In P__, we had a huge yellow kitchen. A garden. The cat, who’d so wanted to, could go outside.
The conversation sounded similar every time we had it. One of us would start with, “Do you miss B__?” Or, on milder days, “How are you feeling about P__?”
The garden had kale and cucumbers in it. The kitchen was the size of an apartment in B__.
These conversations, between Celia and me, were deeply self-interested. That is, they sprouted, whether we realized it or not at the time, from our own sense of insecurity. We asked the questions to ensnare each other into accidentally making a decisive gesture.
I have an essay of feeling about it.
I planned to pick the cucumbers from the garden and make pickles.
Celia, more pragmatic, suggested after one of our conversations that we make lists. One list listed the bridges of P__. Another, a list of rules, said that every time we drove over any bridge we had to make sure to notice the river and the other bridges.
I made nine jars of pickles. I planned to keep two and give away seven to friends.
I’m looking to define an emotional channel.
To call any of these conversations arguments would be inaccurate, because 1) we often felt the same way, particularly about P__ vs. B__, and, 2) we tended to wilt rather than argue, particularly when on the verge of arguing about P__ vs. B__.
The cat meowed to go outside. And meowed to come in.
Though these conversations weren’t arguments, there was, I’ll admit, some pull and push, considering that I was the one who hadn’t wanted to leave B__, and who had, in fact, grown up in B__, though, in a surprising turn of events, I was now the one who was, if not thriving, at least succeeding in P__, as if I were a type of plant well-suited to its weather.
Bugs attacked the kale in the garden. I (I!) washed off the bugs and cooked and ate it.
The bridge rule offered extra points for looking at the river and the other bridges during sunrise or sunset. For not looking—or for looking, but not noticing—particularly during sunrise or sunset—the rule assigned demerits.
One night, the cat didn’t come home. We put up fliers in the neighborhood. The cat came home the next day. As the cat sat and purred in my lap, a neighbor called and said, “I saw your cat.”
When Celia and I argued, it felt as if someone had taken the two coasts of me and yanked.
I wrangled the lawn mower. I enjoyed it, Celia watching from the window.
Demerits came, too, for online stalking of events in B__. Big demerits would have come for pricing plane tickets back to B__ or searching job or apartment listings in B__, but neither Celia nor I would have admitted to doing that.
Not that either of us were immune to worrying about whether we had made the right decision in moving from B__ to P__. The difference was that, on any given day, I tended to frontload my worrying, and then discover that I’d emerged from worry into a surprisingly calm fortitude. Celia’s worry snuck up on her and broke across her back like a wave, leaving her soaked and surprised.
It’s not—I know—but I’m saying it feels like—an epic cleaving.
I had a shed in the backyard to write in.
I drove to work over the tallest bridge in P__. To my left, the rust-colored bridge and the most industrial bridge and between their beams and angles, the sunrise.
We got wind of the impending storm in B__ a few days before it was to hit. We thought that, like most storms, the red flags raised were in inverse proportion to the damage the storm would actually cause.
Driving across the rust-colored bridge, I noticed that the river was flat, grey, and reflective, and though the surface itself wasn’t moving, it gave the sense of movement happening underneath the surface.
If there was a thing I hated most about P__, it was its easiness, compared to B__. P__’s easiness was, too, the thing about it that most contributed to my sense of calm fortitude.
This feeling is an heirloom ring tossed in a terminal cleft.
Sometimes the conversation between Celia and me would start, “Do we have any real friends here?” Our real friends were in B__, but in P__ there were people who were, if not like our real friends, then like friends we could imagine having. Sometimes that imagining resulted in hangouts with our P__ friends that looked close enough to versions of good times we could have been having with our friends in B__.
Once or twice I said to Celia, “Let’s have sex like we were in B__,” but that didn’t really mean anything.
Bugs attacked the kale again. This time, there were too many to wash off, and we had to pull up the bed.
