I thought it was a metaphor. Like when people say one thing and mean another. I mean, she was a big girl, which suited me fine, but it wasn’t easy for her. More flesh for me to love, I always said. She would laugh and kiss me, but it bothered her that she didn’t look like the women in the magazines.
We’d been together three years, with no end in sight, when she started going on about needing enough space to hold her. Said she couldn’t take a full breath in the city. Too much smog, too many people.
We lived in Chicago, and I thought she was making a point about overpopulation, one of her complaints about the world. Then she mentioned places we could visit. San Diego, Sarasota, like that.
“Cities,” I reminded her.
“The ocean,” she said. “Endless blue. I’ve been here such a long time.” She sounded sad, like an old woman looking back on her life.
“Want me to rent a boat and take you out so far on the lake we can’t see shore?”
She gave me a dirty look and said she needed to release her spirit that was cramped up something awful from being stuffed into cubbyholes. She had plenty of spirit, but a little more couldn’t hurt, so I said, “Why don’t we go to Vegas for a weekend?”
Faye looked up from her book on eastern mysticism and raised her eyebrows. “Vegas?”
“Sure. The Mohave. More room than anybody needs.”
She pushed her glasses up into the dark red curls that felt like summer under my fingertips. “Can we drive into it? Somewhere isolated? At sunrise?”
That was pretty specific, and I almost asked if her book had instructions on how to cast spells in an open place, but thought better of it. “Whatever you want, babe.”
She gave me her big smile and jumped off the couch to hug me.
Early in May, we flew down and spent Friday night and Saturday at the Hilton just off the strip. I played blackjack while Faye sat by the pool and wrote in the journal I wasn’t allowed to read. She marched into the casino every hour to pester me about the desert, so after steak and shrimp in the hotel restaurant, we drove out of the city in our rented Chevy, far enough to see the stars unimpeded.
“Oh, Jake.” We were sitting near a pile of rocks, surrounded by sand lit by a sliver of moon and the Milky Way. “It’s beautiful.”
The desert was too crammed with flora and fauna capable of ending a man’s life for my taste, but the clumps of wildflowers shining under moonlight were pretty. “Sure is,” I told her.
She leaned against my chest. “Let’s stay ‘til dawn.”
I spread out the blankets I’d thrown into the trunk, and we lay side by side on the sand under an indigo sky. When the scent of her lavender perfume made me restless, I pulled her closer. She turned and covered me, magic in her eyes. As we came together, the stars hung over her shoulders like a mantle. The magic shone strong enough to hold me too and for once there was no space between us. Afterward, we twined together on the blanket. She watched the heavens wheeling over us, and I watched her until I fell asleep.
At first light, I woke alone. A remorseless hand squeezed my chest. Faye wore only a yellow sundress and flats not meant for walking. I gathered our stuff and started the car but before I could decide on a direction, a yellow spot moved, off to the east. It was too big to be wildflowers. In less than a minute I reached her and jumped out, ready to cut loose with a lecture about scaring me half to death. The look on her face shut me up.
She faced the rising sun, arms stretched wide, then opened her big green eyes and gave me a half-smile like the paintings of women saints in museums wear.
The circle of light around her was not coming from the sun. “You’re scaring me, babe.”
“Jake.” She raised her arms high.
I wanted to grab her and hold tight, but I was frozen.
“I was looking for a well.” Her voice so low I had to lean in. “But now it doesn’t matter.”
“I have water,” I said stupidly.
She moved her arms slowly, up and down, as if she were a dancer or a butterfly. “You found the perfect place.”
The sun crested the mountain behind me. Its rays turned the desert gold and Faye into a blaze of light that hurt my eyes. The nimbus around her elongated into two rays, one on each side of her back. Wings formed, white and blue and silver. I couldn’t budge as Faye melted into a creature of light and color, with pastel wings that must have stretched thirty feet on each side of her body, longer now and pulsing like a heartbeat. Her face shone too brightly to make out her features. The wings moved slowly, then faster.
“Faye,” I called, but it was too late.
“I love you, Jake.” Her voice echoed through me. “But I need more space.”
The wings lifted her. Airborne, she circled once, which I took as her farewell, before climbing so high she was only a speck in a sea of blue.
I stood there, staring up. When my feet could move again, I was shaking. Face wet. Chest felt like I’d been punched. But I couldn’t be mad. There had never been anything so beautiful.
I whispered, “I love you,” even though it was hopeless, and sank onto the sand, not ready yet to leave her.
It was supposed to be a metaphor. I kept thinking that as the sun rose and the desert started to shimmer. I thought we would always be together. Right up to the end, I thought she was kidding.