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OUR LOVE IS LIKE A CAKE / Tom Ireland THE KIND OF EXCITEMENT that wakes you early on the eve of a long journey woke me before one o'clock in the morning. But I wasn't going anywhere, not that I knew of, and nothing out of the ordinary seemed to be happening in my Ufe. The bed was empty, as it had been now for over a year, ever since my last girlfriend, after long ambivalence, had decided that our relationship was going nowhere. In the week before Christmas, the worst time of year to find yourself suddenly alone, she made it clear that we were through. Stopping by the house one day, she left my Christmas present, a fanny pack, in the back of my truck. Take a hike, buddy. Now it was the middle of January. I had been dreaming of a tropical paradise, saUing off the coast of AustraUa. That is, "AustraUa" was the name my waking mind gave to the place in the dream—a southern land: mountain slopes with new snow in the far distance, a belt of tropical green, then the white beaches and the blue-green water. Hannah, my daughter, and I are wading upstream, knee deep in a river of salt water. There are aUigators. One of them chases us. We swim back downstream, towards the ocean, Hannah riding on my back Uke the young of some primitive animal. The aUigator is gaining on us, so we break free of the water and fly over the estuary to a house. Inside, we are reassured that the aUigators are harmless. I lay awake thinking about a distant, warm south. In and out of sleep aU that night, I woke with the alarm at five, as usual, and drove to the temple for morning zazen (sitting meditation). On the way back, I saw the moon, past fuU, descending through yellow clouds over Cerrillos Road, and in front of the weight reduction club, what looked Uke the figure of Death in a sweatsuit, doing the power walk. Perhaps this restlessness was a symptom of middle age, the sudden, awful realization that one has less than half one's Ufe remaining. Or of something as common and forgivable as loneliness. During the year of being alone, I was forever reminding myself how lucky I was to be free of the demands of a relationship. When I wanted to eat, I ate, without having to ask the other person if they wanted to eat too, and the inevitable string of 270 · The Missouri Review consultations and decisions that followed the original question. BoUed or fried? Inside or on the porch? Alone, one could apply oneself to Ufe's tasks without filtering the effort through an everpresent companion, and as a result, one could experience the world more directly. That, at least, was the theory. For a whUe, I even nourished the idea that one could commit to being single and sleeping alone the same way one could commit to living and sleeping with another person, although the commitment to being single seemed by far the more difficult of the two. Was I not whole the way I was? Did I need another person to make me complete? I was given a cat named Max, who had been Uving unhappily with dogs. Max perhaps had not been aware that he needed a home and a person, but he soon learned. At least he did not have to put up with dogs. Max was safe as a companion. He could be affectionate without being demanding. He lay on the bed, close enough that I could feel his warmth, but he did not try to Ue on top of me. AU he wanted was food in the bowl and someone to let him in and out of the house, two things he asked for sUently, by standing close by and looking at me wearily until I answered his request. Max was what the cat food company called a "less active" cat. He could not have been more than six months old then, but he was less active from the start. I Uked him, but it was understood that there...


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