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Or Things I Did Not Do or Say

Dog in Pompeii Italy
Loren Ellis, Dog in Pompeii Italy, 1974, selenium toned fiber print, 8 × 10". Courtesy of the artist.

Only yesterday I drove my wife, I still think of her as my wife, to the new Denver airport, no longer new. The great white Mylar-covered peaks of the terminal, or perhaps they’re meant to evoke teepees, came up from the plains, they were catching the late afternoon light, and she said, “I will miss you baby.” Many years ago she dropped her faintly braying banker-Irish accent in favor of a somewhat imaginary, Western way of talking distinguished among other things by a liberal use of the word baby. “Oh likewise. Christ,” I naturally responded after a poignant week (the mood of last week was quiet, gracious, and frail) in which my wife, or ex-wife, rather, had spent each day packing boxes and I’d returned from the office each night to a slightly emptier house. I looked to Viv, who smiled her frank smile from the passenger seat. Of course she was wiping her eyes.

We may have fought for two years plus, but the last week was very nice, we ate take-out and drank copious wine in the emptying house, we even made love or had sex every night, the way evidently you will when your spouse is leaving for good. The last week was very gracious and untypical, and we’d hardly talked at all. I’m the one being left with the house, I am the one staying put, and so for me the last week seemed strangely like the visit of a guest. It seemed as though she’d come, albeit for twenty-seven years and change, only in order to leave, and all week long we were quiet and even ceremonious with one another. It occurred to me that it was as if we were bowing to each other, at a little distance, in robes. “I’ve become as polite as you are!” Viv said once hostilely, but only once.

She dressed yesterday in a tailored blue suit, for Vivian air travel has remained a formal occasion. I packed the trunk with her two suitcases and then drove her the three hours to the new airport. I’m the one who originally enticed her out here, I had boasted of the open space and ideal climate, the friendly people and the tucked-away valley for ourselves, and now I was sending her back. Her mother lives these days in an assisted living facility, the big house in Boxford, Mass., was sold many years ago, yet all the same I felt I was sending her home.

There wasn’t much talk until we’d passed through the Eisenhower Tunnel. Then we began talking about Tim, who pleases us. In my case a large part of the pleasure derives from his being the sort of child you don’t have to worry about too much, except in the vague sense that you think of him always. Mostly what Viv and I discussed was Tim’s fiancée (his second), their new apartment, his new bio-diesel car (Tim believes in a small impact, a minimal environmental footprint, it’s a matter of strong conviction with him).

Small talk has an aspect of bravery when things are winding down. We came out of the mountains, down through the foothills, with Denver spreading at their base, and talked about little and then about nothing. And then the peaks or teepees, or perhaps they are notionally sails, of the new international airport rose up from the plains, we’d reached the place where the airport road bifurcates, and I bore right, toward terminal A, and Viv, as I said, was wiping her eyes.

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