Faith, isn’t it?”
Peter doesn’t reply. He just nods and looks away to keep Sarah from seeing his pain. After a moment, he turns back to her
“Oh, shit, Sarah. Of course it’s about Faith, and about school and work and my stupid life and all the rest of it. Of course it’s about Faith.”
“Did you talk to her?”
“And then you went out and got drunk?”
“No, I was already drunk. Too much time in Charlie’s this afternoon.”
“You go in there?”
“Once on a while. Not often.”
“Still, I wouldn’t think Charlie’s is your kind of place. Isn’t it kind of rough?”
“Aw, Sarah. I don’t know. I just go in there when I need to think.”
“It seems like you had a lot to think this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I did.” Peter misses the joke of Sarah’s rhyme completely.
“So, what did Faith have to say?”
“She wants a divorce…”
“Oh.” Sarah speaks this single word without surprise.
“and she’s screwing Robbie and I hate the miserable bitch!”
“She said that…about Robbie?”
“No. I already knew that part.”
“Somebody you know?”
“Someone I used to know. In high school. The prick. I can’t believe he’d do this, the prick.”
Sarah is unsure where to take their conversation. She is worried about Peter, worried about what he might do in his present state of mind. She feels the rawness of his heart and wants, more than anything else to reach out and hold him. She knows he needs to talk, but she’s not sure how to let him open up. She knows if she asks him anything too directly, he'll close back down on her. She waits a minute or two longer, hoping Peter will come to her on his own terms, but he only continues to stare out into the darkness
When she was younger and going through her own divorce, Sarah had spent more than a few sessions with a therapist. The guy was a jerk, but after a time, he did help her work through her misery. She borrows on her psychologist's ubiquitous couch-side manner.
“So how does that make you feel?”
"Aw, Sarah. You know..."
"No. I don't know. Tell me."
“Yeah, I guess so. But, you know, in what way ‘bad?’”
“Just bad. Really bad.”
Sarah recognizes Peter is not yet ready. She can see there is so much inside of him welling up, pressing for release, but he’s just not yet ready to let loose of it.
“Look Peter, I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through,” Sarah starts, though she really does know. “I mean, when I got divorced, it sucked. It really sucked. It was awful. I just wanted to get up and walk out-just get myself out from under all that crap and start all over-but I couldn’t. I don't know, but maybe that’s the thing about divorce; the good thing I suppose...."
Sarah drops her chin into the upturned palm of her hand.
"....You know, you’re there wanting only to get away, but the process makes you stay and settle things before you can be free. It makes you face all the things you’ve been avoiding, the things that got you into trouble in the first place: you know, problems with money and being unable to talk anymore and the end of love. All of it. A divorce decree is like the last chapter of your life together. It sucks, it really sucks but you have to do it, you have to write the last chapter. You have to settle things before you can get on with your life. At the time, you think it’s the worst thing you’ve ever had to endure, but when it’s over, you know it was something you had to do. You know it was the only way to get on with your life.”
“Aw geez, Sarah, it’s not that. I mean we haven’t even talked about any of that yet…divorce I mean. Jesus, I don’t even want to think about any of that.”
“Nobody does, Peter. Nobody does.”
Sarah shifts her place on the porch steps, closer to Peter. He wipes his nose on Morgan’s jacket. Sarah doesn’t object.
“So, Peter, how do you feel? Really?”
Peter looks down and then over at Sarah and then up at the moon. He stokes his hair and rubs his face between his hands. He snorts, he sighs, he looks again at Sarah and then back up at the moon. His gaze returns to the front yard and the street and the neighborhood and the dark Virginia night. Another car passes. It's time. It's time for him to open up to her. It all comes tumbling out at once.
“Ah shit Sarah! I'm so lonely. I'm so miserably lonely. And I’m mad. I am so mad at the bitch. I'm mad at her and Robbie and everyone on this stinking planet. I feel so…so..abandoned. She abandoned me. She did. She just left me alone. I can’t believe how she left me alone. I’m bitter and hurt and lonely and humiliated and embarrassed and frustrated and depressed and, Jesus, I am lonely. I am just so lonely…”
Sarah thinks to offer Peter a hug, but she holds back. He’s not yet through.
