Anyone Could Look in Anyone's Room
The wife could tell the husband felt things had come out unfairly again. His side of the picnic table was in the sun. The husband twisted at the waist to look for the waiter. His face was red. But sweat sprung beneath the wife's scalp, too. She knew she was eating more than her share of the chips and salsa, but didn't feel like stopping. It was a vacation. The wife made a hopeful joke. "Is this the part where I'm supposed to laugh?" the husband said.
They had come here to figure out what they were going to do about the house next door. They had needed some perspective, they told their friends, and so they went to a place on the northeast seacoast. The husband and wife could not decide whether to buy and tear down the house next door to theirs, or to move. They could make moving for the neighbors worth their while with a little money. The people who lived next door were too close to them, and could look in their windows if they wanted to. They never closed their curtains and were up all hours of the night bouncing a baby or eating a snack with their ugly ceiling lights on bright. The husband and wife could see what kind of trash was on their kitchen table, the houses were that close together. That was not what it should be like in one's home, the wife and husband agreed.
The waiter finally came, holding the plates away from him and out to his sides like they were flaming offerings. The wife's burrito was covered with a rich red sauce. When she cut it with her fork, shiny cheese swelled out. The husband's tacos looked tiny and dry.
Their best meal ever, they both had agreed many times, was at an Alsatian place. For dessert, they had each ordered a soft, heavy slice of Black Forest cake, dotted with pink-frosting roses.
This husband was her third husband. Her first one had lied about having a college degree. Her second husband had never mentioned a sister who had Cerebral Palsy. The wife had found out from an answering machine message from her husband's parents, telling him his sister had died.
She was her current husband's second wife. He had been married to his first wife for a long time and they had three grown children, but he and his ex-wife had both realized they had nothing in common.
The inn where they were staying was in a dark, chilled woods on an inlet. The water was too cold to swim in, but at the end of the dock the wife could see Pumpkin Lighthouse, a tiny white finger on the horizon. The inn's sleeping quarters were in a large lodge by the water, and the dining room was in a farmhouse, a five minute walk up a hill. They walked everywhere, from one activity to the next, and brought their binoculars along and stopped and looked through them often, pointing up.
The husband and wife ate pancakes with real maple syrup and tiny blueberries and drove a small car to a little town. They bought pieces of art and attended a lobster picnic that the wife had signed up for online months ago. The event took place on the beach, and they each got two claws, one boiled potato, one ear of corn, and a wax cup of butter sauce. After eating each meal, they agreed that they had overdone it.
None of the bedroom doors at the inn had locks. But she felt safe, the wife thought. She liked that anyone could look in anyone's room at any time. She had nothing to hide. One night, the wife and the husband had a glass of wine before dinner with a single, elderly woman who was staying in the room next to theirs. The wife set out some pistachios from a plastic bag that she had brought from home. After the second glass of wine, the woman asked a question about politics, and the husband took a deep breath. Politics was his favorite topic to discuss. The wife said something. She couldn't help it. "Will you just let me talk! I never get to talk," the husband said.
They did not, that night, talk about what was to be done about the house next door. They had not talked about it together much at all. But they were each thinking about it in their own heads, the wife was sure.
At home, the wife felt good about always having practical items on hand, such as light bulbs, tape, or scissors. She loved that when she needed batteries and she found them easily. Her husband was the kind of person who had to run to the store at night to get toilet paper or tin foil. And complained about it, even when it was his own fault. The wife told him to simply write what needed replenishing on the notepad by the telephone, but he never did.
At dinner in the farmhouse, the waiter said the kitchen was out of peach cobbler, and the wife didn't know how to not get upset about it.
The last day of vacation, the wife decided they should go to Pumpkin Lighthouse, so she and her husband each rented a kayak and dragged them to a small, empty beach. They had a lot to do in order to get out on the water. The wife had a small nylon bag with bottles of energy drinks inside. They applied sunscreen and stuffed jackets and towels behind the seats of the little boats, but then the wife discovered a problem with the foot pedals of her kayak. They were too long for her legs. She couldn't reach them.
The husband suggested she go find help, and polished his binoculars. He was looking for a certain bird that day. By the time the wife returned with an employee from the inn who was pulling another kayak with a rope, the husband was in the water in his kayak, paddling like a duck in large circles, telling her that the water was nice. Finally, they set out. The wife led the way across the water, pulling her oars in wide, shallow strokes that splashed.
When they returned home from vacation they made the decision. They bought the house and tore it down.
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