Rob Godwin took the stairs to the 36th floor in honor of his birthday. That was last week, his birthday, last Thursday, but the idea came to him on the way home on the train Friday night when he saw a girl who looked like her. Leah? Lee. Channing. It prompted an inventory. He was 18 then, when they last saw each other, a Labor Day weekend, too, but 36 now, 72 when the actuary said he’d be dead, so it felt like a time for inventory. He was still catching his breath.
They’d met during Senior Week down the shore and fell together almost immediately. It was what they and everyone else was there for but rarely found. Love. And it was because that’s the time love comes at you so innocently but determined, either the last maturation of the teenage body, psyche and soul before adulthood or the first step into that brave new world, that its roots furrow deep into the fresh, fertile, susceptible heart. Even though the last time they saw one another she acted like they’d never met.
He found Chad Brewer on the internet over the weekend and was surprised by the quick response. It seemed like Chad was eager to connect and had emailed him back quickly. The bad news about her death on a lonely stretch of 73 in the Pine Barrens. What other kind of stretch is there through the Pine Barrens? She bled to death. Chad was ok, Gamblers Anonymous helped. He admitted his addiction and just removed the money from it and was living with Shelly Huff. They only bet their Xanax like poker chips. “Shelly’s nuttier than squirrel shit so my line of credit should be good for a while until I can get the parlaying chimp off my back,” he said in his characteristic rapid fire speech. He was back in Fairview Hills on the other side of Trenton Rd and where was Rob? Lower Wakefield Terrace, right? Way up the line. Another township entirely. Working in New York. Helluva train ride every morning. Back and forth. Need any zip? The old other side of the tracks animosities. Let him know if you needed hockey tickets. Just don’t tell him you’ve been to a few Rangers games. Chad still knew some guys.
He could look out his office window and see the river leading to the ocean. The ocean where they met. He wanted to think about her. Not about lying on the asphalt. Though he did for a moment. And hoped at least she was somehow on the sandy shoulder of the road. Had cleared the center of the blacktop unlike Chad had described. How would he know? Rob always thought Chad was jealous. He heard the radiator hissing. Her cries. He couldn’t help it. And he didn’t want to think about Labor Day but he did. Sitting opposite of him, gray clouds gathering behind her head, a life jacket on, hands braced at her sides as Bobby Reilly ran the small boat into the swells. Her long curly hair swirling around her head obscuring her face save for the thin closed lips flat as a calm horizon. Then finally he remembered her during Senior Week when she was warm, supple and young and the ocean fragrant in her hair. The sweat beading on her shoulder. Sand between their kisses. And he thought Heaven is a memory.
His Outlook calendar flashed on his computer reminding him of the 9 am meeting. He sat back and closed his eyes and thought about what could happen that couldn’t be fixed? The new millennium didn’t hurl the world into a yawning abyss of chaos and destruction. People had such short memories, and life was pretty much all memory after all, he thought to himself out loud, Fuck the meeting, sometimes life can wait, and let his mind take off.