Curious to see caverns, we detoured in Tennessee to ramble through Fat Man's Misery, past a ballroom and gun powder machine till we reached The World's Second Largest Underground Lake— on which my husband had promised a ride in a glass-bottom boat. There, a kid hunched over a hot-rod magazine. Dan, I think his name was, radiant, in clammy, artificial light. I asked Dan, college-break? He nodded inside his hoodie then helped me into the glass-bottom hold. I peered into the milky water and watched the seeded trout swim up for the chum he dumped overboard on our account. He was milky white, himself, from months of cave sitting. I wondered if he'd write a poem on a summer spent underground. Thought to suggest it—how foolish— then wondered if what I really wanted was Dan, as I stepped into his boat, to take my arm and ask me something— at this middle age, probably for a couple coins then give a promise of safe passage as he ferried me to the realm of the dead that I've been thinking about for several years not because of a girlfriend's cancer but because my body is no longer young. I mean, lovely— and that there's no turning back to that water's edge. There's only the couch every afternoon at four o'clock and not wanting to ever move. Not wishing to die exactly— just not wanting to rise because the light feels so pressured. And I can't have that ardent glow reflected back while brushing teeth or fastening a necklace. Now there's this casting around for other stuff— the daughters' secrets—the pathetic urge to write about their secrets— or a crush on Charon. Not an old man as it turns out but a youth, colorless and tired of his i-Pod. No, he's not really of interest to me. And this is my secret: that I wish he were— as with those arms reaching through clouds of cigarette smoke to lead me into reeking dives. I'm past that. And he, Dan, not the poetic Charon— will probably climb out of the caverns into the six o'clock evening sun. Stretch. Change his shirt, eat his mother's meatloaf and head off in a rusted Honda for the Piggly-Wiggly parking lot with a six-pack and a girl, those hand-sized moths flitting in the light as the sheriff chases the kids to another dead end spot— those enormous dusty moths my husband caught for me to hold in my hand because he knows, in the afternoon light after the dank caverns, how fluttery the furry wings will feel. Which is more than melodrama can bear. To have wished for Dan to ask me something? I know the passage is not what you wanted to hear.
After skimming the Sunday Times, Dad turned to the back of the magazine
and tore out the crossword puzzle for his mother in Wisconsin—
as routine as my calligraphy class on Saturdays, flute practice
exactly twenty minutes on school nights
and astringent twice daily. I loved the idea of puzzles
but never tried my hand as problem-solving rubbed up against rivalry—
red velvet cake, red velvet dress, trilling—
because nothing was never enough and yet
more than a small rectangular lawn and the pulsing marsh beyond.
A puzzle might've been escape enough. A maze—instead of crossword?
No, cross words were our puzzles, after all. Although my sister and I adored
jigsaw pieces. Five-hundred. A zoo, I think. Giraffes, absolutely.