Love. It’s everywhere. Some would even venture to say that if you haven’t found it, you’re not looking.We don’t know if that’s true. We do know that sometimes fictional love is better than no love at all.
Excerpted from “Jesus, Mary, Buddha”
Over warm olives and crusty sourdough, Helen learns that Nick’s third wife parked her Range Rover at the edge of town on the banks of the Snohomish River and washed down a handful of pentobarbital with a bottle of flinty Oregon pinot gris.
It was his first year of mourning and he still hated her and loved her in ways he hadn’t yet explored. “I don’t know how I can do better than that,” he told Helen one night. “I mean fucking look at her.” He gestured toward a framed photo of them on his living room mantle. “She’s gorgeous.”
On Earth Day they up-cycle a pair of antique windows and build a table out of them. Later, they eat salmon with their fingers, straight out of his backyard smoker. After dark, they sit in deck chairs in the garden and watch shooting stars. Eight weeks into their affair, she drives home through the city streets late at night with the windows down, with air warm as a lover’s breath sliding up her arms, through her hair. The rhododendrons are in bloom. The azalea, lavender, chives, strawberries, raspberries, pear, five kinds of apple, chestnuts. Even at 11 pm, there are couples walking, cyclists peddling down the quiet evening streets in thin cotton dresses, short sleeves. It is evident that even in the dark, they are sucking the juice out of the first days of summer, taking shy steps toward the grilling season.Through the car windows, Helen Okabe breathes in the perfume of lilac.
For his birthday she gives Nick an anatomically correct chocolate heart spiced with habanero pepper. He makes his signature clams and beer. Afterward, he builds a fire in the backyard firepit and they recline on deck chairs, watching the sky. He talks about his men’s group, about getting in touch with his feelings.
“I’ve been wondering,” he begins. “What if I’ve been sabotaging relationships my whole life?” Unlike so many middle aged men, Nick is messed up on love and he knows it. To his credit, he is actually trying to unpack that baggage.
Helen sucks an ice cube and lets the water slide down her throat. “I was just wondering that myself,” she says. She has. She has been doing her spiritual inventory and counting up the number of times that, when the going got tough, she got gone. She was up to four. It wasn’t pretty.
“I think I have intimacy issues,” he says.
“Wait,” she replies. “You said you and Reina were simpatico. You were married ten years. You renewed your vows every spring for God sake. That sounds awfully intimate to me.”
“Nah,” Nick waves the idea away. “That was only appearances. I checked out after two years, if I’m honest about it.”
Appearances, her Zen master said, not only fool, you they aren’t even real. Helen still hasn’t wrapped her head around that one.
She offers the only solace she has, something from a piece of research she is working on. “The top five fears of most people are public speaking, followed by flying, heights, fear of the dark, and intimacy.” She counts them off on the fingers of her hand and refrains from adding that following this list, the fears continue with death, failure, rejection, spiders, commitment.
“That can’t be right,” Nick says.
“It’s from a university study,” she replies.
“I would say fear of intimacy is number one,” he continues.
“People are scared to death of intimacy. Just think what it means if you are right.”
“I am right.”
“If you are right, and I’m not saying you are, it means people would rather sleep with strangers than speak in front of a crowd of them.”
“It doesn’t mean that at all.”
“People are more afraid of emotional honesty than talking,” he says. “Look,” he says, pointing to a light moving across the night sky, “a satellite.”
It is a clear spring night and the sky is shy of clouds and the moon is new so they have space to shine. “Anyway. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.”