house full of fleas when I was a child,” she said. “A tattered couch, faded,
rough, teal. I was ashamed of the fleas and the tattered couch. I remem-
ber the cats we had then and how they loved us. I remember the sound
of my father whistling.”
“I think we’re done,” he said. “I think we need to move on.”
“Move on,” she repeated. People were walking or sunbathing all
around them, but not so many as there would have been if the air had
been cooler or dryer or the beach free of fleas.
“The agents are right,” he said.
“Really?” she said. “Last night we were getting married.”
“That’s never going to happen,” he said.
When she didn’t respond, he walked away and into the waves, cutting through the salty water until she couldn’t see his legs, and at last
he turned to face her. “Come on,” he called, “wash away the fleas,” and
when she reached him he pulled her hard against his body and groped
her under the water, fingers sliding between the binding of her bathing
suit and her skin and finding her, pushing deeper in. He bit her lip and
turned her and pressed against her from behind and kissed her neck
and ear and probed until he was fucking her, water splashing with and
around them, rolling in and rolling out, hiding and revealing, until, satiated, they collapsed to the soaking sand and let themselves be washed
over, held their breaths and surrendered to being swept in from the deep
and back to land.
She had not believed him when he said it was over, but that act of sudden
sex on the beach turned out to be their last, at least for a time. “Someone
is asking a question no one can answer,” he said as she drove home. “Ev-
ery groping for an answer is another question, every answer a refusal.
When? What? Why? Why not?”
In the morning he packed a bag.
He was going on a shoot, a freebie, supporting some indie director,
starring in her short, a showcase for festivals and grant applications. For
a moment Ursula was jealous of this woman. “No, no,” he said, and she
believed him. He was always doing shorts and student films and artists’
experiments for which he never got paid. What difference did it make?
They were who they were, she thought. They would always be who they
were for each other.
He was gone for five days, as expected, and then for another five.