This past New Year’s Eve, sitting on the loveseat in front of our little tabletop Christmas tree, I poured us both a glass of sparkling wine and told Sanderson: I think I’m ready to do it.
He kissed the top of my head and asked, Are you sure?
This is my last drink, I told him. I am officially preparing the womb.
Now it’s the May long weekend. Sanderson and I have driven four hours north to Keewadin Lake, a cottage that we’ve rented every long weekend in May since we were at Trent together. We share it with our friends: Shona and Flip, who have been married even longer than we have, and Janine, who found the cottage for all of us almost ten years ago. I have a stack of first-year composition papers that still have to be marked, but I left them at home so this could be a real holiday. I have a strong feeling about this weekend. I think this might be the weekend we conceive. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but my instincts are usually good.
We get to the cottage late, nine o’clock. It’s already past dark and we’re all very hungry. I can smell tension between Flip and Sanderson like something electric is burning. They both retreat to the living room. It’s always been my job to sort the linens out when we arrive. But I feel particularly irritated that neither of our husbands has offered to help in the kitchen. These are progressive men. They know better than that. Shona and I move into the kitchen. Shona is an amazing cook, and she likes to do it.
Right in here, Shona says to me, even though I didn’t ask her anything. She digs out a yellow packet of spaghetti from the bottom of one of the boxes. Told you! she says. She also finds a pot with a lid, a can opener, and cardboard tubes of salt and pepper left over from the last people who stayed here.
A knife, she says, distracted. Were we supposed to bring our own knives?
I remember the drawer from last year and show her.
I don’t think they’re very sharp, I say. We should have brought a good one.
This will work, Shona says, and selects one with a plastic handle and a pointy, upturned blade. It’s not like we’re carving a roast, she says. She starts slicing cloves of garlic on one of the speckled stoneware dishes. Each time the blade strikes the plate, the sharp sound makes me wince.
The sun was down by the time we got here. Now it’s too dark to see anything. When I flick on the porch light, I disturb a fluster of moths. I cup my hands around my face and look out the window. There’s a dock with a little motorboat tied to it and an apron-shaped beach. There is a pale glow that looks as if it’s radiating from the sand.
The linen closet is where it always is, in the main hallway. I pull out musty-smelling sheets and threadbare pillowcases for both of the beds upstairs. For Janine’s bed, on the main floor, I pick out the pink and orange flowered ones. Janine loves colour more than anyone I know. She’s a graphic designer, but at Trent she studied English Lit like the rest of us. Not counting Sanderson, of course. She was actually enrolled in Sanderson’s drawing class in her second year, but she withdrew when I told her I was sleeping with him. Those first years with Sanderson were more awkward than I like to remember. Our age difference was much more shocking when I was twenty-two years old. Now I’m teaching English at Ryerson and he’s moved to the Art History department at York and I can’t remember the last time I felt scandalous. I drop the flowered sheets off first, leave them folded on the edge of the mattress in her room.
She’s not coming, Flip calls to me when he sees me there. Didn’t she call you? I told her to call you.
She didn’t call me. I hug my chest and follow his voice into the living room. I look back and forth between Flip and Sanderson. Janine didn’t call, did she, Sand?
He shakes his head and fills his glass with more wine. Did she say why?
She said she had a family thing.
I started dating Sanderson two semesters after I finished his class. I was the one who asked him out. We met in East City, across the river, at a small café not far from the Quaker Oats building. There was a woman wearing a red apron who served us coffee in thick white cups. I put two packets of sugar in my coffee and a long dollop of cream. He told me, You have a good eye. But you need to trust the line when you draw. He had silver strands of hair at his temples. I thought this made him look debonair and sophisticated. Now I think it’s safe to say he’s going grey.
I wish you wouldn’t drink so much this weekend, I tell him.
We just got here, he says. It was a long drive.
Flip is stretched out on the chair, even though the chair itself doesn’t recline. His body is slouched down so his seat reaches the edge of the cushion and his head is pressed into the back of the chair. His long legs are crossed at the ankles. It doesn’t look comfortable. He takes up most of the living room.
I can tell you why she’s not here, Sanderson says to me.
He rubs the side of his sandpaper face with one hand. He hasn’t shaved for three days. He says the stubble makes him feel like he’s having a more authentic cottage experience, so he cultivated it before we arrived. His beard is still dark — there’s a patch of grey on his chin, but the rest of his face still grows a mix of dark reds and browns. Earlier this week, watching him sleep, I picked out the different colours sprouting. They grew like a pack of assorted wildflower seeds.
Janine feels threatened by your choice to have a child. She’s withdrawing from you so she doesn’t feel — He trails off.
Lonely and misguided, hopeless, bitter? Flip finishes for him.
Exactly, says Sanderson. She doesn’t want to feel threatened.
Wait. My choice to have a child?
Flip ignores me. I can see now that he is stoned. But, but, he says. Janine must feel lonely and threatened already. Otherwise she’d be here, right? Whoa. I think that’s a paradox.
Did she tell you that?
No, says Flip, looking at me again. I think it was her grandmother’s birthday.
I glare at Sanderson. He looks pleased with himself.
To be continued…