[Image: Nostalgia for the past and Dada (Thinking of Margritte), B.A. Martel]
There are people who bound into the water from the hot shore, collapsing atop waves as they crest, opening their arms in welcome to the chill of salted ocean on their sandy skin. Todda was not one of those people. Since childhood, she always stood first at the edge of the dry sand, tunneling her toes and digging her heels deeper into the safety of their burrow. She waited without impatience for the water to reach her, and she almost involuntarily backed away if the water rushed too abruptly upon her.
Todda had begun to miss the summertimes of earlier years when the sun and the boys kissed her playfully. Now, hardly a decade into real life, there was so much pallor, such an abundance of artificial air that made her leave a sweater on the back of her cubicle chair even in July. After work, she would go home, driving with the windows down to allow summer’s sultriness to blanket her cold skin.
It was not even a couple of years since she had moved to this town, the result of a relocation for Alex yet again. She only knew a few of the neighbors in the condo complex, so she was glad when they decided to get a pup. Samuel, a sweet rescue, was company during the long hours after her office job ended promptly at five and tediously began again the next morning at nine.
Todda could hear Samuel’s excited yelping as she turned the key in the lock each day when she came home. He knew it was time to head to the park, where he would get to run free, circling the grassy field as a seagull does the sea. Even if Todda would have liked to put her feet up and laze in front of the television, she blithely changed into shorts and a T-shirt, slipped her feet into flip-flops, and headed out into the fresh air.
It was Samuel who made friends first with a playful chocolate lab. Todda wasn’t sure when the other dog started to appear with regularity at the park, but she was glad Samuel had company. While the two dogs scampered and played, Todda would lean back against a big boulder. Sometimes she’d text her friends or her sister back home, or the girls from school in their CollegeDaze group chat. Or else she’d scan the newsfeed, usually with disinterest.
One day, when Todda and Samuel arrived at the park just a little later than usual, she saw the lab at the other side of the field, standing next to a woman in a summer skirt and bright floral-print top. The woman, when she caught sight of Todda, waved enthusiastically and bent down to unleash the lab. The dogs bolted full-speed toward each other, circling joyfully before running off into the field to chase and play. The woman began to make her way toward Todda too, so instead of staying by the boulder, Todda met her halfway across the edge of the field.
“Your dog is so sweet,” the woman said. “What’s his name?”
“His name is Samuel, and your dog?” Todda inquired.
“Roderick,” the woman said.
“Oh, that’s cute; what a good-natured dog,” Todda said.
They exchanged information like that, your dog, my dog, comparing notes like two mothers with baby carriages making small talk in the playground. By the end of the time in the park, and even days and weeks later, they had learned more and more about the habits of the dogs, how they slept, what they ate, anecdotes about peculiar things they did.
“By the way, what’s your name?” the woman asked one night as the dusky light was waning.
“Oh, I’m Victoria,” Todda said.
They didn’t shake hands because they were holding the leashes of their dogs.
“Well, nice to meet you, Andie; it’s funny that it’s all about the dogs.”
“Yes, I feel I know you already just through your dog,” Andie said.
When Todda went home, she routinely tossed a large salad, cooked a few pieces of chicken or salmon in the grill pan, toasted a piece of pita bread, and ate it warm with hummus. She drank bottled water in a crystal highboy, followed by a tall glass a milk—no more wine those days—and decaf tea. She felt strong and healthy and very pure, her body slim. Even her stomach, though stretched, was taut, like a small balloon beneath her clothing.
“You’re hardly showing,” her sister Mary said when they FaceTimed. Mary had three children already and was eager to see the progress Todda was making with the first boy to be born in the family in two generations.
“I know,” Todda said. “If he weren’t kicking, I would hardly know he’s there yet.”
“Oh, he’s okay; it’s a little boring since he’s traveling so much. I don’t really have anyone to hang out with here, but it’s okay, Samuel keeps me company. We get to do some stuff on the weekends, but Alex is just happy to sack out when he’s actually home.”
“Well, you should relax too, while you can,” advised Mary before they said goodbye.
Each day, Todda went to work, then home and out to the park. It was nice to have Andie, a sort-of friend, there waiting at the end of the long day, the beginning of the long evening. Indeed, Todda looked forward to a familiar face and someone to talk to.
“Hello, Victoria, how are you today?” Andie greeted her with an earnest smile.
“Oh, I’m well,” Todda said. “How was your day?”
