Barack closed his eyes, and the fantasy attacked him. He stopped. His smile was apologetic, and he pulled away before he opened his eyes. She was still gasping, and she stared in disbelief. It would have been easier to let himself go on, but he wanted to feel clean. Better a jerk than a creep. Still naked, he rose from the bed.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He had no excuse worth sharing. “Do what you need to. I’ll be in the bathroom.”
Her wide eyes followed him there. He closed the door on them and then felt along the wall for the light switch. The lights around the mirror were unforgiving, and he saw then what his walk had done to him. It was the first time he’d paid attention. He was shaggy, a beach bum. His hair was still magically dark, but it no longer made him seem young. With the beard, he looked homeless.
He closed the toilet lid and sat down. He grabbed his beard in his fists and rested the weight of his head there. Her purple disposable razor was on the edge of the tub, and he thought about shaving the whole mess off, then imagined succeeding and failing. Both images made him laugh through his nose.
The fantasy had been vivid. He’d closed his eyes and Michelle had come back to life beneath him. It wouldn’t have been fair to let her. He never did, at least not during. She didn’t come back every time.
He heard the TV turn on and a chill struck him—he’d forgotten the woman’s face. She was there in the bedroom, and he could imagine that—its modern greys and whites, its sense of not being lived in, the TV across the wall—but he couldn’t see her at all. That wasn’t any more fair.
She’d been thrilled when they met on the beach, of course, though now he couldn’t see how she’d recognized him. She would have stayed thrilled if he had stayed in bed. What did his thoughts or the ghost of his wife matter to her?
He cracked the door and peeked into the bedroom. Her back was to him. She sat in bed with her arms around her knees. At first he thought she was watching porn, but it was a cigarette commercial. He stepped back into the room.
“I need a barber who takes credit,” he said.
“You do,” she said. She didn’t look at him. “You look like an aging hippie.”
“I thought homeless.”
He wanted her to turn so he could see her face, but she kept watching commercials. She was angry, then, and it didn’t matter even to him that he’d wanted to be good. He thought to say her name so that she would turn, but he couldn’t remember that either. Instead he gathered his clothes. There weren’t many, just wrinkled pants and briefs. He’d shed the rest during his walk.
“Did you know me before we met today?” he asked.
“Did we meet before?”
“Why did you invite me here?”
“I liked your stomach. I thought you could last all night.”
She still hadn’t turned. He guessed that she wouldn’t, and he guessed that he deserved that. Her face had to stay a mystery. He left the room without saying goodbye. In the hallway, he put on his clothes. Then he stepped back onto the beach.
Later, he would find a secluded spot, close his eyes, and let the fantasy take him. It would start as it usually did, with a phantasmagoria of the women he’d met on his walk blending into each other. Then the images would gain substance until they resolved into a vivid hallucination of Michelle. He would fall asleep before she left him.
In the morning, he would look for a barber without the woman’s recommendation. The first thing he’d done on the beach was wrap his Blackberry in his jacket and smash it with a stone, but he could look for a commercial district and wander through until he found a barber shop—maybe flip-flops and a t-shirt first—then sit, watch the mess cut from him, and work on a new reason to keep his heart broken.