A Father in the Snow
The snow from the night before melted and joined with residue from the roof to drip with the resonance of a lady tapping her fingernails. Dan Green turned away from the window to face his wife, Stephanie and watched the peach satin nightgown he had bought her cling with static, defining her thighs as she moved.
“Are you sure you won’t come along?” Dan said. Every year he and Stephanie went through the ritual of packing their fourteen year old daughter Josephine and the five year old twins, Abel and Ricky, into their Grand Cherokee to make the drive from Pennsylvania to New York to see his sister Virginia and her husband.
Stephanie settled herself back onto their bed with a basket of laundry between her legs, and promptly began folding and tossing socks into Dan’s open suitcase.
“I’m positive. I need the break.”
Dan placed a deep red cardigan in the case that lay open beside her. His hand brushed against the calf of Stephanie’s leg and he let it linger for a moment.
At a holiday party last week Dan had seen Amanda, the receptionist from his optometry office, follow Stephanie outside and the image of the two woman’s silhouettes outside the window had been bothering him. He had been sleeping with the girl for two months now, and he wondered if something had been said. It was the only explanation for his wife wanting to ignore tradition and stay home during the children’s winter break.
“Do you want to play the game?” Stephanie asked, folding underwear into a tidy square and handing them to him.
Stephanie had invented the game shortly after Josephine’s birth. She called the game “My Escape” and it consisted primarily of their exchanging fantasies of how they would get away from each other if they could. It was an unsaid rule that Dan went first so he cleared his throat.
“If I were to escape, I’d sell our furniture while you took the kids to school and buy a plane ticket to Hawaii.”
Stephanie raised one dark eyebrow at his lack of originality and then paused to create her rebuttal.
“If I were to escape I would sell Josephine to some old man.” She folded quickly as though gathering energy as her fantasy went on. “I would duct tape you to the bed and put those horrid navy socks, that you claim are black, in your mouth so you couldn’t call out for me. Then I would steal your car and drive till nothing looked familiar.”
Had her fantasies seemed plausible, Dan might have been more concerned. As it was he was frightened but couldn’t help admiring the ferocity of her imagination. When he first met her that fierceness had been a current beneath her skin, as pulsating as her blood.
Her fantasy and folding finished, she leaned her head back against her pillow and moved morning tangles of hair from her face.
“I’m sorry, just take the children this time.”
Josephine took the front the seat and was buckled before Stephanie had even shut the front door. While Dan checked the car engine Josephine began rifling through CDs and calling out what the soundtrack to their trip would be. Dan didn’t always know how to speak with Josephine, but was fond of the fact she liked, or at least pretended to like, his music, and during longer drives she would take off her head phones and listen to the Zombies or the Who and remember the trivial knowledge he had passed on to her about band members. Assured that all was well with the car Dan made sure the boys, Ricky and Abel, were buckled. Josephine had started the car for him and by the time he was in the front seat the windows were defrosted and the Eagles singing. In the upstairs window Stephanie waved.
Hotel California had played five times when they reached the turnpike and Dan decided not to try and explain the cocaine references to Josephine for fear she already knew from classmates. He heard Ricky whisper an “ouch” and looked in the mirror as Abel withdrew his hand.
“Look at that snow boys,” Dan said, recalling that Stephanie’s threats or stories depending on her mood were what made these trips peaceful. The road appeared red ahead and he pressed on the brake slowly as Josephine leaned forward straining her buckle.
“What is that dad?”
There was a load crunch as the car hit the carcass of a small, dead deer, compacting some of its bones. The rear tires caught for a moment before the Cherokee continued forward.
“What was that?” Ricky asked.
“We killed Bambi.” Abel said.
Dan glanced into the rearview mirror but the only thing he could focus on was the mangled brown body behind them.
“It wasn’t Bambi,” Dan said, “and it was already dead.”
Ricky began to sniff in the backseat. Dan believed himself to have been tougher as a five year old. He had been bullied a bit, but didn’t remember crying as much as his son.
“Ricky, it wasn’t Bambi.” He said again.
“Nah, it was probably his mom.” Abel said.
