The first time it happened, I had pins sticking in my back. I don’t believe the acupuncture had anything to do with it. But in a way, my acupuncturist, she’s a witness of sorts. Ask her. She can tell you. Although she doesn’t really know what she witnessed, but then neither do I.
So she’s not a real witness-kind-of-witness. Not an official, legal sort of witness, you know? Circumstantial at best. She didn’t actually see it happen, just the aftereffects, and I’m sure she explained all those away.
She wouldn’t have believed me even if I had told her what really happened. Who would?
I’d gone to my acupuncturist for my regular appointment. Every three weeks for my back. Spasms, mid- and lower back, nothing out of the ordinary. I work in a coffee shop; I open the store most mornings, and I’d opened it that day. Not too much espresso, maybe six, seven shots. Nothing unusual. But working on the espresso bar, pulling drinks, fetching gallon jugs of milk, lugging out a sack of trash, it wears on your back. So she sticks a few pins in, and it feels better. Unblocks the chi, or whatever. I don’t know, I don’t go for the metaphysical bit, and there’s no mystical confusion about my experience. It’s alternative care, but she wears a white coat just like a real doctor.
She did what she always does, no more, no less. Pins in the back and neck, one or two near my thumbs. No strange sensations or anything. I’m perfectly aware of myself. No mumbo jumbo, incense burning, or whatnot. There’s a ceiling fan on way low, barely moving, I remember. She dimmed the lights when she left the room and made it relaxing. The same as always.
So I’m lying there under the sheet with her Sounds of Rippling Water CD playing, and my mind starts to drift. This is what it’s supposed to do; it always does. I’m not some mind-drifter. I focus, I’m aware. I’d had my coffee. But I’m daydreaming because you have to lie there. Not quite asleep, just really relaxed, half-dreamy, half thinking of what I’m doing for the rest of the day.
Phone bill, got to mail that off. Run back by the coffee shop, pick up the book I’m reading, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis, it’s wild stuff. I took it in to work because I always take a book everywhere, although I never have time to read at work. And if you take a book and don’t get to read it, chances are you forget it’s there.
I’m not flighty or forgetful. I know what happened to me. Or at least that it happened. But you take a book and don’t read it, you forget it. That happens to most people. Anyhow, I’m drifting and thinking that the name of the book is The Great Divorce, and I snort a chuckle. I guess I chortle while I’m lying there because I’m thinking, Now that’s an oxymoron–a great divorce.
My wife and I recently got divorced, so I’m sort of sensitive to the title. I guess she’s not my wife, but you understand…my ex-wife. I’m sort of chuckling because our divorce was anything but great. I guess most divorces are less than superlative, not the kind of thing you look forward to, or look back on and say, “Gee, swell times.” She’d called the night before, looking for something. Actually, she’d called to accuse me of being why she couldn’t find something. A cutting board. A cheap, white plastic, $6.99 cutting board that she swears was hers, though I remember buying that board back in college.
A cutting board, a sharp knife, and three pint glasses. I made it through college with just those things: no plates, no cutlery, no napkin rings. She has all the plates, all the cutlery, all six sets of napkin rings we got as wedding presents.
She divorced me. But she got everything. Don’t take that wrong, she’s peaches; but the fact is that I moved out for a song, and she’s still in the house. She got the dogs. Yet the night before, she’s calling about that stupid cutting board, right?
I live in squalor. Most of my stuff is still in boxes, and I haven’t even moved all the boxes to my apartment; some of them are still in our garage. Excuse me, her garage. And I know I haven’t seen that cutting board. I haven’t had time to cut anything in my apartment.
“You know how much I liked that cutting board,” she says. “Besides, I brought it to the marriage.”
Brought it to the marriage. She says this like she had arrived with a huge oaken hope chest, like her people felled trees for timber and built our house from scratch and moved us in. Like her father pulled the clapboard wagon up in front of the house and dropped off the blushing bride with her stupid cutting-board dowry.
“If it’s in a box,” I say, “I don’t know about it.”
“Well, if it’s in a box, find it,” she says.
“When I get to all the boxes, I’ll let you know if it turns up.”
“Well, your concern doesn’t help me cut an onion tonight,” she says.
I say, “No. No, it certainly doesn’t do that.”
“James, there’s no call for rudeness,” she says. “I just hope every time I find something of mine missing I don’t have to call you and wait for boxes to get unpacked.”