“…I mean, what did I do to deserve this? What in the Hell did I ever do to deserve this? I did what I thought was best. I did what I thought needed to be done for the both of us. And this is my thanks. She breaks my heart. Jesus, she goes and fucking breaks my heart. Jesus, it sucks. It sucks so much.”
“Peter, maybe it’s what needed to happen. Maybe it’s what was supposed to happen.”
Peter doesn’t want to hear this. Not just yet, whether or not it's the truth. He wants to wallow in his despair longer. There is a perverse solace in misery. Peter draws its warmth up around him like the jacket draped over his shoulders.
“And she’s screwing him. That’s the thing I can’t get over. She’s screwing him and he’s screwing her. ‘Robbie, you prick. How could you be screwing my wife? My wife!”
Sarah tries not to respond to Peter’s possessiveness about Faith. She considers it an unattractive quality in any man, but especially in someone she likes as much as Peter. She lets it go. She knows it is part of something he needs to work through for himself.
“I can see the two of them together. I can hear her laughing. I can feel her moving beneath me, but it’s not me. It’s him. It’s him…”
“Peter, don’t do this…”
“…and if she were here right now; if she were to walk up to me and try to touch me, I couldn’t do it. If she wanted to hold me, I wouldn’t let her. The thought of her ever touching me again makes my skin crawl. God, I hate her. God, I hate all women. The thought of ever touching another woman again makes me want to puke…”
Peter did want to puke but it's the alcohol, not his revulsion at women.
“…I hate them all. Never again. Never again.”
“Peter, you can’t mean that.”
“I do. Women suck. I want nothing to do with any of them, ever again.”
Sarah again resists the overwhelming instinct to reach out and hold Peter.
“Peter. You’ll get through this. It won’t always feel like this. You’ll get through this. You’ll find someone, someone who’ll be better for you…”
“That’s what Faith said, the stupid bitch.”
“She’s right Peter. You will find someone. And whoever it is, you’ll be happy with her, just like you were with Faith. More even...”
“No!" Peter recoils at Sarah's promise of happiness. "I will never be happy again. And I’ll never be with another woman. I just can’t get the image of the two of them together out of my head. It’s so humiliating. Jesus!”
“Peter, you have to stop thinking about it like that. It isn’t about sex. It’s never about sex. Sex is just icing…”
“Faith said that too.”
“She’s right about that Peter. She’s right about that too. It’s never about sex.
“It isn’t? It isn’t about sex? Really? So what is it about, Sarah? What can it possibly be about?”
Sarah hadn’t expected this question. It isn’t something she had allowed herself to think of for a very long time. She tries to deflect Peter from it.
“Oh, damn, Peter, I don’t know. You can’t ask me that. What would I know about it?”
“I think you would know as well as anyone, wouldn’t you?”
Sarah considers Peter’s question for a moment. And then a moment longer. She swallows a hard breath and responds slowly and quietly, with the faintest hint of regret in her voice.
“Warmth, I suppose. And tenderness. It’s about tenderness.” Sarah gets a very far off look in her eyes. “It all comes back to you. When you give yourself up to someone, it should all come back.”
Peter remembers he had wanted to say the same thing to Sarah once, but before he can mention this, she continues.
“That’s what it’s about, Peter. That’s all it can ever be about. There is nothing more than that. You’ve got to believe it will happen. You have to believe it will happen to you, if not today, then tomorrow and if not tomorrow, then someday soon. You have to believe in it always. Otherwise there’s no hope. Otherwise, there’s no hope left for any of us.”
A limp moon departs the sky. Two people seated on a dark porch look out into to the evening sky in silence. After a time, Peter speaks to Sarah again.
“I just can’t believe she doesn’t love me anymore. I just can’t believe she doesn’t love me.”
“Maybe she still does love you Peter. Maybe she just can’t love you the way she once did. Maybe it’s just gotten too hard for her.”
“You act like that's something you know about.”
“Maybe I do.”
Peter and Sarah sit in silence a while longer. Peter turns to Sarah again.
“It just hurts so much. I never knew how much it could hurt. Never in all my life. Never.”
“It hurts because you're alive.”
“You think so? Do you really think so? Then I wish I was dead. I really wish I was dead.”
“No, Peter. No you don’t. It hurts because you are alive…I mean really alive. Not just doing what is expected of you and trying to make everyone but yourself happy, but really living, really feeling things right when they come charging at you.”
