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The Missouri Review 29.2 (2006) 72-76
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Their Bodies, Their Selves
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| Illustration by Ran Webber, www.ranwebber.artspan.com |
They had lived a clothed life. An accident had changed that. But what was an accident? It was just a word. There was no reason at all that what had happened shouldn't have happened. So many different things that happened were terrible or debilitating or life-ending, but who was to say that they should never happen? There were certain laws of physics that couldn't be flouted just because the consequences were terrible. That was the world. And speaking of physics, here the two of them sat, Drayton and Sarah Maguire, naked, wilted.
From his side he saw flesh; and from hers, she did, too. It was how they felt about it that was different, but she was coming around. She was the one who had started it, actually, though that had been unintentional. And with a swing of his head—the only action he was still capable of—it was now a daily ritual, his imploring her, and himself, to their natural state.
It had begun six months prior, on a Saturday, just after four-thirty in the afternoon, the time each day when Dray would disappear to the bathroom for fifteen minutes of flushing solitude; then out came the noise. The noise. In this life—and, especially, in the daily consciousness of the old—there was [End Page 73] the tremendous and unmistakable Smack! of the human skull on porcelain. There it was; and Sarah dropped her knitting.
Okay, how to continue? Let's continue with where they were. They were at their little beach cottage forty-five miles up the Maine coast from Portland. It was an unassuming little house in an area where development was forbidden. To get there you'd take the same road you took to get to the state park, not far away. On that road there were just two opportunities to turn, the park and the Maguires' little dirt road. Travel up that dirt road through a forest so thick with pine it was nearly dark even at the height of day, and at the end of it, in the clearing, was their cottage among all the dunes. A lifetime of memories, but so remote their son had forbidden them from going there.
If you took the building just for what it was—one level, three rooms—and ignored the dunes and the puffins and the sea grass and the few small pine-treed islands just offshore, you wouldn't have much. The shingled sides were drying up and salting away, the roof was solid but fading. And inside things were rudimentary. Maybe they had been lush at one time—Drayton's father, though Irish, had been one of the wealthiest men in the state, a bull and a shipbuilder, and he'd built that salt-box as a retreat with his mistress—but now the propane stove and the pull-flush toilet were peculiar, unreliable. The structure was lucky to be standing at all, but because it had always been standing, as far as today's preservationists knew, it was allowed to stay but not allowed to be worked on, which was fine with Drayton, if not so fine with his wife, his amends, perhaps, for developing up big swaths of southern Maine in prefab subdivisions and run-of-the-mill golf courses that many said had changed the face of the state. Drayton wouldn't disagree, but his philosophy was give them what they want, and there had always been his own tiny little section of the state, the West End of Portland, to retreat to.
But back to the accident. If that was the word. Or maybe it was just life's gravity.
There were a certain few seconds between that Smack! and their discovery of each other when the immediacy of their thoughts summed things up perfectly. Sarah—eighty-one, genteel, Yankee Protestant daughter of a pulp and paper king, black sheep...