Josephine glanced up from her cell phone where she had been staring for ten minutes as though willing a signal.
“Shut it Abel, or I’ll tell Uncle Glenn to throw you in the Great Lake.”
Abel glared out his window while his sister dug around in her purse and extended her arm behind her.
“Borrow my iPod?” she offered.
Dan refrained from telling him to turn it down and stayed silent while considering the children he had produced with Stephanie. Abel would be deaf in a few years, Josephine would have carpal tunnel syndrome from texting, and Ricky… Ricky would have some woman’s job. Probably cutting hair.
An hour later squares of yellow light from the windows of Virginia and Glenn’s old farmhouse could be seen. It was built away from the road and out of sight from the town. The snow had been ploughed from the driveway in anticipation and Glenn was opening the front door as Dan pulled up.
Glenn was taller than Dan by nearly a foot and always appeared to be one with his surroundings, standing with the height and sturdiness of the evergreens around them. Dan never asked Glenn about his work, but he knew it involved checking on the local parks and that it paid enough for Virginia to work at her oil painting. Glenn yelled a greeting and grinned down at Dan and the children. There was something disconcerting in the size of his smile, he looked like an ad for dentistry.
Glenn gripped Abel by the hand and Virginia came bustling down the steps already flushed from cold and excitement.
“Look at these boys, Virgie!” Even his voice seemed to hold the deep, echoing quality of the woods around them. He bent down to be level with Abel.
“You boys do any hunting?”
Abel’s eyes widened in interest.
Virginia clutched Josephine to her as though someone was already threatening them all with a rifle.
“These are sweet, innocent city boys, don’t go ruining them,” she kissed the top of Josephine’s head violently and then turned her attention back to the boys, “Let’s have some cookies.”
The following morning Virginia suggested Glenn and the twins stay home and she take the others to her new art exhibit. She wasn’t the featured artist, but several of her paintings were being shown beside another woman’s.
The art exhibit took place in a renovated barn, a barn that like many homes and stores had been renovated with an attempt to keep a rustic appeal. This had failed and the building’s integrity was lost, leaving it as a barn in denial, done over to be modern while pretending to be genuine.
Josephine had borrowed one of her uncle’s long flannel shirts for the day after realizing it was too cold for her own clothes. She was tall for her age, yet the shirt hung near her knees. Dan noticed the other women’s dresses and beaded velvet scarves and pitied his daughter who looked like she had crawled out of bed and not changed from her night shirt. He joined her at a large painting done by the other woman.
“Do you think your mother would like this one?” He gestured to the canvas covered in entwining brown lines that at times looked sharp and jagged, and added,
“It looks like a nest doesn’t it?”
Josephine shook her head, “It looks like a cage.”
“Why didn’t Stephanie join us?” Virginia had made her way toward them and extended a ginger ale to Josephine.
“She’s been very tired lately. Not feeling well and she can’t always sleep at night.” It wasn’t a lie. She took sleeping pills with dinner each night and was usually asleep by the time he came up. On the rare occasions when she woke up as he got into bed she usually had migraines and asked him to sleep on the couch. The movement bothered her.
“Pity, pity. Oh Josephine, did you see the horse I painted? You like horses don’t you? All girls love horses…” She took Josephine’s hand and left Dan by the cage painting. After further observation he decided it looked like the tumbleweeds he had seen with Stephanie on their honeymoon to the Grand Canyon.
Waiting for dinner that night the boys ran in and out of the house, warming by the fire and then plunging into the snow until Virginia yelled good naturedly to stay in or get out. Now the two trudged within the house in an unknown game, sometimes firing imaginary guns and then army crawling through the living room. Despite their violent antics Dan found a certain peace in their proximity. They would appear, then go out of sight and reappear once more as they made a retreat.
