It’s snowing as Rivi and I walk along the path beside the creek. She has been staying with us for a week, and has spent most of the time in the guest room with the door shut. Hibernating, she calls it. Hiding, I tell her. Either way, I’m glad that she’s out today, if not exactly in public, at least out with me.
We don’t speak as we walk, and the only sounds are the trickling of the water in the creek as it splashes over the rocks and our shoes on the gravel path. There is a silence that comes during a falling snow that is unlike any other quiet, and it is a bubble around us, separating us from the rest of the world. We are alone on the path, and for now, we may as well be alone on the planet.
Rivi stops by the flat stump of an old tree that’s been felled, and I stand beside her. We look out at the creek, and to the trees beyond it. Everything past the trees is hidden behind a curtain of falling snow.
“Shut up,” Rivi says, breaking the silence.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You were thinking,” she says. “Loudly.”
I put my gloved hands into my coat pockets. “I’ll try to think more quietly then.”
She nods. “You do that.”
A clump of accumulated snow falls from the branches of one of the trees across the creek. A fine cloud of powder drifts on the hint of the breeze in the air, and floats across the water to pepper my cheeks.
Somewhere out of sight, a bird chirps softly, no more loudly than a whisper.
A dead leaf rides the current in the creek, and bumps softly against a small rock near the bank, spinning fully around, then continuing on downstream.
Rivi sighs heavily, exasperated. “Fine,” she says. “Since you won’t shut up about it.”
“Again, I didn’t say anything.”
“I broke it off with Roman,” she says.
“That’s awful,” I say. “Which one was he again?”
“You know. The cellist.”
“Ah,” I say. “Right.”
“I introduced you to him last month.”
“Rivi, I haven’t been anywhere except work for two years. We’re in a pandemic, remember?”
“Fine,” she says. “I told you about him last month.” She shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I dumped him. You don’t have to remember him now.”
“Well, why did you break it off then?”
She sits heavily to one side of the stump, leaving me room to sit beside her. “Caught the fucker kissing Maisie.”
“The bastard,” I say. “Who’s Maisie?”
“Fucking flautist,” she says.
“The tramp,” I say.
“Fucking tramp,” she agrees.
In the distance, the bird chirps again, as quiet as the memory of a dream.
The snow continues to fall, beginning to hide our footsteps on the path.
The water in the creek moves on toward the river, and from there to the lake, miles and miles from where we sit.
“So,” I say. “You’re making this up, right?”
“Oh, sure,” she says. “I don’t know anybody named Roman, but if I did, he’d play a goddamn cello.”
“The fucker,” she growls.
The bird says nothing.
The snow silently comes down.
The water trickles along.
“So,” I say.
“So,” she says.
“So what’s this really about?” I ask. “And why in the hell did you drive to Utah?”
She slides the toe of her boot through the couple of inches of snow around the stump. “Once upon a time, I lived in a small apartment in Paris, over a boulangerie. I could see the Seine from my bedroom window.”
“You never lived in Paris,” I say.
“For the sake of this discussion, I used to live in Paris, goddammit.”
“I would sleep until after noon every day, and when I woke, I would find that my lover had already been downstairs to fetch me fresh pastries, which were waiting in the kitchen for me along with hot coffee, and a bottle of wine for later. Sometimes my lover was Henri. Sometimes my lover was Sophie. It was Paris and I was young, so there were no rules except the ones I made for myself. After breakfast, I would work on my novel on a 1938 Corona Standard typewriter, and when I would write too quickly, the keys would jam, and I would get ink from the ribbon on my fingers when I unstuck them.”
Rivi absently plucks at a button on her jacket. Her red nail polish is chipped. I don’t say anything.
“For lunch, my lover would come home from work. If it was Henri, he was back from the magazine where he writes articles about French politics and workers’ rights. If it was Sophie, she was back from the museum where she works on the third floor, preserving pinned insects under glass and taxidermied birds, twelve to a tray in oak cabinets. Instead of eating, we made love in my room, kicking the sheets to the floor, ignoring the boulangerie owner downstairs who beat on the ceiling with the end of a broom to complain about the noise.”
She stops playing with her button and brushes the snow from her lap, then folds her hands together there. I shift on the stump, and touch the side of my knee to hers. We have known each other for a very, very long time.
“Thing is,” Rivi says, “I’m not young anymore, and I’m never going to live in Paris. Henri doesn’t have my number, and Sophie has arsenic poisoning from the taxidermy animals. I have a dingy apartment on a bus line and I hate my job.”
“Everyone hates their job,” I say.
“Henri doesn’t hate his job. Sophie doesn’t hate hers.” She sucks air between her teeth. “If I lived in Paris, I’d have a fucking cigarette right now that I could wave around to artfully emphasize my point.”
“Your point is you hate your job,” I say.
“My point is that I hate my life,” she says. “I’m getting old and alone. Tomorrow I’ll be older, and still alone. Next week. Next month.” She holds her fingers against her lips and inhales from an imaginary cigarette, then exhales warm steam in the freezing air. “As the French would say, je suis déprimée. I am depressed.”
“All the French are depressed,” I say. “It’s a well-documented fact.”
“My point is,” she continues, “I am depressed and I hate my life, and that is why I ended up driving to Utah.”
“It could be that you’re depressed because you were in Utah. I’ve been to Utah. It’s very easy to become depressed there.”
“That’s why I turned around,” she says. “I’d rather be depressed amongst friends than depressed alone in a Morman murder motel.”
I reach and pluck her imaginary cigarette from her fingers, then put it to my lips and take a long drag. I hold it in a moment, and then blow it out sexily through my nostrils, as Alain Delon would do in a classic French film from the 1960s. “Okay,” I say, and I hand her back her cigarette. “There’s obviously only one cure for your state of mind, and we should get started on that immediately.” I stand and brush the snow from my legs.
Rivi stands as well and does the same. “What that?” she asks.
“It’s obvious,” I reply. I take the imaginary cigarette from her again and have one more pull from it, then drop it into the snow and stamp it out with my shoe.
“We’re going to the ocean,” I say.
I take her by the hand and start walking her back to where we’ve left the car.
The bird chirps twice in the distance.
The snow continues to fall.
The creek trickles down toward the river, and to the lake beyond.
We move on toward the ocean.