The End of the Street

They are at the end of the street when she notices his silence, a third party sulking in the back seat. She pulls over, edging between two snow-covered cars. The first thing that strikes her about Sam is his stillness, his nose sharply outlined against the background. Why hadn’t she noticed earlier, the gradual process that has now conquered him? Laura usually monitors these stages like a doctor, aware of minuscule changes. That’s her job and here, in these circumstances, she has failed.

The car hums beneath them.

She wants to reach over but stops herself.

“How are you doing?”

He doesn’t answer.

“Do you want me to keep going?”

The movement is almost imperceptible, but she catches it. Letting her foot off the brake, Laura puts the car in park, letting the motor idle. They are so close now, Sam’s father waiting just out of sight. They had gotten the call this morning from Sam’s mother. You need to come now, she had said, not angry that they had waited, accepting even in these circumstances. It’s time.

“Let me know when you think you’re ready.”

She turns forward and tries to make herself inconspicuous. She has learned to go elsewhere quickly, providing him a measure of solitude. Laura’s not sure if he’s aware - she’s never asked - but still feels it a small favor.

She thinks reluctantly, thrillingly, of Michael, her body blushing in the deception. Laura had seen Michael only a few weeks earlier, yet it seems much longer. Time, in general, has warped since the return of Michael in her life. They had gone to the pub and had just talked, but the omission of this to Sam she knows is a misdemeanor of marriage in itself.

“I’m meeting friends at Finn’s.” Laura had turned her back in telling that night, attempting to appear casual in her clothing choice.

“Who’s going?”

“I’m not sure.” Not exactly a lie.

“I wish I could go with you. I’m feeling restless and ready to go tonight.”

“Sorry, I already made the plan.”

Finn’s was outside of Sam’s zone, a fact she clearly knew but told herself it was only natural, going to their old pub; that the comfort she felt in Michael’s presence, there was simply a memory of her body, nothing more.

It had been when they left, that the urge to let everything slip - to simply lean forward and let their lips meet - had been physically painful. But she had resisted. That was something, wasn’t it?

“I can’t do it.” Sam’s voice startles her into the present and she almost asks what in panic.

The snow on the car winks dully. Her feet are getting cold.

“We can go back a bit. Try again.” She offers.

He shakes his head. She knows, in this state, how difficult it is for him to even speak.

“It’s not going to happen.”

“Oh, Sam.”

She sees a brief blur of anger beneath his shell. Sympathy is something that does not sit well, showcasing, he feels, his disease as a weakness.

When Sam had first told her, she had dismissed it as a minor complication in their relationship. They had been in the North End, a plate of pasta between them. His words had been surreal and at first she had believed it one of Sam’s exercises in language.

“There something I need to tell you.”

Those words, so ordinary yet effective in pulling panic from the recipient.

“There’s something wrong with me.”

And she had imagined tumors spouting like mushrooms, instant and ripe. When he first said the word, agoraphobia, she was still distracted and mistook it for fear of spiders. She remembered her thoughts precisely. Big deal, fear of spiders. Not exactly a problem compared to malignant growths.

“I’m better than I was,” he continued when she didn’t respond. “Now that I’m on medication. At my worst, I couldn’t leave my apartment.”

Laura learned later that his worst was in a psychiatric facility, but could understand why he wouldn’t reveal that in the initial confession. All of it, even now, was a set of images that never fit when she tried to place them; Sam, her social, intelligent husband encased by these movie-trailer scenes.

“I still have my boundaries. Lines I can’t cross,” he continued.

After another sip of wine she was finally able to speak.

“Where are the lines?”

“It’s random. If you give me a map I can draw them precisely. It’s almost the shape of Texas.”

“What happens if you cross?”

“I have a panic attack.”

Laura tried to imagine Sam, flailing, swearing, out of control. Nothing, she found later, close to reality.

“I haven’t been out of city limits in fifteen years.”

It wasn’t until she was away from him that the conversation really surprised her. Yet it was never a deal breaker, to the surprise of her friends. She had, after all, dropped bigger men for smaller crimes.

Laura has learned eventually how to respond appropriately during an attack; routing the map, steering confidently, knowing his limits and occasionally how to surpass them. But this is different. It is not a Celtics game, not a new restaurant she wants to try. It is a father, waiting for a good bye. It is out of her hands.

She looks down at them and is surprised by the image of them on a neck, releasing a collar button of a shirt. She can’t believe she is considering an affair with Michael, can’t imagine turning it away.

The street in front of them stretches long. She has never seen the neighborhood in winter. Picturesque in the summer, there is something ominous now in its stillness.