Sarah speaks with a conviction that borders on irritation. She has understood these things about Peter for a very long time. She now must make him understand what she has known all along.
“Sure, Peter, sure, sometimes, you’re gonna’ get screwed over. Sometimes you do get hurt. But, that’s just part of it. The other part is when good things happen to you. When they happen, you know it-you feel it when you’re alive. You really feel the good as much as the bad. You don’t just shrug it off and go on not thinking about it, like it’s not important to you or like it doesn’t really matter. The good and the bad, it all starts to have some kind of meaning for you. It makes you human, instead of this nice guy who is always so polite and always so careful and so afraid of ever being alive.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that when I met you, you were nice and friendly and funny-Gawd are you funny. And talented too. But there was always something missing, like you’d put a part of yourself up on some shelf. You never want to let anything touch you. You never want anything to hurt you, so you never let anyone get close to you, not even me. Not even Faith I bet. I don’t know where this comes from in you, this need to keep yourself bound up, this need to keep every last one of your emotions tied up inside. But it doesn’t make you healthy. It doesn’t make you human. It makes you dead. It makes you dead right here.”
Sarah covers her heart with her two crossed wrists.
“So tonight, I’m seeing the same sweet person I always see, but something's different. You're filled with hurt, but you’re alive too. You really are alive. I can’t help but think there is some good in that. I really do.”
Peter still doesn't hear Sarah.
“But Sarah, what’s the point in being alive if all you feel is pain?”
“Being dead inside doesn’t fix that. You need to be healed. Someone needs to take you and heal you and you have to let them do that for you. That’s the part that takes courage. Being brave enough to let someone do that for you.”
“But who, Sarah? Who would want to heal me? Who in this world would ever want me again?”
Sarah looks steadily into Peter’s hazel eyes and speaks with a certainty that betrays not one shred of doubt.
“Anybody Peter. Anybody with any sense about you at all. Anybody.”
Slowly, Peter begins to turn away from his misery. He begins to recognize its utter futility.
“Sarah, I just don’t know. I just don’t know what to do about any of this. It all seems so hopeless.”
“Peter. It will seem like that for a while. You won’t get over this for a long time. I’m guessing not for a really long time. But you will and when you do, you have to take something from it. You have to remember that being alive, no matter how much it hurts, is always better than being dead. Feeling is always better than not feeling, no matter how much it hurts. Way better.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I think I’ve had all the feeling I can stand.”
There is a weariness in Peter’s voice. He's tired; too tired to walk the twenty blocks back home. He slumps against the porch rail. Sarah stands.
“Look, I’m going to make you some coffee and something to eat. I bet you haven’t eaten since lunchtime.” Actually, Peter hadn’t eaten all day.
“Why don’t you come inside? It’s warmer. I’ll fix us both something.”
When Sarah returns from the kitchen with coffee and sandwiches, Peter is asleep on the sofa. She puts his plate down on the coffee table and sits in an armchair across from him. She doesn’t expect him to wake up anytime soon. She eats her sandwich and thumbs through a magazine.
She looks up from her magazine and replies playfully, “Behold. The dead awaken.”
“How long have I been asleep?”
“Not long. Maybe thirty, forty minutes.”
“Geez. I’m sorry. I should really get going. I’ve bothered you enough…”
“Peter! Sit, eat! I’m not letting you out of here until you’re fed and I’m sure you can get home safely.”
Peter munches glumly on his sandwich. He is hungry, but too tired to take any pleasure in it. Sarah continues to read her magazine. There is a lone light on in the apartment, a floor lamp behind Sarah. Peter can make out only her silhouette rimmed in light. He thinks she looks like an angel.
“Why do you know so much about all this…you know, love, pain,…living, being alive?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I know so much. Maybe I’ve just lived a little longer. Or maybe, I’m not in the same state of mind you’re in right now. Or just maybe,” she winks over the top of her reading glasses, “I haven’t been drinking all afternoon and evening.”
“It was just the afternoon.”
Sarah pulls off her glasses and lays them on the coffee table. Something in her face changes. She suddenly seems tired, burdened by a weariness of heart that she is ordinarily careful to keep locked up inside. She looks much older than her thirty-five years. Her radiance pales. Her complexion turns ashen. She speaks with a somberness that Peter has never known in her voice before.
