Though we vacationed in a castle, though I rode you hard one morning to the hum of bees that buggered lavender, and later we shared gelato by a spotlit dome where pigeons looped like coins from a parade— we weren’t transported back to newlyweds. We only had a week, between new jobs, we both were pinched with guilt at leaving Claire. When, in our most expensive, most romantic meal, you laid your sunburned hand upon your heart, it was just to check the phone was on. When the trip was good as over—when the train would take us overnight to Rome, the flight would take us home—I had the unimportant moment I keep having. I wonder if we choose what we recall? The train was unromantic, smoky. We found a free compartment, claimed the two bench seats, and eyed the door. Italians who peered in and saw your shoes, my auburn hair, our Let’s Go: Rome, soon found another car. And we were glad. But then, reluctantly, two couples entered, settled suitcases on laddered racks, exchanged some cautious greetings, chose their spots. Then each one turned to snacks and magazines. The miles scrolled by like film into its shell. Night fell. Each took a toothbrush down the hall. Returned. Murmured to the one he knew. The man beside the window pulled the shade. We each snapped off our light, slunk down until our kneecaps almost brushed. And shut our eyes. Entwined I found us, waking in the dark. Our dozen interwoven knees, when jostled, swayed, corrected, swayed the other way. Knuckles of praying hands were what they seemed. Or trees in old growth forests, familiarly enmeshed, one mass beneath the night wind’s breath. Or death, if we are good, flesh among flesh, without self consciousness, for once. Husband, five years husband, you slept, our fellow travelers slept, scuttling through black time and blacker space. As we neared the lighted station, I closed my eyes. Had I been caught awake, I would have moved.
First published in Shenadoah. Copyright © Beth Ann Fennelly. Reprinted with permission of the author.