Malcolm and I have been friends since college. We majored in literature with the intention of migrating from aspiring to full time authors. We drank and philosophized and criticized as brothers. After college we both moved to New York. I survived on part time teaching gigs while he stuck to his guns and interned at erudite magazines. He became a journalist and I took up teaching full time. He got the opportunity to join a prestigious publication in Washington and moved there when we were in our mid twenties. By the time we reached our thirties he had published several short stories and a debut novel. I had published a smaller number of short stories and a slim novella. Our writing received warm, if subdued praise and we congratulated each other on our modest achievements. Our friendship remained strong.
Some years later I met and married my wife, Olivia — a tall, robust Mid Western beauty. We had two sons.
And then there was Macha, or as she referred to herself in public ‘Marcia.’
Malcolm met Macha in New York. She is a paediatrician who immigrated from Russia and purposefully retained her delicate accent. She has the build of a ballerina, seemingly fragile but with strong bones and near translucent skin. When Malcolm moved to Washington she joined him. They never had children of their own and lived the quiet life of adults in the undisturbed silence of their townhouse. We visited frequently. They would come to our suburban house but never stay longer than overnight; our house was always too overrun with children and dogs. Olivia and I would escape to the serenity of their small home in Washington and sigh with joy at luxurious breakfasts in their sunlit kitchen. We both continued to write and read and gently criticize each other’s work.
And now we are in our mid forties, settled and comfortable and no longer frantically chasing dreams of becoming titans of literature.
As my children have grown older I’ve had more time to walk and think; and write. I started visiting Malcolm and Macha for longer stays, to write but also to enjoy the fantasy of what my life could have been. And when I arrived at a short sabbatical from teaching I undertook to dedicate myself to writing a new novella. And with both of my children consumed by their own lives and Olivia comfortable in her career I had the freedom to choose where I would spend the three weeks I had set aside for my work. As it happened, Malcolm and Macha were departing for a Mediterranean adventure where Malcolm would set about writing an extended travel piece for the prestigious publication. It was agreed that I would live in their house while they were away, water their plants and collect their mail.
I arrive at their house at midday and Macha opens the door. She is dressed in jeans and a checked shirt.
“Sam! You are here,” she hugs me on the porch and I sink into the soft fabric of her shirt. “Malcolm isn’t home yet so we’ll have to talk together.”
I know the house well and follow her through to the kitchen, passing the bookcase that line the passage hall. I know that my novella is held somewhere within its piles but doubt that it has been re-read.
“Happy birthday for last month,” I say as Macha turns and leans against the kitchen counter.
“Ah yes, the forty,” she sighs, “The party was unavoidable. In the end I did manage to enjoy it. Come, let’s sit in the garden.”
She makes two gin and tonics (no mint, cucumber slices) and we go and sit in the summer sun of the tiny, pebbled courtyard. She has a bendy straw in her drink from which she sips. We talk and speak freely and she laughs and gets refills.
The combination of gin and sunlight goes to my head and a deep silence falls between us. After what seems an eternity she looks at me, “Sam, we are friends?”
I understand and nod.
Several years ago we were all in attendance at another college friend’s second wedding. We all got drunk and shrieked with laughter and danced goofily. And as the night wore on, while Olivia and Malcolm were in delirious conversation, I dragged Macha to a restroom where we fucked passionately. I grabbed her neck and came inside her and then, still panting, we both straightened our clothes before taking turns to drink water from the tap before we returned to the wedding celebration.
And now Macha is looking at me directly and puts down her glass and gets up to take the two steps over to where I am sitting. I put my glass down on the wrought iron table. She stands in front of me for a moment before putting her hand on my shoulder and then straddling me. As she sits down on my lap a lock of hair falls across her face. I feel her weight press down on me and I hold her gaze. She puts her other hand in my hair and exhales. I place my hands on her hips. And we remain like this — motionless and silent — for minutes and she never averts her eyes and softly pulls at my hair but our lips never meet.