It began with the car ride home, the leaden silence that clung to them, unshakable, through the weekend. They had disagreed before. This was different. It was as if each knew they were implacable, opposed to the stance of the other in some meaningful way.
In the past, one or the other of them found themselves petty, licked their lips, took a breath, and began the stilted process of talking them back from the brink. Together.
This was not the way of it that weekend.
If George had wanted to make it right, he could have done so. His charm was winning. He was gifted with words.
And Sam had simple candor that was likely better than charisma or gilded phrases. He might have said, with his dark brandy eyes focused on the road, “I was wrong. This is your decision. I’m sorry.”
That would have put the thaw on them.
George would have come at it more cautiously, as was his wont, edging at the thing with words that made neither of them at fault. Perhaps he might have even cast himself in the golden and violet shades of the noble and misunderstood. He was good at that; a revisionist of his own immediate history. Although he was not without humility, sincerity. He would have come around at the end, sighing in disgust with himself.
“You know what? It doesn’t matter. I was an ass not to ask you yesterday, when I might have done. Maybe we can stay for part of the week, if we call them up tonight and let them know.”
But neither of them followed the usual path of reconciliation this time. George did not disrobe his truth slowly, crown and cloak giving way, layer by layer, to thin socks with holes in the toes. Sam did not set the ice to melting with his guileless warmth.
They sat side by side in the car as it carried them out of the mountains, the naked forests of winter to left and right casting spider web reflections on the glass. Once Sam reached out as if to find music on the dash, but his hand dropped back into his lap.
When they got home, they carried in the luggage, turning on lights as they moved from front to back. They were not giving each other the silent treatment. They were simply opting not to discuss the disagreement.
“Did you want me to throw away the rest of that cake? You said it was no good.”
“I won’t if you don’t think I should. Or I can offer it to Mrs. Jaffee.”
And later, as they crawled warily into bed, Sam said, “It’ll be good to sleep.”
George said, “Yes.”
They kissed good night.
It was not like their pattern to let a quarrel go unexplored. They had always picked them apart carefully, leaving no meat on the bones of malcontent. It brought tears like a hateful onion, opened up forgotten hurts; then gently they brought it round to what it was, reducing the thing until it was sweeter, understandable. And it ended with them lying in each others arms, still like after their first orgasm together, a long ago afternoon in a park, staring up into a white sky, listening to birds calling out with hearts bursting.
They didn’t like to argue. Raised each in houses where emotions either paralyzed or polarized, where the eruptions were volcanic and corrosive, they had a distaste for conflict. Yet in the face of this new thing – this passive, dispassionate response to one another – it seemed that they had either lost something or gained something.
Had the years given them the gift of allowing or had it numbed them to caring passionately? And wasn’t caring passionately often so wrapped up in ego and prejudice? How often had they competed to be simply right? How often had that slow, cumbersome journey back to peace proven that to them? Perhaps finally the thing had been found – a blessed acceptance of profound opposition.
Yet on Monday morning, as they hustled to be ready for work, Sam said, “If you want to leave on Thursday instead, we can call and have them move the reservation.”
And George heaved a sigh. “It isn’t really about when we leave, but more about the fact that you might have said last week, before I put the room on my card.”
It wasn’t exactly a relief to find themselves getting heated on the ride into town, yet it felt a little more like home than the silence.
“We are imperfect,” Sam said.
And George nodded. “That we are.”