By Samantha Toh
"So this is where you live now," she said, looking over the barrier through the smog. They were on the twentieth floor, at the very top of Jack's apartment block. Down below, the city, in patches of brown and green and grey, stuttered with the sound of cars jammed close.
"I'm a lot happier here," Jack said, then climbed into the empty swimming pool.
She remembered getting off the plane that afternoon. She saw the big words that said KARGO in dark blue. The tropical air seemed to obstruct any possibility of a breeze, and it was worse on the people-lined streets. But she had flown in to see him and say a proper goodbye.
"So you have a date set?" she said.
"No, but it'll be early next year," his voice said.
"I guess she's been waiting for a long time."
She peered into the swimming pool. The tiles were off-green, and with the absence of water she could see the scum clearly, growing in the gaps between them. Jack, standing by the edge of the deep-water drop, looked small. He waved his arms.
"Come in," he said. "It's cleaner down here."
She hesitated for a moment, then climbed down the ladder. Jack was right. There was less scum on the bottom. The tiles were a darker shade past the shallow end and sloped like a baby hill. When she looked up, all she could see was clouds stained with dusk, a purplish blue. Deep in the pool, she felt disconnected from everything, as though they were not part of a building, and there was no need for a difference between ground and sky. She wrapped her jacket closer around her, sweating.
"I like this," she said.
He walked away from her, stepping carefully on each tile. He hopped over every other one, then turned to face her.
"You look like a little boy doing that," she said.
"I can do this now that I feel free."
But his comment was not pointed, so she was not angry. In the back of her mind, she was glad they were no longer fighting and that they did not have to use words like "betrayed." She said, across the hollow expanse of the pool, "Where does she live?"
"Is that far?"
"Nothing's too far with a taxi," he said. He sounded rich, taxi, although he lived in this old grey building with the leaking bathroom and one incontinent neighbour. He had told her, on the way up to the roof. She wondered if he was giving up too much to be here, but she did not voice it. He said again, "She's been waiting."
"I know," she said. "Four years is a while."
He sat down in the middle of the pool and motioned for her to come over. She did, and as she approached, observed that his shoes were new, a russet leather with coffee laces. He had never used to wear such fancy designs before.
"I'm slightly worried about you," she said.
"That's sweet," Jack said, looking up. In the sky, a sheet of birds flapped back to where they made their home. "You know, I've got savings. I sold the cars."
"We used to fight about the cars."
"They were stupid fights," he said.
Jack sat cross-legged in the middle of the pool. She looked at the top of his head, the skin showing at the crown where he combed his hair forward. Patches of white showed at the roots. They were in their 50s now.
"You know, I'm glad you found someone," she said, looking down at him.
"You didn't fly in just to tell me this."
"No," she said. "I just thought of it, just now. I flew in to see what your life would be like. I've never been here before. You know this."
"So you've been here for how long again?"
"Just today. Short flight from Thailand. I was there four days, just travelling."
"So you know my life will be humid," he joked.
"But what else?" she said, looking into his face. He did not answer.
She thought hard, but could not imagine him in this exciting city, standing out with his thinning blonde hair. She thought of them living in the Menlo Park suburbs. It was different - the air was dry and it was quiet save for the passing Caltrains. When she shouted at him, her shouting had felt particularly loud, as though they were the only people in the world. Here, she saw the people crammed on buses and heard the deafening sounds of cars and horns. The street markets had people jostling. There were long lines for food. But he must prefer the weight of the noise here, distributed among other people. A lightened burden was bearable. Only their glances would brush him, rest curiously, then fall away.
So she was happy for him. The disgust she had so often associated with him came away like dust. She felt relieved. She remembered looking at him from the patio, her fingers digging into a magazine. He was always pottering about the yard, poking about the koi pond, and skimming rocks on a weekend afternoon, aimlessly. Without direction, he had been unattractive to her, and he had been aimless for a long time. She did not know where they were going, why they were unhappy all the time, and even after the girl, it had never been about the girl. Now it would be over. Now her mother would not call her up on the phone, spitting at her. Nobody would stare at him, secretly thinking him a loser. "What is Jack planning to do?" Overweight, ageing, jobless. The talk had been hard to bear. She had really loved him once.
She stood right by him, feeling the warmth rise off his body. A layer of fine sweat covered his skin. She realised with a pang that the girl had known him in his current state and liked him for it.
"I really am happy for you," she said suddenly.
"Oh," Jack said.
"Don't look so shocked. I'm not going to kiss and make up."
"No," Jack said. "I'm sick of infidelity movies, you know that right? That's never how it ends."
"I know," she said, then turned, so her feet were on the edge where the slope started to bend downward. They were both staring down into the deep end.
Taking his hand, she quietly said, "We've both been there."
The walls of the swimming pool loomed above their heads. In her hand, his felt big and clumsy. The night grunted with the remnants of cars. In a few hours she would be flying back home. It would be improbable that she would see him again. They had been together for 19 years.
"What now?" she said.
"Are you scared?" Jack said.
"No," she said, closing her eyes. She felt the slope of the deep end with her feet, the edge where the floor fell steeply. "No, I don't think so."QLRS Vol. 11 No. 2 Apr 2012