There are two overlapping tan lines on my wrist. The vacant space where I wear my watch sits is pale white. Between this and the rest of my arm, there is a small buffer that is neither tan or white. It is peeling at the edges, small slivers that glows like a halos under the fluorescent bathroom light.
Five miles after work everyday, five days a week. My mind is a void when I am running; no thoughts run through me. Blood pumps furiously into my legs, arms, heart and lungs, every part of me in equal measure nothing spared.
But the view today is different. My stomach has sunk into an unnatural concave. I move my fingers over the ridge-lines of my chest and can count out each protrusion. Emily said all the baby fat is gone now and soon there will be nothing left for her to hold. I am only noticing these things now. I walk up to the mirror and put the shaving razor back inside and think about what else will disappear.
I close the medicine cabinet and run the water.
It is cool when I step into it. I've kept the ceiling vent off so that I don't wake Emily up. Even while unconscious she reacts to every disturbance. Say, the change in pressure when one partner leaves the bed in the middle of the night.
Without the droning of the fan, I can almost hear almost every drop from the shower head against my body.
I glide the bar of soap over my limbs and body as the other hand trails behind it. I like the smell of soap because it makes me feel brand new again--walking down a pristine store aisle by yourself; the glow of a brand new lamps; the coolness of a stethoscope in the winter.
I look at my arms again. The burnt ashy shade reminds me that it is August already and I have not been counting at all.
August is the tail end of the travel season. Everything is quiet in the office. The bulk of the bookings come in late May and June and in those months, the work is non-stop. But not August. People anchor themselves at home and wait out the season.
What it must be like to be in Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, in August. I don't like the idea. When I interviewed for this job, I told them that my strength was in research.
My desk is perpendicular to the main window. It looks out to the parking lot and street. Beginning at eight, the sunlight carves a niche from the carpet, up the side of my desk, across my phone, and by two, hangs over everything like a heat lamp. There is no escaping it.
My boss insists on keeping the blinds up. “We have to keep the views from outside coming in,” he says. When he sees them down, they are pulled back up with a loud clatter. Then he glares at all of us in the office.
I prefer to be in the back, by the hum and whirl of the printers but I don't complain. I like it here in this office. It's close to home, a few miles away, and the people who come in are pleasant enough.
(*talk about customers maybe*)
In the trunk of my car, I keep a gym bag with a change of clothes: a pair of running shorts, track shoes, socks, and some faded t-shirts. Today, it is a black one with the words “Santa Cruz” written across the front in bold red slanting letters.
After locking the door to the office and turning the computers and lights off, I change in the backroom where clients have their passport photos taken. As I undo my tie, I think of how strange the image in the mirror was this morning. It was someone else.
I press down on my temples. I am not feeling like myself today.
I've missed the timing for the crosswalk today, a rare occurrence, and I jog in place while waiting for the signal to change. My boss waves to me from his car as it pulls out of the parking lot and I wave back.
“Going for a fun?”
“That's great. You're de-stressing. Well, see you tomorrow.”
The park across the street from my office is wide and flat. It is blanketed by trees on all sides with long stretches of grass that are well maintained. At the western end is a small amusement park, composited with a house shaped like a boot, fairy castles, and lady bug rides. Across the street from this is the city zoo.
I keep away from the western end and cut through the middle while completing my laps. My feet feel light on the grass. I can run faster, longer, without any pain. Running on grass, when I close my eyes and listen, it sounds the same as summer sprinklers, a quiet swish-swish as my feet swing back and forth.
I am washing last night's dishes when Emily comes home from work. I hear the front door open and her footsteps traveling up the stairs.
The air shifts from the smell of dishwasher soap to honey suckle when she is in the kitchen with me. The ends of her damp hair prick the skin on my neck as she slips her arms around my waist and presses herself against me.
“What do you want to eat tonight?” I say.
“Whatever you want to make me,” she says.
Yesterday, I told her I'd make dinner but after my run, I'm not in the mood to cook. I am not feeling like myself. Compiling the list of ingredients, a dull throb forms at the back of my head. I push it down.
Not feeling like myself.
In my last semester in college, I had disappeared for two weeks. Disappeared was the word they used. I didn't tell anyone. Not my housemates, not my family. My parents called the police and a search party was sent out. They found me in a tent by Lake Muir in Yosemite Park. I had drove there.
I didn't understand what the big deal was. My mom would later tell me that I didn't say a single word in the entire week after they brought me home.
The third time I disappeared, Emily and I had already married. She had left work and I had not started at the office yet. I drove along the delta, following the river to San Francisco, and finally at the peninsula by Stinson Beach. I was gone for no more than a week.
Emily and I talked about it and she got help for us.
“You'll be fine,” she said after the first round of prescriptions.
Her mother was more skeptical. She said, “Sean, I know someone who can help if you need it?” Which I responded, “What are you talking about? I'm perfectly fine.”
We were in Santa Barbara with her family for the 4th of July. They were flying to Brazil after the weekend and Emily and I were house sitting for them. She thought we could use the time alone to sort things out, now that I was better now. When I asked her why we had to come to Santa Barbara for that, she said, “So that we can finally do nothing.”
After the fireworks, I had wandered down to the water where Emily's father was playing fetch with Bobby, their golden retriever. Emily's father rarely talked when we were there.
He spent most of the weekend on the balcony, underneath the canopy umbrella with his books and magazines. At night, he went down to the beach and walked Bobby up and down the shore until the tides caused the coastline to recede.
