T hroughout their short courtship, he'd been nearly chaste: once he fingered her underneath her skirt in the back row of Little's theatre while watching Hamlet, but that was as far as he went. She felt teased, indelicate. As if her body had become an overfilled balloon.
Their honeymoon was simple: a cabin on Lake Champlain. He'd given her a myriad of exotic choices, but she wanted only the woods of her childhood, the air scented with daisies and pine.
The first night, he drove her fifteen miles to treat her to an early dinner at a renowned inn, and throughout the meal he admonished her for chewing too loudly, not sitting straight, using the wrong fork. When she burped softly into her napkin, his lips flattened into a look of disgust. She thought he was kidding.
"Don't be a pig." The muscles of his jaw rippled under his skin.
"What did you expect me to do, darling? Hold it in and burst?" She giggled, and when his face didn't soften, she stopped and looked out the window next to their table to watch the boats out on the lake.
Back in the cabin he was cool to her even as he watched her undress, and later as he ran a hand down the slope of her breast, down over the small mound of her stomach, past her dark red pubic hair, down the length of her leg to her foot. His hand, gentle, seemed disconnected to the expression on his face. Propped against a pillow, he told her she was beautiful, despite her thinness. "It's haunting, your body."
There was no foreplay, he climbed on top of her then poked his way in. His movements were uninspired and he allowed too much of his weight to pin her. Their sex was flat, a glass of soda left out too long.
When she woke a couple of hours later she was disoriented and alone. The sheet on his side was cool to the touch. She left the bed; the summer night air puckered the surface of her skin. She heard an owl, mournful, deep in the woods. She called her husband's name, but he didn't answer. The cabin was small. She looked in all three rooms, but couldn't find him. She called again. No answer. From the porch, she studied the woods: the trees all slumped and woven together had the kind of darkness that threatened to drink a person up. A flurry of moths came to greet the light. They pinged against the glass shade, over and over.
She heard a sound around the side of the cabin, and the muscles of her legs stiffened. His name came out of her mouth a whisper. Just as she turned to the door to get back inside, a figure jumped out at her from the darkness and gave a long, drawn out roar. She struggled to get the door opened, but the latch wouldn't cooperate.
He stood a few feet away from her, bent over laughing. She'd never seen him laugh so freely before. He snorted, even. She could tell it was him by the shape of his head alone, despite the fact he was just out of reach of the porch's yellowy light.
She was furious and for three days and nights after, she hung around the cabin while he went off hiking or swimming, and when he came into the cabin smelling of lake-water and sweat, of fish and fresh air, she'd retreat into the bedroom complaining of a migraine. He disappeared for a whole day and returned with brown lobsters that moved their legs as if drugged, and a strand of pearls of a metallic puce. "I like strong women," he said. "You need to get tougher skin."
She sat at the table, the necklace weighty around her throat, and watched him drop the lobsters into the boiling water, his face an unreadable mask. He brought over the platter of red-shelled creatures, now silenced. She touched one of her smooth pearls, rolled it between her fingers, brought it to her lips, and said nothing as he cracked his lobster open, juice squirting into the air near her face. He didn't offer to help her with hers and she didn't ask.
In the morning she waited until she saw him take the path that led to the shore of the lake, his fishing gear slung over one arm. She took out a piece of the crisp linen stationery her mother had given her and wrote a hasty: I'm tough enough. She left the note on the kitchen counter, weighted down with a piece of lobster shell, and with nothing but the clothes she was wearing she drove off down the dirt road, dust kicking up behind her like a benediction.