He sadly observed that their love of games had been inherited from their mother and no doubt the urge to retreat had been taught to them by himself. Dan wondered if for Stephanie the game was a retreat from their life. She never seemed angry, yet, often when he would bring her coffee and ask her if she wanted to go out that evening she would begin the game, always the game, always something a little crueler than the last time. Once he told her that if he were to escape, he would have an affair, someone younger than her, who was well read and pretty. Stephanie had laughed. When Amanda began coming into his office more frequently he entertained the fantasy, and when the girl stared at him over his desk and leaned across to kiss him, he hadn’t stopped her. He saw the realization of his fantasy and tried to enjoy it.
Dan had realized during the holidays that the affair was coming to an end. Lately Amanda had been asking religious hypothetical questions, and her feelings of guilt were clear.
Dan had told Amanda he loved her last week, partially to gauge a reaction and also because it seemed like the thing a man in an affair should say. He felt he hadn’t done justice to Amanda. Aside from the bonus all his employees received he had given her nothing. Little wonder she had not replied to his declaration, she had swiftly changed the subject and asked him his thoughts on hell. His thoughts were few and any he had he kept to himself, because you couldn’t tell the girl you kissed in the hallway and made love to against your desk that hell was having sex with a beautiful receptionist while desiring your wife.
Agitation makes up its own mind. Some time pressured in a can, if you will. I found this by the road, or did I. Once, fallow, the harpoon sharpened itself. Stab. Stab. If you looked, you would see the traces left from last night’s discharges. Remington. Or other, but still there are many things that can be done in moments like this. Or found. Do you know the mind’s word for defence.
Buried again. Nervous shudders push them forward. Something must be done, or I fail. We fall. Did we. And then there was that time, but I forget. Useless erasures, useless disclosures. I am sure they will hate me but this is how some minds think. They do and so there. I have or have not.
Fallen. Not shaven. I gave you a part, and then I fell, or tripped. Self’s useless cliché. Fractured on the pane, next to garlic bulbs, next to my words. You left something there and I saw it hovering. Nobody likes this, nobody likes this and they hate you.
They searched. Once again the limes have hardened into perfect foosballs, and it is all my fault. Pages are taken and then spread out and the agitated push the buttons, repeatedly. Stab, stab. Not Winchester, that is too nice for this.
I gave us the play and then handed in the script; or, rather, the play was conceived and given away. My hands weren’t tied, but nooses form loosely. When the moment was created, it was everyone’s. Like these, like these words, like these words that are thought and then not spoken. They hate you, they hate these words and they are right. Can’t go away from self for more than the indeterminate.
I cannot give up, I will not let this be all that there is. You have moments. Touch yourself, in private. I longed to see the mirror but felt it constrained something outside the curve. Stand there. Many uses for dust, many uses for this time, many uses for what slips. When I fell, I fell harder than a son-of-a-bitch. Comfort, not speed. Build your body your own way, leave mine alone.
The seriousness of my inner voice is clouded by absence. I longed, I left, I buried. Covered in the balm, covered in. Secular cliché, instead of. I gave up on questions because they need to be forgotten before any more time passes. The first three things weren’t important until they were, don’t forget.
If agitation opens flask, then what opens you. I knew better than to throw myself at the reckless moment, but who does this. He said erasures are not. Stab. Push them down, swallow them, they burn and they do not let go and they do not hide and they do not want youwantyouwantyouyou.
It hurts. Point that at me again, abrasion. Settle up with that part before it smoothes out cracks, I want no more of this. Just a taste, just that much, just a moment; the uses for a Glock are number in double digits. Pass-codes are the failure of dreams and I have something, but it is wronged, wrongful, writhing.
A pillow full of wind, chalk. Scrapped on the bottom, slit. Foamed over, pummeled. A stomach, retching. When you sense your end times, it all flows like honey dew. Keats knew, he knew. I couldn’t just change it, change it like they say they wanted it, because that is not right, not right, not theirs. How do I. Restore version one, always. Chop, chop. Erasures. The soul is vacant now, and I am wronged. Socrates took the Hemlock, too. Fallen, on the harpoon, consciousness forgives me nothing.
When all I have left is hate, but you knew that already. More often, by the door, the metal kisses a frame. Sunlight conceals more than it wants, but so do drawings. I am my only subject, and I stab, stab. Have a point, make it plain, or go away. I can’t tell you my narrative until I’ve lived it. I erase my favorite parts, I smooth over the fractures, I leach, I braze, I falsify, I conform. Tingle. Willing, I hurt you, too. I let all of it haunt me.
