Sophie stood up. “Let’s go home,” she said. “I’m cold.”
We were back on Bartlett Road before she spoke again. “Claudia has an odd sense of humor. She said to me once. ‘That which doesn’t kill you – makes you wish you were dead.’ It’s her explanation for all the drugs and booze. All the advantages of being dead, without missing any TV.”
It was getting close to dawn. There wasn’t a house light on anywhere. The whole island was sleeping, the whole world was sleeping, except us.
“Are you still glad I came to see you?” she asked.
“More than ever.”
“You’re coping with all this new information all right? You don’t think I’m strange or creepy?”
“Strange, maybe. But that’s okay. I like strange. Some of my favorite people are srange. I’ve been called strange myself.”
“Funny … I don’t usually think of myself that way. I feel lie I’m pretty ordinary, actually. One more boring fucked up person waiting to go on Oprah.”
I had to laugh. “That is by far the strangest thing you’ve ever said to me. If you really believe hat, you’re a thousand times stranger than I ever thought. You really are crazy if you believe that.”
“But it would be nice, wouldn’t it? Doing what’s expected. Not expecting much. Not brooding and worrying and – and picking at scabs all the time.”
“I don’t know. Maybe there aren’t really any ordinary people. Maybe everybody’s strange.”
“I told this stuff to one other man. It was a mistake. I really liked him. But people judge you, no matter what they say. It’s like in India. When a women is raped there, her family shuns her, as if it was her fault.”
“But it wasn’t your fault.”
“That’s what the other man said. But he started to fade after that. He was friendly when I called but he never called me.. So, sort of as a test? I stopped calling him. I never hard from him again.”
“I guess he flunked. What a turd. He didn’t deserve you.”
“I could see it right away. He looked at me differently after I told him. I’ve thought about it a lot. Maybe he was right. Maybe those Indians are on to something.”
“Hey -- ”
“Not at first. But later on, when I knew I could get what I wanted by coming out of the shower and letting the towel slip a little, or rubbing against him …”
“But that was just … circumstances. You were doing what you had to do to survive.”
“So you think I survived?”
“I know it.”
“I told you I had you fooled.”
I felt a sudden sluice of fatigue. It was way past my bed-time.
“Why do you say stuff like that? To hurt me?”
“To warn you.”
“Then you’re hurting me for no reason, because it’s not going to work.”
She took my hand then, squeezed it hard to get my full attention. I did the same thing with my kids sometimes: the pressure said “Focus on this. This is important.”
‘I don’t get it,” she said. “What do you think is happening here. Who do you think I am? What are you seeing when you look at me?”
I spoke slowly, picking the words: “Damaged goods. Wounds. Anger. Fear. Confusion. And a huge spirit that can hold all that grief and trouble and tell her story without flinching and kiss me like she was sixteen years old, and still take chances and come here to see me because of the way a two-hour phone call out of nowhere made her feel -- ”
“Steven -- ”
“I have an idea. Marry me tomorrow. First thing in the morning. I’ll give you a ring, I must have a ring kicking around somewhere, we can get one out of a Cracker Jack box, like in my Dad’s movie.”
She smiled in spite of herself. “Cracker Jack prizes are bad now.”
“Doesn’t matter. We’ll work something out. We can get blood tests. The Town Clerk could do it on her lunch hour and then -- ”
“Steven, please. Don’t do this. I can’t.”
We turned off Appleton Road onto Helen’s Drive. We were almost home.
“Sorry,” I said. “I guess I got going a little fast back there.”
“Don’t apologize. You apologize too much.” She slipped her arm around my waist. “Just be with me.”
So we walked back to my little house in silence and undressed in silence. She climbed into my son’s bed, and I pulled the Spiderman quilt up to her chin and she seemed every bit as young and fragile as the little boy who usually slept there. I smoothed her hair and she settled herself on the pillow, wiggling into a more comfortable position.
I bent to kiss her forehead, but she was already asleep.