You figured that she would say no, but you could never predict her reactions. So you pack the car with a blanket and basket and drive across town to pick her up. A kiss on the cheek which makes your eyes go wide, a hug you cannot escape fast enough. You drive out of the slouching buildings in their dour suits of soot and mist and into the rolling hills where greens are made grey by the dawn’s false light.
You’re looking good.
Thanks, so are you. I always liked your hair long.
Mm, I know. How’s your mother?
Fine. She misses dad, you say. How is your brother going?
He graduated last month. He said to thank you for helping him out last year.
Tell him to forget about it, you say and then you say nothing for a while.
You turn on the radio, which makes an uncomfortable silence uncomfortable and loud. No more sing-alongs, no more playlists. She taps her fingers on her lap in time with the rhythm but after a couple of songs you just turn it off again.
There are no breaks in the highway today; a long, smooth river which runs all the way to the ocean. The drive is broken only by billboards for upcoming fast-food stops, numbered exits, popular wineries. The place you spent a weekend together last autumn, almost a year ago now. You think about pointing it out; just drive past it.
You crest a hill and the ocean and the sun appear at the same moment. For a second the horizon is lit and doused all at once; the road dips and the sky is grey again. By the time you reach the next rise the sun is already high. You pull down the shade, fumble about the dashboard. She opens the glovebox, pulls out your sunglasses, unfolds the arms and hands them to you.
Thanks, you say.
Don’t worry about it.
There are a couple of caravans in the parking lot, but no other cars. You pull in a couple of spaces from the walkway and sit in your car, looking through the spaces in the fence at the tiny waves which break onto the cold, hard sand. She puts her hand on top of yours, perched on the gearstick, and leans her head on your shoulder.
What are you doing?
The only smell is her; the only feeling is her weight, her warmth against your arm. You start staring down the clock, daring each minute to pass, trying to spin the feeling out for as long as you can.
It starts raining, just a few drops which turn to a shower, then a downpour which lashes the car. The sand turns deep grey and the foliage around the car park snap and spray.
Looks like there won’t be a picnic she says. She is still leaning on your arm and her eyes are almost closed.
No, you say. Looks like there won’t.
You are still staring at the clock, counting minutes. After three you turn the engine back on. When you shift the car into reverse she sits back up, and the contact is broken. The windscreen fogs, and you turn on the demister, changing the atmosphere in the car.
You chat on the way back; about books you have read and movies you have seen. About mutual friends and their lives and dramas. It is still raining when you drop her home, but the passion is gone, leaving a gentle, misting fall in its wake. She squeezes your hand and you smile at her. She puts her jacket over her head and runs from the car to her gate. And then she is gone.
You drive home through streets which still echo dawn, waking now to the wet weekend. You take your shoes off at the door and step into your house. Your wife is sitting at the kitchen table, dressed in gown and slippers, a mug of tea in her hand.
I woke up and you weren’t here, she says.
I planned a picnic, you say. It was going to be a surprise. But now its raining.
She smiles, and takes your cold hand with her warm one.