Andrea Carlisle

Floaters

The doctor leaned in closer. “Steady,” he said. “Don’t blink now.”

The blue light swept slowly from side to side, searching. Occasionally Delia could see tributaries of her eye’s blood vessels. She thought of their source, the small and ceaselessly pounding ocean that was her heart. “Old age creeps up,” her mother, whose own heart had recently given out, had told her many times.

“When did this happen?” the voice behind the light asked.

“Yesterday.”

“Did you receive a blow to your head?”

He made it sound almost like getting a gift. But wouldn’t that be the sort of thing she would have brought up the instant she crossed his threshold? “Doctor, last night I was taking out the garbage and I received a blow to my head, and ever since…”

“No,” Delia said. She had walked out to the curb in the December dark and sudden flashes of light, like a miniature electrical storm, appeared at the corner of her left eye. They arced and continued to flash, eyes open or closed, a private light show. She thought maybe her retina had come loose, that she was losing her sight.

Dr. Paulson switched off the light. “What happens,” he said, scooting his stool backwards into the darkened room, “is that as your eyes age, back in your eyeball, things dry up and break away, scattering refuse that flashes and floats in your vision.” He did not mention her own aging directly, but talked about her eyes getting older, as if they’d started off on a journey of their own to explore decrepitude. “First the flashes,” he said. “Later the floaters will come.”

“So I’m not going blind then.”

He hesitated. “These are not the harmless kind of floaters a youngster might have, which are more or less a nuisance. At your age, a floater—or several as might be the case this time, given what I’ve observed today—can be large enough to impair vision. Hopefully that won’t happen for you.”

Hopefully. Her hand shook when he gave her his card. He smiled vaguely. She knew he saw her as just another graying and fading woman whose optical ups and downs were not all that interesting.

Back home in her front hallway, she dropped the card onto a purple envelope she’d been avoiding opening. Carol Anne’s handwriting swooped and swirled like a tenth grader’s across the front.

Delia subtracted how many years ago she herself had been in tenth grade. Forty-eight. Incredible! Ever since her mother died the month before, she had been subtracting years from the Now. This was something her mother used to do, and now it had become a habit for Delia. An unpleasant one. It had the same effect, she imagined, as being slapped awake would have. But once awake, she didn’t know quite what to do with the information.

The evening passed and no floaters. Delia climbed into bed and closed her eyes. She rolled them to the left. Nothing. She rolled them to the right. Sudden flashes like strobes intruded on the darkness. She remembered the first time she’d taken mescaline. After graduating from the University of Oregon, she’d gone to Kuwait at the urging of her Master’s adviser to take a break and teach at the American School. “What the hell, have an adventure while you’re young!” the woman said. The adviser was then probably about sixty herself, an age well out of the range of Delia’s own potential lifespan, which was supposed to end around thirty, as practically required by hippie law. Delia didn’t want to go to Kuwait. She had never even heard of Kuwait. But the woman said there was an opening at the American School. She said she had once spent an unforgettable year at such a school in Afghanistan, and so why not go? Delia imagined houses with tall arched windows; she thought of narrow alleyways with overhanging balconies dripping with flowers. She thought of camels racing across white sand, of Salukis and Bedouin tents. Of Omar Sharif. There was really no reason not to go.

Two fellow teachers at the American School, Jeff and Marni, had smuggled drugs into the country by carving textbooks into vessels. They had mescaline and LSD and lots of marijuana, which they didn’t need because almost every foreigner in Kuwait had at least one kitchen drawer brimming with hashish. With her jeans and black tee shirt, Delia wore a stiff, black Spanish gaucho hat she’d picked up at a boutique in Beirut. She felt silly and beautiful at the same time. She could tell Jeff and Marni admired the way she looked, and she knew she’d always remember this night. They were in her bedroom in a back corner of the teachers’ compound. They all took mescaline, talked awhile, and then stepped out onto the balcony.

