Ways of Looking and Feeling

“You don’t have to come,” he told her.

“I don’t want to go,” she said. “I wish we didn’t have to go.”

It had been this way in their brief marriage. First she wanted to be with his children and then at the last minute she didn’t. 

 That was natural enough. If she had children, how would he feel?

At the front desk the clerks were surly.

“Check in is at three.”

It was an expensive hotel and he expected them to be courteous. But they were Americans and didn’t know how to behave.

His daughter and her friend had picked them up at the airport. His daughter had just dropped out of college. He was in town to help her settle things before leaving school.

He knew that his new wife liked his daughter. The problem was that she felt that more was required of her than was required of him. It was a matter of justice.

They sat on the patio and mixed martinis for the eighteen year olds. Neither he nor his new wife drank. But as the girls liquored up they became talkative, and his wife loosened up as well.

They enjoyed the sun in their faces. Later they were all a bit sunburnt.

In the room his wife told him: “I think you wanted her to drop out. So that you could have the tuition money back.”

It was a partial refund, and he could use the money, that was true. But he had wanted his daughter to stay in college.

Later, after his wife fell asleep, an old girlfriend texted.

Haven’t heard from you. How are things?

He listened to his wife. She was snoring. He climbed out of bed and sat on the floor.

It was one of those American hotels with enormous glass walls and concrete floors.

Things are really good, he wrote. How are you? You’re up? It’s late.

I read your last book, she wrote. You needed a better editor. I found six typos.

Then his wife woke up and found him on the floor.

“Who are you texting?”

“My daughter.”

At that very moment his daughter had in fact texted.

“You’re lying!” She screamed. “Give me your phone!”

They fought. They fought for the phone. He thought, how many middle-of-the-night fights over a cellphone are happening right now? Wrestling, biting, punching for the cellphone.

He took her wedding band and a bracelet he had given her for her birthday, stepped onto the porch, and threw them as far as he could. She took his wedding bands—he had two, one for her and one for their families—and threw them into the courtyard.

They continued to scream at one another. He packed his bag.

Security came to the room and escorted him out. He took a cab to a hotel by the airport.

The next morning he called her.

“Do you really want a divorce?” she said.

“No,” he said.

“I don’t either.”

He took a cab back to their hotel. His cab driver was an old black man who seemed to have completely given up on life. “Another shit day,” the cab driver said.

“I guess so.”

Back at the hotel the manager told him that, because of the noise the night before, they would have to leave.

“It’s not fair,” his wife said. “I’ll straighten it out,” he told her.

He met the manager in the courtyard where they had made drinks for the girls. The flagstones needed to be swept.

“I like your flats,” he told the hotel manager. They were snakeskin. “About last night,” he began. He charmed her, and ...

When he was back upstairs, in the room, his wife told him that a bellboy had found one of the gold rings. It was his. It had been handmade by a jeweler in the southern Himalayas. He’d sat in the man’s hut while he worked. The Tibetan jeweler sat on a red rug on the floor, with his bench, his fire and his tongs, and hammered out the golden ring. It took him less than an hour to make it, and after he had cooled it in a bucket of water he cleaned it with a silk cloth. The price was correct, and both men had been pleased with the exchange. They did not speak each other’s language, but that was not necessary for them to understand each other. They smiled at each other.

“Will you wear it?”

“Yes,” he said, and she placed it on his finger.

She lay on the bed and he went for a walk. In a little shop a few blocks from the hotel he bought her an expensive copy of a book by Naipaul. When he came back to the room, she glanced at it and said, quietly, “Thanks.” And he knew that his third marriage was over.