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Andrew Furman



She wasn’t a strong swimmer at first. She had learned how to swim as a child, but this amounted mostly to learning how not to drown, which wasn’t the same thing as swimming. It took her a while as a fifty-three year-old to figure out the breathing, how to swallow a great gulp of air as she swiveled her head into the nifty wake her capped crown made for her mouth and then blow bubbles out her nostrils to exhale under the surface. It took her a while to figure out how to position her extremities above and below the water. There was a proper way to do this, to grab hold of and move the water through affecting the proper angles between hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Water was sticky and this was a good thing. She had checked out an instructional book from the local library on the freestyle (the Australian crawl, to be precise), an old book written by some famous coach in Indiana, who claimed that water was sticky. She read the book cover to cover, having decided that she would add swimmer to the fairly short list of things that she still was.

Her husband, Tom, was mystified by her escalating dedication to the sport. And they rarely mystified each other by the things they did or didn’t do. There was a certain comfort in this, she had to admit, the tacit understanding between them over the many years of their marriage that they would remain stalwart agents of their partnership and, as such, would not mystify each other by the things they did or didn’t do. Her name was Veronique, and so she did mystify her future husband on the first day they met at the state university in Augusta some thirty-odd years ago. Tom had never known a Veronique, or even a Veronica. They didn’t live in a state where parents, on a whim, saddled their children with that sort of name.

“Do people call you Vera?” was the first question he had asked her in their U.S. History class.

“No,” she had explained. “They don’t.”

Now, she found herself explaining over their oatmeal why she needed to purchase mail-order this blue-and-white foam buoy shaped like a number eight to brace between her thighs if she already knew how to swim. The torn-open cardboard box sat up on the breakfast table between them like the drabbest centerpiece. She had already purchased a number of other swimming accessories over the past months, plus a green mesh bag to tote her new gear, which Tom either hadn’t noticed or thought to question. One-piece suits woven in varying proportions of nylon, lycra, and spandex. Fins.  Goggles. Hand-paddles.  Kickboard. Ear plugs.  Dechlorinating shampoo.

“It’s for my stroke,” she said. She was about to elaborate upon the buoy’s virtues just as her husband leapt to his feet, curling a section of the Bangor Daily News in his fist.

“These gosh darn flies!” he hollered, swatting the air with a section of the paper that seemed too flimsy for actual fly-murdering. His pungent human odors, mushroom and peat, mingled with the kitchen smells of coffee and cleanser as he danced after the fly in his Bogart tee and pajama bottoms. Tom sold insurance for an outfit headquartered down in Portland, taking over the branch from his deceased father, and, while he was ever on call, he typically didn’t leave for the office until after nine. He’d never kill that fly. That much was clear by the slowing arcs of his fist. She only hoped he wouldn’t shatter their hanging light fixture with his flailing.  Or hurt himself. “Am I crazy, V, or did it used to be easier to kill these godforsaken flies?”

He wasn’t crazy. The flies did seem harder to target these days, and who knew where they were all coming from, lately? He finally returned to the table, huffing for breath, his fury spent. Maybe he had at least discouraged the airborne pest. He took a restorative pull of his coffee through the baleen of his graying beard. His furred hand holding the mug trembled a bit at his lips, she noticed. Neither one of them was as young as they used to be, which made her feel sort of sweet on her husband, that they’d started out as young people together and now here they were, not so young anymore. Poor Tom couldn’t even hurt a fly.

“It’s supposed to help me concentrate on my catch, pull, and recovery,” she retrieved the thread of their conversation. “The buoy,” she reminded him.

“Oh,” her husband replied, taking another slurp of his coffee. “Well then.”


The YMCA where she trained (swimmers “trained,” they didn’t practice or play, she learned) opened well before dawn and stayed open late into the night, the Y integral to the social fabric of their backwater. So Veronique set her alarm for five AM these days and walked the few blocks in the still-dark beneath the applause of the town’s crisp foliage for an hour-long training session before eating breakfast with Tom and then heading to the elementary school where she taught fourth grade. Five days a week, Veronique returned to the pool after supper for a shorter nighttime session. This was called “two-a-days,” a high schooler on the team told her just last week, a copious thatch of eyebrow ascending toward his hairline to betray surprise at her commitment. She didn’t recognize the boy; he hadn’t been in one of her classes. The coltish high school swimmers, many of whom she did recognize, shared four lanes during her morning session and wore swimsuits at least two sizes too small, the girls showing off the entirety of their backsides and the boys, well, she tried not to look at the boys under the water. The breezy way the high schoolers overtook her lap after lap disabused her of any notion that she was truly fast (oh yes, she had started to entertain notions!). All the same, it felt good at her age to get better and better at something new.

