"Are you sure you don't want to come to Vegas with me?" my husband asks for the second time this morning. I don't want to go, for two reasons. First of all, it's not like he's inviting me for a hot and heavy weekend where I'll get to wear something snazzy and we'll see a show and casino-hop and stay up late and make love and sleep in and order room service. Not even close. It's another exciting trade show. Isaac builds decks, fences, gazebos and pergolas, and as of a few months ago, playhouses. He's in love with wood. Can I help it if I don't get worked up hearing about galvanized nails or color-clad chain links and breakthroughs in screws and joists?
I don't bother answering him because he's known for weeks I'm under a deadline for a story I'm doing on the rise in teenage pregnancy in Arizona—Phoenix in particular—which is the other reason I can't go. I've been sitting in front of my laptop in my pajamas for the past forty minutes waiting for him to leave so I'll finally have three and a half days to myself to focus. But he is taking his sweet time.
"I didn't hear you." He's looking for something. I dare not ask what. "You'd have the room all to yourself for most of the day. You could still work."
"You know that's not true, Isaac." I take a sip of my lukewarm coffee. I've been to so many of these conventions, trying to be the supportive wife, but I always get stuck with the wives, most of whom just want to sit around the pool all day reading romance novels or People magazine while they sip on margaritas and eat nachos, or linger in the malls for hours with their husbands' credit cards, trying on resort wear for the cruise they're all going on in the near future. I'm not crazy about cruises. I went on one with Mama and my sister, Sheila, and those long narrow hallways gave me the creeps because I've seen too many horror movies where the killer jumps out of a doorway and pulls you inside. After two or three days of being out in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight until you wake up not knowing what country you might be in front of, by day four I was ready to jump off our balcony and backstroke home.
And then there are those obligatory convention dinners. I'd sit there in one of the hotel ballrooms at a table full of contractors and their now-gussied-up wives, trying to be sociable, but I was basically making small talk since they never discussed anything that might be going on in the world. Call me elitist, but this often made me feel like an alien who'd been dragged to another planet by my husband because he, as well as they, didn't seem to think producing television shows about cultural and social issues was as interesting as all the things they could build out of lumber.
It truly irks Isaac that people don't respect or appreciate the role wood plays in our lives. That we aren't aware of how much we take it for granted—as if it'll always be here—and how much we rely on it yet overlook its value to the point we ignore it and its beauty. It would be nice if he still saw me the same way. For about eight of the past ten years it felt like he did.
As Isaac passes behind me, he smells like green apples and fresh-squeezed lemons. For a split second it reminds me of when we used to linger in the bathtub surrounded by sage and lemongrass candles, my back snug against his chest, his arms wrapped around me and our toes making love. Those were the good old days.
I snap out of it.
Now he's pushing my favorite mustard-colored duffel across these terra-cotta tiles with those size-fourteen boots, leaving black scuffmarks behind him as he simultaneously pulls a white sweatshirt over a white undershirt. It's a V-neck and shows the top of a black forest on his chest. "If I could, you know I would," I say while checking my e-mail. Of course there are back-to-back messages from Robin: a joke I don't bother to read and an attachment about a new motionless exercise she told me and Gloria about last week that almost had us choking from laughter. She believes almost everything she sees on TV.
"You just don't want to go," he says, and starts looking through his pockets to make sure he has everything. He doesn't. I know just about all his patterns. "Why don't you just come out and say it?"
"Because it wouldn't be true." I rarely lie, although I'm not always a hundred percent honest. This is one of those times.
"Then I guess I'll see you on Tuesday. After rush hour." He walks over, presses his palms against my shoulder blades, gives them a little squeeze, bends over and gives me a peck on the cheek. I don't feel a thing except the scratchy new growth on his face.