Solid fruits declare no meaning. Purpose is for the utility of effect. I gave. Corner me and I’ll bite, otherwise, I cower. Mildew, frothing over, stench, haunches of a beast, and otherness. Forgive me, once only, then stab.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a likeable person, but I’m going to attempt to change that. You should consider yourself extremely fortunate, since I rarely divulge this sort of sensitive information. I have found that when I know only the rudimentary facts about a person, I tend to like them better. But it has occurred to me that most people are the opposite, so I’ll indulge your voyeurism. I have few passions in my life, but they are thought about often and lovingly. I like to take mental excursions the way wealthy people might go on trips to Aspen. It’s a nice escape, but the knowledge that I have to return to the doldrums of reality constantly mars my treks up the bunny slope. That metaphor didn’t quite make it. No time, though. We have to press on; otherwise, how will I endear myself to you?
Take sailing. I think about sailing almost every day. I like to lie in bed and pretend the curtain moving back and forth in the breeze is mimicking the sway of my boat. I imagine the squawking of the children outside belongs to a flock of angry seagulls. If they were, I could toss food I don’t want at them, and my troubles would be over. Back to the fantasy. The creak of the metal stairway outside my apartment is the rigging that groans under the weight of heavy sails. When I ride my bike past a car wash, the water carried by the breeze to my face becomes sea spray. When I prepare fish on Fridays, I picture the hours it took me to catch it. I imagine wrestling it onto my schooner, knocking its head against the side to kill it, and ripping its slick guts out. Actually, that sounds the opposite of appealing. I can see why people don’t like me. Moving on, keep up please. No flash photography, it damages the integrity of the pictures.
I enjoy gardening, although I have never successfully grown anything in my life. I’ve weeded, planted, and taken care of someone else’s garden, but I’ve never lived in a place where I’ve had a suitable plot to engender life. Insert Freudian comment about my body. While I want to raise something that gives me pleasure and a feeling of accomplishment, I know a human child is not the way to go. Sometimes I pray that I’m infertile, so I won’t have to spend more money on birth control. It’s only about ten bucks a month for ninety-nine percent effectiveness, but I’d love one hundred percent for free. I envy those middle-age women who found that all their attempts at baby-making have failed. Don’t you see?, I want to scream, I want to be just like you! I wish my uterus mirrored your own barren wasteland. The thought of planting a tiny seed in moist soil is exhilarating- in time, given the right conditions, it will grow into a lovely tree that bears fruit. If it doesn’t, it’s a bad tree. If a woman can’t do the same, she can adopt; she certainly isn’t less for not being able to pop a screaming abomination into some ‘lucky’ guy’s arms. I wish my biggest problem was that I couldn’t bring another burden onto this forsaken mud ball. Instead of worrying about whether or not I have a place in this world, I’d love to think about how I can’t bring someone else into it. You selfish, entitled cunts. Your body has given you a blessing, and you curse it. I like to cite Ian Malcolm in times like these. “Life finds a way.” And if it doesn’t? Shut the fuck up and move on. The Biggest Loser is on. This brings me to my next passion, actually. Let’s roll with it.
I love fat people. I love them to fucking death. Their lard asses, their thundering thighs, those unsightly fat wings- everything that they hate, I love. Of course, I only like it when I know they are going to lose it all. I don’t notice otherwise; they can go die in a fire for all I care. I am just entranced by the transformation a human body can go through. I watch ‘Too Fat for Fifteen’ like a sad, middle-aged woman religiously observes Oprah. I’m obsessed. It’s my ugly porn; watching colossal figures pound it out on the treadmill is like stroking myself. When MTV featured a program called ‘Fat Camp’, I lost my shit. Don’t judge me; it’s not like I’m saying I hope your mom gets raped. Some people like to read Twilight, and while I think that’s a terrible personal decision, it is their choice. My entertainment is more realistic, and less homo-erotic.
