I have not told you this, but I revisited the garden on several occasions before the time K asked me that question. And although time was compressed and collapsed in my memory, this much was clear to me. It had become my private haven, my retreat from the hustle of collegiate life. My dependence on it had started to scare me; when I was unable to go there for several days in a row, my teeth felt on edge and my eyes puffed up from the cheeks upward. The jitters were upon me then, and I must break away from human contact and the constant reminder of the ever-forward motion of the earth, with or without me.
And so it was quite natural for me to wish to retreat to my little garden when confronted with those words. I am not sure I can explain why they felt so important to me, but as soon as they were said they stuck to me and I felt their weight on myself. As for that night, nothing much happened. I walked K back to her dorm, neither of us saying anything much. I did not try to touch her again, although the temptation was large. I said something funny that made her laugh — it is very hard to make K laugh. Although I did not know it then, K is a laughless person but full of smiles; she does not cry yet manages a certain eloquence to her sadnesses. She is neutral above all else, weighted, steady, poised and coiled. When we reached her door she started to go inside, then hesitated, turning towards me.
— You didn’t answer me, Charlie, she said, and of course I knew exactly what she was talking about. Her tone almost pleaded with me, and I did my best to explain about the garden and my thoughts, and how most of all,
— I want to come back with an honest answer, K. I feel like I owe you one.
We had never kissed at that point in the intertwining of our lives, but something perhaps deeper transpired that night to bind us. She nodded as if she understood, and maybe she actually did. She reached out and brushed her fingers lightly on mine, then slipped inside. And that was that.
I went back to Dorothy’s room and told her and Pete the story. Neither of them really understood why I was so shaken by the question, but they knew better than to probe right then. Conversation turned to the topic of the little garden. Pete was oblivious, but Dorothy had noticed my periodic disappearances lately:
— Have you been doing your homework with someone else, Charlie?
She asked as if this would have been a personal betrayal on my part. She had been worried for me when I had moved into my tiny room for young writers, and she was of the school of thought that held that insanity and depression are necessarily the result of loneliness, whether forced or voluntary. So when I had moved out of the suite I had shared with them earlier that year in order to isolate myself and be able to write, she was very suspicious of my motives:
— This sounds like a pathetic excuse to sink deeper into yourself, Charlie.
And I would explain to her that I had loftier goals than the maintenance of my mental stability:
— You are the best of distractions and the worst of distractions, Dorothy, just like life itself.
It is easy to distract Dorothy with a well-put compliment, and conversation moved on. They wanted to know more about K. So I told them about the lobster.