As his hands mapped the ball’s rough surface, he could hear and smell the summers of long ago, those primary-colored days of abandon and laughter. He was aware of his tendency to romanticize his childhood; he knew that his remembered back yard freedom was a self-fabricated lie (she had told him as much in one of her colder moments), but the passing of years had done half the work, retroactively sweetening his memories, blurring the facts and brightening the colors with the golden tint of an overexposed photograph. The desperate reconstruction of the past was an old man’s escape and surely it was too early in his life for such whiplash-inducing backwards glancing, but he didn’t fight those memories when they came – indeed, he welcomed them. Real or not, it didn’t matter. Not much did right now.
He set the ball down and chuckled. It was a dry, empty sound. He squeezed his temples and rubbed his tear sore eyes with the base of his palms.
She had laughed. When he had slipped in the puddle of dog piss and hit the linoleum in the foyer, still begging her from the floor, she had laughed and opened the door in his face, moving past his bulk with her stormy ease. The last he saw of her was the sole of her high heeled pump lifting and disappearing in an all-too simple movement past the edge of his vision.
Now, back in their bedroom, he finished packing. As he folded his favorite sweater, the one she called “that wretched yellow thing,” he heard the familiar snuffling sounds from the back yard.
Just like his brother in law had said earlier, “At least the dog still loves you.” He smiled; he supposed that was true.
Though his friend was then quick to point out that dogs only lick people for the body salt.
Two hours ago, his brother-in-law had appeared at the door. It was painful to see him. It was also a most welcome relief. They had been best friends since before either one of them could remember and long before they were related by marriage. As always he had his coat slung over his shoulder and, as always, his face exuded that same dead pan warmth.
“You look good, Charles,” he said.
Charles knew this was a pleasantry, but he smiled anyway. He looked the same as he always had: bald, dumpy, a little overweight. As plain as plain can be. She had called him “human camouflage” in another of her careless, hurting moments and Charles was finding it difficult to remember any other kind with her. And now with his eyes watery and red, he knew he didn’t look good. He invited his brother in law in.
As soon as they were seated in Charles’s living room, the very model of 1975 upper-middle class chic, his friend placed a cigarette between his lips and lit up.