It was Amanda who had first spotted the smooth green stone on the sand. She picked it up and examined it. It was the size of her thumb.
“Look,” she said, holding it up between her thumb and index finger.
David barely heard her over the crash of the waves. He squinted. “What is it?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “It looks almost frosted over. Pretty, though.”
“I’m sure,” he murmured under his breath and continued walking aimlessly.
They had been renting the beach house in Bar Harbor for six years now. Before they’d had their two daughters they would rent the house in the summer for two weeks, which was curtailed to one when they realized the difficulty of bringing a newborn and a two-year-old for the first time. On this particular occasion they had come alone and only for the weekend. It had been Amanda’s mother’s idea for the two of them to get away for a few days.
During the eight years they had been married, neither of them were able to acknowledge the slow and steady decay of their marriage until recently. The event was nothing remotely dramatic compared to the stories they had heard from their married friends over the years. . The weekend before last David was home grading papers for one of the philosophy classes he was teaching when suddenly he heard a loud thump from the kitchen. Seconds later Amanda cried out in pain. What followed was not her usual array of curses, but rather a cry that turned into a moan, which eventually became a loud, steady sobbing that went on for over five minutes. David had not flinched or looked up once from his pile of papers.
She had been reaching for a saucepan from the hanging pot rack and one of the cast iron skillets had accidentally unhinged and fallen right on top of her head. She sat on the kitchen floor holding her head and crying, waiting for David to get up and see what was the matter. When she saw he wasn’t coming she stood up and walked over to his study. He was sitting with a pen in his mouth and his head bent over a fresh paper he had pulled from the stack.
“Are you deaf?” she said.
He looked up and took the pen out of his mouth as if he had broken from a trance. “Hmmm?”
Although it was passed noon she was still wearing her pajamas – something that had always unnerved him. Her hair was disheveled and she was pressing something against the top of her head.
“What is that?” he asked, motioning with his eyes.
“An ice pack!” she said evenly. She was trying, with great difficulty, to control the volume that her voice was about to reach.
He looked at her and said nothing. He was about to ask what happened but she spoke, “Did you not hear me crying hysterically in the kitchen?” she asked.
“I guess I heard something,” he said. “But I was reading.”
She wanted to grab him by the collar and yank him out of his swivel chair.
“I hope you’re not as dumb as you look right now,” she said. “Because you look pretty fucking dumb.”
“You never used to curse,” he mused. “You didn’t start cursing until we had Josie.”
“Fuck you!” she yelled and walked away.
It was very seldom that Amanda spoke to her mother about anything unless it had gone beyond the point of tolerable.
“So who’s idea was this?” David asked during their drive to the house.
“My mother’s,” Amanda said curtly. She didn’t have the patience to be evasive because he knew anyway. He would have known she was withholding and would have held it against her as he had many other things, some of which she was not aware.
They returned to the house after walking on the beach. Amanda stood on the porch staring at the waves as if hypnotized by its crashing rhythm. David lay on the couch and closed his eyes. He heard her footsteps creak against the old floorboards and then the crisp sound of paper turning above his head.
“Anything interesting?” he said, his eyes still closed.
Amanda was standing over him holding a book. “It’s a book about sea glass,” she said. “I never noticed it before. Maybe the owners just bought it. Apparently, the color green I found is very common. They mostly come from Heineken bottles.”
He lay on the couch keeping his eyes closed and waited. He knew she would be imparting a great deal of useless information, but he also knew there was no stopping her.
“Light blue ones are next and then white. And yellow is found very seldom. Red is almost unheard of. They are also called mermaids tears.”
“How magical,” he commented.
She ignored him and continued, “Cobalt is less common. It says here that it comes from old bottles of Arizona iced tea. Brown comes from Budweiser bottles. So interesting By the way, did you want to go out to dinner tonight or stay in?”
David rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “We could go out,” he said.
“I saw this little Italian market down the road. It looks new. Maybe we can go – “
“And pick up a few things and make dinner here,” he snapped and sat up. “Why do you bother asking me? Just say you saw the place and want to make dinner here.”
“I wanted to see what you wanted,” she asked, and before she could continue he interrupted.
“No you didn’t! You had your mind made up. You were humoring me by asking. Goddamit. Why the hell did we come up here!” He grabbed his sweat jacket that was resting on the armchair and left.
A few minutes later Amanda went back to the porch hoping she would see him on the beach. She was relieved to spot him on the sand with his back turned. She left the house and walked down the short footpath.
“I’m sorry,” she said, standing behind him.
