She noticed a stack of books as he welcomed her into the old house. She took the first one off the pile, showed the cover to him.
“Were you getting rid of this?”
“I was planning on getting rid of all of them. You can have it if you want it.”
“Maybe, I’ve never read him. Would you say he’s good with relationships?”
“Oh, yeah. He does a ton with relationships. He’s the relationship master.”
“Interesting. I think of Beattie as the relationship master. Recycled love, mother stuff. But she could also leave me feeling worse after reading her stories.”
“What do you mean?”
“She always made me paranoid because a lot of relationships don’t make it through her stories. Her characters have a tendency to leave their spouses.”
“But they’re only stories, they’re not real.”
“No, these were real. I think she was one of those writers that’s torn through a couple of marriages, now’s on her third. Dumps it all out in the writing. I don’t doubt anything she says, that’s the problem,” she said. “What about him, though? Better or worse after reading?”
“I’d say I feel weirder after reading him, in a good way. Fanciful, if that’s possible.”
“Probably not. But it’s better than feeling worse. Say, while we’re on this subject—have you been doing any more of that disco art?”
“Not exactly. I’ll show you what I’ve got.”
Creepy jazz music defected from the attic. An old gramophone was playing new tunes. He was scrobbling to last.fm. They went up there.
“What is that?” she asked.
“I don’t know. It’s something.”
“I don’t know what. I said that,” he said. “But it’s something.”
“It’s not disco art.”
“We could still try it out.”
“How do we do that?” she asked.
“I don’t know. By touching it?”
“I’m not touching that thing.”
“I need to find out what music it likes.”
“People respond to music they like,” he said. “They open up. Maybe this thing works the same way. I’ve been trying different kinds but I don’t think I’ve hit on the right form yet.”
“Do you have any music on you?” he asked.
“I can play my Top Ten.”
“Of all time?”
“Of right now,” she said.
“What if that doesn’t work?”
“I don’t know! This wasn’t my idea. This was your idea!”
“Alright, let’s each just take a deep breath,” he said, and they looked at each other, almost smiling. “We might need a skeleton key, a Rubik’s Cube and some vodka.”
“Not banter,” she said.
“I never said banter.”
“A cheese plate would be nice.”
“Olives,” he said.
“That’s a bridge too far.”
“Over the River Kwai?” she asked.
“On borrowed wings.”
“Too close to the sun….”
“One small step….”
“A firm handshake,” she said.
“Look them in the eye,” he said.
“And smile!” they said at the same time and fell together. Moments passed. They forgot about the art and slept a while.
She awoke first and said, “Hmmm. Let’s go for a drive.”
“Alright, yeah, let’s get out of here. Will you drive, though? I want to smoke some cigarettes.”
“You started again? Good for you. You were a lot cooler when you smoked cigarettes.”
“They help me with imagination.”
“What helps can’t hurt. You remember that barn I took a photo of five years ago?”
“The red one in the empty field at sunrise?”
“Yes! Wow, that makes me happy. I want to go see it. You can write and smoke and I’ll drive really slow.”
“Write? What am I going to write about? What if it’s bad?”
“Even if it’s bad, just write it. Write about the buffalo hitchhikers in Idaho, escaping all the lava flows from the wildfires.”
“Climate change. Or talk about how sepia comes from cuttlefish”
“Does it? Wow. I miss being strange with you. Did you think you’d see me again?”
“I don’t know. I was thinking about it like we were a meal I was cooking. Not like veggies you’re sautéing in only a little oil where you gotta flip and flip, manage and cajole. We never cooked that way. We’re more like, let it simmer, it’ll turn out alright.”
“Yeah, I guess I’ve been simmering,” he said.
“No, you’ve been hiding out. You constructed yourself some sort of Maginot Line but failed to consider the weakness that lay in your border with Belgium. And that’s where I got through.”
“I feel like I have years’ worth of repairs to do.”
“That’s what the rest of your life is for,” she said.
“In Nova Scotia they call the mountain ash a dogberry.”
“Because dogs eat them.”
“No they don’t.”
“Yeah, they do. You think they’ll go on selling us bread?”
“Do you remember chocolate?” he asked.
“What about your birthday?”
“My birthday was a long time ago.”
“Your birthday’s tomorrow,” she said.
“Yeah, maybe it is.”
On their way out the door they took the books and threw them randomly up into the air above the yard. The oldest books broke apart against the sky and their pages fell like leaves from trees. At the same time there were actual leaves falling from trees. On the ground the leaves from the trees and the pages from the books became almost indistinguishable. Eventually they all just blew away.