Issue #19 |

What Happens to the Rest

There was an air of license beforehand, an anticipatory giddiness, especially between Gil and Angela, though they weren’t partaking, only making sure I came to no harm. At one point, as Gil refilled Angela’s glass, some of it missed the mark and trickled down her forearm; he ran a finger slowly up its track, elbow to wrist, erasing the blunder. She was enjoying my husband’s attentions; he, reveling in the ease with which he managed our needs, stoking the little fire laid earlier on the beach. I’d thought it would be best to be outdoors; the cottage itself was still very much Gil’s family’s place, infused with the smells of pine, foxed books, and a century of cigarette and wood smoke. I appreciated the history but didn’t want it affecting my experience.

As the sun dropped low, Gil was reading Merwin aloud, poems I’d chosen to ease me into a receptive state (songs rise out of themselves knowing the way), as Angela, our oldest friend, there in case Gil needed support supporting me, beamed encouragement over her sauvignon blanc. I had the mushrooms chopped fine and mixed with goat cheese and pear on a cracker, a recipe concocted by the others. Still a touch bitter.

 

I don’t remember returning to the house or falling asleep, but it was dark when I opened my eyes. No need to turn on the light; the moon was bright enough to show an empty room, a world returned to its familiar contours, though without Gil next to me. I went looking downstairs, wanting to share my euphoria. For a few hours, I’d traded the valley of shadows for one of lava lamps, tall as pines. I felt reborn.

The kitchen windows had a view across the patchy lawn to the lake. I stopped at the sink for a glass of water and saw them, Gil and Angela lying naked in the yard, stargazing as he and I had done decades before, whenever we could contrive to have the cottage to ourselves. They were floating a few feet above the ground, her hair, unpinned, nearly brushing the blanket below. Gil held Angela’s hand on his chest; she swung their woven fingers over her heart. The sight didn’t register emotionally—it was as though it were taking place in another dimension, nothing to do with me. I went back upstairs without disturbing them.

 

He was in bed the second time I woke, just before dawn. I left him to his dreams and went to sit by the water, feeling extraordinarily calm. Only the scene on the lawn required explanation; it could wait till breakfast. The air was cool, and I drew my feet up onto the Adirondack chair, stretching Gil’s sweatshirt over my bare knees. Loon calls ribboned above the water; near the dock, one of the birds dove beneath the surface.

For months, I’d been lying about my reasons for wanting to try mushrooms. Different lies for different people. I was missing the comfort of an omnipresent God, for example, and hoped psilocybin would let me feel again a pervasive holiness in the world. Or I was desperate for novelty, remembering the exhilarating flow of discovery in my teens and twenties: intoxicants, stimulants, the things bodies did together. As if life itself had been wooing me. But I have never been very adventurous, so made for stability that my first attempt at casual sex—going home with the TA from my statistics class after a review session—turned into forty years of marriage, a son following his father into academia, a house in Brookline. I wanted to surprise us with a new version of myself. That’s what I told Gil.

The truth is, I did it out of dread, or perhaps my feelings of dread comprised all the lies.

A gradual decline, the doctor had said, but I still didn’t see how we’d manage. There wasn’t money for live-in help, and Erik, our son, had settled in London. Even if I didn’t feel compassion, and I did, or love Gil—and I did, despite everything—I wouldn’t have been able to walk away from my responsibility. I couldn’t even give myself permission to be sad about what I was losing. Idle, golden years with my husband. Eventually, yes, but more than that. I was working as a fund raiser for a non-profit that aided climate refugees and hoped, after I stepped down, to do a few stints as a volunteer in one of the camps—not, God knows, because I was good, but because I was tired. To be far away, a speck upon the earth helping unload a truck, free of other responsibilities: it sounded like heaven. Instead, I’d be cutting Gil’s food for him, picking up dropped pills from the carpet.

 

To read the rest of this story, please purchase a copy of issue #19 or subscribe to the magazine

Ann Aspell’s fiction has appeared in One Story and Chautauqua and her poems in a variety of journals, including Spillway, Poetry International, and Hunger Mountain Review, as well as in the anthology The Traveler’s Vade Mecum (Red Hen Press). A book designer and editor, she lives with her husband in Vermont.

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