They drove along Route 17. Once there were the three. They hadn’t seen each other for years. There was a casual estrangement. The funeral brought the two together. It made sense to share the ride. There wasn’t much talk. A bit of expected political commentary. How this president is undoing all the good that Obama did for the country. How he is isolating us from the rest of the world with his belligerence and militarism and ‘defense of capitalism’. There was a stretch where the highway ran next to the river.
“Remember we used to swim in that river.”
“Yes we did.” he recalled not really quite believing it. It seemed a dream today.
“Not along here, further south away from the road.” Her voice was still deep and gravelly. His face was covered with a grandfatherly white beard.
It was about the job then. They were welfare workers. Both wanted to help the poor. But the bureaucracy vacuumed up their hours and days and energy. Doing good for humanity was lost to incomprehensible regulations, endless paperwork and self-serving bosses. Swimming after work was a necessary relief they found that year.
“It was your idea I think. We would wade to where it was deep enough to sit on the bottom with the water up to our necks. And we would sit there suspended, weightless and talk until dark about life and ideas and dreams.” She smoked cigarettes and was a Buddhist and he was nothing. A Christian molting his beliefs. “You had a child from a previous something.”
“He is grown now and living in Washington” Romantically inharmonious they were stuck in contiguous professional situations both found mutually untenable. He had a girlfriend in Lewisberg.
“Are you still practicing Buddhism?”
“Yes I have a shrine in my house. Are you still with Susan?”
“No that did not last long after that. I still have that coconut with the ugly face that you made for me. It is in a box in the attic. I never liked women who smoked.”
“It was more than that”.
“Yes it was, I suppose.”
“You were out of the army. I never understood how someone could be a soldier. There was no physical attraction, but we were still close for a time.” The end of that summer was when he quit with the state and went back to school.
“I want to sit next to you now and pull you close for the ride. But these seats. Car engineers design seats now to keep people apart. They can make an autonomous car and companion cup holders but they won’t let people to sit together in the front seat. We buckle ourselves in to be safe but can’t be close like in the old movies. If I could only be a coffee cup I would sit close to you now.”
“I have always liked coffee”
Ahead the road changed to a commercial stretch of chain stores and fast food. The river had left the roadside. It meandered off through some green field or wood. A quick visit to the highway was enough for it. It realized it belonged somewhere else. It was the nature of nature. She had never liked men with beards.