After five years, Robin decided she wanted to talk to me. I was a little skeptical because we had never talked about our breakup eight years earlier. I spent five years finishing off my drinking career with the excuse I was misunderstood, abandoned, an outlaw running from one private war to another. If only we could, did, might have, maybe next time, until I plain ran out of myself. It took another three years just to function, never mind
worry about Robin.
We arranged to meet in Novato. She parked her car in the Safeway lot and we took a drive out Route 37. It was pouring rain when I pulled the old yellow van under the bridge at Black Point. The rain squalls banged the sides of the truck. I turned on the heater to warm our feet. We sat for a long quiet time watching the rain sweep up the estuary from the bay and out across the marshes. A jeep pulled alongside and a man in a red raincoat got out and made a run for the shack at the end of the pier about a hundred yards down to our left.
By the time he got there, he was leaning so far forward his raincoat flapped over his back.
Robin propped her feet up on the dashboard. Yes, she and Ned were happy, happy, happy.
“All girls,” she said.
I wasn’t even cautious. “Well, there really hasn’t been anybody for me?”
“That’s not true,” she said. “You always have somebody.”
I lit a cigarette and followed her stare out the window toward the drawbridge at the mouth of the estuary, where a single cormorant beat its slick wings through the dense rain.
“You’re just in love with the idea,” Robin said.
“That’s what you said the last time I saw you,” I said. “It doesn’t mean I haven’t put it in a safe place.” I cut it short because I felt embarrassed. I glanced over at the shack, but the man was gone.
Too many years had gone by. I wanted to tell Robin I still had trouble driving through the Valley of the Moon.
She didn’t even live there anymore. I always stopped at the Broadway Market and bought something, usually coffee, with the excuse it was the last place I could get a forty-cent coffee.
Robin stopped staring out the window and looked at me. Her eyes were bigger than I remembered. I looked for the dark spot set at eight o’clock in her right eye. Her green eyes had darkened as they always did on dark rainy days. The mole on her chin just under the right corner of her lip had a purple cast to it.
You really did love me,” she said, as if she actually realized it for the first time. “Didn’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
“I was in love with the idea,” I said.
She shot me a cold look. “You’re right. That’s my line. But you strung me along for months and months…You wouldn’t make love to me. You wouldn’t even fuck me. Nothing, nothing and nothing.”
“There wasn’t anything left,” I said. “I couldn’t talk. We couldn’t talk.”
“But you could fuck every other woman you laid eyes, on and then, and then…There was that somebody else,” she said, rubbing some heat into her legs.
She was right. I would even tell her about them. I’d tell her what they were like. How they didn’t fit in my life. How this woman had inherited this money, had this eight room condominium and had never been married, never even lived with a man. That she was beautiful and sexy and that I had told her about Robin. I told Robin that when I looked at the other woman, I didn’t feel that deep love that comes from here, pointing to my solar plexus. That yes, I was sexually attracted to her, but so what? I wouldn’t do it. I wasn’t about to put our relationship on the line. I’d been very clear with this woman and her. I’d have a hard time processing that kind of crap. Robin said, she didn’t have that problem and it was hard to understand. I told Robin my loyalty lay with her. It did. I told both of them in the most honest way I knew how to at the time and underneath it, I was still plotting my way into the woman’s bed, trying to squirm into the folds of truth and fantasy, to get what I wanted and somehow remain unhooked, telling some layer of truth that would fit both sides of the coin and let me keep the payoff hidden, perhaps even from myself.
“There was somebody,” I said. “And I don’t know why. I didn’t love her. I used her to get out. I didn’t want to hurt you anymore and I didn’t know what to do.”
“Well, you succeeded,” she said. “You hurt me.
“I know it,” I said.
“I suppose I could be sappy,” she said.
“Don’t be sappy. We didn’t get what we wanted and we didn’t even know how.”
Robin gazed down toward the bridge. The rain let up and I rolled down the window. A few drops fell on my pants.
“I loved you so much.” I began, but it sounded vacant. I knew she didn’t care.
We must have sat there for an hour listening to the wind and rain without saying a word. I turned the heater off and the van got damp. I turned it on. Finally she said she had better be getting back to pick up the kids.
That hurt. I didn’t care about the kids. They weren’t my kids and she had to go home to her kids and I’d never see her again.
“Let me say it Robin. Most of us never get to say it.”
“Don’t say it,” she said firmly. “Please don’t.”
“It won’t hurt.”
“It will hurt.”
“I just want to say, we did some great dancing. Boy were we going to blow off the world. We were going to be the famous duo.”
“You’re famous,” she said.
“Not famous, famous and not famous with you,” I said.
“Harry, give me a cigarette. I haven’t had a cigarette since I got pregnant with Deirdre.”
I pumped one up and she lit it with the van lighter and inhaled as if she’d never stopped smoking. Smoke blew into the corners of the cab and her eyes followed it briefly, and then shifted to mine.