Laura remembers the night she first met Michael, her life at the time uncomplicated by other obligations. She misses that, the heady freedom of just being released from school and a bad relationship. She still can feel how the attraction seemed to come on before she even saw him. The shift and there he was in her vision, overdressed for Finn’s. He had that Wall Street look, a striped button down and suspenders. It had been Halloween and she had been the first to speak.

“Nice Halloween costume.”

His eyebrows had raised. “I like yours better.”

“But I’m not dressed.”

“Like I said.”

Their flirtation had been natural and the more they talked the lighter she felt. They had kissed in the bar, something she typically scorned at. In the meeting of their mouths was beer, risk, and promise. It didn’t take long to become a pattern; the buying of drinks, the group banter, and the gradual extraction from the crowd. Into the dark corners, where the wild desperate feeling of attraction allowed a disconnection she did not experience elsewhere.

When not at the bar, the craving to be there was strong. They had gone on a traditional date once; dinner and a movie where they had snuck in a bottle of whiskey to mix with a supersize Seven-Up. In the blur of giant images, Laura had felt diminished and the burn of the drinks stayed in the back of her throat for days. After that, they kept their meetings to Finn’s.

If she told her friends now, she knows exactly how their faces would morph. Although they had liked Michael, they had never trusted him and her overwhelming draw to him. It’s that we’ve never seen you out of control . . . with anything, her friend Marta had said once.

Marta was the one Laura chose to call about running into Michael again, eager for a blade to cut her excitement.

“So, you’re never going to believe who I saw yesterday.”

“Lou Reminy.” Marta responded dryly. One of her other exes.

“No. Someone along those lines though. How did you know?”

“I can tell by the tone of your voice.” Marta paused. “Let me guess. Michael.”

“You’re amazing.”

“Well, if I ever get tired of banking, I’ll go into the psychic business.”

A long pause.

“So?” Marta finally broke it. “Out with it.”

“That’s it,” Laura was suddenly reluctant.

“Of course that’s not it. How did he look? What did he say? What did you say? What did you feel?”

“I was at lunch and he just appeared next to my table. It was bad.”

“In what way?”

“The way I was attracted to him. Bad.”

“Oh Laura,” Marta said. “Don’t go along those lines. It’s so cheesy, the affair.”

“I would never do that to Sam!”

“Don’t get indignant. It’s exactly why you’re telling me.”

“You’re outrageous.”

“Not as much as you are,” Marta said. “When you’re ready, you can confess to me. Until then, you can live in denial.”

“That river in Egypt?” An old joke between them.

“Yeah, that one.”

“One more thing,” Marta had sighed. “It’s not really an affair you want. It’s a baby.”

“A what?”

“It’s a mask. This idea.”

“An affair is a mask for wanting a baby? That’s what you’re saying?”


“The two aren’t related in any way.”

“A-ha. So you’re admitting you want a baby.”

Laura was annoyed at Marta’s smugness, alarmed at the accuracy. This baby, the idea of one, was not something she admitted to readily, even to herself. She was too precise in her life to let in that kind of disorder.

With Sam’s condition they had agreed before marrying to no kids. It wasn’t something Laura felt she was giving up, only a solid answer to something she already knew. In a way it had been a relief.

But then their friends started having babies, miraculously springing into life, these bundles that changed all levels of socializing. Behind the constant complaints - for that’s all the new parents seemed to do, plead, oh the sleep, the crying, the poop! - Laura could see something enviable. It wasn’t the actual babies, for they remained foreign objects, but the way her friends had abandoned - perhaps grudgingly but nonetheless - their old lives.

The thought that they had nothing to leave behind made her breath slow to a dangerous level. It was then that she would paint. It began with the spotting of an imperfection, or maybe the color being off. Sam would wander in to find her at work, the room at mercy to her mood.

“Ah, stripping again, I see,” he would always say with a wink.

When finished, Laura would experience concise brief satisfaction. A state that slowly leaked without her noticing until it was gone.

“Sam,” she says now, her voice quiet.

She waits, patient, and in that moment feels the ability to wait forever, to give him what he needs. But then it is gone and Laura is unable to connect to what she had just felt.

“What are we going to do?” she asks, more loudly than she intended. But Sam does not turn to her.

The question sits, taking up space as the lives behind doors continue; his father sliding away, unwilling to let go without seeing his son. Or already gone. They do not know.

When Sam finally answers his voice is solid. “It’s cold,” he says simply.

“Too cold,” she replies and sets the car in motion.

As Laura turns the car, her mind is stilled, concentrating only on their path. The snow along the side of the road is smooth and unmarred. The purity of it momentarily blinds her before it clears, and then they are moving, heading back toward the lines that enclose their life.