Last words & epigraphs
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He read the note, folded it, tucked it in his pocket. He’d found it by the roadside. He’d hoped for something more interesting, not:
The handwriting was old-fashioned, an old lady’s, limp and loose; one could see the well-formed characters but they’d lost definition, the hand a bit shaky.
He’d been hoping for something more revealing, revelatory, a sign or portent:
Meet me at the boathouse at 2:00 pm
You will soon receive an unexpected visitor.
He thought no more about it. Just a shopping list—someone else’s unmet needs. What were his own? What would his list look like?
a love relationship
He hadn’t always been so without definition. His figure had once cut a sharper shape. He hadn’t always had his father’s ailing health to look after…
The smell of pine sap reached him. He was walking past the park where he and Elena had first met, she with her little dog — Clémence, she called it — which seemed to him too much of a person’s name. But then Elena and Clémence were awfully bonded, and that was the problem, wasn’t it — it left no room for him — how, after all, does one compete with a cute little fluff ball of fur? Something that promised loyalty, affection, and fun, yet never really demanded anything — just some food and caressing — a minimum of fuss.
Of course, Elena thought him crazy — jealous of a Yorkshire terrier. But he was. She couldn’t see that her devotion was extreme, her attachment unhealthy. Instead it was: “You’re the one with the problem! Unable to attach yourself to anyone!”
There was perhaps some truth to the statement, he could admit, which showed finally that he was much more reasonable than she — who could admit nothing, nothing was ever wrong with her or Clémence — how quickly she flew to her dog’s defense! “She doesn’t shed, what are you talking about?” “She does not eat too much!” “She doesn’t smell — what’s the matter with you?”
Was it too difficult to form a new attachment at age forty-eight? We’ve lived too long, he thought. Loved enough, or not enough, but have enough of our identities intact that the need for someone else just isn’t strong enough. And yet… The last time he saw her he’d wanted her with a ferocity that surprised him. Her smile, the way her hair fell in wisps around her ears, her legs—still shapely and attractive beneath her short skirt. She was kind and funny and physically attractive, and having been in a number of relationships over the years, from two days to fourteen years, he knew this was all that mattered to him now, it had boiled down to this: thoughtfulness, a sense of humor, an attractive physique. But sans Clémence. Just get rid of the dog.
He had wandered onto the trail that began in the park and wound its way through the woods. He trod the path without thinking, without noticing: faint sound of birds, insects, twigs crackling. Soon the sun would be sinking. He thought of the list he’d pocketed:
He could remember the items easily. And if he placed those four items in his shopping basket? Would he have the answer? How simple, really, so simple. His step quickened. He knew the Quick Mart would be open now; the trail led almost to its doorstep. He smiled—at nothing, to no one in particular.