The inn was beautiful. Old-fashioned in appearance, but with all the modern amenities, like one of those venerable old baseball stadiums they tear down so they can build a brand new one to look like a venerable old one. It was secluded. The private, man-made lake had its own flock of geese. When he suggested they go away for a long weekend, Beth had asked what was the occasion. She’d done a quick calculation of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and come up blank.
“What are we celebrating?” she asked at last.
“Us,” Paul had answered.
* * *
He admitted the affair over dinner on the second night. He waited until after the hors d’oeuvres. How could she possibly touch her fillet of sole after hearing of his dalliance with Dahlia, a bright young thing assigned to his development team.
“It was a mistake,” he said.
She took a sip of water and nearly drowned.
“Are you okay?” he asked, half-rising from his seat—so solicitous, so eager to show his concern it made her sick. He reached out to touch her arm.
“Sit down,” she rasped, when she found her voice. “Don’t touch me.”
He frowned. He wasn’t used to this tone from her.
“The important thing,” he said, “is that it’s over. It was the wrong thing to do, and I know that. She knows it too. There won’t be any trouble from that quarter.”
“What a relief.”
Hearing her sarcasm, his frown deepened. “The question is, are we human? Are we entitled to make mistakes or not? Are we able to move on from this one, isolated aberration?”
“That’s three questions.”
“It all comes down to the same question.”
He was growing visibly impatient, but she found she didn’t give a damn.
“I have a question,” she said. “Am I entitled to a question?”
“Of course.” He took a sip of his wine and didn’t choke on it. He looked at her from over the rim of his glass. He swam smoothly in these waters.
“The question is, how many times are we going to make the same mistake twice?”
“Believe me, that’s not something you ever have to worry about, believe me.”
“It’s not something I ever worried about before, and look where that got me.”
She would have left the table if it was clear where she could go from there. What would she do? Take the car? She wasn’t even sure she’d brought her set of keys. And if she did take the car, where to then? Back to the inn where he would most certainly follow her? Home, leaving him stranded altogether?
She sat and stared at her fillet of sole, declined dessert and coffee, and rode home beside him in silence.
“I want to go home,” she said at last, without conviction. He didn’t answer, and she couldn’t convince herself to say the words again. Besides, she couldn’t imagine making the three-hour drive back to the city in such awful quiet.
“I can see you’re not ready to talk about this.” His peevish tone said “like an adult” but he left the words out.
“No,” she said.
She rummaged in her bag and found the prescription bottle she always brought on trips—just in case. It was ten years old, the pills of dubious efficacy—probably little more than a placebo. Still, they usually worked. She took half a Xanax.
Lost on the king-sized bed, she kept herself as far from him as possible and stared at the ceiling, waiting for the pill to do something.
The silence was worse in bed because they weren’t going anywhere and the scenery in the window wasn’t changing.
She could sense his alertness beside her, every cell of him crackling. His voice floated up in the dark. For the first time, it sounded a little worried—like the voice of someone coming out of a fog, unsure if there was anyone else in there with him or not.
“What do we do now?”
She almost reached out to him then, if only to touch his arm. It took every bit of her remaining will-power not to.
“Let’s just lie here in the dark,” she said.
“What—and not say anything?”
“Yes. Let’s try that.”
“How will anything ever get resolved?”
“I don’t know. How will it?”
The fog was thickening. They floated away from each other. She must have slept.
* * *
A wooden pier limped out about thirty yards into the man-made lake to where a small green-roofed gazebo stood. There she leaned against the rail and saw a turtle treading water. Its head, on a painfully stretched neck, lifted above the scummy, opaque surface.
It teetered from side to side, a drab, olive army helmet in danger of filling with water, capsizing and sinking to the silty bottom. What kept it afloat was the frantic activity of its stubby legs and short, webbed feet.
On its shell, green with algae, she saw an asemic pattern, a lost alphabet, a poem in an alien calligraphy. If it was a message surfacing symbolically from the depths of her unconscious, she could not decipher it.
No sooner did she see one turtle than she saw another and then another. Six in all had surfaced, and each of them had a message inscribed on its shell. They were looking for what she didn’t have: some crusts of bread, a handful of seeds. Nourishment. If only she’d known, she would have brought something along.
Though she had nothing suitable, she rummaged about in her handbag anyway. She found half a roll of ancient Lifesavers, wint-o-green, the foil grotty and lint-stained. She plucked out two and tossed them onto the water. They floated for a while and then began to sink, shimmering white, then dulled to green, then out of sight—lost entirely to the blackness. The turtles didn’t go for them. They continued to look up expectantly, with beady eyes on necks stretched to the limit.
She wanted to say she was sorry. She had nothing for them but a gesture. She thought of her husband back in the room, finishing his packing, checking his email one last time, waiting for her to return from her stroll. Sometimes all we have is a gesture.
She headed back to the inn, the sound of her footsteps resounding absurdly on the wooden pier. Behind her, the turtles. She wondered how long they would wait before giving up, pulling their necks into their shells, and diving back down to the relative safety of darkness and mud and her sunken lifesavers. How long would they struggle to stay afloat, their heads stretched above the surface, their eyes blindly searching the sun for where she’d been, but wasn’t anymore?
Meeah Williams is a writer and graphic artist living in Brooklyn, NY. She doesn’t care much where she is published—the point of writing and painting is writing and painting. She eats the same breakfast every morning: a chocolate chip bagel from Highway Bagels on Nostrand Avenue (the best bagel shop in the world) and four cups of coffee. Meeah is married to a wonderful man named Hank. They do crosswords puzzles together in bed after sex. After dreaming half of her life away, she is as surprised as anyone to wake up and find she is living her secret dream. She find that she dislikes nothing, so long as it comes with pie.