She couldn’t quite pinpoint what convinced her to wear a swimsuit under her clothes last summer and step across that threshold into the drenched air. For years, she had only glimpsed through the square glass window cut into the wooden door her fellow townspeople, and the mostly anonymous summer people, troubling the pale waters on the way to her aerobics, or (later) jazzercise, or (later) spin, or (later) yoga classes, all of which she only sporadically attended without relish, mostly to justify their membership dues. There was something forbidding about the high-ceilinged space of the aquatic center, the dim light cast by the ancient overhead fixtures, the booming noises echoing off the tiled walls, the aromas of chlorine and mildew leaking beneath the door’s sweep. It might have been simple curiosity. There was this thing in the world that some people, lots of people, did and enjoyed and that she hadn’t done in years. It might have been something else, too, to which she couldn’t yet attach words.

Veronique’s parents had died within months of each other, having lived just long enough to realize that their daughter would live a life not so very different from their own. She wondered sometimes whether they gave her such an exotic name in the hopes that she might envision for herself a life of some ambition or adventure, instead. But she was never an ambitious or adventurous child and as an adult had only managed to stray a hundred miles from Stonington, where her parents had scraped together a living on their HVAC business, supplemented by her mother’s work as a property manager for a few homes during the short rental season. Veronique could count on two hands the number of times she’d left the state. She liked life to be simple, so did Tom, and couldn’t understand her neighbors who seemed hell-bent on complicating their days, flitting off on this or that cruise out of Bar Harbor, or getting up to their neck in some wild money-making venture, or negotiating an extramarital affair. She thrived on routine. This might have been one of the reasons she took to swimming, a sport that rewarded rote learning, repetition, and constancy.

It had been good for her marriage until now. Swimming. After only a month or two last summer, she had felt small bumps rise beneath her skin back of her shoulders, which she gathered (from the famous coach from Indiana) were her newly exercised deltoids. Tom didn’t notice her deltoids, but he did notice that the paunch that seemed to migrate from her posterior to her stomach at some mysterious date had all but disappeared. He reached for her one weeknight under the covers and commented upon her trim belly beneath his hot palm. Then he tugged at the elasticized waist of her floral pajamas to clarify his intentions. She smacked at his clumsy hand, but disrobed all the same. The odd Sunday morning, anymore, was the only time she could expect Tom might be interested in hanky-panky. Yet he mounted her and they made love in yeomanlike fashion just like that, on a Wednesday night! His own belly had grown over the past weeks since they had coupled. Or maybe it was only her suddenly trim middle that made his softer belly feel funny riding against her flesh. In any case, it was all pleasant enough. He began to pursue these marital exercises on other weeknights too, in addition to Wednesdays, as if hanky-panky was something he had forgotten about entirely, like a misplaced supper recipe in his metal box of five-by-seven handwritten cue cards, but craved all the more now that it had cropped up again into the realm of the actual.


She liked the pool best when the water was cold. Like tonight. When it wasn’t so much a matter of getting used to the temperature but of convincing her body not to feel the cold’s cold. She could do this through force of mind. She could shut down the part of her brain that told her the water was too cold and concentrate on the silence and the black lane-line below, concentrate on her catch, and her pull, and her recovery. Kicking, well, she hadn’t really focused much on the kicking part yet. But here she was, her new foam buoy between her thighs, powering through a set of twelve 100’s, each set of three at a descending interval.

“Cold,” the swimmer next to her remarked as Veronique studied the digital timer perched on the coping over the woman’s shoulder. The woman, Veronique didn’t recognize her, might have thought she was looking at her through her fogged goggles and figured they would exchange a few convivial words. But Veronique was too breathless to respond before pushing off the side to make her interval, and only managed a vague gesture toward her ear plugs, which her fellow swimmer might not have detected. She felt bad about this as she stroked and breathed, stroked and breathed, and then felt bad about feeling bad. She cared too much, had always cared too much, about how other people felt. It didn’t seem like so many people were concerned over her feelings these many years. Swimming was something she did entirely by and for herself. So maybe that’s why she started to swim, and continued to swim.


