It was a hot day and the corn went on forever. By the afternoon I was sweating, my hands were chafed and my legs ached. Afterward, while the kids got lessons in how to make corn-husk dolls, I wandered off by myself into the shade along the creek.
A trail ran upstream past the public washing place, over rocks used by fishermen, under mossy branches of trees I had learned to call basswood and beech. When I came to a place where the bed deepened into a pool, I stripped off my clothes to wade in. The mud squished between my toes, and at first the water froze me. But there was enough room to swim a few strokes, and in a minute, the cold was soothing. I hadn’t swum in fresh water for years and I was surprised how clean I felt coming out of it, as if I had sluiced off the grime inside as well as out.
For a long time afterward, I lay on the bank in a splash of sunlight that fell between branches, free for the moment, from kids, clothing, job and phone. Maybe Leif wasn’t so far wrong, I thought. I could never give up my life to live this way, but at least once in a while I needed refuge from the beeping and humming in my life.
What made my solitude especially sweet was knowing that when I was ready, I could be back at the main house, where dinner would be bubbling on the stove, and someone would have picked up a guitar. Maybe I’d feed my kids, or maybe someone would already have given them some chili and cornbread, and I’d serve someone else’s kids instead.
The night before I’d spent half an hour braiding the hair of Chloe’s new friend, Azalea, because she wanted it like Chloe’s, and then while the girls played I’d had a long conversation – the kind of conversation I never had at home anymore – with Azalea’s mother about Italian opera. Somehow, despite their lack of dishwashers and hair dryers, garbage disposals and microwave ovens, people at Selu seemed to have more time to chat.
The wind stirred finally. I pulled on my underwear. When I picked up my shorts my Blackberry fell out. I had turned if off days before because I had no coverage. But when it fell, it came on and beeped to indicate a new message. For a moment I stared at it, with a pang of dread.
It felt like a summons from the anxious and unforgiving world I had just escaped. The device was an emissary from a zillion sick patients, creditors, advertisers, solicitors. But also family. And Charlie.
Curiosity finally got the better of me, and I picked it up. I don’t know by what fluke I was able to get service there, in that one spot by the creek. I had tried all over the commune in the first couple of days and never got more than a bar. Now I found myself scrolling through dozen message mails and listening to one voice mail after another. Charlie had called and messaged, but without saying much. Then, when I was finished with the rest of the messages, I turned to see what readers had left on my blog. That’s when I found Charlie’s post. “Dear Adrienne,” he’d written. “Let me explain.”
I read the post, and reread it, and I cursed Charlie for having waited so long. If he’d come to me months or years ago, and told me he was feeling ignored, I would have responded. I would have spent whatever time it took to show my love.
Wouldn’t I? Out in the creek, a lump I’d taken for a piece of rock took a few steps then leaped onto the far bank. A frog.
A few months before the whole thing started with Zulya, Charlie had tried to reserve tickets for us to La traviata. Most nights Lucia wasn’t available, other nights I had meetings, or just knew I’d have to work late. I’d ended up telling him I’d rather just spend the time together, at home, and when the moment came, I’d been called in to an emergency at the hospital. There were other occasions like that, too. A lot of them. Then again, wasn’t Charlie just as bad with all his evenings entertaining clients, or his golf weekends?
And nothing I had done could justify his sneaking around behind my back. “Cheating” is the term people use, like breaking the rules of a card game. But weren’t the vows we had taken more elemental than that? Charlie was the religious one, not me, and yet I’d felt as soon as he slept with Zulya that he had violated some basic law, if not of God, of nature. Anyway, whoever was at fault, we could never go back to being the two people we were before Zulya.
The breeze was raising gooseflesh on my arms and legs, so I put on the rest of my clothes and headed back to the common house.