I met my husband on the path that runs along the marsh in our town. He pretended he was my ex-husband. It’s a habit of his. Actually, we’d woken early that day, sipped coffee from twin mugs, read quietly side by side for about 45 minutes, then gotten up and dressed in long johns and turtlenecks, readying ourselves for our ritual winter morning walk. We were about two miles into the walk when he pretended to run into me on the path. He’s practicing, he says, so that, in the unlikely event that in some distant future we happen to split up, if we then run into each other in a public place, we’ll know how to behave.
Hi, he says, motioning to the person not standing beside me, the person I’ve apparently left him for, and stretches out his hand as though to introduce himself. No response. Whomever I’m with is either very unfriendly or doesn’t recognize my ex-husband and is surprised at this man in the fur-lined coat and tasseled hat stopping us on the path, no other humans in sight in any direction, the gray February morning light so pallid it seems the day might collapse.
My husband as ex-husband turns his torso ever so slightly to the right, in order to address me rather than my mute partner. He looks down very briefly at his shoes, and because he looks there I can’t help but follow with my eyes.
I think about how my husband sometimes suffers from soreness of the toe. Maybe these shoes I’ve just glanced following his gaze are the reason for that soreness. They look rather worn. He seems so fragile all of a sudden, there on the path, alone, his toe quite possibly sore, in his new unmarried life. How’s Tolstoy going, I ask. Did Prince Andrei get wounded yet? I’m tempted to invite him to dinner, if my partner wouldn’t mind. Or maybe ask him to coffee, just the two of us.
And then I remember the 15 years of loneliness I discovered in my hips only yesterday. When I look again at my husband, he’s kneeling down on the path, scratching the invisible head of his invisible dog, behind the ears, vigorously.
Come on, Rex, he says, we’d better get going.