The Time It Took

After forty-seven days at sea, Eric Walker caught a ride home with a
fellow submariner who lived in the same subdivision he lived in and got
out of his buddy's pickup saying Thanks when it got to the entrance to
Forest Lakes and walked calling Hello through his empty house and took
off his uniform neatly and hung it properly in the closet with his shoes
on a shoetree and consulted his wife's schedule which he had entered
into their personal computer to see when she would be home and put
Marvin Gaye into the CD player in the bedroom but didn't turn it on and
put on a navy blue Navy sweatshirt with its sleeves cut away and cool
nylon shorts and shot baskets in the driveway for twenty minutes and
stood at the line he had painted straight with a yardstick on the
concrete and made fifteen free throws in a row just like a machine and
went inside for a nice cold beer but just one and groaning Damn had to
settle for a cold Diet Pepsi instead and showered and lathered and
rinsed and repeated and dried with a fluffy yellow towel and hung it to
dry and flipped through the channels which were no longer programmed the
way he had them before he left and folded all the laundry he found in
the dryer and stacked it on the utility room shelf to be put away and
met his wife at the door and felt the sunshine spill from over her
shoulder onto his bare legs and didn't compare this moment with those
dark ones beneath the sea as he had done when he had first gone onboard
and the irony was fresh and said her name, Sandy, again and again as he
nuzzled her auburn hair and green nubby sweater and nuzzled into the
shadows beneath her auburn hair and took her down the hallway by hand
laughing and turned the CD player on and crooned Let's get it on and
made love with her for nearly an hour after first leaping from the bed
to draw the curtains all the way closed and shut out the sunshine and
shut out the neighbors' stares
and lay beside her and touched her and laughed with her and talked about
people they knew and talked about family and talked about her classes
and stroked her and kissed her in a way that made her feel wanted as a
person not only as the object of his sailor's raging desire and gave her
advice about accounting and world history and tried to make love with
her again but too soon and wormed his way with an unconvincing joke at
his own expense out of the sheets and blow-dried the wet spot and made
the bed when she got up to shower and went down the hall to where her
books and papers lay where she had dropped them right next to a table
she could have easily put them onto and took them to the kitchen and
stacked them on the counter where the knives lined up in a holder that
sharpened them each time you pulled one out to use it and was examining
with mounting disgust a barely passing paper about Self-Referentiality
from Contemporary Women Writers when she came up laughing and grinning
and wearing a silk robe he had bought in Korea last year and told her to
focus when she wrote and have a thesis such as Like stylistic
experimentation for its own sake, self-referentiality is a clever
gimmick that has just about played itself out and stick to the point and
each paragraph should have a topic sentence and not try to be clever or
funny or witty when it might go over the teacher's head because some of
them are only graduate students and some of them are just going through
the motions because of tenure and some of them are in English because
they can't hack it in real disciplines and ask him if she ever had
about anything anything she ever took in college, okay, Sandy?, and
him that he had made 1540 on the SAT before deciding to go into the Navy
and then reminded her that it did cost something after all to go to
college, that books cost an awful lot even if she had managed to get the
non-traditional student scholarship named for some ardent churchwoman
from Kansas, and that she must not take it lightly and went to the
kitchen cabinet to look for canned Franco-American spaghetti and
meatballs and just stared and stared and glared and slammed a cabinet
door and opened it
back up and slammed it again but even harder and the cookie jar shaped
like a cow rattled and said What has happened to these cabinets and when
she said What are you talking about said back to her What has happened
to these cabinets, I had them organized before I left, and in the time
it took to get back look how you've let it fall
apart, look how you have let every single thing fall apart, and swept a
whole row of canned green beans and canned yellow corn and canned baby
limas from the cabinet and onto the floor when she said It's organized,
okay?, I organized it, and he was still naked when she said Look and he
felt a breeze from the suddenly operating air conditioner behind his
back when she said I know where everything is so just and I and saw her
books and papers and he thought well this is ridiculous this is just
nuts this is what happens when a man goes off and lives fucking
underwater incommunicado for what seems like forever but it is only a
couple of months so how can it all fall apart so fast so he threw her
through the glass patio door.
He had thrown her so hard that she sailed over most of the broken glass.
She lay on the patio for a while, not bleeding, not really hurt, just
lying. The sunshine made her feel sleepy, that and making love so
recently. She thought about dozing off. That would be a nice ending for
a story in Contemporary Women Writers, she thought, even if she would
never have the guts to actually write a story. Split infinitive, she
heard him say somewhere deep in her head. You should have thought
actually to write. Then she rose slowly and walked back in, sliding the
frame of the patio door along its track
though she could easily have stepped through the jagged hole she had
made when he threw her out. She went to the counter and watched her
hands take up her Contemporary Women Writers paper to have something to
I, he said.
That's all, she said. Not this time. Not again, not ever again. Not
I know, he said. That's okay, I understand, I wouldn't respect you if,
then went off to dress.
Not again, she said, not again, to herself in the empty room.
She still clutched her paper while she was on the telephone, smoothing
it while she was on hold because the dispatcher didn't consider this an
emergency and finding a misspelled word that neither her professor nor
Eric had seen. She looked for a pen to correct it with and found one
right where it should have been where Eric stored all their writing
supplies, in a drawer next to the cutting board. In the time it took for
the police to arrive, Eric returned to the kitchen wearing ironed jeans
and a golf shirt and reorganized the cabinet and answered nicely when
his wife, out of habit, asked him about a sentence she was thinking of



Jimmy Dean Smith