“It’s fine,” he said and didn’t face her.
“If you want to go out to dinner we can,” she said.
“That’s not the point,” he said and turned to her. “I feel like you already know what you want and you want to make me want it too.”
“Really?” she asked, stung by the accusation.
He wanted to tell her that she had deliberately orchestrated their life to suit what she had wanted since they first met, but he faltered. It felt like entering a dark, endless cave, from the depths of which he thought he might never emerge.
The two walked to the market Amanda had mentioned and bought food to cook at the house. David spent a particularly long time in the local wine shop and walked out with one large heavy bag filled with four bottles of wine.
As she unpacked the grocery bags David uncorked a bottle of red wine and took out two glasses.
“Already?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.
“What the hell,” he said. “We’re kind of on vacation, right?”
“I guess,” she said. “It’s not like we brought the girls with us.”
She took a sip of her wine and pulled out a large pot from one of the cupboards. “I thought I’d make braised short ribs,” she said.
“Sounds great,” he said. “Let me know if I can help,” he said, and headed towards the couch.
“I thought we would cook together,” she said.
David glanced at the counter piled with food. Carrots, celery, onions, potatoes – all things that would need to be chopped.
“Mind if I put on some music?” he asked.
The two stood side by side chopping vegetables and listening to a local jazz station on the radio that kept fading in and out.
“I can’t remember the last time we did this,” Amanda said.
As she said the words, she realized how contrived it sounded. It made her feel worse when David said nothing. He refilled their glasses with wine, and they cooked in silence. As they ate the only conversation between them was about the dinner they had prepared. It didn’t help matters that they were both also very drunk.
“That was delicious,” he said, letting his fork fall onto the plate with a clatter. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to pass out. I think the wine went straight to my head,” he said, smiling, “and I’m suddenly exhausted.”
Amanda stood over the sink and washed the dishes. Although the wine had sedated her, she scrubbed angrily and in her drunkenness was aware that David had quietly and deliberately sabotaged the evening.
She was not in bed the next morning when David woke up. There was a pot of coffee brewing in the kitchen and after fixing himself a mug he went out on the porch. He noticed Amanda already on the beach. She was holding a cup of coffee and walking slowly with her head hunched over as if she was looking for a missing earring. He realized she was hunting for more of the beach glass.
It was early September. The light chill in the air was refreshing compared to the intense heat they oftentimes endured when they vacationed at the house in August. David remembered the first day he had ever spoken to Amanda. It had been a fall day similar to this one. She had been sitting on the steps of one of the buildings on campus and was holding a book he had finished reading. It had been so easy to be with her. She had seemed so simple, and unlike many of the other women he had dated, it took little effort to make her happy. He remembered kissing her for the first time and the lovely smell of her jasmine perfume mingling with the clean fall air.
“I have a great idea,” she said. A cool wind swept into the house before she closed the door behind her.
Her face was flushed from the morning chill and strands of her windblown hair fell into her eyes.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Why don’t we collect sea glass and see who gets the most? We can give points for each one and additional points for color and size. And I won’t count the six I already found.”
David groaned. “Really? You’ve set us up to compete against each other under the guise of fun and games?”
“You’re so fu-,” she stopped herself and quietly put her cup down. “You’re so depressing,” she said. “I thought it would be a nice pastime. We don’t have to,” she said, and David caught a glimpse of the corners of her mouth overturned before she walked away.
“Sure,” he called out when he realized she was going into the bedroom, probably to sulk. “That sounds great. Let’s do it.”
She had gone to the beach that morning hoping to shake off the mild headache from all the wine she had drank. The large cobalt piece she had spotted was the first of six other pieces she found. The evening had not played out as she had hoped. She knew David had wanted to go out to dinner to avoid talking. In the past when she wanted to have a serious conversation he would say, “Let’s not spoil a nice dinner,” and read over the menu longer than necessary. Then when their food would arrive he would comment on his dish and they would spend the rest of the evening entertaining each other with small talk. Sometimes when she felt she had the gumption to interrupt him and truly convey her fears, her worries, and oftentimes sadness, it seemed as if a clear hard soundproof wall had been slowly erected with each of them on opposite sides. Amanda hoped that walking along the beach together under the guise of looking for sea glass would distract David enough to put him at ease. Perhaps he would be able to explain to her what she had suspected for a long time now: that he no longer loved her and merely tolerated their life together.