She swam in lane three each time she trained, unless someone had already taken her lane, which peeved her out of all proportion to the imagined offense. She learned several crawl drills endorsed by competitive swimmers on YouTube during this, her second year training. She incorporated multiple sets of each drill into her evening training session. Catch up drill. Finish drill. Scull drill. One arm drill. Breath control drill. Breath control seemed especially important. She’d breathe every third stroke for twenty-five yards, then every fifth stroke the next twenty-five, then every seventh the third twenty-five, then start over. She swam and she swam.

By the time the town trees shed their foliage this year, she noticed the veins rising down her forearms in complex tributaries, ropes of muscle now testing the elasticity of her flesh. One evening, while she showered against the wall in the ghastly communal line of plumbing, she noticed a snowy dollop of her dechlorinating shampoo travel a new crease down the center of her abdominals past the bulb of her navel toward the thinning patch of her sex. She learned the shark fin drill. The floppy hand drill. She swam and she swam.


Veronique couldn’t honestly say, anymore, that her swimming was still good for her marriage. Tension had escalated between Veronique and Tom in the weeks since he scoffed at her pool buoy purchase. Well then, he had uttered. Though he still reached for her beneath the sheets Sundays and sporadic weekdays, she was finding it more and more difficult to accommodate the uptick in his interest.

“Now now, Tom, let’s not go and get carried away,” she increasingly greeted his overtures. 

After one such response, Tom asked her whether it was a “menopause thing,” which grated. The sun had barely cleared the spruce-line to fill the room with its shadows and he had woken her with his pawing and groping.

“I’m tired, Tom. Can’t I just be tired?”

“Well of course you’re tired, sure,” he chastised her none too subtly for her swimming as he rolled onto his back, the whining mattress punctuating his complaint.

Food was also becoming a problem. For supper, Tom liked to eat promptly at six and enjoyed casseroles featuring dairy products. Macaroni and cheese. Eggplant parmigiana. Lobster lasagna. Summer squash casserole. That he had recently gone on a statin to control his cholesterol only encouraged his alimentary inclinations. Cooking was his bailiwick, which Veronique had always liked about him, and still liked about him. But she just couldn’t eat such rich food before her workouts. She only nibbled at the edges of his meals, anymore. She had begun to imbibe in vegan protein-powder shakes for a goodly portion of her calories, leaving blender parts in various states of soaking and drying all about the tile counter and stainless sink basin.

“Do you think we can eat something lighter tonight, instead?” Veronique asked this morning after her husband mentioned what he planned on cooking tonight, mushroom moussaka.  He was still reading the paper at the table and she was gathering up her keys and the stack of math homework she had corrected. She braced herself for his response as he turned over a leaf of the paper, taking his time to lift his eyes. He had finally trimmed his beard, she noticed. She  wondered whether mushroom moussaka, perhaps the richest of his meals and one he hadn’t prepared in months, was some sort of test.

“Why, V, because of your swimming?” he asked, confirming her suspicions. His voice wasn’t exactly sharp, but a dose of venom, anyway, dripped from his diphthongs.

“Yes. Because of my swimming.”

Here, Tom pulled a deep breath into his nostrils and held it awhile before exhaling, as if seeking wisdom from the airborne molecules. They both listened to the silence for a while. He had returned his eyes to the paper, but she knew he wasn’t reading it. This, maybe, was what separated the marriages that lasted from the marriages that didn’t last, the amount of time each party was willing to listen to the silence while they contemplated second and third thoughts.

“How about baked haddock, instead?” he finally proposed.

“Perfect,” she told him.


That night, after the haddock, which was dry (though she didn’t dare complain), she made sure to do their dishes before she tromped off to the Y. It had been snowing most of the afternoon and broad flakes still confettied the skies. Veronique liked walking down the snow-crusted sidewalk in the gathering dark beneath the bare trees, then stripping down to her suit in the women’s locker room, stripping down like the skeletal maples and oaks and aspens, her slender feet smacking against the cement deck as she made her way to lane three. She savored the blessed silence underwater. There was so much noise in the solid world outside the pool. Beneath the surface, it was only her.

