The view from the seventh floor is impressive. Tiny ants crawl over each other heading home from work, picking up their kids at daycare, or meeting spouses for dinner, no doubt. So average and mundane they are — so ordinary.
“I had a great time, Bobby.” She hugs me from behind, pressing her young body against my bare back.
Bobby. God, I hate that name.
I peel her arms from around my waist and turn to meet her vacant blue eyes. I wish they were green. Bright, deep, intelligent green that would light up when I walked into a room — that would register understanding when I talked about politics, religion, literature… anything.
“Yeah, me too, honey.” I plant a kiss on her forehead like she’s a little girl, and not the twenty-five-year-old with whom I’d just spent two hours messing up the bed.
“Hey, listen,” she plays with the hair scattered on my chest, “why don’t we go away for a while.” She wriggles her well-manicured eyebrows. “Drink all day, play all night?”
She shouldn’t make me feel dirty and guilty and hollow. I can hardly look at her. If I had to eat with her, sleep with her, talk to her… I couldn’t.
“You know I can’t.”
“Bobby! You never want to do anything. All I’m asking for is one weekend.”
I suppose she thought her pouting lips and batting eyelashes were cute. I’ll bet she thought herself irresistible. I’m sure her fluff would work on a guy her own age. I know it worked on me when I was younger. But the green eyes that pleaded with me back then were full of passion. Her eyes are as dull as an old, faded blue car.
“You’re not going to convince me.” I head into the bathroom to get dressed. I can’t stay in her apartment with its pink carpet and music posters tacked on the walls. The space screams superficial, and I crave substance.
I hail a cab, knowing she watches me leave. It’s a routine both of us have participated in for two months. I think she’s infatuated with me — maybe even thinks she loves me. I can never get away from her fast enough.
I reach into my coat pocket and find my gold band. I slip it on my left ring finger.
When the cab pulls in front of my brownstone, sweat gathers on my brow. Guilt eats my gut. And for the thousandth time in the last two months, I wish I were stronger.
The spring night pushes a soft breeze through my hair, a lot grayer now than it was a year ago. I long for the fire of my wife’s green eyes demanding I explain my whereabouts. I want to have the opportunity to lie to her.
Instead, I’m greeted with the accusing brown eyes of her mother. “Where’ve you been?” Her hair is in disarray, and the deep circles under her eyes mirror the ones I know are under mine.
“Work.” I remember a time when she respected me. Her disgust is more potent.
“Liar,” she says. “I can smell her perfume on you.”
Shame has been no stranger to me these last two months. I’ve grown to relish it. It’s raw — it’s something. “I’ll shower.”
“Don’t go in there until you do.”
“I won’t,” I say to her back. She walks into the kitchen — done with me, I guess.
The shower scalds my body as I scrub a thick lather of soap over every inch. When I rinse off, I repeat the process, though the feeling of dirt and grime are enduring parasites eating away at the subcutaneous layer of my skin. I stay under the blistering spray for as long as the heat refuses to leave. But the cold always finds a way to creep in.
When I open the door to the room we’ve shared for more than a decade, the smell hits me first. Unhurried death slams into me with the force of a hurricane wind gust. The scent curls into my nose, promising inevitable victory. I’ve already conceded to it, unlike her mother.
I walk to her side of the bed; the darkness isn’t an obstacle. I don’t need light to guide me.
When I sit on the edge of the bed, I clasp her fragile hand in mine. She smiles in her morphine-induced sleep. The guilt I carry taps on my back, but I ignore it for the first time today. I just look at her, willing her eyes to open.
Please open your eyes.
Hours go by. The window reveals only stars and the moon, hiding the rest of the world from our sanctuary. I keep hold of her hand, talking about everything… anything, never mentioning where I’d been the couple hours before coming home to her. But when the digital alarm clock sitting on the nightstand reads 10:30, a knock on the door interrupts us.
“Come in,” I say, standing to stretch the muscles in my back.
“It’s time for Ginny’s next dose.” My mother-in-law shuffles over to her daughter, crowding me until I finally step back. We’ve been practicing the same routine every night for almost four months. The doctors said there’s nothing else to be done. After a year-long fight, our team lost.
I wish she’d take me with her.
Before the medicine is shot through her I.V., Ginny’s eyes open. They’re brilliant, stunning, even though the rest of her face is sunken and hollow. They shine from the morphine, but I refuse to acknowledge that.
I take back my place on the bed, reclaiming my wife’s hand. “Hi, baby.” I feel both weightless and full when her eyes find mine. I remember the man I used to be.
Her mouth forms a soft smile. “Hi, Rob.”
When she says my name, I soar.
Lynn Vroman is a struggling writer who moonlights as a server to pay the bills. When not listening to the characters inside her head, she’s spending time with her husband and four awesome children. Her work can also be seen in The Penmen Review.