Rice Paddies With Ducks by Patricia Mae Young

A Journey

Deborah Shouse

My lover goes on a journey. I pack for him a quartz wrapped in silk, a bottle of Evian wrapped in my purple satin underwear, and a pear, not yet ripe. He kisses my eyelids.

I like the romance of being loved and alone. I like the breath of my room, the bed alone. My lover floats into my life on the crest of his ex-wife, his children, work, and endless committees. He is a man tied into the community, a man involved in purpose. I have cat spirit. I am content for long periods with nothing but the suggestion of rain on the window. I am content to know that love is out there, traveling the highway, listening to National Public Radio. Love far away is a deeper comfort than love right at hand.

My lover gives me space. He leaves early in the morning, before he imprints me for the day. If he touches me, if he kisses me too deeply, then I mourn him all day. I fall into my feelings. I stare at my clients like they are children with a foreign language. I run my focus groups like a stringless kite. My energy sits on the car floor like puddles from an old red boot.

"Hey, Diane a bunch of us are going to the Jigger Friday. Want to come?" Ardie asks me at work. I think of a bunch of grapes, calm and clustered, plump and just escaped from too much sun, sweet and thick enough to crunch. Then I think of my colleagues, loud and laughing at sex, loud and slugging Corvasa down Friday night throats.

"I might meet you there," I say. Like the spider, I leave enough web to escape.

When my lover has been gone for three days, I begin to miss him. I wonder if he remembers me, if he will come home and start over with a new lover, someone who owns green shoes and a green purse, someone who wears lipstick that stays red all day. What if my lover never returns, I wonder. Will I keep the soft skein of his love in my mind, or will I bat it around, tangle it all up and forget its once comforting smoothness?

The fifth day, my lover calls me. His voice is cool wind on a meltdown summer day.

"My car broke down in Texas and I'm stuck here," he says. "My ex- has the kids in Toronto, so it's ok. Do you want to come down here?"

I imagine abandoning my job for a few days and traveling to Texas. My mouth is empty and I don't know my answer.

"Think about it," he says. "We'll stay in the Candlestick Inn, $ 29.95 a night, for two."

I see the inn, a pink-flavored motel on the side of a not quite highway. I wonder what my lover does all day, away from his committees and meetings, away from the softball and soccer and dancing lessons of his children. Who will I meet if I go to Texas?

"All right," I say.

"Take the Greyhound," he advises.

He knows how plane travel startles me. I can't quite understand rapidity, for my heart moves so slowly, so deeply, within its own court.

I go to the bus station alone. Everyone else is anchored with huge suitcases, whining children or limping husbands. I am crisp, aloof and armed with three books. I sleep my way down south, my head against the window, lulled by the rustle of food and the children, whispering their way through travel games.

I smell like chocolate and sardines when I arrive. My lover looks like the inside of Texas, a drawl spread across his face. He moves like slow muddy catfish instead of silvery surface minnows. He kisses me without touching me anywhere else, the way I like it at first, just the lips, get used to their flavor and temperature and the way they press just so and the language they bring. I put my hands behind my back to keep from hugging him hard and asking him never to leave me.

Inside the motel room, the bedspread is brown, the walls have copies of Monet's Water Lilies. Outside the window, a pink neon sign boasts "All the fried catfish you can eat."

We have never been this alone. The quietness of the walls, the whoosh of the outside traffic, the harsh reality of the beds, make me look at my lover differently. He walks toward me, his lips moving as if he is counting out a dance step. He kneels and takes both my hands.

"Have you ever thought about living together?" he says. His voice is early morning fog I could walk right through.

I shake my head, like a child who can't think of the right answer. The daring of my lover, the sheer cliff-climbing daring, astounds me. I turn toward the wall so I won't spill my feelings, so my emotions won't paint him red and trap him.

"You scare people," Ardie has counselled me. "You intimidate men." She comes into my office during the afternoons, when I'm yearning for grass and a shade tree.

"I'm tall," I tell her.

"It's not just that," she says, looking around my office for clues to my real self. "For example, I happen to know Ed wants to ask you out, but he's worried you'll laugh at him."

"I'm honest," I say.

"You're scary," she says, taking a paper clip from my desk and leaving.

"I don't remember how to make love," I tell my lover.

He reminds me. I sink into the bed and hold my breath until I am deep underwater, deep into the aura of death, and then I rise, a woman newly formed.

Texas love is big and wide and in no particular hurry. It's love making without a map, just a journeying timelessness, mouths and hands and hearts and genitals, confused and converged and tied together in some lowing fashion, like a full udder at evening.

The next morning we eat in the cafe.

"You need cowboy clothes," my lover says, after everyone has stared plenty at me. I wear natural cotton prints, wild with black lines that could be copulating women or birds flying.

"You need jeans and a plaid shirt," he tells me.

I stir around my eggs and decide he is right. Without a car, we walk everywhere. We are different, our time is a lariat, laying at the foot of an easy chair. His children, the learned ones, the lessoned ones, are with their mother. My focus groups, the frantic ones, the fickle ones, are with a colleague. There is nothing but a man and a woman in a strange small town. We could be married. I could be his sister, I could be anyone.

We walk slowly and hold hands. We amble easy into the JC Penney store. He comes into the dressing room and watches as I wiggle into jeans. He kisses my navel while I unzip. When we leave the store, we are dressed alike.

We are holding hands when a horn honks. It is a cowboy driving my lover's car.

"All fixed," the cowboy says. His teeth shine like tomorrow. I feel the tensed mountain lion of my heart. I feel the taloned eagles of my shoulders, ready for flight. I feel something loose in my throat.

My mother taught me ice. There was no one to teach me rain. My brother taught me boxing. No one taught me weaving. My grandmother taught me invisibility. I do my best, struggling to keep hidden and yet aching to be seen.

As we leave Texas, my lover develops a thirst for the city and wants to drive straight through.

He drops me at my apartment and rushes off.

I slow my heart as I relearn my apartment.

Have you ever considered living together, he had asked me. I never answered the question, I never dared, because I knew how soon it would be taken away from me.

"Yes," I whisper, so quietly that no one, not even my heart, can hear.

"A Journey" originally appeared in Potpourri. It also appeared in the anthology, Beginning From The Middle, by Whispering Prairie Press.

Deborah Shouse has written White Bread Love, a collection of short stories, and co-authored Working Woman's Communications Survival Guide. Her writing appears in Christian Science Monitor, Redbook, The Sun, and the anthology, The Time of Our Lives.

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