Excerpt from The Distance
Once Lee was certain that Gordie had fallen asleep, he got up and turned on the stereo, spinning the volume down low on the Tom Petty that was still in the CD player from earlier in the day, when they’d sat on the floor and worked on their plans for Mike’s new doghouse. Then he went in the kitchen and filled the sink and washed up the dinner dishes, slotting them into the top rack of the rarely used dishwasher to dry. He went back out to the family room, pulled off his shoes, and laid back on the couch, his head resting on the arm, and flipped through a flyfishing magazine until he dozed off.
The sudden silence when the CD ended nudged him awake. He lay still for a moment, listening, then sat up and looked at the wall clock. He pulled out his phone and double-checked the time. He went down the hall and took a few cautious steps into Gordie’s room—Meredith’s room, he caught himself thinking as he walked in—and he listened for the deep regular rhythms of the boy’s sleeping breath. He didn’t yet know Gordie’s habits, whether he slept through the night, whether he had nightmares or got up to pee or to get a drink of water. Lee tried to remember if he’d ever known these things about Meredith. He must have, he thought, but they had been so much woven within everything else he was doing and thinking at that time, and it was so long ago now, he couldn’t say with any certainty.
Satisfied that the boy was deeply asleep, Lee went back to the family room, pulled his phone out from his pocket, and lay back down. He lay with the phone on his chest for several minutes, thinking whether it was too late to call or even if it was a good idea. He wished he could just do what he usually did when he felt this way this time of the evening, jump in the truck and drive over to the Sawmill or maybe Serrano’s and find somebody there—somebody was always there—to drink a beer with.
He dialed, and after four rings she answered with a bright hello that surprised him, since she must have seen it was him calling.
How are you doing? he asked.
I’m good. What are you up to?
Just resting my weary bones on my weary couch.
Your couch is weary?
It’s seen better days.
Ha. What’s Gordie doing?
He’s asleep. We had what you would call a full day.
Yeah? That’s good. What did you do?
We cleaned up the shop a bit to make some room for our project. And we’ve been drawing some plans. We’re going to build Mike a doghouse. Gordie’s idea.
Neat. I’ll bet he’s never done anything like that before.
No, I doubt he has.
They both stopped talking, only for a couple of seconds, but in those seconds Lee heard what he’d feared he would hear, an unbridgeable chasm, the distance between them.
I think you should come over, he said.
She didn’t answer for a moment, then she just said no, softly but firmly, the tone conveying unassailable resolve.
I’m not saying sleep over.
I’m saying come over for a while and just drink a beer and talk.
I don’t want to end up back there.
Back where we were.
Where were we?
Lee. She drew his name out in exasperated decrescendo.
You’re messing with me.
I’m honestly not.
Well, maybe you don’t mean to mess with me, but you are. You do.
By playing dumb like this. And making me say everything that has to be said.
See? That’s how you do it.
Fuck sake. I just thought you might want to come over and have a beer with me.
After you break up with me. And don’t call me for three weeks.
I didn’t break up with you.
You did, too. You bastard.
I did not.
Well, what then?
I just said we should take a break. So I could get things settled with Gordie. Then you got your panties in a wad and ran off in a snowstorm.
You’re a moron.
So, now what? You’ve got things all figured out with Gordie, so the break’s over?
Not really what? The break’s not over, or you don’t have things figured out with Gordie?
Well, I don’t know about Gordie. We’re alright, I guess. My sense is he’s a pretty easy kid to handle. And I don’t know about the break. I can’t say for sure what was in my head when I said that. I just thought you could come over and we could just not make a big deal about it.
April sighed, and there was a long silence. Finally she spoke. Not tonight, Lee. I’m not saying never, but not tonight. I need to think on this a bit.
I would like to see Gordie, if you want to do something like that.
Like the three of us getting together. Go for a hike or a movie or something.
Maybe on the weekend?
Okay. You sure you don’t want to come over?
Yes. But call me the end of the week if we can go do something with Gordie.
I will. He paused, shifted on the couch. Thanks, he said.
For picking up.