She had discovered a new workout that day, while her students took their test on decimals and she surfed the web from behind her desk. It was called a pyramid and entailed swimming a 100, 200, 300, and 400, then swimming back down the pyramid starting with another 400. You could also do a reverse pyramid, she learned, which she might try next time. She managed the yardage okay tonight, but pulled the second 400. The buoy and hand-paddles made it easier on her lungs, even if the paddles did try her shoulders, somewhat.

“Jeez, Veronique, you’re so good!” Joan Kaiser declared once Veronique reached the side between her 300 and 200, where Joan seemed to have been clinging for quite some time.  She’d seen Joan at the pool a few times during her evening sessions since she started swimming in earnest.

“Thanks,” she replied. Joan only swam breaststroke, and not particularly hard or well, and not for very long. Veronique and Joan were old friends. Or they used to be friends, anyway, although putting it like this sounded too harsh. There had never been a falling out between them.  There wasn’t quite a phrase to describe what Veronique and Joan were to each other now.  Veronique used to have more girlfriends. Like Joan. But then her girlfriends got pregnant and had babies. And then they had second and third babies and they had less and less to talk about, even after her girlfriends’ children started showing up in her elementary school classes. Queerly, this only broadened the gulf between Veronique and her old girlfriends, their relations predicated upon these new, vaguely adversarial, terms. She had winnowed her friends like chaff. Or maybe Veronique was the one who’d been winnowed. Maybe she was the chaff. Funny, this hadn’t occurred to her until now.

She ought to ask Joan after Ed and their girls. That older one, Rachel, had really put them through the wringer, had been all Veronique could handle the one year she had her in class, slicing up the undersides of her forearms six ways from Sunday with the end of a paper-clip.  Everything about Joan’s posture—her goggles propped up on her forehead, the way she leaned the back of her elbows on the gutter’s tiled ledge, the insouciant flutter of her pale feet—invited further chit-chat. Yet the digital timer perched on the coping issued its own demands, and what was the point of standing on ceremony? She lifted her nose toward the red numbers blinking past, secured her ear plugs, and ducked down into her 200. When she popped her head up again upon completing the set, Joan was gone.


The storm had subsided to flurries that melted against her lashes by the time she showered and exited through the glass doors. It was cold enough that she could feel her wet hair congealing in frozen strands that whipped against her cheek. She could see her hot breath in the urine glow of the sodium streetlamps. She told herself that if Tom reached for her tonight beneath their flannel sheets, she would not deny him.

But he didn’t reach for her. As they lay there, silent, she could smell the wintergreen from his toothpaste riding the air between them across the queen-size mattress. His teeth had seemed whiter over their fish supper, but they might have only been more visible inside his newly trimmed beard.

“Getting a bit carried away with all this swimming don’t you think, V?” he said, emboldened, perhaps, by the darkness of their bedroom.

“No,” she answered. “I don’t think.”

Tom let it go at that.

All the same, he was awfully curt the next morning when Veronique returned from her training. She had half-expected his apple-ricotta pancakes, had been looking forward to them, as he usually prepared apple-ricotta pancakes and warm maple syrup at least once a week, and typically on Friday. But he had already started in on his cold cereal by the time she flung off her boots in the mudroom and burst into the kitchen. There he was, scooping wet spoonfuls past his beard at a tempo that betrayed annoyance, if not outright anger. She wouldn’t rise to the provocation. Instead, she sat across from her husband and lathered her shredded wheat with milk.  His mushroomy odors wafted across the table, exercised as he was. Whatever foul mood he was cultivating, he nevertheless had set out an ironstone bowl for her on a straw placemat, a tablespoon tamping down the paper napkin he’d folded loosely in half. He had filled the bowl with her preferred cereal. This wasn’t such a small thing. Oh, Tom. They ate in silence for a few moments, until the silence became too much for her husband to bear.

“You’re just asking for an injury, hon’, hard as you’re going about this swimming thing.”

This swimming thing. She resented the dismissive phrasing, which echoed his recent allusion to her “menopause thing.”

“I’m careful about my shoulders,” she replied.

“Twice a day, I mean. Is that really necessary? People are talking.”

“Who? Who’s talking? And what does it matter, anyway?”

