‘Paradise’ by David Guterson


From The American Scholar:

They went in late September, starting out on I-5, which she handled by staying in the right lane with ample braking distance, keeping her hands at 9 and 3 on the wheel, and disdaining speeders and tailgaters. No problem there—he found her driving style charming enough. She was a silver beauty in a dark blue Honda Element—one of those boxy, hip-to-be-square cars—with nearly inaudible public-radio chatter on fade, and all of that was fine too. She wore a jean jacket with mother-of-pearl buttons, an ironed pastel skirt, and suede-laced sandals. Her eyes were green, her smile was warm, and she didn’t talk just to fill space. She seemed self-sufficient but not cold about it. In her politics, she was not so liberal as to be obnoxious, but not so conservative as to suggest one-upmanship. She didn’t pretend to be an organic farmer, kitchen goddess, world traveler, yoga master, artist, or humanitarian; neither was she reactionary with regard to those personas. She was green but not gloomy and, while not indifferent to approaching 60, not obsessed by it either. She had a good sense of humor—quiet and subtle. She didn’t expect to live forever through exercise and a healthy diet. She understood that he was still in the aftermath—damaged goods—without making his condition central to the way she treated him. In short, he wasn’t disenchanted. But he still expected to be.

How had this happened—this trip to Paradise? Via, that was the simple answer. The idea that he would need—he wouldn’t have predicted it, hadn’t seen that he would go there. But was what people did now, and actually it made sense. It saved single people trouble and grief, decreased their disappointments and misunderstandings. Digitized, you put yourself out there, minus the pretense that it was other than what it was. You cut to the chase without preliminaries. And the people you met were just like you—they’d also resorted to—so you didn’t have to feel embarrassed, really, unless you wanted to do that together and mutually laugh at yourselves.

They’d skipped that step—the self-loathing self-punctures—opting instead for straightforwardness in a wine bar, where he told her immediately about his wife, and she told him about her former husband, long remarried. He described his children—a boy out of college and a girl still in, both thousands of miles from him—and she described her energetic twin sons, who’d found good marriage partners, stayed in Seattle, and started a successful business together selling “hand-forged” doughnuts. He knew about her work from her profile, but asked about it anyway, as a matter of course: sociology at Seattle University and research, right now, on social networks and epidemiology. His turn arrived: commercial litigation. Specializing in securities fraud. What exactly was securities fraud? And so they got through their first date.

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