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"A Time Not Now" by Janet Clare

A month ago, I was in Los Angeles and my husband was in New York on his way home from Madrid and Paris. He’s a writer, fancied himself a poet, though he’d been working on a film. Or so he said. It wasn’t long before I discovered he hadn’t been traveling alone. His companion was a young, married Italian woman. Sooner or later, often without any research, we find whatever we need to know. Whether we want to or not.

He wasn’t supposed to return when he did and the surprise weekend erupted in a marriage-ending war of words during which he deftly quoted Hemingway. He should have known I’d recognize his habit of often quoting without credit. Upon the breakup of their marriage, Hemingway said to his first wife, Hadley: “I wish I had died before I loved another….” My ex paraphrased, but only slightly. It should be noted that Hadley, bless her heart, went on to another life and lived to be 90-something. Hemingway, as we know, eventually blew his brains out. My husband ran the quote by me and I reacted by throwing things across the room. Dramatic? Damn straight. The things I tossed were mostly unbreakable, and nothing I really liked. But during my controlled frenzy, and in a moment of startling awareness, I realized that life was more complicated than the word love. It turns out love really isn’t all you need. Certainly not all I needed. There were those other words— respect and kindness—that got lost in the years. Words impossible to live without.

While my husband was busy fucking up our lives, I’d been working hard at my business. Which he resented, and which, by the way, supported us. So listening to him giggling over his new love and quoting dead writers just put me off ever-so-slightly. He would always love me, he repeated, then left again for Europe to be confused. Confusion was his métier.

I changed the locks on the doors and my life and thought about getting out of town. I didn’t have a lot of time or money, but Cabo San Lucas wasn’t far from Los Angeles. I’d bring books and wallow in aloneness. I didn’t want to go anywhere I’d been with my husband. Don’t go back. Go different.

Out on the edge of the world, the view was spectacular. Cabo San Lucas sits on the southern point of Baja California where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. Blue ocean smacks up on a barren desert landscape with stark serenity.

Three hours in I met Shirley and Ray. They’re also Americans and talk about the land they’ve bought in Washington state and their plan to build and retire. Shirley is 45. So am I. Retire? Who thinks about retiring at 45? It sounded almost obscene. They’ve noticed I’m here alone, but don’t ask questions and I soon discover I’m the only lone woman in the entire resort. I didn’t care. Determined as I was to maintain my death-defying optimism.

With the sea as background music, I write every morning on hotel notepads. Ramblings. I wasn’t a writer, never kept a journal. Maybe that would change. I eat breakfast on the terrace where waiters smile politely at my limited Spanish. In school I’d studied French, never considering that I lived in a city where over fifty-percent of the population spoke Spanish. Ray and Shirley at the next table. Shirley leaves for a swim and Ray brings his coffee to join me. He's a nice man. I could survive about twenty minutes with a nice man like Ray. I load film in my camera. A real camera. It was the ‘90’s. I want proof I was here. I even snap a picture of myself on the beach. Now, with the proliferation of selfies, perhaps not as pathetic as I thought.

In my hotel room, the overhead fan soothes. Like the waves and the stirring of the palms, everything moves in a mesmerizing rhythm, slowing the heartbeat and bringing peace. My life waits for me and these few days are a way to help me get on with it. But what if I just stayed? Thoughts of every city person visiting paradise. My husband ran away and left the door open. He was incapable of closing it. So I would have to do it. Meanwhile, the sun glowed and my skin slowly turns brown. Traveling alone had sharpened my senses, forcing me to notice everything. There is no backup. No one to say, look, over there, see that.

One evening after dinner, Benji the headwaiter stands near my table speaking halting English. A handsome face with startling white teeth he tells me about the weather at different times of the year. He says he will bring me coffee at 6:30 in the morning. Because I was up early and he’s kind. The next day, Roberto from the hotel drives me into town. He talks about his young daughter and I tell him I have a son in college. The child of my first marriage. Roberto is surprised, thinks I’m too young to have a grown son. I have no trouble understanding his compliments in Spanish. In a hurry to get back to the sea, I don’t stay long in the small town of San Cabo.

The following afternoon I head to a nearby cove and snorkel in crystal clear water. Remarkable for me, because, though I’m a good pool swimmer, I have a healthy respect for the ocean. Knee-deep in the water, equipment in hand, I try to figure out the best way to get the clumsy fins on and the mask adjusted. A plump woman, expertly navigating the waves, swims over and shows me what to do and, amazingly, I do it and stare at the glistening fish at my feet, imagining the magic beyond the small circle of the cove. I have a new confidence as I put one webbed foot in front of the other.

From the balcony of my room on my last night, I watch the phosphorescent laced waves aglow in the light of the moon. Tomorrow I will go to the airport and go home. This side trip isn’t a wild adventure, neither far away, nor dangerous. But a journey nonetheless. And a beginning.

Janet Clare has had short fiction and essays published online at Literary Hub, Assignment, Manifest Station, Red Fez, First Stop Fiction, among others, and anthologized in New World Writing, Elm Leaves Journal, The Truth of Memoir, and Spent. Her first novel was published in 2018 out of Australia. She lives in Los Angeles.


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