It was Debra, her headstrong one, who insisted that they go to Long Pond.
At first she demured, citing Willard's condition as an excuse.
"It's a long walk. He'll get tired. He gets confused when he gets tired."
"Mom, he doesn't get confused. He's got Alzheimer's You've gotta call it what it is."
"Early stage. He's lucid sometimes."
"He didn't know who I was when I came in this afternoon. Or Eli." Debra's husband. The psychiatrist. Tall, bearded man. Can cure depression with a pill. But, like everyone else, helpless before the slow erasure of her husband. Damn the fact of memory, she thinks.
"We don't have to walk far. Only to the Point. It's flat, it won't tax him. Or you. An hour, the fresh air would do him good. He can't want to be cooped up in the house all day long."
"Most of the time, who knows what he wants," Rebekkah says sourly. In the end, of course, she lets the girl steamroll her and they all go, she and Willard sitting in the back seat of Eli's Saab, like children. She holds Willard's hand. Touch always seems to calm him. He looks out the side window at signs and billboards as they drive along the highway and tells her it's pretty out there.
"You're beautiful," Martin tells her.
"No, I'm not." Rebekkah looks at him. He is a tiny, bearded man, so unlike her husband, with his broad shoulders and heavy farmerish hands. Martin's hands are delicate when he touches her. In bed or now, hidden together in the trees, the water glittering behind them, his hand reaching up to caress her cheek. She cups her hand over his, feels briefly guilty, then closes her eyes and forgets about everything else: the husband at work up in Concord, her two daughters content with the sitter for the afternoon. Contentment floods her like warm liquid. She leans down and brushes her lips against his.
They turn off the highway, drive along a narrow, tree-shaded road for a mile or so to the park entrance. There are only a few cars in the small, dirt parking lot. There had never been many cars, Rebekkah found herself thinking, it had always been the perfect place.
"We're here, Daddy," Debra chimes from the front seat.
"We're here, Dear," Rebekkah repeats to the man seated beside her.
"Good," Willard says. "Good."
She lets herself out her side of the car, walks around to get him. It's interesting, she thinks, and sad, how everyone talks to the man with the leaking brain, as if including him -- still and too late -- in the beautiful, seemingly linear world of normal.
How's he doing?" Eli has climbed out of the driver's seat, is leaning his long frame onto the car roof, looking across at Rebekkah. There's the other side of the coin, Rebekkah thinks. How they'll talk about him like he's not even here. She feels a flash of anger at her son-in-law, a fierce, maternal sensation rising from the pit of her stomach to the front of her head. He should know better, she thinks. Willard's demented not deaf. Then Debra is out of the car and Rebekkah swallows her anger. What good did it all do, she wonders. What good does anything do?
When she opens the door, Willard looks up at her, smiles.
"We're here, dear," she tells him again.
"Loons," Martin says, pointing outward toward the middle of the Pond where two birds bob side by side in the blinding sunshine. As if on cue, one of them makes its startlingly mournful cry.
"Two of them," Martin says. "I love how there's only two of them on any body of water. They bond for life. Do you think that's possible, Rebekkah? Bonding for life?"
"I'm the wrong one to ask," Rebekkah says. "Maybe you should ask Jane when you go home tonight." She leans back against a tree. Such a summer day, even the bark is warm through her shirt. Her lips feel bruised from kissing. She is a 35-year-old teenager.
Martin picks up a stick, throws it twirling out into the water. It splashes, sinks, creates ripples.
"Low blow," he says.
"Only slightly," she answers.
"I love you," he says, his back to her. "You know that, don't you?"
"You can't do that," she answers.
"Of course I can," he turns to her, places his hands on the tree on either side of her body, caging her.
"No," she says. She is conscious of the tenderness of her nipples, a gush of dampness inside her. "We're married. We've both got kids. It's not possible. Not right. Not possible. We made our decisions. Eventually we'll stop."
When we made our decisions, we hadn't met each other yet."
"Doesn't matter, this isn't real. We aren't real."
He leans in to kiss her. She gives herself up to the kiss.
"That felt real," Martin says.
"But it wasn't," she answers. "Say your wife's name."
"I don't want to," he says. "Not now."
"Jane," she says quietly. Say your children's names."
"Why are you doing this ?" he asks her.
"Ben. Sally," she recites. "I have two girls named Debra and Allison. My husband is named Willard. And your wife is Jane."
"Are you trying to end this?" Martin asks. "Is that what you're doing here?"
"No," Rebekkah answers. "I'm not ready to. I'm more selfish than that. I just want to look at us with clear eyes. I want both of us to."
"Why? Why not just delude ourselves? For a little while. That's what you're really saying, isn't it?
"No, my love." She raises her hands, pushes lightly, extricates herself from the circle of his arms. "You haven't been listening to a word I've been saying. When it's over, I want to be able to remember it exactly. All the sex and foolishness and sadness. Everything. That's how I'll never lose you. Long, long, long after you're gone." She looks at him as she walks away from the water and back to the path. "Now let's go somewhere and fuck."
"You go up ahead, Mom. I'll walk with Dad for a while." Debra falls back to join Rebekkah and Willard, slipping her hand into the crook of her father's elbow. A small way in front of them, Eli has stopped and is waiting for her. She walks to him, leaving Willard behind.
"In answer to your question, he's doing about as well as can be expected," she says as she joins him.
"How much longer can you keep him at home?" Eli asks.
"You mean how much longer will I keep him? As long as I can."
They walk in silence for a while. Debra's voice follows them, murmuring indistinctly at her father.
"She told you to ask me that, didn't she? She thinks you have insight I don't have."
