Geoffrey giggled as he opened the car door. He wasn’t used to this feeling of giddiness, though it had been a daily companion since he met Clarissa five months ago.
Once the door closed with a squeak and a bang, he rested his head on steering wheel and laughed, long and hard.
“It’s so the apple won’t get lonely,” she had said when she tucked the bag of walnuts into his briefcase.
What a thing to say! And now, when he thought of his snack inside his belly, apple and walnut mixing together, he had to laugh again.
Oh, life had never been so silly, nor so sweet!
Even the drive home had become an event to look forward to. As the engine strained up the hill past Rattlesnake bar, he found his heart beat a little faster, his breath race. She could always hear the old VW bug grumble up the canyon road and turn into their drive, and she would stand in the doorway to greet him.
The old car heaved as the hill steepened. “Poor old bug,” Geoffrey said, leaning forward in his seat, as if he could gesture the car up the hill. “You could use a younger, stronger engine.”
The rock had been so heavy. It was more a boulder than a rock, with specks of mica and veins of quartz that glistened when the sun glanced off it. He knew he had to move it, though, that evening when he’d seen Clarissa sitting on the ground beneath the eucalyptus tree.
“Are you ok?” he’d cried when he raced out to her. She smiled at him. “But you’re sitting in the dirt!” he exclaimed.
She stood up, brushing off the seat of her pants. “Yes,” she’d said.
“But it’s… dirty!”
She laughed. “It’s desert soil,” she said. “A little red from copper, isn’t it? It’ll wash out.” She craned her head to try to glimpse the back of her pants.
Nancy had never sat on the ground. Not once, in all the years he’d known her. Not even when she was a teen.
Come to think of it, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d sat on the ground, either. Maybe he had sat on a blanket spread over the lawn at the park in Willow Creek years and years ago, when he’d taken Malcolm to hear a concert in the amphitheater. Yes, he must have, for Nancy scolded them both over the grass stains they had somehow managed to get on the backs of their knees, even though he’d been so careful to instruct Malcolm to stay on the blanket.
And there was Clarissa, forever sitting on the earth.
“I have a rock,” he said. “It’s a boulder. We could put it here.”
“Oh, I’d love to sit on a rock!” she said. “Is it granite?” And the mica in her eyes sparkled.
It had been so hard to move. It took all afternoon.
As Clarissa bent over it, tracing her finger along the river of quartz, Geoffrey carried over two long poles.
“What’s this for?” she asked.
When he returned, he brought several round, straight branches of the same thickness, each a little longer than the diameter of the boulder.
“It’s ancient Egyptian technology,” he said, laying the branches down in front of the boulder.
Using the long poles as levers, they managed, at last, to get the boulder on top of the branches.
“It rolls!” she exclaimed.
He giggled when he saw her eyes light up.
“I can do this,” he said. “But you can’t be so cute! I have to concentrate.”
They laughed. He was still not used to what that felt like–how powerless one feels during the height of laughter, doubling over, all these feelings spilling out in streams of strange sounds. And afterwards, how his chest heaved as he caught his breath. He was helpless.
“Let’s move this thing!” he said at last.
And they had moved it, just the two of them. It took them three hours to cover two hundred feet.
“Maybe we shouldn’t take so many breaks,” he said, after they’d reached the one-quarter mark.
“It’s ok,” she said. “We don’t have to complete it today. We’ll work like yogis–mindfully. Stopping now and then to stretch. Remembering to breathe. This way, we won’t get hurt.”
When she stretched, reaching her arms above her head and arching her back, exposing a little sliver of pink belly under her shirt, he marveled at how different a woman’s body could be. Clarissa’s body looked like a comfortable home–no rough edges, nothing tight, everything relaxed and supple. Nancy had never seemed comfortable in her body–she always looked as if something pained her somewhere, as if, try as she might, her body was never good enough for her. He had loved her body–even in its discomforts. Even now, when he thought of Nancy’s knees–and how she grumbled as she climbed the stairs–he felt tender towards her. When you live beside someone else’s body for decades, it becomes almost a part of you, he thought.
He became aware that Clarissa was watching him. “Ready?” he said, valiantly.
“Let’s rest another moment or two,” she’d said. “There’s no rush.”
At sunset, they finally had it positioned under the boughs of the tree. It was wide enough to seat two, a low, even slab of granite.
They sat together and faced the setting sun.
“Do you miss her?” Clarissa asked.
Geoffrey looked at her. A lock of gray hair had fallen out of her pony tail, and he reached over to try to tuck it under her hair band.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” he said. She leaned into him, and he felt the coolness of her arm against his.
“You fit better,” he said.
“Yes,” she answered. “I know.”
The next day, he had been surprised that he didn’t feel sore from the labor.
“It’s because of your amazing knowledge of Egyptian technology,” she said. “And also, because we took our time.”
But he felt young to be able to spend an entire afternoon moving a boulder and not feel a stitch of soreness the next day.
Now, whenever he saw her sitting on her boulder, he felt his blood rushing through the veins in his arms and legs. “You have a second heart here,” Clarissa told him one night, touching his calf.
The old VW bug made it up the hill, and with a final groan, pulled into their drive. As he shook his head to clear his reverie, the front door opened, and Clarissa stepped out. Three steps was all it took to bound to her.
They sat together with their tea on the back porch.
“I suppose Malcolm never showed,” he said, after he’d told her about his day at the office.
“No, he’s here,” she replied. “Upstairs.”
“On that computer? He’s addicted to electronics, you know.”
“No,” she replied. “Reading.”
“What’s he reading?”
Clarissa laughed. “We’d been talking about enlightenment, whether it was real or an illusion. And I mentioned I had some books on the subject. I thought he’d choose Thich Nhat Hanh, something simple and safe. But when he saw the Castaneda books, it was as if he were drawn to them.”
“I’ve never read them,” Geoffrey said.
“Just as well,” Clarissa replied. “There’s no need. Do you realize that your son is somewhat of a prodigy at controlling his perception? He manipulates boredom to achieve altered states.”
How well do we ever know anyone? Geoffrey wondered. And as the sun set, he suddenly felt incredibly lonely.