“I left,” he says. “It was a matter of life and death.” “Like the baseball game?” “How much more serious could it get?” “There’s always something,” she says. “Something more, something worse. Something to look forward to, something larger than oneself. It’s too bad you’re like this.” It’s too bad you’re like this . His lips repeat her words but no sound comes out. “I think this is what your therapist meant when she wanted to know if I’d find your anxiety overwhelming,” she says. “At the time I was surprised by the question, I hardly knew you. But I’ve come to understand that your anxiety is so important to you that you can’t live without it.” He nods. “Who would I be without worry?” They walk a little farther. “You are too perfect,” he says. “That is so you. You are blaming me for your problems, I am not perfect.” “To me you are perfect, it drove me crazy.” “Your problems aren’t about me,” she says. “No,” he says, “but I kept lowering my expectations.” “Of me?” she asks, increasingly agitated. “No, of myself,” he says. “You were fine, happy, satisfied, ev- erything was going along as planned—” “I thought it was,” she says. “Exactly,” he says. “Exactly what?” she says. “You know what,” he says. “In the end it is you. You have an ability that I don’t. You can shelter yourself, you can elude de- tection—you can hide your feelings. I can’t. I can’t protect my- self, so I gave up on all that and am hurling myself into all kinds of things.” “What kinds of things?” “Well, women, for one.” “You should know better than to tell me that.” “We’re friends.” “I’m your ex,” she says. “It’s too soon. You are such an ass.” He smiles. “I wouldn’t smile if I were you,” she says. “Why not?” “You’ve got poppy seeds in your teeth.” “I can’t help but smile. I like it when you say I’m an ass. I was so good for so long, and now, I just listen to you, calling me an ass, telling me I have poppy seeds. It’s great,” he says. And then he makes a sucking-swishing sound like he’s suddenly become a dentist’s office or a water pick. He shows her his teeth again: “Poppy?” “You are an ass.” “Are you seeing anyone?” he asks. “Who would I see?” “Men, I assume, although at your age, I’ve known a lot of women who switched—they said there were better pickings on the other side. The men of this age either didn’t want a woman their own age—or were bitter like escarole and came with too much baggage.” “I’m not seeing anyone,” she says. “I am enjoying my time alone, spreading out in the bed, leaving books and remotes and

children?” “I don’t know,” she says. “I suspect a lot of women feel that way but are loathe to say anything.” “It goes against nature,” he says. “Or maybe it doesn’t,” she says. “Maybe in nature not every woman is a mother, maybe some of them do other things. . . .” “Like what?” “Run countries,” she says. And then there is a silence. “I wonder why men are so interested in the choices women make?” He shrugs. “We get nervous that when we get up to go take a leak or something, your people will take over. We want to keep what’s ours.” “You mean what you took from others, like land from Native Americans, people from Africa, money, power, all that stuff?” He rolls his eyes. “You look like an octopi,” she says. A moment passes. “Are you still meditating?” “I quit,” he says. “Turns out I hate sitting still. But I did dis- cover that I like hitting things. I started playing golf, but then did something to my back, so now I just punch things—I bought a bag, a punching bag. When I punch it, things come out.” “What kind of things? Feathers? Stuffing?” “Feelings I’ve been sitting on for years. I slam my hand into the bag and thoughts pop into my head, like revelations. Re- member when the shrink asked what would happen if I wasn’t angry anymore—if I could stand being happy?” “Is that why you left?” she asks. “You were too happy? I thought there were other things, problems you didn’t want to deal with.” He scowls at her. She says, “If you’re interested in what it was like for me, I can say that I realized that you loved your friend Matt more than me.” “It’s not true—I don’t love Matt, I tolerate Matt, the same as you tolerate me.” “Some call that love. Anyway. When my father died you said you had to go to a ball game with Matt.” “The man was dead, it wasn’t going to change anything, and the Yankees were playing the Red Sox. It was the final game, you can’t lie about that. You can’t go back and get that game later. You, I knew, would still be home, on the sofa feeling sad. So what did I really miss?” “Being with me in my time of need,” she says. He shrugs. “I don’t like conflict.” “You don’t like not getting your way—or acting like an ass- hole and then being held accountable.” “I don’t like feeling guilty when I don’t have to,” he says. “It’s very selfish,” she says. “It has nothing to do with you,” he says. “That should be a comfort.” “It’s not. That’s the selfish part—you didn’t think about me, about what it would mean to me.” “Are you still talking about the ball game or the bigger questions?” She makes a face.


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