★ ★ ★ ★


Image by Chris Bair

‘The Book of Joy’

On the plane back to the city where I work, away from you, I see a book poking out of a seat-back pocket across the aisle and one row up. The spine reads, The Book of Joy. On the cover, the Dalai Lama leans in profile, touching foreheads with someone else. I am curious who’s reading this book, but all I can see is the passenger’s khaki-clad knee, and hands, masculine, holding a paper cup of coffee.

My book of joy is walking around Costco with you, the Friday before Labor Day weekend, after you picked me up at the airport. In Costco, I couldn’t keep my hands off your shoulders and back, which have always been the sexiest shoulders and back. You bought blueberries and raspberries and bacon, and then we drove through the valley heat and sunset wildfire haze, trying to decide what to eat for dinner, go out or stay in, and we ended up staying in: spinach and roast chicken salad with apple and tomato—one of the things I love about you, how you combine apples and love-apples fearlessly in salad.

The next day we took your boat to the lake.

We are going to be together for a long time, as long as fate and the cells of our bodies allow, but I refuse to believe in a world so cruel that it kept us apart for the twenty years since we first met only to give us these heady days for any fewer. One day we will look back on this Labor Day weekend and say, remember how hot it was that weekend, 111 in the valley, and we took your boat out on the lake, and we almost ran out of gas because there was a leak in the tank, and we spent the night floating under the stars and moon, only we didn’t see many stars because of the haze, but we did see an ochre moon and you saw two shooting stars, and we saw Cassiopeia, and when we woke up at four a.m. to pee in cups whose contents we poured over the side of the boat, we saw Pleiades and half of Orion, since the smoke had cleared somewhat, though not all the way, by the middle of the night.

Neither you nor I fell back to sleep. My stomach rumbled and growled, some touch of indigestion and nerves—us! Together! At last! The noise was loud and intriguing enough to compel some bird of prey to swoop so low over us that we both gasped at the flash of white feathers in our faces. You asked, in our breathless silence after the encounter, “Did you almost just get…disemboweled?”

“I think so,” I replied.

This, too, is my book of joy—a creature swooping low to devour, then spare; the gentle rocking of the dark lake below, the dark sky above; you beside me, as long as we get.

Halina Duraj’s work has appeared in The Harvard Review, The Sun, Ecotone, and the 2014 PEN/O. Henry Prize anthology. Her debut story collection, The Family Cannon, was published by Augury Books. She teaches literature and writing at the University of San Diego.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.