Certain days: it is easy to imagine this small, once-prosperous river town (barely distinct from many other small, once prosperous river towns) as if you are only passing through it, shunpiking the thruways in favour of the scenic rural two-lanes on a road trip in your better, your best life. The life in which your formidable boxer-turned-human-rights-lawyer wife has simply pointed to this town on a much misfolded map and declared: Here, lunch. Possibly because of the town’s suggestive name, possibly because she is exactly twenty-eight miles from ravenous. You promise that after this town, from this town on, you will take over your share of the driving. Neither of you slept well last night, in a three-star last-minute in the town of Lake Whoever, but you’ve racked up several hours of passenger-side napping while your wife listened to the final chapters of Springsteen reading Springsteen, somehow keeping the rental car out of the loosestrife.
Neither of you will have hoped for much from this town – sandwich, tank of fuel, leg stretch in view of water – so it is quick to outstrip expectation, quick to disarm you with sleek geometric shop-window typography and skeins of wild geese overhead (the geese, too, only passing through), with the ratios of porch swings to porches and tire swings to maples. The egalitarian yacht club with its yard of bright vessels (none of them yachts) wintered tight under blue-and-white ship wrap. The wood across the river a gentle riot of autumn leaves, the tree line a long, fire-feathered serpent outstretched along the bank, light breeze riffling its plumage.
There is the occasional household stars-and-stripes, draped above doorways, between Neoclassical columns, but you don’t spy a single political sticker. In the spirit of cautious bipartisanship, one of you pronounces the town adorable, and the other agrees, True.
Your wife parks beside the river. She has been your wife – you have been wives – for thirteen days, since a registry ceremony on the Ontario side of Niagara Falls, planned and paid for ten months in advance, because who could be fucked waiting for Australia to get its shit together? Since there and here you’ve compiled a mental list of fs that pluralise to v – life to lives, wolf to wolves, knife to knives – they all sound vital and gleaming. The river has been company since Tahawus, where it travelled under a different name. But it is freshly beautiful here, at this hour, in the cold gold ameliorating light that follows rough weather.
As for the diner, it is patently ex-Brooklyn, and the menu is ex-Brooklyn, but the prices are ex-ex-Brooklyn. You order a vegetarian omelette, like a recuperating Alice Munro character. Your wife orders a turkey club that she will tear the crusts from like a child. And a quad Americano for the road (really for you).
Okay? you ask, and she answers by taking a dessert spoon from the cutlery cradle and pressing its cold contours against one heavy eyelid, then the other. She lays the spoon on the Formica table and gets up without a word to look for the toilets.