Next Time, the Whale

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Theresa Dow­ell Black­in­ton

Paul picks Ice­land, and I won­der if he does so be­cause he knows that I am think­ing of leav­ing him. Per­haps he has felt it in the hard­ness of my shoul­der in our bed on Sun­day morn­ing or seen it in my eyes as I stand at the sink scrub­bing the ma­nure off the caps and gills of the mush­rooms he hates but that I’ve now bought three weeks straight. We take turns choos­ing where we will go on va­ca­tion each year, our days off bankrolled and then blown on two weeks some­where nei­ther of us has been. He knows that I hate cold weather; that no mat­ter how many lay­ers I wear, how much Smart­wool or quick-dry or fur bought in a sec­ond­hand store from some now-dead Rus­sian babushka that I bun­dle my­self into, the cold seeps through, and I am left to shiver, my bones knock­ing, my teeth chat­ter­ing. I warm up again only hours af­ter we have sought refuge in­side, me in a steam­ing shower, head against the tile, stay­ing there un­til the air is so thick that my lungs ache from the ef­fort it takes to breathe. When it is my turn to pick, I choose places that are hot—bone-bleach­ing, skin-sear­ing hot. I do not choose beaches, though, be­cause I find them dread­ful, just sand and waves and views of in­fi­nite noth­ing­ness. In­stead, I chose Cam­bo­dia, where we sweated our way to the tops of tem­ples, the breeze noth­ing more than the warm, damp breath of the gods; I chose Egypt, back when it was run by a dic­ta­tor and not mad men protest­ing in the square; I chose Namibia, where even the desert was sun­burnt, glow­er­ing red. “The land­scape is sup­posed to be phe­nom­e­nal,” Paul says, pulling up Web pages to show me—glaciers and wa­ter­falls and thick-haired ponies—as I stand be­hind him in my pa­ja­mas brush­ing my teeth, a habit he hates. “Plus we might even get to see the north­ern lights.” Fan­tas­tic, I think, not only will it be cold, but it will also be dark. We are not leav­ing for a month, but I be­gin to col­lect hats and gloves and scarves, pil­ing them in the chair in the cor­ner of our bed­room, the one I don’t think ei­ther of us has ever sat in. At REI, I buy boots moved to the clear­ance rack to make room for san­dals, and at the cash reg­is­ter, I buy the en­tire dis­play of hand and foot warm­ers, lit­tle pouches that are sup­posed to keep my ex­trem­i­ties warm by giv­ing them some sort of chem­i­cal burn. I imag­ine it to be like get­ting a perm, though I haven’t permed my hair since sev­enth grade.

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