I felt that he and I were similar in some respects. Though he was much more aware of himself. He seemed to be know what the big deal was. Whatever he found, he was resigned to it, giving him an indifferent but wise quality. There was a directness in the way he talked that I respected.
He stood, facing the water, with his back turned to me as I approached. As if making a note to himself, he said ,“Well, happens to everyone.” I took a sip from my gin and tonic and didn't respond. I didn't think he needed one.
Bobby trotted back from the tides. The dog, wet and shaking, dropped the ball in front of us where it oscillated for a few seconds, like on a pendulum, before coming to a still.
“Why don't you try it?” Emily's father said.
I picked it up, shifted my weight forward, and heaved it far into the water, over the incoming waves. Bobby chased after it without hesitation.
“Let's finish the oranges,” Emily says.
Sill attached to me, we shuffle over to the refrigerator.
“What is it?”
“We're like a pair of penguins.”
I peel her hand away from my stomach and kiss the back of it. Her skin is warm but solid.
I pick an orange and start slicing it into quarters on the cutting board. Juices drip down from the knife edge as I move it. It is a ripe one, picked from one of her friend's yards down the street.
Emily watches my hands as I slice the fruit.
“What happened to your wrist?” she says.
I don't hear her the first time. I am focused on seeing how close I bring the knife to the face of my knuckles without slicing them open She asks a second time, louder, and I pause. I came very close.
“You mean this?”
I let go of the knife and hold my hand up for her to see.
“You look like you're a wearing a wrist band.”
“It's from my watch. It looks funny, doesn't it? You know me.”
“You know me.” I say this often. I've concluded some time ago that if I said this enough times, out-loud, people would feel they really do. Then I wouldn't have to answer questions about “How are things?” from people—the neighbor down the street, my parents, Emily's mother, Emily.
“What things?” I want to say. But no one is as interested in answering this as they are in knowing what they want to know. Or think they do.
I was standing in the kitchen when I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Sean! Happy Birthday man. How are things?”
“Things are okay,” I said and smiled, “Come on Tom. You know me.”
“It's Mark. Not Tom. Getting old aren't we?”
“Excuse me,” I said. I took the tray of hor d'oeuvres out the living room and kept my smile on.
After small encounters like this, I have the urge to go running. But I stayed. It was Emily who went through the effort to throw this birthday party for me.
Emily kisses me on the cheek and lets go.
“Let's go out for dinner tonight instead,” I say, “I'm too tired and can't think right now.”
We make love when we come back from the restaurant. I do it like how I use to.
“What happened to you tonight honey?”
“I love you,” I say.
The words come out fine this time and I feel alright about it, I can tell from the way she runs her hand through my hair and pushes me back down.
I close my eyes and see a milky blackness stretching out on all sides. I am drifting through it, on my back, the same weightlessness as when you're floating alone in the middle of a lake. Shards of light wash over your eyes every time you sink just below the surface and come back up.
It's Saturday. Emily and I are clearing out the garage. Cobwebs are in all the corners. There are stacks of magazines that we no longer subscribe to, a tripod with only two legs, half-empty cans of house paint, a broken vacuum cleaner, a record player with a missing needle but all the records. We are surprised by all the clutter we've kept.
I am feeling better after last night. My head is light. Looking in the bathroom mirror this morning, I am myself again. Yes, these are my eyes. The dark birth mark that stretches across the left of my chest, like a streak of ash, this is also mine. I cam clearing things out.
For breakfast, we had left-overs and talked about going for a bike ride in the afternoon.
“It's been so long since we last did something on a weekend,” she said.
“Has it?” I said.
The two Schwinn's are leaning against the far wall. Hers is the cream colored one with the a thin frame. I have the maroon one with the gold lettering. We take them into the backyard and wipe them down.
Besides the odd dents and scattered rust patterns, the bikes look good. We walk them out through the side gate and onto the driveway. I watch Emily throw her leg over the frame and coast down to the street. She is riding in a figure eight pattern that weaves from our home to the neighbors.
“How's it feel?” I say.
“It feels good,” she says while patting the handle bar of her bike. “Poor things, how we could ever let you rot away like that.”
“I'll lock the gate and leave from the front door,” I say.
I pick my watch up from the kitchen counter on my way through the house. I can never go anywhere without a watch. I am naked without them.
Emily breaks off from her figure eight when she sees me come down the driveway. I follow her down the street, the hem of her summer dress flowing past her legs.
Tall elm trees line the sidewalks of our neighborhood. We ride underneath their shade, which stretch past the cars parked on the street. The wind is in my face, blows past my ears and cools my shoulders underneath the t-shirt. We're riding at a good pace. Not too slow. Not too fast. I am just behind her. Her long black hair swirls towards me, shifting from black to brown each time we break out from the canopy.
Focusing on the hallow between her shoulder blades, houses and cars slip past, bending and expanding as if on the fringe of a gravity well. For a few minutes, I am not aware of anything besides a gradual sleepiness growing. I want to put my head down somewhere.
The pedals stall and I can feel the vibrations from the rear of the bike. I pedal some more but everything has gone slack. I put my heels down and squeeze the brakes. The chain has fallen off the sprocket.
Emily keeps on. She doesn't know that I've stopped. And I don't call out to her. And instead, watch her figure grow smaller until it stops at the light.
I set the bike on the sidewalk. The chain is jammed in the frame. With a knee on the ground, I grip the greasy metal links and pull. The metal is cool as it scraps against my palms, depositing dark grease between my fingers. It comes free. I've forgotten how this works. What do I do next?
Emily's shadow falls over me. “Let me try,” she says.