I like taking rambles through nature. I enjoy watching birds flit from branch to branch, and I love smelling wet earth. One of my favorite places to be is next to a body of water. I could sit and watch swirling eddies for hours, little bits of flotsam and twigs creating miniature ballets in the ever-moving, muddy water. Another area that always piques my interest is some back trail that isn’t widely patrolled by others. I never know what I’ll find. Once, when I was musing on some happy instance of a canal lying next to my bike path, I stumbled upon a box chock-full of spent Durex condoms. What a find! I was able to discern so much about the creatures that left it. I could tell they were of at least average intelligence, since they adhered to their culture’s insistence on practicing ‘safe’ coupling; they weren’t bound in earthly possessions, like money or trashcans; and they had what can accurately be called inflated self-worth. The last one is easy to spot for any avid observer of human nature: ‘XL Magnum’ generally indicates a delusional breed of male, or Ron Jeremy. The latter is unlikely, since Mr. Jeremy only has intercourse on a set with a well-paid actress. Nature is so pure and unsullied by our perverted ideals. It’s so neat!
I love guns for the opposite reason. They are everything nature is not: clean, precise, predictable, and strictly man-made. I’ve had my eye on a gorgeous .44 for months. I tell myself I don’t need to throw a grand towards an object I’ll only use recreationally on Sundays in the desert, but that desire remains. I’ve held it a few times, admiring the weight in my hand, picturing it in a holster on my belt. Like sailing, sometimes I like to imagine my life in terms of the apocalypse. I’d scrounge the desert planet, caused alternatingly between zombies or nuclear winter, fighting the undead or radiation-infected mutants (respectively). Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite movies. I like calculating how long I’d survive, given my present attributes. I’m not overly sentimental, so I wouldn’t have a problem capping my long-time best friend in the face if she turned. I’m a good shot and know how to maintain firearms, so I wouldn’t be that girl the men have to protect (who inevitably die, by the way). I grew up poor, so I know how to conserve rations. I also have common sense, which seems to be the highest ranking skill in zombie scenarios. The nuclear winter setting mirrors the game Fallout. Everyone not killed in the mass of bombs joins a certain faction. They fall into groups of raiders, military personnel, or drifters. I like to think I’d fit into the last category, since my boat fantasy is grounded in the same nature of Wanderlust.
My favorite hobby is probably complaining about no-good, stupid fucking shit that few care about. That asshole who scowls at you for thirty minutes in the movies when your five year-old won’t shut up? That’s me. The impatient bitch who won’t stop tapping her foot and exhaling noisily as you take twelve minutes to mull over what type of fat-free coffee drink to get? Me. The person who rages on about people bringing dogs into Red Lobster? That’s my husband, but we are kindred spirits, so it’s me too. You don’t have a problem with married women, do you? Great. But more about me: if you are a breeder, an anorexic hipster or emo, or (and) an entitled shithead, I’ve talked smack about you. I don’t know why it’s so enjoyable, but some people like to crochet. I’m just saying, there are stranger things than someone who likes to talk shit.
So now you know and love me, right? Let’s hang out sometime, have a few beers. My other pursuits? They aren’t really worth mentioning here. You don’t want to hear about how I lure children to my van by asking if they’ve seen my puppy, right? Put down the phone, please.
Hope for Haiti
And then there’s a white pickup truck right behind you. It’s a beat up Ford, and the driver is wearing a baseball cap. It’s 7:32, almost dark. He’s driving about twenty feet behind you. You turn left at the light. So does he. Ok, fine, just one turn. You stop briefly at the red light and then turn right. He does too. That’s a little strange, but it’s all right. You’re not worried. This time, you wait and put your blinker on just before you turn right. He does the same thing. The sun is going down; you run over the long shadows of trees and telephone poles as you drive.
You slow down, and he does too. Maybe he lives near you. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Maybe he’s following you. Maybe he’s waiting until you stop, so he can jump out, cover your mouth before you can scream, and drag you into his truck, or just get in your car like Biff in Back to the Future. Will anyone notice? Surely he wouldn’t do it in the well-lit apartment parking lot. But he’s been following you for a while; he has your license plate by now. He’ll probably follow you to your apartment to see where you live and wait. How long will it take for your friends and family to know that you’re gone?