“I haven’t had time…”
“That’s right, you never did. Half your boxes are still in my garage. And half those half are ones you never unpacked when we moved into the house five years ago.”
Ten, maybe a dozen boxes, are still there, certainly not half. My back just shoots spasms every time she calls. So I say, “Honey, if there are any five-year-old unpacked boxes in that garage, you can have everything in them.”
Truthfully, I meant to cover up the phone for the next bit, but it’s one of those tiny little flippy cell phones, and you don’t know where the speak hole is. You can hardly see it, so how do you cover it up?
She hears me when I mumble, “Might as well, you took everything else.” There’s this silence. Oh, for silences that remain silent.
“No, James, I didn’t take everything else. I didn’t take anything. I kept, perhaps that’s the word you were looking for, kept what was mine. Those things I bought when my job was the only one paying the bills and buying all the pretty little boxed-up things that now crowd my car out of my garage. Did you know some people actually call them carports? They drive their vehicles into them at night, these ports for cars? They keep cars, not their ex-husband’s boxes, in them.”
My wife’s an attorney. I got nothing.
I say, “Honey–and I mean that in the most condescending way possible–honey, that cutting board is actually mine.”
“So you do have it?”
At this point in the conversation, my chi is so wadded up in the small of my back a million little pins wouldn’t liberate it.
“No, Meg, I don’t have the cutting board. At least I don’t think I have my cutting board. Like I’m saying–and I shudder to say it to you again–but it could be in a box. My cutting board, yes, could be in a box, so I can’t see it with the naked, un-cardboard—penetrating eye. It could be in a box in this apartment or in your very own parking garage. I really don’t have the foggiest. After you run over the pitiful contents of my remaining boxes with your Jeep, you’re welcome to look them over and see if you come across it. But frankly, I don’t know what else to tell you.”
She can pitch that sort of fit, but I’m not allowed. “Is it going to be like this, James?” Her voice trembles, slightly, unconvincingly. “Are we really going to be like this?” she says. “Five years, James, five years of our lives. I know we’re divorced, and I know you feel you weren’t fairly represented, but do we really have to snip and claw?”
I look around to the walls of my apartment for something to focus on, just to look at, so I cannot think of snippy, clawing, damaging remarks, but the walls are bare.
There’s a pause. In her mind, I imagine she’s calling a mandatory do-over, because then suddenly she’s sweet. It’s scary.
“Hello, James… I’m making dinner… I have no cutting board…
I have items right now on the counter to be cut, currently uncut. If you find the cutting board, will you please let me know?”
“Absolutely, Meg. I’ll look for it right now.”
“Thank you. And I’ll just make something else for dinner.”
“Good. What are we having?”
That took her a little off guard. Took us both, actually. I hear her lay the knife down.
On my cell phone, even after she hangs up, the little digital numbers keep counting for five, maybe ten more seconds as if she’s still there.
That’s where my mind drifts while I’m lying there with pins in my back. And I’m really not mad anymore, with a bunch of little pins in my chi. I mean, a little mad goes with the landscape these days. A general simmer of madness that never quite resolves. That’s divorce, right? Come to think of it, that’s marriage. But here’s the thing: I look at my watch. I always wear a watch. (This is important, so let me assure you it’s no exaggeration. In fact, it’s an occupational hazard for someone who opens at a coffee shop, a reliable watch with a nasty alarm. People want their coffee first thing. Addicts. So you have to be earlier than first thing to get ready for them or you’re in for an earful–a cranky, unkind, uncaffeinated bawling out. I always wear a watch.)
I am down to my skivvies under that sheet, lying there on the treatment table, and I don’t even lift my arm to check the time, just sort of roll my wrist toward my head. The watch face is right there– close, almost too close to see it.
My eyes are a bit blurry without my glasses. The room is dim, the bulb above glows barely orange like a steady ember, and a little afternoon light seeps in through the blinds even though they’re shut. The CD switches from “Bubbling Mountain Stream” into “Placid
Meadow Rivulet,” a distinction I’ve learned to make over months of alternative care. And I squint at my watch face because that’s an eyeglass wearer’s instinct, to squint. But then I have to open my eyes wide, wider than normal, just to see the watch face, it’s that close.
August 19, Friday, 3:16 p.m. I remember this moment exactly, glasses or no. No mistaking that.