Nobody in B__ counted or named bridges, though everyone knew their names. I drove over the tallest bridge in P__ and felt with regret as deep as a river that I had not spent enough time walking or biking over B__’s bridges when I’d lived there, and that now the only way to think about B__’s bridges was to count them or to name them.
The storm was expected in two days. I brought home two extra gallons of water. I hid them in the basement. I noted our stock of batteries in the refrigerator and mentioned, offhandedly, to Celia, “It’s probably not a good idea to keep the batteries in the refrigerator if the power’s going to go out.”
I desperately want a word for the feeling. It’s so perverse. It felt better, and worse and thus better, to cheat and cheat and look online at the events and listings in B__ that I wasn’t supposed to look at, and imagine that I, in fact, was the demerit jar, and each demerit a large, cold pill I swallowed.
Sometimes, when we particularly missed B__, we brought up the story of the microwave and our neighbor. Our neighbor, who we’d seen proselytizing and distributing pamphlets on the subway, had intercepted our microwave on our way down to the trash room. Then the earthquake in Haiti happened. The next time we saw our neighbor, she was so happy to see us. She was ecstatic to tell us that she had sent our heavy, short-corded microwave to Haiti as part of the relief effort.
The storm was coming to B__ the next day. I went into the drawer to get a can opener for the cat food, and discovered that where, before, there had been two can openers, there now were three. In the basement, I found Celia, taping windows.
In P__, it was so easy to get to work, and to get home. I drove over the most industrial bridge and I was all too aware, because of the windshield and windows of my car, of how beautiful it was outside. I tried to remember which was the worst, most punishable thing I could do: look at but not notice the river and the other bridges, or the other way around?
The manifold cupboards in our huge, yellow kitchen were stocked with canned goods.
Celia said, “How are you feeling about P__?” I was looking at the weather on the Internet.
We checked and re-checked the computer and the radio. We flung cold batteries into flashlights.
I said, “Do you miss B__?” “Ssh,” Celia said. She was listening to the radio.
This is the search for a word in the form of a story. The word I’m looking for encompasses both definitions of the verb to cleave.
We pulled down the shades against the daylight. We texted our friends in B__. We turned out the lights. When Celia wasn’t looking, I unplugged the landline.
Try naming all ten bridges.
Reports were coming in of mandatory evacuations in flood zones. Photos were showing downed trees. We could hear the wind.
This is a search for a word for a feeling and the feeling means loss, measured in water rising.
How many demerits for hurricane envy? How many demerits for admitting the selfishness—the self-centeredness, the poor-me-ness—of that construct, but refusing to denounce it, thus denying this story that feather in its cap?
We loaded and reloaded the flood zone map.
They closed the tunnel minutes before the water rushed in.
The cat meowed to go out. “No fucking way,” we said.
This isn’t an allegory. This is actually looking out the window and expecting to see the fallen trees. This is feeling dazed and heartbroken to look out the window and not see the fallen trees.
Sometimes, after the wave of worry had hit Celia, she would say, “I never should have made you move here,” and I would say, “You didn’t make me,” and she would insist that she had, as if by assigning blame we could return to B__ and move on.
We didn’t have a TV. We had the same ten Internet photos that we kept scrolling through. The smashed boat was sadder every time.
Once or twice I said to Celia, “Let’s have sex like we were in B__,” and we went at each other like we didn’t know each other, like we were coastal opposites tossed cosmically on the same shore, like we were perfect, strangers.
We were barricaded in blankets, our raingear arranged around us. The cat purred on my lap. “Do you really think our neighbor sent the microwave to Haiti?” Celia asked. I said, “How could you even talk about Haiti?”
The picture of the smashed boat again. Housefronts torn off of what had been a neighborhood.
The skies stayed dry, as if to spite us.
SARA JAFFE is a fiction writer, musician, and teacher living in Portland, Oregon, and she is also co-editor of New Herring Press.