Twin furrows rose between her husband’s wooly eyebrows as he studied her face. He might have been contemplating which question he ought to answer first. A fly, one of those flies that had been driving him crazy lately, buzzed between them in looping arcs. Tom must have noticed the fly, but he ignored it to hold her gaze. She was tempted to lower her eyes or follow the fly, but a lot, suddenly, seemed to ride on her resolve, ocular and otherwise.

“People, V,” he repeated.  “People are talking.”

“So what’s it to them whether I swim? And what’s it to you? It’s not like it’s any skin off your nose.”

“Well that’s not true. That’s not true at all.”

He was right about this, of course. She remained silent and let the truth of his retort seep.  The advancing day sprayed the kitchen with brighter light through the bay window, which time to time flashed against the fly still carrying on its whirligig circuit between them. She could hear the juncos, or maybe they were finches, bickering in the junipers outside.

“It ever occur to you, V,” Tom finally said, “that I might enjoy swimming too? That I might be interested in joining you now and again?”

She listened to a bird complete its sentence before responding.

“Yes. It did.”  Which might have been a cruel thing to say. But she had never lied to Tom all these years. Not outright, anyway. She wasn’t about to lie to him, now. “Do you want to swim with me, Tom?”

“No. Not really.” She nodded, wishing it didn’t feel like such a relief that her husband didn’t care to horn in on her swimming.

“I have to get to school,” she declared, rising to clear their dirty bowls. His silent gaze pricked up the hairs back of her neck as she made her way to the sink. He tracked her movements, she could tell, as if she were a curious astronomical phenomenon.


She emailed Tom during DEAR time today (Drop-Everything-And-Read) that they should fend for themselves for supper as she needed to stay after school today for parent-teacher meetings, which was true, and that she couldn’t make it home by six, which wasn’t exactly true but wasn’t quite a lie, either, she convinced herself. She just didn’t feel like getting into it again with her husband. He might have felt the same way, because he wrote back, “Sounds good,” which was a heck of a lot more civil than “Ok,” the laconic email reply he deployed when he was peeved, and which she had expected.

She worked on her DPS tonight, her distance-per-stroke, counted her strokes as she crawled across the pool. The idea was to reduce, through proper technique, the number of strokes it took to complete each length. When she rotated on her axis and reached for clean water in front of her shoulder during the catch, then completed each stroke by sweeping her thigh with her thumb, she could make it across the twenty-five yards in twenty-three strokes. DPS was important. But the turnover rate of each stroke was important too. Speed was the simple function of the ratio between stroke distance and turnover rate. She had incorporated the calculation, and other swim-related calculations, into math questions for her students. Locating the most efficient ratio for each swim distance was imperative. The plan tonight was to keep the same stroke tempo, but increase the DPS to affect greater speed over each 100.

This sort of training took a great deal of concentration. It wasn’t easy to keep count of each stroke while simultaneously keeping track of the lengths. Complicating matters, she couldn’t stop mulling over the argument (for surely that’s what it was) that she had had with Tom this morning over breakfast. This swimming thing. He relied too heavily upon her company, she feared, which her girlfriends back in the day had envied. “He’s so interested in you,” Michelle Ackinclose had declared at one of their clambake get-togethers years ago, bouncing a newborn on the ledge of her hip. Michelle. She hadn’t thought about Michelle in a while. It was something a wife would only think to say if her own husband had developed alternative interests, as all her girlfriends’ husbands had. Their passion for various hobbies rose over the years in inverse proportion to their interest in their wives. Frank, Michelle’s husband, bred, trained, and sold French bulldogs on their three-acre wooded lot beside the golf course, which always struck Veronique as strange. Of all the dogs. He was also pretty involved with the town’s Boy Scout troop. Tom, by contrast, didn’t have any hobbies. Not really. He read thick paperbacks they used to call pot-boilers, and maybe still called pot-boilers, and he liked to cook, but neither took up enough of his time or energy to qualify as a hobby, per se.

Now how many strokes was that!? 

