Tucson, Arizona, USA, 2021
She is dreaming of teaching again, but this time underwater, at first everyone with regulators and tanks, but then just their plain human selves cross-legged on the sand while she gesticulates and dispenses and watches their watery faces.
Awake, she tries to tell him but it’s nonsense. Remember when were in Roatan, kneeling on the ocean floor, and the dolphins came, squeak-squeaking behind us and then swimming in front of us against our upright palms? Remember when we were in the Bahamas, kneeling on the ocean floor, and the chummed waters above brought the sharks? And we’d been told not to wave our hands around because they’d look like prey? And in the photos my hands are fiercely tucked in my armpits but my face is rapt?
I know, he says, wasn’t I there too? What does any of that have to do with teaching? Were the dolphins before or after we split up, I can’t remember?
The wide-aisled mostly unshopped grocery store she found has removed its one-way aisle arrows. She has emailed corporate which said it was no longer required. Well, she thinks, not that everyone paid heed anyway, and what’s the store to do. She went on impulse/desperation into a Walmart with its swarm of unmasked swimmers and fled, prey, right.
He has already been a hermit. They have a lifetime supply of books and movies. What does lifetime mean? Well, there are always reruns. One hopes.
She is dreaming of teaching again, but this time in Safeway, with everyone gathered in the liquor aisle, as they are in the awake time anyway. Listen, she says, disregard the language on the labels, even if I am your English teacher. Beware of predators. Yes, and prey.
They have been past their torn years for a long time now. Occasionally one of them has too much wine or gin and recalls an ankle bracelet or a coffee mug, but mostly they pat their backs and shut their traps when they should.
Last night she has been rehired, after retirement, for her original job at the college, but with a later chancellor who tried to cop a feel, he who was accused of harassment, bathtub phone calls. What do these teaching dreams mean?
What about the man, his memories of jungle and southern sycamore before?
And what of time, oh good good time?
She and her sisters Zoom with their aunt, their dad’s remaining sibling, in her 90s. Dad’s birthday is coming up in a few days. He would be 100. She lost her arm in a drive-by swipe when she was a young woman, and she tells them now that Dad was with her when she woke up. She tells them about her wedding, in Alaska, to an engineer from India, just after a regular church service. The sisters did not know these things.
What do these days mean? They watch a movie about old guys brought back for a dangerous mission. Would you return to save a newspaper? she asks. No. Would she return to save an English department? Yes. But after the virus.
Anyway, neither of them is Clint Eastwood. Also, nobody has asked them.
Her friend in Melbourne is in lockdown again, on a liquid diet after a tooth extraction and desperate for chocolate. She sends a photo of the Hershey’s syrup and Ovaltine from her cupboard. Her friend in Italy sends a photo of the homemade scarecrow intended to ward off the cinghiali trying to work the garden. She looks the boars up, the babies are adorable. Her friend in Cleveland sends pictures of her new long black panther of a cat. Her friends at home mail books and movies back and forth. His brother in St. Louis has heard about their wildfires.
The two of them are here in their own home, spacious though they are always bumping into each other and laughing. Refrigerator! Kitchen island! Middle bathroom!
Once they fell apart. Much gnashing, much weeping. Even so, they kept running off together for diving. Ah, islands that were not home.
Just when she gave up and got herself a kitten, he called and said, Could I? Could we? Oh, they did, they did. Oh.
The towers went down. What are the right words? The towers did not collapse, fall, were not destroyed, and those within did not perish. She is an English teacher. He is a newspaperman. There were predators and prey, there was jungle. What is the right language?
Her sisters’ families are gathering together from different parts of the country, three generations of them, as they do every summer. Three of them are doctors. No one will listen to the English teacher. She has a bad feeling about this. Wish you could join us, they say. No.
The two of them remind each other of their old stories, parachutes and trophies, publications and awards. Remember, each to each, who they were. That motorcycle, that phone call.
She is underwater again, watching divers spear lionfish, the beautiful infestation. Her nemesis the moray eel is after her. He laughs around his mouthpiece. Here! I will teach you. Here! I will write you. Here they are, here these beloveds are.
The dolphins come. Here, hold out your palms to us.
Meg Files is the author Meridian 144 and The Third Law of Motion, Home Is the Hunter and Other Stories, The Love Hunter and Other Poems, Writing What You Know, a book about taking risks with writing, and a poetry chapbook, Lit Blue Sky Falling. Her novella, A Hollow, Muscular Organ, is forthcoming this year.