I close my eyes again. I’m thinking, I’ll get out of here around four o’clock. I wonder what time Meg gets home these days. I should go by the house and pick up another round of boxes. I don’t have keys anymore, so Meg has to be there. But hopefully, I can get in and out before her new boyfriend, Doug Something-or-Other, shows up. He’s a financial consultant with two kids, eight and five. His ex-wife is crazy. My wife tells me so, repeatedly, tells me all kinds of crazy things
Doug’s ex-wife does. I guess so I’ll appreciate what kind of a pearl she’s being to me. Tells me that and how much money he makes. And I think I can go by and grab a load before he gets there, then stop at the post office on the way home, and forget the book till tomorrow.
I drift a little and wonder what Meg will be wearing. We used to be married, so this is inbounds. I’m wondering if good ol’ Doug has told her she can’t cook yet, or if he still smiles and takes her out to dinner a lot. I’m thinking about her hair. Wondering if she’d straightened it that day. That was my favorite, even though her curls, which are natural, are excellent. But I’ve always liked it straightened, the way it smoothed across her forehead. The way, when straightened, she’d tie it back in a ponytail to work on dinner. Her awful dinners. She’d tie it back like she was about to knead bread for an army even if she was just opening cans and dumping them in a boiler pot. She worried about her hair getting in her way, like it was expensive silk she didn’t want to have to dry clean. Even when she was slicing a boiled egg.
That’s when it hit me. Something about a boiled egg. We had two of those egg-slicer contraptions. Absolutely essential, these. A blue one and a white one, both wedding gifts. You wouldn’t think two completely different people would spring for the egg slicer. You wouldn’t imagine Shoppy Mart would actually have two on the shelves. The white one, hanging in the dusty carton since the store opened, and a three-week wait for them to special order in blue.
Somehow we got two. And I remembered. The afternoon Meg told me she’d filed the papers, I stood over my first box in the middle of the kitchen with an egg slicer in each hand, thinking whether I should take both or just one. She rarely used them. I don’t think she understood them, probably afraid her hair would get caught and shredded in one.
But I remember thinking, No, Meg likes blue. She should have the blue one.
I returned the blue egg slicer to the drawer by the oven and walked back over to the box. I’d written “Essentials” on the flap with a black marker. This was early in the moving process, when I still wrote things on the sides of the boxes. I’d just thrown junk in there– it was full, not what you’d call properly packed. Just a pile of stuff that happened to be piled inside a box.
I knelt down over this box thinking, They’ll never be together again. And I was sad for the egg slicers, you know, for the blue one and the white one. I held the egg slicer up a second before I put it in, giving it a last good look at the kitchen. Then I laid it down.
On top of the cutting board. That’s when I remember. The cutting board. Lying on the acupuncture table, I could see it in the box so clearly, at such an angle. On top, inside the box marked “Essentials.” Being the very first box I packed, I moved it to the garage, and surely, with all the boxes that came after it, it hadn’t ever been moved. In fact, I knew exactly where it was. Anticipating so many boxes, I’d put it in the far corner. I was sure it was still in that corner by itself; I could see it.
And I want to give Meg that cutting board, even though it was mine. I want her to see I don’t care about any of it. That’s when it happened. Water rippling, a lazy breeze wafting from the ceiling fan, and my eyes are closed. It felt like two, maybe three minutes since I’d checked my watch. Lying there, eyes closed, and I’m seeing down into that box, with the flaps open, the one marked “Essentials.” I could see the egg slicer, slid to a corner next to a turkey baster, both of them on top of the cutting board, plain as day.
I want her to have this, I think. And I reach down… The cutting board. I’m standing there. Reaching down into the box. Touching that cutting board. I mean I’m actually there, in her garage. My eyes are open; there’s a cutting board in my hand. It was my garage so I recognize it. My boxes, that dartboard, the hook where I used to hang my bike. See what I’m telling you? Suddenly I’m standing in my ex-wife’s garage in my underwear with a cutting board in my hand. I have no idea how I got there, how I even got in. (I mentioned her changing the locks, right?)
I look at my bare legs sticking out of my skivvies. That’s my hair on my chest. I check my watch, squinting because I don’t have my glasses. Still August 19, Friday, but now 3:19 p.m.
That was the first time it happened. This afternoon. And this is my first entry documenting my strange gift. I slipped across space without using time. I leapt.
From the Trade Paperback edition.