A Visitby Jessica Treat
The telephone rang while he was running the vacuum cleaner. He didn’t know this until later—so loud was the noise of the Electrolux and so concentrated was he on the task at hand: getting the cat’s fur off the carpet, the bits and twigs and leaves dragged from outside, the ash from cigarettes. He needed it to look good when she arrived; he needed to feel everything was in order for the evening to proceed well: the house clean, dishes done, leaves raked outside. She would arrive and they would talk, as they did the last time, sitting side by side on the couch. He’d offer her tea and figs, later he’d make dinner and then she would or wouldn’t spend the night. She hadn’t yet done that. He would see if he wanted her to. He hadn’t yet. Wanted her to. That could change of course. He knew that.
There was a picture of him as a child—a black and white photograph in a small frame. He was burying his dog in the sand at the beach; only the small dog’s head emerged from a mound. He was smiling. He looked happy, absorbed. He hadn’t had a happy childhood—he’d told her that. With his brothers so much older, he might as well have been an only child. But he looked pleased in the photograph, smiling for the camera, proud of his job with the dog.
"Did you love going to the beach as a child?" she asked. She knew she did—loved the sand, the waves, the feeling of summer stretching out—like the ocean itself—so vast one felt insignificant. She liked that sense—of being only a speck in the universe—it was comforting somehow.
"I didn’t like it at all."
"What?" She hadn’t been prepared for that. She thought she hadn’t heard him. "What?" she asked—a bad habit, her husband always told her, ‘You heard me perfectly well, I’m not going to repeat anything.’ "What?" she said, unable to undo her bad habits, even with him.
"I didn’t like going to the beach at all. I still don’t. I’d see all those people there on the sand in their half-nakedness. All those bodies…and I was afraid of the water. I never learned to swim very well. I thought I’d drown. I found it so uncomfortable: the sun, the sand, the seaweed, and the people with their rolls of flab, those skimpy suits…"
She stared at him. What was he telling her this? She felt a tightness in her chest, a tightly wrapped pall of panic. It was unraveling itself, she felt it spreading through her. He was going on—bodies in bathing suits.…fear of drowning…shellfish… lobster…
Se felt herself sinking away from him, tried to hold on, to dissipate the feeling in her chest: We will never sleep together. He is telling me that now…We will never lie next to one another without our clothes on…She tired hard to swim up to the surface, to find what she could tell him—"But…the ocean, didn’t you love to listen to the sound of the waves?" Had he never slept beneath the stars? On a sandy beach somewhere? They would never have an affair…and she’d been prepared. She loved him—
"I hate lobster. Can’t eat mussels, all that shellfish…"
He had stood up, he would prepare dinner for her—pasta with vegetables—it was what he made—a version of what he’d made the last time, the other times as well—True, he had never visited her…But how could he? She lived with her husband… He, on the other hand, had been divorced for three years.
"Do you have any more pictures? Any others?" she asked.
Treat's stories, essays, poems, and translations have been published in many anthologies.