It had begun to rain. She’d gone with him to visit his son and the son’s girlfriend. He’d wanted her to meet his son. It was late. It had been an exhausting night of talk that never went anywhere. His name was Bruce. He was driving. What sort of name is Bruce? What sort of grown man would walk around allowing himself to be called Bruce? They’d been together four months, give or take a week. He was playing that music again, that soft, jazzy music. But tonight it had a lulling monontony that she appreciated. Somehow it went with the rain. Waiting-room music. All she wanted was to go home, take a bath, and sleep with her face to the wall. All those changes of clothes on her bedroom floor. For what? He took his hand off the steering wheel and reached for her but held up short. His hand drooped to the brake between their seats.
And please, he said, though no talk had preceded this. In the future, don’t talk to anyone about pies.
What are you talking about?
You were talking to David about pies.
I had to talk to him about something. Forgive me, but the girlfriend—what’s her name again? what was she going on about?—she talked in bumper stickers. Cancer is a business. Of course it’s a business. So are dry cleaners.
Nancy made pies.
I thought Nancy was in PR.
It’s what he learned from her. Pies—
So I can’t—
I’d rather you didn’t.
His hand, she watched it grip the brake.
You’re saying pies are off limits? Pies must never be spoken of?
The girlfriend’s name is Melinda.
Life has pies in it. Pies crop up in conversation. People make pies. People have occasion to comment on the existence of pies. I mean, it’s natural that they’d come up in the context of dessert, or when you walk by a bakery or someone’s kitchen window, but they can even come up, you know, out of the blue. For instance, when I think of my mother, I think of how she used make us Swanson’s frozen chicken pot pies. They took so long to heat up. I’d look at them through the greasy little oven window. And when they were finally done, the yellow sauce burnt my tongue. But I couldn’t help it because I loved that creamy sauce so much I couldn’t wait, that sauce that oozed out of the fork holes I’d punch with my fork—would the mention of chicken pot pies also be off limits? Or are we only talking sweet baked goods here, and not main courses—
She stopped. She often cursed herself for her inability to just shut up and let the power of not talking do her trouncing for her. The drive home wasn’t short. The son lived in some god-awful place in the western suburbs. She’d always thought it was the parents who moved to the suburbs, not the other way around. The rain, harder now, began to batter the roof.
I’m sorry, he said. Forget I mentioned it.
Change the music, she said.
He turned off the radio.
He’s not going to marry her.
Yes, he said. That's right. I don't think he—
What kind of pies did Nancy make?
Rhubarb. She made rhubarb— He stopped, breathed. He looked at the road. He leaned his chin direcly over the steering wheel as if he was trying to see something ahead.
Aren’t you supposed to wear glasses when you drive at night?
I don’t even know what rhubarb is, he said. Some kind of root vegetable?
She’d known, of course. It was one of the first things he’d told her. It was one of the things that had been made him so attractive, at first. He was a member of the great tribe of left-behinds. We find them by the side of the road and we happily nurse them and we listen to them, hours we listen to them, and, of course, we fuck them and we even try our best to love them a little, and then they tell us not to talk about pies. She was drawn, wasn’t she, to a certain kind of irrevocable pain. The kind you can’t talk out. He had her now, even now, at this moment. In the car, with that music, that infernally stupid music. He had her reeled in. The woman left him with an eight-year-old. She covers his hand that rests on the brake with her own. His dry knuckles were like hard little hills. There are moments like these, she knows, between two people who hardly know each other and will leave each other in weeks, or maybe even days, who will soon enough completely forget about each other. Yet, something permanent, too. Something she’ll remember beyond his knuckles and his saggy, oval face; beyond the way he cringed when he came as if didn’t he deserve even that tiny shudder of drained happiness. No, what she’ll remember is the way he is leaning over the steering wheel, trying to see farther into the rainy dark than the headlights allow. A comfort overtakes her, and for once it isn’t about him, the left-behind— but the gone. The gone he must be trying to see out there. One day, a house full of light, a mother and child seen from a kitchen window, from outside on the sidewalk. All that light in the kitchen. Another day she decided it would be intolerable to wake up to another morning. Kid or no kid. When all that was left was the need to sleep and sleep. The car moves forward soundlessly. There is only the rain now. Was it as ordinary a day as today, Nancy? Whoever you were?
Go to your place.
Don’t talk. Just drive—