On your right, an old man in really small shorts walks his dog as darkness swallows the world, oblivious to the crisis passing by him.
And then you think of all the people you need to say goodbye to before this guy gets you, and suddenly death is not just what happens to the Spartans in 300, and it’s not as romantic as Leonardo DiCaprio dying in Titanic. It’s right in front of you (well, behind you). And you wish you’d taken your life more seriously, been better to your brother, visited your friend when her dog died, and not spent so much time avoiding your mom. You never left your mark, really, just bought a lot of clothes and went to Outback way too much. It’s too late now, though, and you think that if you had one more chance, you’d do it all different. You’d volunteer at the animal shelter, and give money to charity instead of watching TV and eating potato chips on the couch.
You turn right. Your blood pumps and your head pounds. You brace yourself and look in the rearview: the pickup continues straight. You see it pass by in your mirror, and he’s gone. Nothing is behind you now, except the shadows of street lights. Two more turns into the parking lot of your apartment building, both left. It was silly to get so worked up, you think. Of course it’s all fine. You’re embarrassed that your heart’s still racing. It’s 7:38. You get out of the car, not too fast, trying to be casual. Once inside you turn on the TV. You see actors and actresses killing, fighting, dying, making love. You’ve never been burglarized or been caught in a gun fight or witnessed a murder, and you’re a little disappointed.
Lies by Omission
The nighttime ends in crumpled blankets, black hair pressed against a white pillowcase. The whistle of the wind against branches is gone, only the ticking of the clock breaks up the sound of his breathing. She finds him lying on his back, chest exposed to the cool air of the room. The woman thinks of pressing her cold fingers against his shoulder to watch his capillary refill, to make him jump, make sure he is still alive. She feels guilty about wanting him to stir but wants to feel less alone.
Climbing back under the sheet she touches him with her cold feet by accident. Do you want to talk about it? He asks with eyes still closed. She rolls half of her body into the comforter and lies on her side, facing him, her head propped up on one pillow. She half grins, but doesn’t respond.
Answer me, he says, placing a warm hand on her cheek. She closes her eyes. Does this make me a bad person? She asks him. You didn’t ask me to stay last time. This time, I am asking you not to leave, she says, but still doesn’t open her eyes. No it doesn’t make you a bad person, he says in a whisper, a kind friend consoling another. You are not a bad person. Now look at me.
On nights after the woman’s treatments, he would tell her stories about his childhood to make her laugh. He told her mostly about the spankings and how they came about, about stealing, fighting, and the way his mother looked more sad about having to discipline him without his father around, than for what he actually did. It wasn’t long before she felt like she had spent a lifetime with him. The stories helped fill in the space in time before she met him. The rest of the stories filled in for the times they had been apart. There were many treatments, many sick days, many occasions to fill her in on the years of his life she had missed. She would ask him to tell her everything while resting her head on the seat of the toilet, staring at the towel rack and fresh pink towels that hung. Don’t lie to me the woman would say. Tell me all about the time that you and your brother ran away. Tell me more, she would say from her half sleep.
On an August afternoon, the man arrived in a taxi at the woman’s front door. He expected a vibrant, healthy woman to answer. He expected her black hair to be cut just above the shoulder, for her to be wearing a thin, sheer blouse and for her to ambivalently hug him, not wanting to give him the wrong impression about their relationship. After minutes of knocking, he found the door to be unlocked.
She sat on the back patio in a lawn chair wrapped in a red terrycloth robe, wearing purple socks, a homemade afghan laying across her lap, staring at cement pond in the center of her landscaping. Her head was wrapped in a colorful turban of patterned cotton. She looked up at him and smiled, her teeth yellowed from sickness and chemicals. So, how do I look she asked him, over enthusiastic in her tone. You are as pretty as ever, he said. Tell me, really what you think of me without eyelashes, without eyebrows. I need to know right up front how this appears to you, she said with false strength, vibrato in her tone. I think you look like yourself with cancer, no hair, and I shouldn’t have to say more to you, he said.