Children would have kept Tom gainfully entertained, less reliant upon her in the bargain. Children would have been a great hobby for him. That Veronique could think such thoughts about children as she trained in the pool was one of the reasons she probably wasn’t a mother. It wasn’t that she and Tom never tried to get pregnant. They did try. But it took so long to conceive. And then she was sick as a dog for weeks. And then she miscarried far enough along that she ought to have been out of the woods, which complicated matters. The OB-GYN on call at the hospital in East Machias performed the dilation and curettage without a sedative and with greater tight-mouthed severity than kindness. The procedure involved scraping, and suction (that noise!), and not a small amount of pain and blood. She and Tom tried to get pregnant again after six months, or sort of tried. When Veronique didn’t conceive after another year, they might have consulted the specialist in Bangor that Michelle told her about. But Tom didn’t press her about children, nor did she press him. Years passed. Suddenly, they were that odd couple in town who just didn’t have children. They never discussed their predicament with each other in any deliberate or explicit fashion. The miscarriage had been hard on Tom, too.

How amazing it was, truly, Veronique thought while she showered off the chlorine in the mildewed locker room. The things that married couples talked about. The things they chose not to talk about. A peculiar sadness crept inside her and stretched its legs as she leaned the crown of her head into the spray, her arms crossed beneath her breasts, grateful that she was alone. Water from the snub-nosed showerhead tattered her with stinging blows. She struggled a moment to pinpoint the source of her sadness. Poor Tom. Although he never complained, it had been harder for her husband all these years than it had been for her to do without children, or a child. She spent five days a week, after all, surrounded by young children, cycling between first and fifth grades over her tenure. She knew what it felt like to comfort a child, to gather her in her arms and feel the hot tears seep through the fabric of her shirt. There there. She knew the sound of a child’s laughter upon hearing or (more often) telling a new joke, those ebullient, tinkling notes.  She knew their scruffy odors. She knew the countless pained expressions children made when they struggled—oh, did they struggle!—the way they bit their bottom lips with their corn-niblet teeth, squinted their eyes, blew air into their cheeks, thrust their lower teeth forward, chimp-like. She knew how to help them with their math-facts and their reading comprehension and derived not a small amount of satisfaction in their incremental gains. Even Joan’s daughter, Rachel, had made certain strides. It wasn’t the same thing as being a parent. Oh no. But it wasn’t nothing.


February was the hardest month to truck in their northern town. It wasn’t so much the cold, but the darkness, the sun only reluctantly rising and hiding itself most days behind an iron sheet of cloud. The entire town, it seemed, drifted in a malaise through their pared down appointments and obligations. Tom’s work, by contrast, picked up some this season and he began working longer hours sporadic evenings. Policy holders all across his territory in Washington and Hancock counties had been filing claims related to the heavy snows. Sunken roofs. Frozen plumbing. Drenched basements. Tom and Veronique talked less and less, which she knew better than to attribute to February, alone, or to the surge of homeowner policy claims that he needed to administer. He remembered to buy her a Valentine’s Day card this year yet only signed his name, perfunctorily, rather than jot a line or two. He stopped reaching for her beneath the sheets, entirely. She wished that she could feel worse about this. She thought back at his recent barb. Is this a menopause thing, V? She had recoiled at the insult, but maybe it was a menopause thing, and what was so bad about that? Body and soul, somehow, had shaken itself loose from the tyranny of sex. She was free now in a way she hadn’t felt free since she could remember, free to imagine, as she drifted off to sleep tonight, the perfect purchase of her palms against the sticky medium of water.


Then it was March. Tom suggested one night after supper while they cleaned their dishes (Tom cleaned, Veronique dried) that they take a walk, outside.

“Sure,” she told him, not wanting to deny him this small pleasure. They often used to take a short walk together after supper to digest. But they hardly did so, anymore, what with Veronique rushing off to the Y for her evening swim. This was another way, she supposed, in which her newfound passion had upset Tom’s former routine.

The streets were barren and strangely bright, the dormant grass, shrubs, and trees crusted with snow that gleamed against a full moon. Her natural pace was brisker than Tom’s, forcing her to check her gait. It took a block to settle into a rhythm so they could walk shoulder-to-shoulder.

“Not too cold,” Tom uttered beside her.

“No, it’s fine outside.”

She wondered if there was something more important that he wanted to say, if that’s why he suggested they take a walk outdoors—easier to broach a difficult topic while they were on the move and under the cover of darkness, which might have been darker. She could hear his breath and his heavy Bean boots as they crunched against the packed snow every footfall. Car engines a few blocks away on Main rumbled in and out of earshot now and again.