Kuwait City was not narrow alleyways and balconies dripping with anything. Most of the old city was blotted out by oil money. New villas with steep enclosing walls, interior treeless courtyards, and square blank windows had replaced the original stone houses. Even late at night, there was a fair amount of traffic—mostly Mercedes and Rolls Royces and Cadillacs. The architecture of the city was, by and large, breathtakingly dull, but the golden dome of a nearby mosque gleamed, as if the half moon had fallen from the night and landed there among them. Delia felt that she could reach up and touch the stars in the cobalt blue sky, so close were they and so jewel bright that it was hardly a leap of faith to believe they could lead even kings great distances at their astronomical whim. This eastern sky had no beginning and no end. It was simply part of life, not a separate place like heaven where some Others resided, but a companion to life on earth.

She fell asleep before she could subtract how many years had passed since the mescaline trip on the balcony.

The next morning Delia scooped up her oatmeal and thought about how in demand she would be by now if she had only learned more Arabic while in Kuwait. Instead, she had pieced together a career first as an educational consultant and then at an educational software company. She’d retired early from a project management job because she’d no longer been able to bear sitting in a cubicle, and now found herself living on social security and a tiny 401 K, with a modest inheritance in the bank.

For the past few decades she had dreamed of this time of life when she could travel again. She never once thought of her parents dying within two years of one another, never once considered she’d be struck nearly dumb by grief. Now that retirement had finally arrived it was like being given a triple layer chocolate cake she was no longer hungry for.

She sipped her morning’s dose of green tea as she made a list of pros and cons regarding the invitation she still hadn’t opened. On the Pro side of going to the party, she wrote “closure,” but she knew closure wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. After closure, your vision of something blurs. You can’t see the pain any more, but you can’t see the fun parts either.

If her mother were still living and still over in the house on a side street in St. Johns where Delia had grown up, she would put the invitation aside and they would go Christmas shopping together. Cady Woodrow liked the Lloyd Center mall where she’d taken Delia as a young girl and through the years, the last occasion being right before last Christmas. Cady had wanted sheets for Christmas, and Delia said she’d buy them for her, but she asked her mother to pick them out for herself. After much fussing over color and texture, Cady finally made a decision. At the register, she put on her most innocent face and asked of the young sales clerk, “Now these thread counts. 600. 400. Whatever. Exactly who is it that counts them?”

The pretty blonde clerk stuffed the sheets into a bag and smiled blankly. Something was funny but she wasn’t sure what. This old lady with frizzy yellowish white hair and her saggy purple rain jacket, she was kind of odd. Her friend or daughter or whatever she was looked like a wilted version of Diane Keaton—tall and thin, straight gray blunt cut, white shirt with a quilted pink vest, and rolled up jeans. She was funny the way she kept peering down at her through tiny red-framed glasses and sort of smiling, sort of not. Takes all kinds, the clerk had wanted to say when she stuffed the sheets into a bag. “Takes all kinds,” is exactly what Cady did say when she and Delia were safely out of range of the girl’s hearing.

Remembering this, Delia felt like crying, but she distracted herself with thoughts of how gutsy she’d been to once go live in Kuwait. “Ku-wait until you’re back home,” her father had teased her when she was packing to go, tears in his eyes. Her mother stopped folding Delia’s jeans and blouses and looked at her daughter. “Don’t you dare forget to write,” Cady had said, and grabbed Delia, holding her close. You’ll be fine, her mother’s firm hug said. You’re off on an adventure!

Once upon a time she had been a brave young thing. Now there were two things that Young Delia would have laughed at being afraid of. Old Delia took a deep breath. Maybe she could try one of them. She picked up the invitation.

Sure enough, inside was his picture. He sat on top of his desk, one foot on a chair. He wore brown slacks and a blue shirt with the black cashmere jacket she had given him three birthdays ago. As always, his silver hair was stylishly cut. He was waving. Good-bye to all this. Soon he would be like her, wandering the wilderness of retirement wondering what to do with himself.

Not true. He would never be like her.

She dropped the invitation onto the table and, knowing full well she didn’t owe him anything, put on her coat.