Thank you for all you are doing, the woman said to the man from behind the door of the bathroom. I never would have thought that our friendship would lead to you having to take care of me. I always thought I would be the one to take care of you, to repay you. I always wanted to repay you for saving my life. I saved your life? He was surprised to hear those words. Yes, you did, when I was sixteen and you were seventeen. I can imagine that you wouldn’t remember. You weren’t paying attention to that stuff she said as she trailed off. You had your own plans and life ahead of you she reminded him. I don’t remember you being in any danger when you were sixteen, he said through the crack in the bathroom door. Wasn’t I? She responded. She pushed her fingers through the crack where the light from the bathroom sliced into the dark hallway. He squatted down on the other side of the door, low enough to thread his fingers into hers and said, oh.
It had been at least two weeks since he had spoken to anyone except for the woman and had made only phone calls on her behalf. They sat in silence as she tried to take a few bites of mashed potatoes. They met again, she in the bathroom and him on the other side of the bathroom door. The man had grown accustomed to the distinct smell of the chemicals and had taken to only cleaning up after the woman when she was asleep on the floor tiles, a cushion of blankets underneath her. There was no limit to what he could tolerate and she knew this about him. How can you love me like this, she asked him. My love for you is unconditional, he assured her.
In the living room, the woman lay on her side, her back pressed against the pillows that lined the old scarlet couch she had since she had been in college. Instinctively, the man walked over and took position on the couch in front of her. We fit together she remarked. The woman draped her arm over the man’s waist and pressed her face between his shoulder blades. The man could feel his back get warm as she breathed rhythmically. For the first time in months he slept. She slept too.
When he woke in the early hours of the morning he contemplated leaving the woman on the couch with a blanket, but decided instead to wake her. He didn’t want to return to the guest bedroom with the blue walls and blue comforter. The sun was beginning to shine through the sheers hanging in the living room window, contributing to the yellow tones in her skin, reminding him that she wasn’t herself quite yet. She sat up on the edge of the couch and asked him to walk her to her room. He walked behind her, his hand in the middle of her back for balance, feeling her spine through her T-shirt. Following the curve in the small of her back, he dropped his hand into the looseness of her jeans, holding on, as if she would slip out from under her own feet. He wrapped his other arm around the front of her, taking tiny steps behind her, making sure not to rush. Once in her bedroom she pulled off her T-shirt and slipped her jeans onto the floor without unbuttoning them. From the opposite side of the bed the man observed her protruding shoulder blades, the way her panties stretched from one hip to the other, and the way she held her breasts with her left forearm, pulling the covers down with her right. The man remembered what her breasts were like when she was sixteen and she could tell that he was remembering when she looked at him from across the bed. A nearly transparent, ruby red scarf hung from the back of her head like a ponytail, a simple substitute for the hair that was taking its time growing back. Once under the covers she patted the other side of the bed twice and gently pulled the covers down for him, as he removed his T-shirt and jeans. They moved to the center of the bed, finding each other in the middle.
I wish you loved me, the woman said to the man. I do love you, he responded. But how do I know, she asked. Am I not here, he said? But I wish you loved me different, she said. This is the only way I know how to love you, he said, pulling her closer to him, in the middle of the bed. The man was done speaking. He didn’t see the conversation going anywhere productive. He rested his lips on the woman’s shoulder and remained there. She could hear him breathing, feel the hair from his arms on her skin, could smell the warmth that was unique to him. She licked her cracked lips trying in vain to bring moisture to her dried skin. She worried about her bones. The man, in his unconditional care for the woman did not think about her bones on his flesh as he lifted her over him. He did not think about the dryness of her lips. Look at me he said. The woman trusted the man and remembered him from another time. You are so familiar, she said to him. He nodded. The man looked up at the woman and fixed his eyes on her face. He held her head in his hands, pressed his forehead to hers and kept eye contact, listened to her, careful to be gentle with her healing body. Yes, he asked her. Yes, she replied and nodded. It’s nighttime the woman said to the man. Will you stay with me, she asked.