The Slow-Motion Divorce by Craig Loomis
When asked what room they wanted—seaside, garden view, “How about a view of the mountains? Very popular, the mountains. Everybody says so,” the man answered, “I don’t care.” The hotelier nodded as if this was a good answer, and after giving it due consideration, titling his head birdlike, moving a paper from here to there, he handed them the key to room 39. If the man had asked her, she would not have said I don’t care, she would have said, “The seaside, most definitely, the seaside.” But he didn’t and so she didn’t.
They had not planned to come this far south but when he jokingly said, “Another 300 miles and we can be on the coast,” she immediately said, “What a good idea.” This made him look at her closely, even squinting, but all she did was say it again, “What a good idea.” The train ride south was uneventful, except for the frequent stops and almost-stops in the middle of nowhere, as if the engine could only chug for so long before it needed a rest, a chance to get its second wind. Looking out the window, during these rest periods, they watched cows graze, two men sharing a shovel to dig a ditch, an abandoned red bus slanting across the roadway, its windows all shattered.
Once in room 39, she went directly to the balcony, pulled back the curtains and the sliding glass door to admire the view, whispering, “Oh.” He, on the other hand, announced he would be right back; and maybe she heard him, maybe not, so he said it again, “Be right back.” He didn’t know what he meant by right back, or even where he was going, only that after the long train ride he wanted to get out, to stretch his legs, and while she was still Ohhhing the view, he took the elevator to the lobby and walked out the hotel door to the park across the street. He took long purposeful strides until the stutter of the train ride slowly began to fade from his legs.
As city parks go, this one was fine: assorted pigeons flapping about; two weather-worn statutes and one memorial about the war, the dead, not to mention some important long-ago king; a tiny gang of bearded, homeless men sprawled across the benches, around the fountain, in sleeping bags; a well-groomed forest of poplars and bushes and white and yellow flowers; old people were walking their dogs next to an empty playground with three swings and one slide; and in the end, a maze of dirty walkways. So it was a fine park, and he walked it until he reached a boulevard, and then turned left and then right, aiming for the hotel.
And so it was that when he turned the corner, there they were, neatly lined up along the sidewalk. Short shorts, stilettos, bright lipsticky smiles, wanting to know if he were interested in having a good time, and if not, why not. If truth be told, the very last thing on his mind was something like this, and yet, there they were, and so, sounding like some used car salesman, he said, ‘Hello, how are you today?” They school-girl giggled, responded in French and German; and all he could do was shake his head, saying, “I don’t speak French.” Suddenly the smallest one with blue high-heels, wearing what was more of a slip than a dress, grabbed him by the arm, insisting, “I can teach you French. Very quick. A quick French lesson, come with me.”
Half laughing, half not, he answered, “No, no, really.”
She, tugging at his sleeve, “Yes, really.”
Meanwhile, another one had come up behind him, her cool hand on his neck, asking, “Where are you from?”
“Where are you from?”
Her face opened wide, grinning, a big gap between the two important front teeth, “I am from Cuba, we are neighbors,” she said, slipping her hand to his shoulder. “Yes, I like you. Do you like me because I like you?”
But he had to go, to get back, and said so, “I have to go.” Slowly, gently, not wanting to hurt their feelings, he slid away from their grips, and continued on.
They blew him kisses. “Come again, and again, again,” followed by their throaty laughter.
And so he called back to them, “Have a nice day” as if he worked at some restaurant.
When he returned to room 39, the sliding glass balcony door was wide open, the sunlight a yellow geometry across the floor, and she stretched across the bed. At first he thought she asleep. But then, “Where did you go?”
“For a walk, across the street, through the park.”
He sat on the bed, and for the longest time they stayed quiet. Until, “So, here we are on the coast.”
“Yes, here we are. We made it.”
He got up and went to the balcony to stare at the view, and after a while he said, ‘Yes, very nice.”
They stayed married just like this for another six years, until one rainy day in October, not having seen the sun for three whole days, she sighed, gave her face a hard rub and turned to him, saying, “I can’t do it anymore. I really cannot. No sun, no travel, no nothing. I think I’m done.”
And he, at the other end of the room, in bathrobe, nodded a nod that would later be decided was as close as he could come to saying, “I agree.”
Craig Loomis teaches English at the American University of Kuwait in Kuwait City. His fiction has been published in such literary journals as The Iowa Review, The Colorado Review, The Prague Revue, The Maryland Review, The Louisville Review, Bazaar, The Los Angeles Review, and others. He has published two short story collections: A Softer Violence: Tales of Orient (Minerva Press) and The Salmiya Collection: Stories of the Life and Times of Modern Day Kuwait (Syracuse UP).