The skaters in the Lloyd Center Mall, kids mostly, stuttered along on steel blades, many of them grasping for the encouraging hands of the parent who skated backwards ahead of them. Others tried desperately to avoid even looking at those helping hands. Get away from me! More assured skaters sailed around the edges of the rink, undaunted by the zig-zagging children, lost in their romantic dreams as Reba McIntyre sang Forever Love, filling every molecule of the mall with false hope.

The best thing about malls, Delia decided, was that they were so impersonal. Anybody could buy anything in a mall for anybody else, and no one would be able to guess a thing about their relationship. Delia moved along with the bundled up pre-Christmas crowd. She looked at Swiss Army knives, hiking gear and cooking utensils. She remembered the curry dinners Ted had cooked for her and wondered vaguely if she missed them. She pressed on past DVD sets of The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood. They had seen a lot of gore together, she thought. She examined cowboy boots, which he’d once confessed to her he’d always wanted, but she thought others in the office might wonder how she knew this secret, let alone his size. She considered an iPod Nano and quickly wrote it off as too extravagant. Returning to the skaters, she asked herself what he would never buy for himself. He was a tightwad, so whatever it was could be fairly inexpensive. And then she knew. It would be so easy. All she had to do was write it on a card.

Two days later, Delia put on a black scoop-necked blouse with tight sleeves that ended in crisp white cuffs and a knife-pleated gray wool skirt she’d kept from the 90s. She added black tights and short black boots. Over this, she pulled on a green leather jacket and walked out the door, determined.

At the office, she stood not ten feet from her old cubicle and marveled at its transformation. Her approach to cubicle life had always been, despite the decades she spent in this one or one like it, that it was temporary. Nothing but certificates of achievement had hung on the gray walls. On her desk she’d kept pictures of a few close friends and her parents. But now Carol Anne, who had once been her assistant, had taken it over. She’d covered the walls with purple felt, tacked up pictures of her children at various ages, and moved in a desk lamp with a lampshade so lacy it looked like it came from a brothel. A cinnamon scented candle burned next to the computer. Huey, her bulldog, looked out from a bulldog-shaped frame.

For one crazy second, Delia thought it might be possible to turn around and get out, but Carol Anne appeared at her elbow and handed her a piece of heavily frosted chocolate cake and a pink napkin. “Gosh, we miss you here, Delia. How are you doing anyway?” Carol Anne made a long face, an imitation of sadness. “Your mother… I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you,” Delia said.

“We just never know, do we? Life is…oh, it’s so unpredictable, isn’t it?”

“She was ninety,” Delia said. “So…”

Carol Anne studied her intently. “Mmmmm…”

“So not all that unpredictable.” Delia smiled to indicate she was making a joke. Carol Anne had never quite gotten Delia’s jokes and a joke about your own mother’s death didn’t seem right, but nevertheless a joke released Carole Anne from serious conversation. “Doesn’t Ted look happy?” she said. Without waiting for a response, she added, “I tell you he’s got plans up the wazoo. His life is all topsy-turvy. Lots of things happening for that boy.”

His wazoo isn’t roomy enough for plans, Delia wanted to say. She caught herself and subtracted. Four months. He looked the same but strangely less attractive than she had expected. Standing among colleagues in a corridor painted gray with gray-walled cubicles and identical plants with identical leaves spilling out of their pots, she understood why she’d been drawn to him: His laugh, quick and infectious. Blue eyes that had once reminded her of Paul Newman. Now she couldn’t see how she’d made this connection to a movie star. But now that she was on the outside—and she could not help but compare a job she’d chosen twenty years ago for security, and then for a secret relationship, to prison—she wondered if she would find him attractive at all if she met him for the first time. Nice, yes. Friendly, yes. Even funny. But would she have risked her own good opinion of herself to sleep with him?

“What is it you see in him?” her mother asked her. After all, Cady had sat down to a few of Ted’s curry dinners but had refused to stay afterwards and watch the violent programs.

“The inscrutable eye of the beholder,” her friend Polly had said after the whole thing was clearly over, letting Delia know she had never gotten what it was all about either.

