“I’m afraid I’m losing my will to live,” she told him. The carousel skimmed by them and she smiled and waved at the boys on the purple zebra and green duck. “I’m afraid I don’t care.”
He didn’t know what to say. He thought he’d lost his long ago, but he was still here, so he figured it had been an illusion. Or perhaps having a will to live in the first place was the card trick. “You have to get out.”
She smiled toward the carousel again. “You make it sound so easy. Like it’s a choice I have the ability to make. Like it’s something I just wake up and do one day, and happily ever after is something lying on the bedroom floor; I just have to bend over and pick it up.” She looked at him. “You’re not happy with your life. Why don’t you change it?”
That made him uncomfortable. “It’s out of my hands.”
“Why? You don’t like pan-handling? Then get a job.”
He couldn’t decide if she was serious. Her words stung, though he suspected they probably shouldn’t. He suspected she was making a point that he was too slow to catch.
She waved at them again. “You can’t just get a job, John. The universe is against you being more than a guy scraping his needs out of a sidewalk every day. The universe is against me living a day without getting hit in the face so my kids don’t. It’s not that easy. It’s not something divided down the middle by a line.”
She looked at him again. “Why?”
“And yet, here we are.”
He thought he was falling in love with her. He also thought he should probably tell her, but he couldn’t. She might take it the wrong way and stop coming to the store, stop calling him in the afternoons while the boys were napping, stop meeting him in this park where he could stand by her side with his hands in his pockets and listen to her talk and smell the dollar store detergent on her clothes. “You’ve given me back mine.”
She looked at him quickly, her face wide with a question she didn’t ask.
He looked away. Rolled a bit of lint between his thumb and finger deep inside his pocket. The music stopped, and children rolled off the carousel like fleas off a wet dog, running to parents who took their hands and led them back into the stream that was real life. Calvin and Martin ran up to the them, and Martin tugged his sleeve till he discarded the lint and pulled his hand out where the little boy could grab it.
Carolina bent and lifted Calvin, set him on her hip. “Time to go home, guys,” she said. John searched her tone for something that said she accepted what he’d said, or at least heard it. But there was nothing. Only that real life they walked back to.
She left him in front of the Save-A-Lot, with her usual quiet smile and ‘see you around.’ He watched the van drive away, and knew he couldn’t be in this lot the rest of the day without her. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and followed his thoughts home; thoughts of kissing her, of undressing her and putting his lips on each bruise and scar. Thoughts of the man who administered those marks that turned the backdrop of his mind black. Thoughts that there must be a better way, a way through it, a way out of it.
For both of them.