“It’s called Nyepi,” she read aloud from a brochure in their bungalow. “Day of Silence. From 6 a.m. tomorrow to 6 a.m. the next day there is no working, no shopping, no Internet, no electricity. We shouldn’t speak unless absolutely necessary. It’s a Hindu holiday but we aren’t exempt,” she explained. “Non-Hindus and tourists are expected to follow the restrictions.”
He put on a smile. “We could go to the beach.” Laurie loved the beach.
“No, we can’t. According to this, we won’t be able to leave the bungalow.”
Jason wasn’t particularly happy or sad about this. He hadn’t been particularly happy or sad about anything for a long time. It was nice to have a reason to keep silent. One benefit of the pandemic, he’d realized, was that most of his work as an insurance claims adjustor could be done working from home and meeting via video conference. He rarely started conversations now, even with Laurie. He didn’t know why he didn’t want to talk, and he didn’t want to talk about not wanting to talk and not knowing why.
Laurie knew this, and though his reticence was at first confusing and hurtful, she adjusted to it. Their conversations, when they occurred, were more often about retirement and its attendant concerns. She acclimated herself to mostly silent dinners, to silent smiles and caresses, to watching television together without conversation or comment.
They’d come to Bali after watching a program on The Smithsonian channel in the first months of quarantine. The Hindu New Year’s festival was so uplifting, so unlike anything they’d ever seen. They’d come through the pandemic with their health and their jobs, and after nearly two years of working at home, on-line shopping, and staycations, Laurie suggested an adventure.
They spent the day watching the festival. Teams of young men paraded brightly colored ogoh-ogoh — statues representing evil spirits — through the town. Children carried torches, and as the sun set the ogoh-ogoh were set alight. They drank watermelon juice — the freshest, coldest in the world, Laurie said, and she suggested they stay up late, knowing that thanks to Nyepi they could sleep well into the morning, having nowhere to go and nothing to do.
The curfew, Jason realized, presented an opportunity. He could sneak away during the night, after they’d gone to bed. Laurie was usually a heavy sleeper; he wouldn’t be missed until well after dawn. He wouldn’t leave a note — he worried that writing one would kill the impetus or he’d lose his nerve.
And what would he write? Jason had lost a couple of friends in his running group, men he’d grown close to. But so many others had the same experience. And the sadness he felt seemed beyond grief somehow — rooted in a place he couldn’t find, something he could feel but couldn’t touch. As a child Jason had seen something like this in his mother and hadn’t understood. Now it was his, and he understood it no better.
He’d seen a therapist a few times but grew discouraged when the therapist nodded off during their last session. How bad could my problems be, Jason thought, if they couldn’t hold the therapist’s attention? As the pandemic worsened, the therapist would only see him via video conference, and Jason decided to muddle through whatever was happening to him on his own. Now he was tired of it all, tired of trying to figure it out. He was miserable, and sure he was making other people — Laurie especially — miserable. He wanted to be done with it.
Laurie rolled over in her sleep and didn’t bump against Jason. She found him sitting on the beach. “I can’t believe you came down here without me,” she said.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I didn’t want to wake you.” Which was true. “I watched you for a while, and you were so lovely, like you hadn’t aged at all.” Which wasn’t true, but she accepted the lie as an effort at romance. He’d not made the effort for a long time.
“We have to make it back to the bungalow before sunrise,” she said. “Or—” she leaned into him for a moment, and her hair brushed Jason’s shoulder— “we could just stay here.” A wry, playful laugh. “What can they do, arrest us?” She inhaled deeply. The ocean air filled her lungs, infiltrated her thoughts. Sea birds, swirling froth, fish of vivid, exotic hues.
“C’mon, it’s wonderful here! Like we’re the only two people in the world.”
Jason thought how nice it would be if it were true.
“And my God, look at that sky! So thick with stars! The darkness is just an interruption, like when some lights go out on an advertising sign.”
She lay down, and he did too. To him the night sky was a photo negative — an optical illusion. The stars and galaxies, which Laurie imagined as nearly continuous light, were to him only far-distant hints of light flailing at the darkness. Darkness above him, surrounding him. Emptiness. As if all light had fled, leaving only dark matter. It composed most of the universe, he’d read somewhere, and now composed most of him.
“What are you thinking?” she asked.
He sighed. A wave scuttered toward him, then retreated just as its chill caressed his calves.
“I miss you,” she said.
“I’m here. We haven’t had a moment apart in nearly two years.”
“You know what I mean.” He felt her hand warm on his leg as she scooched closer, her hip pressing against his left arm. She took his hand and squeezed it.
“I need to tell you something,” he whispered.
“I wish you would,” she said. He closed his eyes, then opened them to the star-cluttered sky. He wouldn’t drown tonight, it seemed. Or ever, if Laurie would just hold on.
M.S. Spann writes in Missouri, USA.