Delia tried to remember what she and Ted had bonded over. At first they were only friends. He had talked a lot about his painful separation from his wife. He hoped that Ellen would leave the man she was dating and come back to him. But one night he and Delia had worked late together and ended up on the floor of his office completely naked and immersed in a swamp of lust. Both about to turn sixty, they’d been equally delighted.

Lust flirted with Love for a while, but veered away. Ted found excuses not to bring his relationship with Delia to Ellen’s attention or out into public. Mostly he blamed it on work. He was her boss, after all. But Delia suspected he feared their affair would cinch the divorce. In any case, she had been afraid to let go of him and fall back into what she told herself was an empty life.

If she had only looked more closely, she realized now, it wasn’t an empty life at all. Her mother had been there, and Cady was more entertaining than a hundred Teds put together.

When Cady became ill in August, Delia’s attention turned to medical appointments, insurance, prescription pick-ups, hospice, funeral arrangements, burial, and finally avoiding going to visit her mother’s grave, which lay so permanent and earthbound and final next to her father’s up high on a hill with a view of a valley skirted by the coast range—a spectacular panorama which none of the resident dead had eyes to see.

At the farthest edge of Cady’s dying, Ted had grown smaller and smaller in Delia’s line of emotional vision, although he had talked her through a couple of sleepless and mournful nights, talked to her companionably, compassionately, as a friend.

“You’re looking thoughtful.” The familiar voice brought her back to the hum of fluorescent lighting and the ringing of phones. When she looked up, the first thing she saw was a smudge of chocolate frosting from Carol Anne’s cake in the corner of his mouth. Delia was glad because the thing she’d always liked best was kissing him. He had full, sensual lips. Now he looked a bit sloppy, unkissable. She wondered whether or not to tell him about the frosting. Something maternal, maybe Cady’s ghost, got the better of her. She made a motion with her napkin, pretending to wipe her own mouth.

“Oh how devilishly handsome I must look,” he said, blushing slightly, and dabbed at the chocolate. She tilted her head and looked at him inquiringly. Did he want her to find him handsome, for heaven’s sake?

He ignored her unspoken question and looked back equally inquiringly, holding the napkin away from his mouth, as if to say, “Gone? More? What? Job done? Help me.”

It was gone but instead of answering she nodded toward Carol Anne’s cubicle. “Très femme.”

“Très, très,” he said, dabbing harder. Neither of them knew more than five or six words of French. Both believed they had gone through life passing as intelligent people who were not intelligent at all because of this lack. “I know more Arabic than French,” she’d admitted when they were reading Madame Bovary aloud to one another (the almost-Love stage). “I could buy something at a souk but not a boutique.”

“Do they speak Pig Latin in souks?” he’d asked. “I can buy anything anywhere in Pig Latin.”

She noticed that he was now wiping a finger along the edge of his mouth. She sighed. “Oh, stop it now. It’s gone.”

“You could have told me.”

“You don’t deserve to know.”

“Hey! Where’d this hostility come from?”

The shortsightedness, the innocence of men. Unfathomable. “A deep well, Ted. A very deep well. But, as you once said to me when you explained how you could never love me as I wanted to be loved, please don’t take it personally. Anyway, I brought you a retirement gift.”

“Big of you, considering that deep pit.” His voice had a slight edge. She’d forgotten about that edge. It was the Boss side of him. He was not about to be caught in any web that would eventually lead to his head getting bitten off at this time. This was his party and he was the guest of honor.

“Well,” she said. “Not pit.”

“Well, well then,” he said and tried to laugh it off. To soften the moment, he added, “And speaking of well, you look well. I can see you’re sad, but you do look wonderful.”

She considered telling him about the sudden flashes of light, how she had feared impending blindness but instead floaters were on their way to obscure her vision. She wanted to say out loud to someone that she knew what was happening—she was drifting into old age where things could no longer be fixed. Pretty soon she would be on a hillside with no eyes to see the view.

Instead of saying that, or anything, she handed him the card she’d gotten for him.