“Met with Marjorie over her whole life plan today at the office.”


Marjorie Cornish was another one of Veronique’s old friends, or former friends, or something. She and Marjorie had co-chaired the Jumble Sale fundraiser at Grace Community Church each year before Veronique decided that the sisterhood was large enough that it was time someone else chair, or co-chair, the Jumble Sale.

“Still has her panties in a twist about that traffic signal.” It always made her chuckle, that expression Tom used time to time. The town council last year had voted to approve the installation of a traffic signal top of the hill on Main, though much of the town felt, like Marjorie, that a traffic circle would suffice for a fraction of the cost. “How do you feel again, V, about that traffic signal?”

The things that married couples talked about, Veronique marveled afresh. The things they left alone.

She told Tom that she didn’t really have an opinion about the traffic signal one way or the other. Then Tom said something she didn’t fully hear about a traffic study that the town either did or did not commission. She was about to ask him to repeat himself when he wondered aloud whether they’d get another big snow this March, or whether the storm last week was pretty much it until the thaw. The thaw. Come summer this year, she’d swim open-water at Hadley Lake. She noticed the high-schoolers every season plying the tannic waters while trailing bright orange safety balloons, but never imagined until now that she might be one of these swimmers.  The dawning prospect bolstered her spirits as it gave her something to look forward to once the long winter loosed its grip. A smile dawned across her face, which Tom must have noticed.

“What? What is it, V?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.” She lifted a mittened hand toward her mouth to shroud the smile.  “You met another fella, V, didn’t you? That’s what this swimming thing’s all about, that

smile, isn’t it? You can tell me. I won’t be angry.”

“No, Tom. Of course not!” Veronique had halted on the sidewalk to speak these words, forcing Tom to stop in his tracks too a few yards ahead. How could he saunter through such a discussion? The dark foliage of one of the neighborhood’s behemoth white pines framed his wool-capped head. She searched his eyes above his parka and beard to gauge his temperature, but his eyes gave nothing away. It hurt to think that for weeks, maybe months, Tom thought she’d been having an affair, that he thought her capable of doing something so astonishing. But she didn’t have time now to nurse this small hurt, as Tom had something more to say.

“Because I’ve sort of been seeing someone, Veronique.”

She wasn’t used to him calling her by her full name, which somehow added brass to the blow. “You’ve sort of been seeing someone,” she tasted the words in her mouth. She wondered who it was, whether she knew her, but wasn’t certain she wanted to know. She wondered why he was telling her this now. Maybe because he had never before lied to her, just as she had never lied to him, and he discovered that it felt rotten.

“Nothing’s really happened,” he said.

Veronique tried hard not to think about what that meant, exactly. A clump of snow tumbled from the pine’s scaffolding behind him. Squirrel, maybe, troubling the branches. A dog barked from somewhere, which she scarcely heard because, heck, she couldn’t keep from wondering what Tom had been up to with his new someone, and who the new someone might be, while he said he was working late. It wasn’t anything lurid that she imagined. She pictured, instead, her husband and this faceless someone at the Greek diner in East Machias, he would choose the most public of places beginning of things, talking about a thorny claim on his desk, the traffic signal on Main, the likelihood of more snow this season. It wounded her, the perfectly banal intimacies shared between her husband and his someone. It might have hurt even more had she not been so astonished by Tom’s disclosure.

She still wanted him, it occurred to her, though maybe not enough. Maybe that was the problem. Tom wanted someone who could want him more. Of course he did.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” he asked.

“I’m thinking,” she said. Here’s what Veronique thought about now. She thought about how many lives one could live, even within such an unremarkable life as her own, and how strange and wondrous it was that any two souls could partner peaceably, and with some measure of contentment and even joy, across these many selves.

“It’s just . . .” he groped for his words while the dog continued to bark now and again . . . “it’s just like that’s all you ever think about, anymore. Swimming. I don’t get it.”

“I know you don’t. I’m sorry.”

If she could only explain to her husband who she was now. If he could only do the same, explain to her who this new Tom was before her who was sort of seeing someone.

“Veronique?” he asked. “You there?” He waved a gloved hand before her eyes as if to bring her to, which worked. She blinked, and then she breathed.

“Yes,” she answered. “I’m right here, Tom. This is me.”







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