As soon as Elly leaves the apartment, a numb sense of guilt replaces the joyful adrenaline rush of lovemaking. You realize you can’t be depended on to keep any promise, even though your response to Mason’s no-sex proposal was more acquiescence than commitment. You put the uneaten paté and grapes and the remaining wine in the refrigerator, where they add a touch of class to the meager contents of the shelves. You set the crackers on the counter next to the toaster. Then you rinse the glasses and fold the afghan, which you drape on the back of the love-seat. What to do now?
What you do is try to call Petra, with no clear intention. What you get is her voicemail: “This is Pet. I’m on the road to the cottage. Call me later.”
You end the call without leaving a message. The relief you feel at not having to come up with something to say makes you feel even guiltier. Now you realize what you have to do. You can’t blow up your marriage, a fifteen-year commitment you’ve given so much of your life to, to a woman you’ve shared so much with. How can you tear down everything you’ve built, start over again? You have to drive down to the cottage, try to make amends.
You can’t stop to think about this. You save your work and turn off the computer, then hurry into your bedroom, where you quickly pack an overnight bag, and your bathroom, where you toss your toothbrush, toothpaste, and shaving stuff into your Dopp kit. You last packed it when you’d managed to get a reading on a nearby campus, where afterward you and Elly spent a delirious evening in a Red Roof Inn. Dopp kit. Elly had enlightened you on the origin of the name, which came from its designer, a guy named Charles Doppelt. “I like to know where words come from,” she’d said.
Before you could think of a smartassed comeback, the two of you had found yourselves otherwise engaged. But now you need to put that sort of adventure behind you. You pull on your coat and gloves, leave your crappy apartment, get into your hard-used Toyota Corolla, and drive out of the parking lot onto the highway. You start for the Interstate, but just before you reach the entrance, you begin to sweat, almost as if you were in shock, and you pull into the parking lot of an Applebee’s, not because you feel compelled by the need to order an Irresist-A-Bowl or a Brunch Burger. No, what you realize is that you can’t depend on yourself to drive south to the cottage without losing conviction and turning back. You can’t be in control. What you do is pull out of the Applebee’s lot, turn left onto the highway, and drive downtown to the train station, where you find a spot in the long-term parking lot. You hope your recollection of the train schedule is accurate, that you’re still in time to catch the westbound Lakeshore Limited.
You walk into the crowded station where you’re amazed and gratified to find that the westbound train is due within the next half hour, leaving you little time to change your mind again. You buy a ticket and plunk yourself down on one of the wooden benches, polished smooth by untold thousands of butts, and wait, your ears singing with relief, your heart lub-dupping iambically at double time. Your phone vibrates in your coat pocket. You look at the screen. Elly. You let it go to voicemail, but you don’t even check the message. You do, however, send Elly a text: “I guess I can’t leave her. I suppose it’s meant to be that way.” Then you send a message to Petra: “Coming to cottage by train. Should be there in a couple of hours.” You switch off the phone. You’ve delivered yourself unto the wheels of Amtrak. You settle back to wait.
Arnold Johnston's poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and translations have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies. His plays, and others written in collaboration with his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, have won over 300 productions and readings, and they’ve written, co-written, edited, or translated over twenty books. Arnie’s latest projects are The Infernal Now (poetry, Kelsay Books, 2022); Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been, (poetry, FutureCycle Press, 2020); Swept Away (novel, Atmosphere Press, 2021), and Mr. Robert Monkey Returns to New York (a collaborative children's book with Debby, Brandylane Publishers, 2021). A performer-singer, Arnie has played many solo concerts and over 100 roles on stage, screen, and radio. He was chairman of the English Department (1997-2007) and taught for many years at Western Michigan University.