He opened it, smiled at the image of Tony Soprano right before the screen went black, and read the message. “Oh,” he said, and the smile vanished for a second before it came back, even bigger. But the second smile was without enthusiasm. “How…really sweet of you, Delia. Thanks. Two years. Wow. Thanks. I…” He slipped the card into the inside pocket of his cashmere jacket, and at once she knew.

“You didn’t subscribe to it yourself, did you?”

He gave her a sheepish look. “The truth is, Ellen got it for me. It’s funny how things go. I said I’d always wanted a subscription to Cook’s, not thinking really. We were at the coast at a B&B; and we saw it…”

“At a B&B.”

He nodded. “Can you believe it? After five years. We’re getting back together. We’re like something that should go in the Guinness Book of Records. Or something.”

“I don’t think that’s quite where you belong,” Delia said, and immediately regretted her bitterness. It was false anyway. Sitting here next to him in this drab place, she no longer wanted him. He’d been a detour from grief over her father’s death. Considering him from that angle, she thought maybe he’d only been a substitute for the man who taught her how to read by holding her on his lap and pointing to the words in picture books after a long day of fixing cars. Stanley Woodrow had opened the world to her in some ways, but closed it in others. “Get a job and stay put, honey,” he had instructed. “You never know when hard times will fall.”

The Sixties and Seventies came to a close. Security became important. Who could help that? Nobody. New values emerged that were only a depressing upgrade of the old values.

Ted slightly raised one cashmere-covered shoulder, showing her that her remark had no effect. She forced herself to continue to look at him. She wanted to convey that this news about Ellen meant nothing much at all to her.

“That’s the main reason I’m taking early retirement,” Ted said. “We’re going to travel a bit. We’re going to do the things we always wanted to do. Things I was always too busy to even think about.”

Delia admired Ellen. Ellen had held out for the best of Ted. She’d pulled away until she got exactly what she wanted.

“I got myself into a men’s group online,” Ted was saying, “and… you know how sometimes those things can really… I mean it’s anonymous and so you can really open up. I could say everything I’d been up to and that had been going on and…” He looked at her quickly, then away.

Instead of going quiet then, as Delia thought he should have done out of respect for her, his words came faster and faster. Soon he was all jumbled and breathless, stuttering along on slippery ice like one of the little skaters at the mall. She noticed that she, who had offered him her body, her bed, her sofa and her DVD player, not to mention hours of her life listening to him emote about his troubled marriage, could refuse now to hold out her hands to him, could bear not to give him anything to grab onto as he stumbled through a description of anonymous online enlightenment and his return to Ellen. The very act of refusing to help him allowed her to see how small most people live. This wider range of sight was at least, she thought, one gift of grief.

Ted would probably have gone round and round the rink for quite a while longer, but Carol Anne appeared with outstretched hands. “Come on, Mr. Retired Guy. We’ve got a surprise for you. The Big Cheeses just arrived. Let’s go! You too, Delia.”

Delia shook her head. “Never cared for cheese,” she said.

Carol Anne pushed Ted in the direction of a gathering crowd. “This guy here is gonna get a big present from them so he’d better come along right now.” She leaned over and whispered to Delia, “Cowboy boots! He’s always wanted some.”

Carol Anne led Ted away as she would her bulldog or her kids, taking him gently toward something better and more interesting, his apparently widely-shared dream of boots from the Old West. He looked back at Delia and shook his head. She could see an apology in his blue eyes. It was not an apology for the moment, for being celebrated and unable to finish their conversation. He was trying to say he was sorry for everything that was not his to share with her. She smiled and blew him a kiss. It had been a very long time since she felt this free.

The day couldn’t make up its mind between clouds and sun. Instead of hurrying home to her empty house, she turned up Burnside and then onto Skyline. She had faced Thing One; now on to Thing Two. Uneven light splashed through the trees. She walked in circles for a while before she allowed herself to approach the two graves with their simple markers. Stanley Lawrence Woodrow, 1916-2005; Cady Hermione Andrews Woodrow, 1917-2007. Delia sank to her knees onto the cold ground. How could life as she had known it be over? She was sitting on her father’s lap, his finger moving across the page of the book, she as fascinated by the grease under his fingernail as the words on the page. Daddy’s hand. Daddy’s finger. Sixty years ago. And Cady sewing her prom dress and fitting it and the two of them laughing and looking at Delia in the full-length bedroom mirror and grinning. Forty-six years. The three of them picnicking at Rooster Rock with a bottle of wine and singing cowboy songs. Thirty-seven years. She and Cady standing here at Stanley’s grave, their faces in their hands. Two years. Life was floating away and there were no outstretched hands any more to grasp.

