This is how it happens. A man lies in bed, his woman beside him. He says to her he cannot continue. She cries. A month passes. They return to the same bed. She tells him she has taken another. Many others. He cries. She tells him she never loved him. He kisses her and leaves the bed. They are ended. Both reconsider, never at the same time. There is a son, a toddler. One of his first words is sorrow. Another is shame. His bowels are affected. He seems not to cry enough.
There is music, almost a soundtrack. One song tells the man everybody knows the war is over everybody knows the good guys lost. Another tells the woman every state line comes with a new set of laws. The music is hostile and follows a counterpoint. The man and the woman listen attentively.
There is the natural separation of belongings. The money and the furniture are easy. The music is not. They agree to burn each other's albums. They will not. There is also the separation of time. Who is responsible for the son? When will the family be together? This is said for the son's sake. Neither the man nor the woman will admit that they need it more.
There are friends. The friends are not divided. They counsel each to forget the other. They admit a certain satisfaction, an old skepticism confirmed. They are no longer the man's or the woman's friends.
The son sleeps six point seven miles from one of his parents every night. The parents sleep six point seven miles from each other. In this town six point seven miles takes seventeen minutes to drive. The son marks time by landmarks: the water tower, the railroad, the highway. He counts his fingers and sings familiar songs. He chooses which pedestrians have earned his smile. He looks out the window and names the things he knows.
And this is life, or how it must be.
Jim Coppoc lives in Ames, Iowa, and is the author of two books and three chapbooks of poetry, a blended-genre lyric memoir, and several plays. He edits Second Run Magazine and teaches English at Iowa State University and Creative Writing at Chatham University.