Out-of-Body Experiences, Etc.- Part 3

“Are you into her?” Marie asks. The Birches has terrible cell service, so static makes her voice crackle. “Is that what you’re trying to say?”

“What the hell? No. Does a problem I’m having with a woman always have to be a sex problem?” Miles sandwiches the phone between his ear and shoulder so that he can shove the living room blinds closed. This is a nervous habit: if his neighbors were around (which they’re not), they wouldn’t be able to read his lips. Even if they could, they wouldn’t know he was talking to his ex-wife, because they don’t know Marie. Still, he doesn’t want anyone to know that he likes to call his former spouse for advice. It makes him look, he thinks, like a man with no life. But Marie gives better advice than any therapist. And he should know, because he’s been to plenty.

“It doesn’t have to be. But you always beat around the bush when it comes to someone you’re into.”

He flops onto the sagging couch. “No.” A pause. “Well, maybe-”


“-but she’s married, remember? I’m not focusing on her because I want to date her. I just can’t figure this person out.”

“She’s strange, I’ll give you that.” A hissing sigh. “Look, she’s in an unhappy marriage, right? I mean, she’s got to be. And she couldn’t take it any longer, being there with him, so she took off for a bit. I used to do that, remember?”

Miles does remember. Although mostly a calm woman, Marie had a habit of flying into rages so severe that she would leave for weekends at a time. All that had stopped after Phoebe’s death, as if Marie no longer had the energy for such dangerous anger. “It’s not the same,” he says.

“Okay. Whatever.” He can hear Marie brushing her hair on the other end of the line and realizes he must be on speaker. “Here’s an idea. You might think I’m crazy, but-”

“Oh, please. Just say it.”

“Why don’t you take her to Gilman for an after-hours visit? Show her around the place. Give her something to put whatever she’s chewing over out of her mind.”

Miles falls silent as he tugs some crackers and peanut butter out of the cupboard. The earthy taste of the peanut butter helps him focus his mind on the idea. He hasn’t been to Gilman in years. Marie knows that. She knows that the last time he went, it was with her, when they were still slightly bohemian young parents.

“But the gate code…” he says.

“It’s the same, I’m sure. Nobody ever bothers to change little details like that.”

“That would be illegal.”

“A fact which never bothered you any of the other times. Damn.” He hears the brush snarl in her hair, the hitch in her breath as she tries to undo a knot. The little noises make him realize how much he misses touch and closeness. Not the kind of touch he gives every day, when he’s manipulating the muscles of near-strangers. The unspoken kind. The kind he doesn’t have to ask consent for first. This, maybe, is why Vivian lingers in his mind. He remembers the way she reached out to him when she came out of the treatment room. Who else does that, these days?

When Miles and Marie had been married, they had sometimes hired a babysitter for Phoebe and then taken friends inside the gates of Gilman Penitentiary as the sun went down, a while after official visiting hours had ended. They’d bring a bottle of champagne, a deck of cards, maybe a joint to pass around. Every laugh echoed off the rusted metal of cell bars. Every unexpected noise made their friends jump. They’re just bats, Marie had always said. Bats like it here.

“Why not,” he says. “It’s not any stranger than the rest of all this. I’ll try it.”

“Good. Let me know how it goes. Anyway-” he hears the twist of a lipstick tube – “I have a date. Got to get going.”

“Call me if he’s a creep,” Miles tells her, which is what he always says.

He holds the phone in his hand long after Marie hangs up, then searches for Vivian’s number.

Read Part 4