My husband thinks his childhood is a gossamer butterfly wing you hold in the palm of your hand for the early morning sunlight to pass through. He shows me the park where he once watched older men play handball. He is surprised they haven’t built condos over it. The Claridge movie theater is now a five-storey medical building. He tells me about getting thrown out of the Ladies’ bathroom there one Saturday afternoon when he was seven. Like a sacred burial ground had been desecrated. He wants to show me you can’t go home again. As if I didn’t know.
I think he knows about Robert and me. I’d like to say I don’t want to hurt him but I do. I hate that he’s absolved himself of the burden of satisfying me. His body makes primeval sounds in bed, like the groan of an ice cave sighing. When my hand rests on his waist it is out of habit, not desire.
His childhood home sits on a quiet street lined with tall poplars and neat two-story A-frames nestled close to each other. They’ve added a front porch, he says. I know he wants to go inside. He says he just wants to look at it from the street. I do the good wife co-pilot thing for him and ring the doorbell. A tall woman with a sharp nose looks suspiciously down at a face she does not recognize. I stand five feet-two and in silk slacks and a tailored blouse. I look anything but threatening.
“My husband used to live here,” I tell her. “Back in the Pleistocene.” I gesture to the bottom of the stoop to indicate my husband, who now is nowhere to be seen.
We fight about it later in our constricted way. “I told you I didn’t want to go inside,” he says. “Why don’t you ever listen to me?”
“I do listen,” I say.
“But you never abide.”
“Because your words are never what you mean. I have to do a United Nations simultaneous translation to get to the heart.”
I had found him peering despondently over a fence at the end of a narrow driveway into what used to be his back yard. He was mourning the disappearance of the bounteous peach tree that had borne bushels of fruit every summer of his childhood; recalling the slight rasp of the peach skin on his tongue and the juices rolling down his chin. His mother had canned and jarred them, shelved them for winter, and baked pies. Now the yard was paved. A three-wheeler and a metal scooter lay haphazardly on their sides.
When our son was alive, around his fifth birthday, he told me at breakfast one morning that he didn’t have a dream that night.
“I guess I’ve run out of them,” he shrugged, and fisted a milky spoonful of cereal toward his beautiful upturned mouth.
Hal Ackerman has had numerous short stories published in literary journals, most recently in The Idaho Review. Others include The North Dakota Review, New Millennium Writings, Southeast Review, The Pinch, The Yalobusha Review. Roof Garden won the Warren Adler award for fiction. “Alfalfa,” was included in the anthology, I Wanna Be Sedated…30 Writers on Parenting Teenagers. “Belle & Melinda” was selected by Robert Olen Butler as the World’s Best Short Short story for Southeast Review. THE DANCER HORSE received a Pushcart Nomination.