Amanda thought about her parents and their apathy towards each other. From as early as she could remember they had never happy. There was always one particular image that came to mind, and oftentimes she questioned the significance of it because it didn’t seem to be anything extraordinary. She was walking in between her parents and her mother and father were holding her hand. Every so often they would pull her up by the hand and let her swing in the air for a brief second and then her feet would land back on the sidewalk. She remembered looking at both of them and laughing and at that exact moment neither of them looked at her, but rather stared off in the distance wearing grim faces and avoiding each other. She knew even then that they could barely tolerate one another. As she grew older she realized that they both resented being married and had done so because – as her mother had put it to her once – “that’s what people did back then.” Her mother had stayed home to raise her and her father had taken over his father’s electronics repair shop.
Meeting David had been the most exhilarating experience of her life. He was a philosophy major and a barista at a local coffee shop. Once in a while he would play guitar with a small jazz band he was friendly with and she would sit in the audience watching. For the first time she could remember, she was able to sweep aside the mundane existence from which she came and felt doomed to repeat.
He hadn’t wanted to have kids right away, but she had become pregnant. Admittedly, she had never refilled her birth control prescription, and although he wasn’t completely thrilled when she told him she was pregnant, he seemed happy. A few years later he was granted tenure at the university and she became pregnant with their second daughter, Josie. “What’s two if you already have one?” he had joked when she told him. When he came home later than usual that evening, she ignored the sinking sensation that it was not what he had wanted, but was going along with it because he had no choice.
A few months before the incident with the cast iron skillet, she had spoken to her friend Sabina about David.
“He’s miserable,” Amanda said. “Although, I could be reading into things. If he really was so unhappy he would have filed for a divorce already.”
“He’ll never be the one to leave,” Sabina told her. “They always wait for the woman to do the dirty work.”
“Really?” Amanda felt a bit naïve in having to ask.
“Think about it: has a guy ever broken up with you? You know why? They’re different than us. If we’re not happy we want to talk about it, at the very least. Or, we want out. Men will stay in the most miserable situation because it’s comfortable,” Sabina said.
“Men break up with women all the time!” Amanda said. “I think you’re stereotyping and generalizing.”
“Maybe generalizing. But more often than not, a man will never do the breaking up, unless there’s another woman involved. And even then, the woman is pressuring the guy. I think it’s also because they don’t want to deal with tears. It makes them feel guilty.”
All week Amanda thought about what Sabina had said. She had been aware a long time ago that she and David didn’t have sex anymore. She knew it was supposed to be one of the telltale signs of a dysfunctional marriage. She hated so much that her marriage belonged in a self-help book, and that she was living a sad replica of the life she had tried avoiding all these years.
They spent Sunday afternoon hunting for sea glass as they had the day before. David was reticent as usual, and Amanda accepted his dogged resistance to having any type of worthwhile conversation. That evening they went out for dinner – it was Amanda’s suggestion in the hopes of assuaging David’s irritation from the prior evening. After dinner they walked home in silence, neither of them noticing the beautiful sunset that hovered over the horizon.
“We should take out our sea glass,” Amanda said when she saw David walk over to the counter and uncork a bottle of wine. “I have another idea,” she said. She had thought of it when she opened her plastic container filled with the sea glass she had found.
“This should be good,” David said. During the two afternoons they had spent walking along the beach, not once had he eluded to how much or how little he had found. Every so often Amanda would notice him bending over to pick up a piece and dropping it into the mug he was using to collect them in. And much to her disappointment, they had barely spoken about anything of importance. Her idea had worked too well, it seemed. David had seemingly regarded her silly hunt on the beach as a serious undertaking and oftentimes wandered off far away from her.
“Instead of points, why don’t we give up a truth?”
“What does that mean?” he asked.
They sat on the floor on opposite sides of the coffee table as if they were about to play a game of chess. David brought over the bottle of wine and two clean wine glass and set them on the table. The setting of the sun was filling the room with a fading light.
“For example, I’ll put down a piece that I found and depending on its size you have to give up a small truth or a bigger truth. So let’s say one of us puts down a very small piece, the other has to admit something that the other didn’t know, but nothing too earty-shattering.”
“I’m still confused,” he said. He wanted to grab all the sea glass by the handful and throw them into the air like confetti off the porch.
“Take out one small piece,” she said.
David fished through his mug and after a few seconds of poking around took out a small piece of Kelly green glass and put it on the table.
Amanda hesitated for a moment and then said, “Sometimes when I tell you that it’s the dry cleaner’s fault that your shirts aren’t ready on time I’m lying. I forget to drop them off when you ask me to.” She paused and waited to see his reaction. “Get it?” she asked.