Sunshine won out, at least for the moment, spreading cold light across the graves, but in the distance near the mountains a battalion of dark clouds formed, an army of bad weather about to roll across the valley. Delia savored the bright sun. She recalled the brilliant December day she and Jeff and Marni had driven to the desert outside of Kuwait City. Marni had spotted a lone house on a cliff top and drove their rented Jeep up barely passable roads until they found a driveway. A man came around the corner of the house, which was one of the nondescript mansions called “palaces” by local people. There were several of them out in the desert, Delia had heard, as well as in Lebanon and other countries around the Middle East. Wealthy Kuwaitis built them and abandoned them, leaving them in the hands of caretakers, probably hoping to come back, but for what? A bathtub with real gold faucets? They probably had that somewhere else. A six-car garage? That too, elsewhere. Grand houses were built and forgotten, she was told, but she had never actually seen one of them.

The man who shyly approached them looked forgotten too. Delia immediately guessed he was Iranian, not Arab, because of his features and because he wore a suit jacket like so many of the Iranian men who risked their lives by swimming in to Kuwait from ships moored in the Arabian Gulf to earn a dollar or so a week. They were the country’s mules. They carried everything on their backs: refrigerators, stoves, beds, piles of lumber for construction, anything heavy and backbreaking that had to be moved from one place to another. This man’s suit was falling apart. His long black hair, powdered with dust, fell down across his eyes. He lifted one hand to push it back and Delia could see his eyes were bloodshot and his hand shook as he raised it. He frowned at them and smiled at the same time, giving his face a pained look. Several of his teeth were missing. He lowered his hand and brushed at his baggy pants trying to clean himself up a little. A pigeon flew to his shoulder and settled there, one red eye focused on the visitors.

Jeff had trekked across Iran twice and spoke enough Farsi to set the man at ease. He translated for Delia and Marni. “He says he’s been here for two years now by himself. Sends money back to his wife and kids in Iran. Somebody brings him supplies once a month or once every two months. He walks down to the bottom of the hill to pick them up.”

From the multi-car garage a loud cooing started up. Dozens of cages sat around the building and on top of it. All the cage doors stood open and pigeons strutted along the rooftop. Several flew to the man’s side. They walked in circles around his feet. They sat on his shoulders and one flew to the top of his head. He stretched out both arms to hold more of them and continued talking, nodding, and smiling as if nothing were unusual.

“Ask him about the birds,” Marni urged her husband. “There must be a hundred of them.”

Jeff tried for bird three times, but couldn’t find it in his Farsi vocabulary and finally pointed. A stream of words fell from the Persian’s mouth, not one of which any of his listeners could understand. But they could hear his enthusiasm as he led them over to the garages and called to the birds, mimicking their sounds perfectly. This set off a huge and happy ruckus among the pigeons.

Jeff pointed at the cages, a question in his eyes. The man looked up at the sky and imitated a falcon’s cry. Most of the pigeons scurried into the cages and nestled close together.

“I don’t know why he’s got them,” Jeff drawled in his Mississippi accent, “but he sure enough likes them.”

The man led the three young Americans on a tour around the outside of the palace. He had no key to go inside, he said. He lived in the garage with the pigeons.

They peered in at grand halls, gilded lamps and tables, dozens of divans upholstered in red or black velvet with gold braiding, acres of hand-woven carpets, crystal chandeliers, and beds covered with Indian silk. The more rooms Delia saw, the more slowly she walked to the next window and the next. She thought about the house she grew up in where every piece of furniture had its special creak or scar. Her father’s old Ford pickup sat in a gravel driveway. Her mother wore the same clothes for the duration of Delia’s childhood. In her own room at the top of the stairs, Delia liked to sit in the window seat and read and look out at the trees and the vegetable garden in the back yard. Home seemed too far away to be on the same earth as this palace.

