At bedtime, however, normalcy meets Dr. Mason. You and Petra have waited until the cottage’s two bathrooms have emptied and everyone else has turned in for the night. You’ve spent as much time as might be thought credible on teeth-brushing and other ablutions. In boxer shorts and t-shirt, you finally walk into the bedroom the two of you are sharing. As you feared, Petra’s wearing a pink babydoll nightgown.
“Were you expecting company?” you say.
She looks at you wide-eyed. “I bought it in town today.”
“What about Dr. Mason?”
She gets into bed and situates herself under the covers. “But here you are. Surely that’s between us.”
You join her under the covers. She turns out the bedside lamp and puts her arms around you. Your muscles tense. The dinner and dessert suddenly feel like a bowling ball in your stomach. “I think,” you say, “we need give this some time. Follow his recommendation.”
She pulls back. “What are we waiting for? You’re back. We’re not virgins.”
It’s another bomb-defusing moment. “I just think,” you finally say, “this is all happening quickly. We should trust the guy you’ve been seeing for months.” She says nothing. The silence stretches. You take a deep breath and break it. “I don’t know. I think my coming down was probably a mistake.”
You feel as if you’ve pulled the red wire, and you wait. Petra’s only reaction is to turn away. The inevitable explosion doesn’t happen. You lie there on your back, every muscle rigid. Eventually you assume that Petra has fallen asleep. You, however, remain awake, afraid to move. It’s like bundling without the bundle. You think about Elly, a hundred miles to the northeast, probably wondering where the hell you are and what you’re doing. Images from your picnic on the afghan dance in your head like sugarplums. You think of her many spontaneous gestures, unforced and joyous, your long conversations about writing in general and her many kind, incisive suggestions about your own work. And, yes, the moments of mutual delirium. How can you face a future without them? What the hell were you thinking?
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.