“Amanda – “
“Please David,” she said. Their eyes met. He understood her intention in all of this. It took everything to not resist this ridiculous new spin she had created.
“Fine,” he said.
“My turn,” she said, and pulled out an equally small piece of glass. This one was a pale blue.
“When I tell you I’m working late once a week I’m really going to a bar for a drink after work.”
“Really?” Amanda was surprised. She recalled times when he had alluded to all the paperwork he’d had to sift through before coming home on those evenings.
“Listen,” he said. “If we’re going to do this, there can’t be any interruptions or conversations about it until afterwards. Otherwise, I’m not doing it.”
“Okay,” she said.
He felt satisfied in establishing some rules that were his own. It wouldn’t feel like he had played into another one of Amanda’s machinations.
“Your turn,” she said. Her eagerness to play made him uneasy.
He fished out a slightly larger piece. It was cobalt blue.
“That’s beautiful,” she murmured, and then said, “I feel like you don’t help me out with the girls as much as I need you to.”
Without waiting for his reaction, she starting pushing the pieces around and placed a very large round piece on the table. It was the same Kelly green as the last one, but this looked like it was once the bottom of a beer bottle.
David took in a breath. “One last rule before we continue,” he said. “You can’t go fishing around. You have to grab the first piece your hand touches.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Throw that one back in,” he commanded, surprising her.
“David – “
“Throw it back.”
She put it back in the container and placed a much smaller piece on the coffee table.
“You don’t take care of yourself the way you used to. You dress like a slob most of the time.”
Amanda stared at him and said nothing. “You could say it nicely at least,” she said.
The piece of sea glass David put on the table was frosted white and almost half the size of the big one she had taken out previously.
“My ex-boyfriend Samuel from college emailed me last year and we’ve been emailing ever since,” she said, and extracted the large green one from before.
“A few months ago when I said I was driving to a convention in Syracuse I lied. I drove to meet this girl – I mean, woman, who I had met at a party when I was twenty.”
“And I feel as if from the moment I met you, you navigated my life to suit what you expected from yours: a husband and kids. A husband, I might add, who quit smoking and drinking and doesn’t eat red meat. I hate my life. I hate our marriage. I hate that I am a chess piece in your construct of what you want for yourself and that I consciously indulged this stupid fucking game of yours. But I did it to prove to you that I’m right. You wanted to come out here and talk everything out and have great sex and smooth everything over like some Hallmark card. But it can’t be that. Because after this weekend I want to file for a separation. I’m a shitty husband. I’m a half-assed father. I feel lured into playing both those roles and because of that I don’t play them well. And nothing happened with that woman I mentioned – I’m sure you’re obsessing over that – because she never showed up. You can have a private laugh about that one when I’m not looking.”
“How about your plan to get me drunk so we didn’t have to talk?” she felt the feebleness of her attempt to counteract his long-winded diatribe. “ And in case you were wondering, there is nothing going on between Samuel and I,” she said.
“No, I wasn’t wondering,” he said. And for the first time in the two days they had spent together, David turned to her and made full eye contact. “That’s how out of love with you I am,” he said.
She covered her face with her hand as if he had suddenly struck her. “That’s a pretty terrible thing to say,” she said finally, trying to maintain her composure. It felt as if the tightness in her throat would strangle her. “Do you really feel that way?”
“Yes,” he said without hesitating. “I feel that way.”
“You don’t love me?” she asked.
David sighed. “I don’t love our life. And maybe it’s too mucked up for me to feel any love for you right now. But I don’t think I do.”
“That’s fine,” Amanda said. With her hand she swept her sea glass back into the container and put on her jacket.
“Where are you going?” His voice didn’t sound concerned, but tired.
“I’m just going,” she said.
Instead of going after her, David sat on the floor replaying what had just happened. He was stunned by his honesty and wondered if he would ever regret what he had said. He felt a strong certainty in the truth of his words, but still had trouble believing himself. He imagined their car ride home and knew they would sit in silence, for the first time not bothering to entertain one another with banal conversation.
Amanda stood on the beach as the cold evening air whipped across the sand. The windbreaker she wore flapped violently against her against body and she felt herself shaking uncontrollably. She began walking away from the house knowing David would not be coming to find her. If he had cared enough to go out to the balcony he would have seen her walking slowly along the beach, and if he had looked long enough he would have noticed the fistful of sea glass in her hand and how she let each piece slip from her palm, one by one, until finally there was nothing to grip but a small, empty space of silence.
Bleeding Heart Publications – Transfusion issue – October 2013