“Harry it was too hard and you always had such a great relationship going with yourself.” Before I could defend myself, she stopped me. “Let me finish, Harry. Dammit, for once let me finish a sentence.”
“So finish,” I said.
“Harry, I loved you. You were the first strong man that ever stepped into my life. You were right about that. The rest were boys.”
“Part of me was a boy,” I confessed. “And I felt like a boy.”
“But you didn’t stay and I waited around for months while you went to Chicago and New York and moved back to San Francisco and came back and left and gave me money and I waited MONTHS, while you had sex with everything that walked. You even called me from the baths on Christmas Eve. You don’t remember that, do you, Harry? And you could have come back right up until 1985 and you knew it. Even after Ned and I began
going out, the door was still open, Harry.”
“I know it.”
“But you didn’t come back.”
“I didn’t know how,” I said. “Lack of character, call it anything you want. Do you know hard it was to let you get on that bus the last time? It ate me up. Do you know that all I wanted to do was come home with you, but for some reason, I couldn’t? It nearly killed me inside.”
“It was the booze, Harry. The booze. I know that now.”
I saw she was enjoying the cigarette and the moment. She was right. I was blasted all the time and there was no stopping me. It was one fix to the next. I didn’t care until I stopped to think about it and then it was too painful to think about.
“Tell me,” she said, exhaling deeply. A thick stream of smoke blew off my right shoulder. “What if I were to tell you I’d like to try again?”
“I’d say you’re nuts. Besides, I quit drinking. What would you do for entertainment? You wouldn’t like it.”
“What if I said I’d leave Ned and we’ll take the kids and try again?”
“You really are crazy,” I said.
I rolled down the window to let the smoke out. “I’m not hearing this,” I said.
“She shoved me playfully. “Where’s your sense of humor?”
“This isn’t funny,” I said.
“I think it is.” She poked me in the ribs and I grabbed her wrists. The cigarette bounced off my knee and flipped off on the floor. I pulled her close to my face and kissed her hard. She wrenched free.
“Robin,” I said, listening to my voice. I wondered if I could say it and mean it. “You wouldn’t want me now You liked the craziness, the unpredictable me. You went with me for the tyranny, the rush, the madness. You’d hate me now. I’d be nice to you most of the time and you wouldn’t know what to do. ”
“I’d like that,” she said, scanning the floor for the cigarette.
“You only think you would. I’ve developed a little character. You’d run. Besides this is all bullshit anyhow.”
“No, it’s not bullshit,” she insisted, acting as if I’d truly insulted her. “I came to see you didn’t I? You came to see me.”
“You were curious,” I said. “But I promise you, you wouldn’t know what the hell to do with me. I’d feel something and you’d know it.”
She reached down on the floor and picked up the cigarette. “I am curious. I guess the last eight years have taken me so far from where we were that I was afraid I’d never feel that rush again. You gave me that big rush.” She paused to smoke. “Remember when you climbed in my hammock at New Totum?”
“No, you climbed in my hammock because the frogs were biting your butt and you woke up scared.”
“And that Mexican family that got us drunk on mescal?”
“We were ripped,” I remembered, and I could see that the only place Robin and I could go was into the past. I felt sad and uncomfortable, but I went with it.
“And that bozo and his speed freak girlfriend who drove us across the mountains in the middle of the night,” I said. “She changed clothes sixteen times in three hours, and then she put on her mini skirt and passed out bonbons to the men pulling our ferry across the river. Christ I was embarrassed!”
“Not half as much as I was when I peeked over the rock by the river and there was the cow. Remember the cow? And the girlfriend was going down on the bozo and the cow was watching and the Indians in the woods across the river were watching. And she washed her diaphragm out in the camper sink while you were washing the chicken.”
“What about the first time we got to the campsite and the charros drove the steer right through us while the speed queen sat in her lawn chair rolling doobies and going through sixteen duffel bags of clothes.”
“And you had the balls to make them pack it up, Harry. And you stood behind him in the camper and made sure he stayed awake and made sure he drove us the whole way and then we found that beautiful hotel in San Cristobal.”
Robin laughed as if she’d just discovered something wonderful all over again. She clapped her hands and for a second her eyes brightened to their most unusual turquoise green. We looked at each other then and the silence returned. Within seconds the rain began pounding on the van. I smiled without looking at her and that was the last time we spoke. When the rain stopped we drove back to Novato.
David Plumb‘s work appears in the anthologies Mondo James Dean, Irrepressible Appetites: An Anthology of Food, Beyond the Pleasure Dome, 100 Poets Against the War, and also in The Miami Herald, The Washington Post and The Orlando Sentinel. Books include The Music Stopped and Your Monkey’s on Fire, stories, Drugs and All That and Man in a Suitcase, poems, and A Slight Change in the Weather, short stories. Mr. Plumb has worked as a paramedic, a butcher, a San Francisco cab driver and an actor in several Hollywood films.