“Or maybe... maybe it’s because I’ve been dead too.”
Despite his grogginess, Peter immediately recognizes the change in Sarah’s tone
He asks, “You?”
“Yeah. Maybe me too. Maybe it’s a different kind of dead, but in the end, it’s the same. You close up. You just...close up tight.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. You know, you start out and you have such hope and such expectations and you feel as though you can own this stinking world, whether or not you really can. And then things happen. Little things really, but they chip away at your hope and little by little, it’s gone. You wake up one morning and look in the mirror and realize that you are thirty-five and that things may never get any better than they are right now and you discover that what is missing is your hope. It just vanished somewhere when you weren’t paying attention.”
Sarah sighs. “It’s the same death: your heart, my hope.”
“You don’t seem like someone who’s lost hope.”
“That,” Sarah suddenly gushes with dramatic flourish, her color returning, “is because I am such an accomplished actress!” She rises, spins and pirouettes before Peter. He giggles and applauds. She thinks it good to see him smile again.
Sarah returns to her chair. Peter takes another bite of his sandwich.
“It’s Morgan, isn’t it?” Peter asks.
“Oh no…” Sarah pauses before speaking again.
“Oh well, yes, maybe it is. It is about Morgan, but it’s more about me. There’s nothing about me and Morgan that I didn’t let happen. I did so let it all happen, whether I wanted to or not."
Sarah sees Peter’s puzzled look.
“It’s like this: Morgan needs me, desperately. But not as his true companion. Not as his one true love, but as something else. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is I do for him, but I’m really afraid it’s something he can no longer afford to live without. I make his life tolerable I guess. Without me, he would have to count on himself and I’m not sure he’s grown up enough for that yet. Maybe someday."
"So you give and nothing comes back?…”
“Maybe. I don’t know, Peter.”
“…and he needs you, but don’t you need him too?”
“I need for someone to need me to need them.”
“I want it to be equal.”
Sarah’s nostrils flare suddenly and then subside.
“I want to need and I want to be needed. It can’t be just one way or just the other. It has to be both ways. Otherwise, hope does die.”
“And your hope has died?”
“I don’t know, Peter. I really don’t know. Maybe. Maybe.”
Peter’s half eaten sandwich lies on the table. His coffee has cooled. Sarah sees him fading away again.
“You gonna retire on that sandwich?” she asks.”
Oh, sorry. I just got really tired all of a sudden.”
“I noticed. You don’t make for the best company when you’re drunk.”
“Sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“Peter, I’m kidding. I love that you’re here. I’m really glad we could talk like this.”
“Yeah, me too. It helps.”
Peter’s eyes droop. He lists to one side.
“Sarah, couldn’t I just stay here tonight?”
Peter doesn’t ask this question as a suitor might. He asks this in the way a drowsy kid would ask the same question of his mother, hoping she’ll let him sleep on the sofa instead of going up to his bedroom.
“Sure Peter. You lie down. I’ll get a blanket.”
Sarah returns with a comforter. She pulls it over Peter and up tightly around his shoulders.
“Thank you,” Peter mumbles. “You’re really good to me. Talking’s good.”
Talking is always good.”
“Look, Peter. You’re not going to get sick are you?”
“No, I’m O.K.”
“Good night, Sarah.”
“Good night, Peter.”
Sarah turns to enter her bathroom. Peter speaks again from the edge of sleep.
“I love you.”
Sarah knows what Peter is saying. She pretends she doesn’t
“And I love you too Peter,” she replies, speaking as though she were only his very good friend. She pats him softly on the head and strokes his hair.
“That’s nice, Sarah. I’m glad you love me too.”
Peter falls asleep. Sarah goes into the bathroom, brushes her teeth and changes back into her slip. She returns to the living room and turns out the light. She sees Peter on the sofa, cradled in the protection of her comforter. She looks out through her window. The moon is gone. The night closes in. She exhales and thinks; thinks hard that maybe she loves him too.
In the morning, Peter wakes to an awful, yellow green sunlight. He is confused for a moment. He then remembers the previous evening. He clenches his throbbing forehead. Sarah is already gone. He looks at his watch.
“Crap! I’m late."