Andie worked for a local nonprofit organization. She knew that Todda was a receptionist at a company in the nearby office park. If Andie talked about her work, Todda listened politely, but she had nothing to contribute about her own job, so if they made conversation about anything other than the dogs, they discussed places they had traveled. Fashion. Art. Opinions about what was going on in the news, comparisons of books they’d both read, or movies they’d both seen. Really, the conversation never ran dry.
“Have a great weekend; see you next week,” Andie said one Friday as they were getting ready to go. They didn’t see each other on weekends because that was Alex’s time to walk Samuel, and he did the job routinely, around the streets of their complex.
“Oh, I won’t be here next week,” Todda told Andie. She didn’t expound on any details. She didn’t say she was going to the Caribbean with her husband, that he was able to get away just for a week, that they wouldn’t get another chance before the end of the year, before the baby. At first, Todda wasn’t even going to say anything at all about her absence. What did it matter if she showed up at the park or not? Was she such a creature of habit that it was something to be reported, that she wouldn’t be there for a few days?
“Oh, really?” Andie said, genuinely caught off-guard. The follow-up questions were unspoken, but they hung in the air like laundry far from dry: Why not? Where are you going? With whom?
Instead Andie said, “What about Samuel? Will he be going with you?”
Todda felt the urge to lie, to say, “Yes, yes, he is.” She felt guilty saying that she was leaving him in the kennel. Andie had lived in town for many years, at least twenty. Surely she would know a good place to leave the dog. She may have even offered to take care of Samuel herself. Yet Todda had never asked. Alex had found the kennel and made the arrangements.
The vacation was wonderful. A five-star resort, rest and relaxation, a break from the refrigerated air of the office, the rooms of her sparsely furnished home echoing with Todda’s footsteps and Samuel’s paws on the wood floors. On vacation it was just the two of them again, Alex and Todda.
“How did you meet your husband?” her office colleagues had asked.
“On spring break,” Todda had told them. She had gone off with her girlfriends for a wild time, and returned to school in love with a boy who nursed his rum punch and lukewarm beer as long as she did, as they sat together on a hot beach whose cold water and wild waves gave Todda pause.
“What’s your name?” the boy had asked, after a rowdy game of beach volleyball.
“Todda,” Todda had said, out of breath and laughing.
“What kind of name is that?”
“It’s what everyone calls me.”
“Oh yeah, what’s it short for?”
“I’m not telling—you’ll have to guess.”
Eventually, the persistent boy did.
Alexander and Victoria, their names sounded so regal, so unlike who they really were.
“Why don’t you ever go in the water, Todda?” Alex asked.
Todda had never told anyone, but with Alex, she did not hesitate.
“I almost drowned once, as a child,” she said. “Maybe that made me afraid.”
“I’ll go in with you, if you’d like,” Alex said.
The first few times he offered, she said no. But before they went their separate ways, to separate states on separate planes, after they had talked and talked and kissed and kissed and told each other everything complicated and not, she suddenly said, “Alex, okay.”
Now, after three years of dating, four years of marriage, three job moves, and the decision to start a family and get a dog first, as everyone had advised, everything felt in its place. Especially today, floating in an exquisite sea, the aquamarine water as warm as a bath, there was no need for hesitation. Todda walked right into the gently deepening water, all of her warm with the life she carried, the life they had made, and all they had to look forward to.
After that week away, Todda went a bit sheepishly back to the park with Samuel.
Andie was there, on the other side of the park, looking expectantly in the direction where Todda and Samuel usually entered. She waved hesitantly, and Todda waved back, unleashing Samuel to let him run free to Roderick.
“Victoria!” Andie greeted her with a thrill of joy in her voice.
“Hi, Andie, how are you?”
“I’m well. It hasn’t been the same without you and Samuel this past week, though,” she said. She did not ask about Todda’s week off, yet Todda felt she wanted to share something.
“Well, I’ve popped a bit,” Todda said, placing her hands on the round form of her belly.
Andie looked at the stomach; a fleeting cloud passed over her face, an inaudible, “Oh.” Then she turned her gaze on the dogs in the field, a pleasant look of contentment back on her face.
“Just look at those two, how they play,” she said.
Laura Pochintesta is an English teacher who writes from her home in Connecticut. Her work has appeared in the MacGuffin, GNU Journal, Motherwell and MAW. Find her at www.laurapochintesta.com.