They lay in a hammock in the backyard behind their house. A few minutes before, they had brought the hammock out and hung it between two wooden poles. A few minutes before that, they had been talking about the future. They were always talking about the future.
It’s just not practical. That’s all I’m saying, he said.
Things aren’t always practical, she said. With a push of her hand, she set the hammock rocking. It was a colorful hammock, hand-woven by artisans from Central America, and it sagged beneath their weight.
I don’t really feel like rocking today, he said.
They lay in opposite directions. Her feet twitched next to his head. They were dirty from walking barefoot across wet grass. Their small backyard was the only green space in an otherwise grey urban neighborhood.
But wouldn’t you be proud of making something together? she said.
A minivan passed on the street behind the gate. Music boomed from its open windows, thumping menace. He watched it come to a slow roll as it approached the intersection. A long scratch chiseled its sliding door.
Probably for the first few years, he said, but think about how our lives would change. There’d be no more of this, for example.
She looked at the ceiling of the gazebo, noting the places where the wood came together. There were steel bolts at the seams. A spider had woven a web in one lofty corner. She reached down again and with a push set the hammock rocking.
I don’t really feel like rocking today, he said. When I close my eyes I feel like there’s nothing beneath me.
It’s soothing, she said.
The sun. A few clouds in the sky. Behind a barbed wire fence across the street, a hammering sound came from the mechanic’s garage.
Can I come over to your side? she said and put one leg over the edge.
Can’t we just stay like this for a while? he said. I just got comfortable.
Okay, she said. She pulled her leg back and the hammock fidgeted.
The church bells sounded for twelve o’clock mass. Two squirrels chased one another to the pinnacle of an evergreen tree. He watched them scramble branch to branch, and then descend. They tightroped the fence top, chattering.
Do you really think you’d be any good at it? he said.
She turned her head to the side and closed her eyes. It might be the only thing I’m good at, she said. Don’t you think I’d be good at it?
Well, he said, you can barely keep a plant alive. He smiled, but she didn’t see him. He closed his eyes too.
She almost said something. It was true that her garden hadn’t turned out as planned. The few tomatoes she was able to grow were stolen just before they got ripe. But that wasn’t her fault. They had to take the hammock in at night as well.
She shifted her weight and set the hammock rocking.
I asked you to stop rocking, he said. I don’t wanna ask again.
It’s soothing, she said. Her breath followed the movement of the hammock. She drew her attention away from the noise of passing traffic, and church bells, and the tinkering of automotive repair, and let it rest in the silence.
I just think we need to be practical about it, he said. And when she didn’t answer, he opened his eyes. He looked at the mole on her upper lip. When they’d first started dating, he’d dreamed that he was a pioneer on the surface of that mole. He’d planted a flag on it and claimed it for the king. It seemed darker now than it had then.
The hammock was still. A small bird swooped down to the rim of the birdbath, twittering as it ventured a foot into the dark green water. Its chest feathers were ruffled in the way his hair looked when pressed against a pillow for too long. Deciding against a bath, the bird bent forward and stabbed the water with its beak. After a few minutes of thrashing, the bird leapt into the air. He watched it wing between two telephone poles and then disappear behind the house.
She twitched in her sleep and a brown strand of hair slipped across her face. She turned her head in his direction. The sun touched her chin and neck. He guessed it would be easy to cover her mouth with his hand. It would be easy to squeeze her throat with the other. She would asphyxiate before she realized what was happening.
He pulled one leg out of the hammock and then the other. He sat on the edge for a moment and then stood up. The hammock shuddered, but she didn’t stir. There was no sign of anyone nearby. He looked at her sleeping face.
I just want to be practical about this, he said. He reached down and set the hammock rocking. He rubbed his hand over his face, turned and walked away.
I know, she said, and opened her eyes. But he kept walking, as though he hadn’t heard.