Happiness in Maine
September 3, 2010 |  by Stephen Dixon

Here’s a memory that’s come back a lot of times. He doesn’t know why, but it’s just stuck. They’re in the minivan. Left Belfast about a half hour before and were heading south on Route 1 toward Bath and 95, which they’d take to the Kennebunkport exit. They’d spend the night at an inn there and next day drive to their apartment in New York and the day after that to Baltimore. He was driving, she was in the passenger seat next to him. The kids and cats were in back. They’d stopped in Belfast for sandwiches and toasted bagels at the food co-op there, and rain forest crunch coffee for him—he always got it when they stopped there; no other place seemed to have it—and carrot juice for her and other kinds of juices for the kids. The van’s windows were open. He doesn’t think the radio was on. They were passing a long lake on the right. It was a beautiful sunny day, temperature in the mid-70s, the air dry. People were diving and jumping off floats in the lake and others farther out were kayaking and canoeing. Lots of people on a sand beach and there was laughing and squealing from the kids in the water and he thinks he even heard splashing. It was a happy lake: That’s what he thought. And no motorboat noises—not even in the distance—so those boats were probably banned on that lake. It was a Saturday. They always left Maine for home on a Saturday. That way, they could drive into New York on Sunday, when traffic would be lighter in the city and there’d be far fewer trucks on the road and it was easier finding a parking spot on their block, or at least it always seemed like that. If they left New York around 10 or 11 Monday morning and took the George Washington Bridge, traffic would also be lighter all the way to Baltimore. They never traveled on the Labor Day weekend. Too much traffic, and most times the kids started school the week before. Anyway, they were driving past the lake, whose name he looked up on a road map but now doesn’t remember, and he had that “happy” thought and looked at her and everything. She turned to look at him, as if she’d seen from the side he was looking at her or just sensed it, and smiled and seemed happy and content too. This is a good moment for us, he thought. He’ll no doubt forget it, but it’s good to have it now. Then he faced front and concentrated on his driving. He looked at her again soon after they were past the lake. China Lake, was it? No, that’s the one going the other way from Belfast to Augusta. She was looking at him, smiling the way she did before. Did she look away after he’d looked back at the road? he thought. Probably. He just didn’t see her continuing to look and smile at him after he’d stopped looking and smiling at her. No matter. She’s feeling good about me, he thought, and I’m feeling good about her, but especially good. It’s going to be a nice stopover in Kennebunkport. They’ll go to the beach. He and the kids will run around on it and jump in and out of the water and she’ll read. Maybe they’ll all walk out to the end of the breakwater together. When they get back to their room, they’ll shower one at a time and wash the sand off their feet. He’ll have a couple of vodka on the rocks before dinner while he reads yesterday’s Times. She’ll have a cup of tea. They’ll go to a good restaurant within walking distance of the inn. He’ll order a bottle of wine and drink most of it. He’ll say to her when they’re having dessert, “This has been a great day, one of the best, and it isn’t over yet, and I continue to love you more and more each day.” She’ll say to the kids, “Same with me to your father. And although I believe him, I think he’s had a little too much to drink.” Later at night, after the kids are asleep in the other bed, they’ll quietly make love.

Stephen Dixon was a longtime professor in the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars until his retirement in 2007. This chapter is excerpted from a work in progress called His Wife Leaves Him.