She could hear Jeff and Marni chortling with disbelief at each window. Marni called back to her that the three of them should move in, and Delia hoped the Persian man couldn’t understand any English. By the time they all got to the driveway again, she felt unsteady on her feet. For the first time in her life she felt the aching waste of real poverty. A man’s life should not be spent standing guard over the forgotten possessions of someone else.

They drove back down the hill, away from the Persian who stood waving at them from the driveway. They were quiet until Jeff passed a hash pipe around, and then Marni began to talk about the desert and how they might come out one day and look for some Bedu people. By the time they got on the road back to Kuwait City, Jeff and Marni were giggling over the cast of characters at the American School where they all three taught, and the man left behind had been left behind once again. Delia felt left behind too. She didn’t want to travel any more if this was what there was to see.

Thirty-eight years ago. That man at the palace is dead by now, Delia thought. She saw that she’d been too young to understand how she could have helped him. How simple it would have been to bring him little gifts, to come back to admire the birds. But comforting is the kind of thing older people do. When you’re young, so much of life is one time. Young Delia had written in her journal, “I saw a very lonely man today.” And because she had seen the man and written it down, the experience, so personally her own, her youth’s, was over, no matter the depth of her feelings about it.

She was not who her mother had thought she was, an adventurer. Maybe that’s who Cady would have been had she been free, but Young Delia had seen enough of adventure for a young person. Adventure sucked.

Old Delia’s knees felt frozen from kneeling on the ground next to the graves. She stood up and rubbed them with her hands. The line of weather had turned into a winter wreath of rain that circled the valley, closing in. “Okay,” she said aloud to the graves and the winter sky, “I came, and I’ll come again.” She wished she had brought some flowers, but if she had stopped to think about it, she wouldn’t have come at all. Her words lingered in the air for a long time before she walked back to the car.

The twenty-something woman at Wayfarer Travel looked pleased to see her and indicated a chair at the one desk in the room. She sat down opposite Delia and folded her hands. “Could I help you plan the trip of your dreams?” She sounded like she was practicing to be a travel agent and not one already.

Delia smiled. “Maybe,” she said. How different this was from punching in dates for a business trip on a keyboard. She shuffled through a pile of brochures on the woman’s desk. All of the settings were outdoors under a brilliant blue sky, as if a clear day were the answer to every ache, every sorrow.

She fanned the brochures out onto the desktop. At that moment, something crawled across the desk and over a glossy photograph of four middle-aged American wine tasters in southern France. It might have been a spider, but when Delia tried to follow it, the black spot disappeared, then it reappeared a nanosecond later in the lower left corner of her vision. She moved her eyes to the right again. The spider-like spot scurried once again over the desktop, followed by two more, tiny as fleas, inside a gauzy circle. She tried it several more times, closed her eyes, and opened them. The spots and the gauziness persisted.

“Something wrong?” the young woman behind the desk asked.

“Yes,” Delia said. The floaters had arrived.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Such a simple question, and the answer was simple too.

“I don’t want these places,” Delia said, pushing the brochures away. “Do you have a globe?”

The woman nodded toward a globe sitting in a darkened corner at the far end of the room, gathering dust, neglected by those who preferred their adventures on flat, tri-fold surfaces with pictures of people who looked like themselves.

They both got up and approached it slowly. Delia felt weightless, yet in control, gliding forward.

Almost in a whisper, the young woman said, “There it is. The whole world.”

“The whole world,” Delia repeated. She spun the globe, closed her eyes, and pointed blindly. The words echoed like waves crashing in her heart. The whole world.

Andrea Carlisle's short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Northwest Review, Calyx, The Ledge, Texas Observer, Willow Springs, Seattle Weekly, Mountain Living, Travelers’ Tales, the anthology Visiting Emily: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Emily Dickinson, and various other publications.