By Nancy McCabe
On a leisurely weekend away from children, responsibilities, obligations, my new lover and I walked all day through galleries and boutiques and along the water at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Cold bit my cheeks. He folded my gloved hand into his. His hand warmed and tethered me, and I thought maybe.
Over a candlelit white tablecloth, I’d hoped for more intimacy. Every attempt at conversation died. I shifted into desperate teacher mode. I said something about literature, how there’s nothing that’s not about time or love or death or all of the above.
He told me I was wrong. He said, “What if I just wrote about a perfect blue marble?”
“What would you say?”
“It would just describe the marble,” he answered.
“I would say that it’s blue. And that it’s a marble.”
“That’s not even enough syllables for a haiku. Would you use any metaphors?”
“Well, I can’t just come up with metaphors on command.” He paused to reminisce about a metaphor he’d offered me at breakfast: “I’m lining up empty coffee creamers the way I used to line up empty shot glasses.”
“The contrast between youth and age,” I said. “Time. Death.”
He frowned, went silent.
“So say you compared the marble to the earth seen from space,” I tried.
“I wouldn’t do that,” he said. “Too cliché.”
I was cut off at the pass from some comparison I hadn’t formulated yet, about how distance can render the earth so small that we become as tiny as grains of sand, specks of dust, easily blown away by the slightest breeze. The thought, however cliché, made me feel small, untethered. Time, death.
He waved me away. “I’ll think of something. I can’t be rushed.”
I liked the way a five o’clock shadow gave his face definition and a hint of ruggedness. The way that faint blue shadow offset the blue eyes I stared at, then thought, no, too cliché.
“Say you compare the blue marble to the milky eyeball of an old woman with cataracts,” I said instead.
“I wouldn’t do that.” He lapsed back to moody silence.
“My point is just that it’s about time and death. I’m just saying, every metaphor that engages with the world outside of the blue marble is going to relate to love or death or time.”
“I’m tired of this topic. It’s boring me.” His abruptness was like a hard kick against the edge of a blue swimming pool that propels you away fast. Time. Stung by how quickly he detached, I ate in silence.
Later, in bed, he said, “Don’t write about me.”
And then: “The blue marble is like my blue balls.”
“You don’t have blue balls,” I answered. I doubted that he meant to connect sex to love. “Anyway, you can’t compare something to what it already is. A ball is like a ball?”
We laughed, punchy, then stayed up all night talking. He told me the story of every woman he’d ever been with. When it was my turn to tell my stories, he fell asleep.
As we drove home in snow, disappointment wracked me. Every bend and knob and point of twig, every pine needle and blade of grass was white, snow glinting in sunlight. I thought of a time my daughter cooked marbles on the stove, boiling them until they shattered inside, sparkling like diamonds.
The blue weekend bubble receded as we headed back to children and work and obligations as if we had nothing left to say despite stories left untold. A few months before, my daughter and I had driven on these roads, snow falling fast, my car slipping and sliding, my panic rising. Coming back from the same competition with his own daughter, he stayed behind me the whole way, until we were home safe. That was the first time I thought maybe. Maybe in time.
And now I had that letdown feeling of fractured hope as we drove silently home. But this is not a story about him, not about loss or broken hearts or thwarted love or the realization of how little we might have settled for. It’s not a story about love or time or death. It’s just a story about a blue marble. It’s just about how the inside of a blue marble, in high enough heat, can smash into a million fragments. How those fragments might glitter like snow before the light fades, before dread and sadness cast their shadows across the bluish fields.
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Nancy McCabe’s creative nonfiction has appeared in Salon, Prairie Schooner, Massachusetts Review, Newsweek, Michigan Quarterly Review, Fourth Genre, Los Angeles Review of Books, and others. She has received a Pushcart Prize and eight recognitions in the notable sections of Best American Essays and Best American Nonrequired Reading. She’s the author of seven books, most recently Can This Marriage Be Saved? A Memoir (Missouri 2020) and the YA novel Vaulting through Time (forthcoming CamCat 2023).