"Am I that transparent?"
"No, but she is. She's my daughter. I've known her for thirty five years. I know how she operates."
Is that what she does? Operate?"
"We all do, dear. Just differently. Debra has always wanted things to go just her way. She can't imagine that other people might want other things."
"And what does she want now?"
"For her mother not to be so tired."
"Are you that tired?"
"Of course. It's exhausting trying to take care of him. It's worse watching him being erased every day."
"I can't imagine."
"No dear, I don't suppose you can."
They are approaching the Point. She closes her eyes for a moment as they walk and is washed by unwanted memories. We should never have come here, she thinks. I should never have let her make me. The thought makes her feel weak and elderly. She opens her eyes and the world is full of the thought of herself, too many years ago to count. The westering sun glitters off the water, putting her in mind of lost loves and lovers. She falls back to join her husband and daughter.
"This place looks familiar," Willard says. Have I been here before?"
This time it is a hotel room near the vast anonymity of the airport. It is paid for, as always, in cash -- hers today. Upstairs they make love to the muffled sounds of jets passing overhead. When they are done and she is showering the sex off herself, he flips through the channels on the TV. He does not watch anything, but it is a tic of his. He can't resist checking out the channels the hotel has given him.
When they leave, it is in separate cars to different directions. She feels, as always, a kind of wrenching as he drives away, as if something important but unnamable has been ripped out of her body. On the way home, she stops at Shop & Save, picks up a pre-cooked chicken and store-created mashed potatoes. Then she wanders the aisles, filling her basket at random -- yogurt, hot madras curry powder from the spice section, an exotic jam made of figs and apricots. She finds the bright lighting and the overwhelming abundance of food calming. This is her ritual, her changing of the channels: it brings her back to herself, her life: the mother's role - the need to feed Willard and the children.
She drives home, relieves the after-school babysitter and has an hour to herself with the girls. They regale her with stories from school. At nine and ten, they are still young enough to want to talk to her. She treasures this. She has become a connoisseur of the evanescent.
When Willard arrives, her family is complete. He is, as always, oblivious to the aura of sex and deception that must, she thinks, hang all around her. Is he that obtuse, she wonders, or she that duplicitous? For that night, however, the answer to the question seems unimportant.
There is warmed-up chicken to serve.
"We have," she tells Willard. "Many times. We used to take the girls here when they were young."
"I remember that" Debra, who has wandered a short distance away, calls to them. "When we were really little, we'd run ahead of you guys and try to get out of sight. We thought that was so exciting, so daring."
"Have you talked to your sister?" Rebekkah asks.
"Earlier this week, Debra says. "She says she loves it in San Francisco. I don't think she'll ever come back."
"Thanksgiving," her mother reminds her The women each look briefly at Willard as if in silent acknowledgment that this may be the last Thanksgiving he will be living at home. Even as she has this thought -- perhaps to crowd it away -- Rebekkah looks around and tries to identify the tree against which Martin used to kiss her three decades ago. But the trees have grown and she can only guess: this one, no, maybe that one with the gnarly roots. Didn't I used to stand between the roots, waiting? She thinks of Martin and Jane, who she knows live in a retirement community down in Boca Raton. She has kept tabs over the years. It is a tic, like switching channels. She is vaguely proud of them. Like she and Willard, they seem to have made it to the end of things. To have scored forty years of marriage. To have fulfilled that youthful romantic bromide: to have grown old together, so damnably unromantic in reality. Everything a slow erasure. It seems forever that she and Martin stopped being lovers, twenty years since she last saw him, since they moved away. She wonders if he ever told Jane about her. Maybe that's why they moved only a year after she ended their affair.
It happens shockingly quickly, even to herself.
He calls her at her office at the High School, where she counsels students and guides them into the future.
"You haven't called in days," he tells her.
"I didn't want to," she says.
"Don't you miss me?" his voice jocular at the other end of the phone.
"Of course I do. But I didn't want to call you."
"Because I don't know who I am right now."
"And that means?"
"That I make love with you and, for a moment, I think I know who I am. I make love with Willard and I'm not sure anymore. It's too hard."
They are each silent for a long while.
"You are ending this," he says at last.
She realizes suddenly that this is exactly what she is doing. Beyond the closed door of her office, a bell rings and the hallway fills with the clatter and roar of moving students.
"I love you, Martin," she tells him.
"I love you too," he is telling her as she gently puts the receiver into its cradle.
Eli, who had fallen behind, intrigued by something, catches up to them.
"Beautiful," he says of the vista. Long Pond seen from the Point. How many times, Rebekkah thinks. She can't remember. The Point for her is a jumble of family memories, memories of Martin, the long year of her estrangement from herself. In her mind, she turns to the man beside her, her husband of forty-one years, and tells him the truth. It's alright, he says to her. I knew all along but I'm forgetting about it now.
But in reality, that hard thing, he merely stands, looking out at water so dazzling it almost obscures the far shore. She shakes her head to clear it. Too much sadness. You can have days like this at my age, she thinks. Days when everything is loss. The trick is to ignore those feelings, to focus on the present: the sunshine on the lake, the presence of at least one daughter. Willard standing beside her, not speaking. It is either a companionable silence or a silence built of the fact that there is so little left inside him. She is surrounded by the blunt facts of her family: her headstrong daughter and her compliant husband, and her own husband, slowly becoming blank as the surface of the Pond.
"It is, isn't it?" Rebekkah says. "Now let's keep walking."
She takes Willard by the arm. Let's go, dears," she says to her family. "Eli's right. It's a beautiful day to remember."