Next Time, the Whale
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.