Ed and I are staying at a Virginia farmhouse with a chicken coop out back and a proprietor who serves red wine before dinner and complains about the neighbor’s goats getting into her blueberry bushes. There is one other couple at dinner, a slender woman with a black and gray bun knotted at her neck, and a man with deep frown lines and a beard, both musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra.
Ed is explaining to everyone at dinner that life satisfaction follows a basic U shape, a figure he traces with his finger through the air, down to the table and back up again. I’m following his eyes and waiting for them to meet mine, for the surreptitious half-smile he’d give across the table when we first met several years before. He continues gesturing toward the couple and says the dip is supposed to come sometime in late middle age before it starts rising again. But all I can see are the two dots on either side he punctuates precisely with his index finger, dots of happiness.
The woman is a violinist. We never learn what the man plays because he only goes on about her, while she ducks her head to one side and smiles. They’ve only been seeing each other for a few months, they say, and although we’re younger, we’re more experienced in the business of our love, a few years past the honeymoon and a bit into the work of it. When Ed’s eyes finally meet mine, I recognize his look, which is to say this is the couple we overheard the previous night, laughing through the walls, shaking the headboard of the bed while we brushed our teeth and rolled our eyes.
The woman tells us, as we wait for the main course, she’s only been in Washington, DC, where they live now, for the briefest time. He’s lived in the city most of his life, and they wouldn’t have met at all, except that she won the position earlier this year and moved there.
It was only a matter of chance, she says, that one of the violinists developed arthritis and stopped playing, leaving a symphony spot open, which she auditioned for and won. The woman says she waited decades to join a full symphony, taught private lessons most of her life, and had almost given up hope. She gives a great shrug, and she and the man laugh together, as if baffled by the very idea of so much joy. As they do, finally, Ed’s eyes meet mine, and his hand finds its way to my knee.
In just that moment, as the low sun is stretching onto the white tablecloth, my wine glass slips from my hand, and I spill the Cabernet. The red seeps into the tablecloth, watery and pink, and the delicate glass rolls off and clatters to the floor. The woman who owns the place tells me it’s no worry, not about the cracked glass either, which has splintered off in the floorspace around my sandals.
I dab at my shirt as dinner comes. When Ed grabs my hand under the table, I notice him watching the violinist gaze at her lover as she takes her first bite of the Brunswick stew, already satisfied.
After dinner, the other couple invites us to their nightly walk. We go out through French doors to see the land behind the farmhouse, beneath the violet outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains, into a landscape that has nothing to do with our life back home, speaking of symphonies and chicken coops. As we watch a greedy goat stretching its neck under a fence to nibble berries, the man grabs a blue flower for the violinist from a bush and tucks it behind her ear. When the sky turns pink, Ed finds two perfect halves of a robin egg in the pathway where anyone could’ve stepped on it, rescues it, and holds one half out to me. The outside is a soft blue, the color of Easter eggs.
If you look closely, he tells me, there is the tiniest whorl of deeper blue inside the lighter blue of the shell’s surface. He holds one half up to the sun to show me and then sets it on the pad of my finger as the sun dips below the horizon. The goat sticks its neck further through the fence, just missing the last of the berries he’s reaching for, while the chickens cluck.
Or was the chicken coop out front? And was June too early for the blueberries? And at what point did the violinist retrieve her instrument for the evening performance, while her lover looked on? I will try to piece it together again in the fall, after Ed and I have stopped sharing meals together again, and I ask him if he wants to go to the orchestra like we said we would, or perhaps another B&B in the Virginia countryside would do it. I’ll remember the violin that was playing, and the case propped open with its velvet blue insides, the way the man watched as the violinist drew her long bow backward, chin resting, face upward, and filling the summer sky with the sound of vibrations. And of course, the egg.
In one second, before I can get close enough to see the whorl of color, the wind will whip the robin blue eggshell off my finger. It will fly through the air and vanish. But just before it disappears, the sun sits behind the mountains in an orange half shell, and floating on the breeze, somewhere above us, the eggshell defies the weight of gravity, mixing with the soft vibrato of a violin, slow lows and highs building up toward a single moment. Isn’t it funny, all that work rising up, all the falling to be done, just for one tiny moment on an upside-down U, as the violin hits a clear note and the eggshell hovers at the top of a perfect arc.
Lauren Woods lives and writes in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared in The Antioch Review, The Normal School, Fiction Southeast, The Forge, Hobart, Lit Hub, and other journals.