Friday, July 9, 2010
Virginia leaves the armchair and enters the fiction stacks, trying to pretend she feels better. But the book titles are wavering on their spines, just a little bit. When she was a kid there was a Food Giant in this space. Her mother used to send her here for milk and eggs. Virginia would stand before the open refrigerator case, letting the air wash over her hot skin.
store. Inside are cardboard infant books. Runaway Bunny, Goodnight Moon. Stories Virginia read to her daughter, Gretchen, years and years ago.
The woman returns the novel to the shelf—too bad, Virginia thinks—and with her high reach exposes a tiny belly-button ring and silvery remains of stretch marks on her abdomen. Virginia glances sideways at her face. Strong-featured, with a wide forehead and high cheekbones and full lips and a pointed chin, she’s beautiful in the way of those women who don't wear makeup. When they reach the end of the alphabet the woman gives her a little smile of farewell and wanders away. She looked like the sort of person Virginia might befriend. A person more interesting than a place like Tucson.
The movie starts in ten minutes. Going to the theater in the middle of the day is part of an effort toward marital rejuvenation. Virginia isn’t entirely on board with the philosophy that more time together is just the thing for a floundering marriage, but they’re in couples counseling and it’s bad form to resist. Their therapist has the creative spirit of a stripmall architect. She characterizes their marital crisis as a case of the doldrums, and cheerily prescribes matinees as a means to kick up a little breeze, to set the sails fluttering again. They’ve been in therapy for six months, every Wednesday, yet their situation feels less like a temporary stillness than it does a permanent dead calm.
As Virginia moves toward the exit she spots Theo, standing in the magazine section. He’s smiling into the eyes of the belly-ringed woman with the baby books. They stand a few inches too close, as if they’ve just hugged. On his face is an expression of delight and discomfort. He knows this person. And she, it is clear, knows him.