“My Life Partner” by Jack Cubria, this week’s New Voices short story, follows Paul—narrator Roy’s best friend—and his relationship with Ada. In “My Life Partner,” Cubria has constructed an honest, conflicted narrator who loves Paul despite everything, through prose that recalls Hemingway: true, and direct, and with depth beyond measure.
While Ada was in class, Paul and I drank growlers on my porch. He read Roethke and Rilke to me. One June afternoon he was moved to tears by the Duino Elegies, stricken by a kind of mortal anxiety. He started fretting about how other women still interested him. For a minute he talked about being afraid to die alone.
On their first evening out they went to the symphony, and then they fucked like Romans in the car. He made her come just by touching her over her leggings. I know this, because Paul tells me everything he does and thinks, especially when it’s about women.
The first time I actually saw Paul and Ada together they were passing through California on a road trip. I was still in college. We rendezvoused at the campus and caravanned to Tunitas by Half Moon Bay and camped on the beach, and when it was dark they very earnestly told me that they were going to get married. I got up from the campfire to go piss whiskey into the surf and thought, they’ll be finished once the sex slows down.
The following morning, when we walked around the campus in the heat, Ada was upset at something. She refused to talk to us and lagged far behind as Paul and I strolled side-by-side past the dormitories and academic buildings. She didn’t crack a smile when Paul scaled the marble statues on the steps of the art museum and hung around their necks and pretended to kiss them on the lips.
As their white van drove away down Santa Teresa I found myself hoping for a painless outcome. This was not to be expected, which I knew even then.
* * *
After our beach excursion I didn’t see Paul and Ada for nearly a year. I graduated from college in the spring and took my first job writing for a magazine in New York. I covered politics, manufacturing rote prose out of provocations and lies. Before long the whole arrangement defeated me. I decided to get out. Around that time Paul called me.
Come to Missoula, he said.
After a period of perseveration I quit the magazine and took his advice. It was not too hard to move out there—back to Montana, back West—not as hard as it had been to move to New York. I got a room on the north side of town in a little house with a porch. It was close to the Catholic cemetery, and in the afternoons I would go to read among the tombstones. Another man lived with me, but he worked two restaurant jobs, so I saw little of him. I was writing for a website to make money, about eight hundred dollars per month, and I was drinking hard every day at the taprooms around town. Meanwhile Paul and Ada were living in a basement apartment by the campus. She was finishing school, and he was living off savings from prior years, when he had worked summers as a wildland firefighter. They had a puppy, black as the road. It was a mix of collie and husky and wolf, and it was not well socialized, though it obeyed Paul’s commands sweetly. They called the puppy Ash.