“You know, he’s an atheist,” I said.
“Who?” asked the husband.
“What activist?” he asked, confused.
“The one buried beneath the pool.”
“I don’t want to have this conversation now,” he replied, tight-lipped and sullen.
I turned away and retreated into my imagining.
Every spring the husband has taken the kids home to stay with his parents for the Easter holidays. Just as important has been the annual dinner with one of his oldest school friends at a favorite locale. There — over a ritual of Schäufele and Knödel, two beers, and aperitifs — they would argue over whatever came to mind.
The restaurant had a certain charm — nothing pretentious in its simple wooden tables and the chipped paint of the walls — and the towering plates of meat that had passed our table had set my mouth to watering. I had already met the couple on an earlier visit to Berlin and liked them: he German, she Turkish, the two obviously well matched. Both could understand my English, but the evening progressed even in that way predictably — in the fast-clipped German between familiars.
I have already received one pitying look too many from the other wife. “Tired?” she asked in German. I nodded.
Despite the close quarters of the table, both the question and the answer go unnoticed by my husband. I wondered briefly if it was deliberate. He had finished both beers, all of his plate and most of mine, and had downed the aperitif. He was buzzed from the food and the drink, and lustily debating his favorite subject — what I gathered from the random words I captured here and there as I tried again to follow.
Apparently, I wasn’t too successful and must have again drifted away. The other wife reached across the table and stroked my cheek. “Poor Tammi,” she said. The husband continued uninterrupted.
I placed my hand on his arm. In the past, I have lightly squeezed his knee under the table and even kicked him. Those were sometimes too subtle. So too was this light touch to his arm. I found myself staring at his watch and wondering how long I could hang in there. I decided I couldn’t. I tapped his arm three times — it had all the subtlety of a brick to the head, a signal that was not lost to anyone.
“Ready to go?”
His irritation spilled forward like a wave, but I replied with an affirmation just the same. He returned to his thread of conversation. The other wife, surprised, took it upon herself to let the waitress know that, yes, we were ready.
The husband and I walked slowly up the hill lost in our thoughts. A bell repeated itself on the street and, finally aware that we were being signaled, I turned to watch the couple climb the slope on their bikes. They waved, then turned the corner and were gone. We continued on our way without them, the silence widening between us until it seemed unbridgeable.
I tried nonetheless. The story of the activist was a peace offering. An olive branch. A hand across the crack in our world.
I am rebuffed and step away.
Less than a week ago, we were relaxing together on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We were in Cenger, Turkey on an unexpected but altogether welcome holiday. As the husband had described it to the pair over dinner, he had read the travel agent’s listing and saw that there was just ten minutes to decide before the offer was lost. I had no part in the decision myself, just a surprising SMS: “We are booked for Turkey. Ten days all inclusive in Side, room with a sea view, sand beach.”
The hotel was unlike anything I had enjoyed before. I am a budget traveler. That is, I barter, wheedle, comb for deals, and otherwise pinch pennies to simply get to the other side of the world. It has worked so far. Nairobi. Auckland. Paris. Honolulu. I have traveled to places that others have dreamed of and still not seen everything that I have myself dreamed.
Turkey had been on the long list. This trip felt like cheating though. We were there, yes, but in what I fondly called our golden cage: a hotel with its own shops, a doctor’s office, a complete bowling alley, a hammam, and a seemingly never-ending list of more. We decided quickly that leaving for those same things in other parts of the region simply made no sense. We stayed put and every day unfolded into the next with little variation. A pleasure nonetheless.
One day, he was sleeping in when I decided to go alone to breakfast. It was extremely early, so only the most dedicated of my fellow off-season travelers were there to join me in the quiet dining hall. Looking down and out across the terrace, I saw a lone worker sweeping near the already immaculate outdoor pool.
The story stepped from the morning shadows there. A labor activist. A murder. A detective. A madwoman. A forlorn sister.
I let them tell me their stories alone at the breakfast table and then took them back to my groggy husband. It became our game over the next number of days. “She’s a lesbian,” I would declare and then we aged her, colored her hair, added flesh or took it away again. “He has a preference for older women,” I’d say and then we talked about whether he was fit or not, tall or short, thick or thin.
To bond with my writer-husband, I killed a lone activist in my mind and buried him in the concrete of an outdoor pool and welcomed a whole cast of characters poolside to mourn him.
Like them, I loved and admired him.
When I returned from brushing my teeth, I saw that my husband had pushed together his parents’ two single beds. He hadn’t asked. I hadn’t said. Neither of us spoke. He laid there on his back and quietly read a book. I pulled out my Kindle and dropped back into the German novel I was reading.
(The words come to me. Slowly. Still slowly.)
He said goodnight.
I turned off the light.