Talk to Me
She wakes and dread seeps back into her like a tide, cold and inescapable. Please talk to me, she thinks. Let it be today.
Across the bedroom, the window sill glows blue-grey beneath the shudder, and the room is dark and cool and vaguely antiseptic smelling. She must have cleaned for him; he loves a clean place, or rather he loves watching her clean: naked cleaning, they call it. There’s also naked dinner, naked TV (though never during his gameshows, she’s tried), and on one memorable occasion, naked car washing.
They lead to love-making, these silly events. Had she rinsed dinner plates, or tossed his stained coveralls into the washing machine with nothing on – save an apron – and he’d enveloped her and they’d been together?
She can’t remember. All has become a blur since … well, since he stopped talking to her.
She turns towards him under the thin blanket. She’s cold, freezing in fact. She will get them the best blanket money can buy, she muses, one they will never want to come out from under, and then nestles timidly into his back.
It’s a broad back, a rugby player’s (former), one she never hesitated to hop onto during those frenetic, hundred and eighty seconds between classes in high school, in college, or when they closed on their first home and he was literally being handed the key to the front door and she was out-of-her-mind happy.
He stirs but does not move away from her. A good sign. What’s wrong? She whispers into the nape of his neck. And this time he does react: “Maa … ehhh,” he stammers. It’s hollow and pained and seems to come from deep inside of him. It makes her feel insignificant, microscopic.
Nightmares, so many lately.
It’s ok. It’s ok.
She can’t remember the last time he spoke to her. And he’s such a talker, especially after a few drinks. A small memory unfolds, bright and vivid: the two of them driving the Hana Highway in some ridiculously high-end rental; top down: sun and wind and hair everywhere; she with an un-corked bottle of red blend from the winery atop the mountain secreted in a brown paper bag; him grinning, hand very high on her thigh, saying: oh, yeah, that’ll throw the cops WAY off.
She tries to remember the fullness of his voice, its tenor, his monologues, his contagious laugh, his pausing of CNN or FOX and contesting exasperatedly what is being posited, and then turning and providing unsolicited explanations for her, and her complete acceptance because in those moments she is awash in his true – if not closeted – intellectual colors.
She’s sure her husband is the only mechanic alive who reads two books a week, watches Jeopardy, America Says, or Idiot Test (his newest favorite) with a near fanatic intensity, and who actually incorporated the word anti-establishmentarianism into the first ever conversation with her asshole parents and made it not awkward.
God, how she loves him.
She think-shouts: So talk to me now, damn it!
Tears come. They burn like ice water in her eyes and on her cheeks. She sits up gingerly, careful not to wake him (always a concern, this), and wipes her face. Well, maybe that’s part of this whole mess: my ridiculous deference to him and this new trouble.
And on the heels of that: Ugh, I’m becoming my mother.
But that’s not entirely true, or fair, she admits to herself in the darkness. Barbara Montgomery feared Donald Montgomery, and with cause. And so did she all the way up to his thunderclap heart attack in a Safeway parking lot that put an abrupt, vacuous end to the black-happy bullshit. No, her mother couldn’t help herself, not then. And why she continues not to is maddening and horrifying.
She doesn’t fear this man curled next to her, not that way; he’d no sooner hurt her than he would his own mother (or over-achieving younger sister, for that matter). But his hasty shutting off to her, as if she no longer existed, was worse, wasn’t it?
Hadn’t she read an article recently in one of those impulse-buy women’s mags that a man who stops communicating is a man who, at the bottom of things, simply wants out?
Oh, Dear God. Please no. No one deserves this. No one. We love each other. Of course we do.
Then STOP this black-happy-you-know-what.
She gets out of bed then, and not like some ninny, either: she tosses the feeble coverlet aside, hops out, stands at the foot of the bed, and crosses her arms.
Robert Dovin, she says, I just pressed the pause button, and you’d better start explaining yourself. Talk to me. Tell me what the matter is – Tell me what’s happened!
Her voice is strident and anomalous in the quiet, dim room.
I won’t put up with this any longer, Robert. Robert? ROBERT!
There is a tinny popping sound, and she is suddenly back-lit from what she intuits are the shudders somehow unhinging themselves from across the room. Her shadow is abrupt and wraith-like over his bound figure, causing her to start.
Something hisses behind her.
She spins. Two things: the big window is still very much closed (when did they replace shudders with drapes?), and a small, flat-screen TV glows brightly high on the opposite wall.
Snow, just plain old TV snow. Black lines flicker and disappear, flicker and disappear.
THIS IS KBAT! The television suddenly blurts, and she spooks again. NEWS THAT’S NEW TO YOU! An up-tempo, no-nonsense melody follows, and she’s sure she will hear the leathery voice of Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather break in.
The TV snow fades, and a news woman in a taut blazer with padded shoulders materializes behind a sleek, glass desk. She is also no-nonsense, this reporter, but there’s more here, something solemn and grave.
WE COME TO YOU TONIGHT WITH TRAGIC NEWS FROM THE BEAUTIFUL ISLAND OF MAUI IN THE HAWAIIAN ARCHIPELAGO …
“Maa … geee.”
For the third time in as many minutes, breath catches in her throat. She turns and sees her husband staring up at her. His eyes are bloodshot marbles in the quicksilver light of the TV.
Bobby! Yes, it’s me, sweetie, Maggie. I love you so much – so, so much. Talk to me, sweetie. I lov –
A HORRENDOUS SINGLE CAR ACCIDENT ON THE OTHERWISE TRANQUIL AND HISTORIC ROAD TO HANA …
“Noo … Maaggg … I-I-sorrryyy …”
Bobby, Luv, no, please don’t be. I thought you were mad at me, that I’d done something –
THE RENTED AUDI CAREENED SOME SIXTY FEET DOWN AN EMBANKMENT INTO ONE OF THE PICTURESQUE POOLS THAT ARE A TOURIST …
“Noo … ahh-gawd … MAGGGG – “
Without warning, her body heaves involuntarily and a squelching, gargling sound comes from deep within her. She coughs, wretches, and vomits up something long and mossy and cold. It hangs from her mouth like an impossible black tongue. Gagging, frantic, she pulls it from her mouth like some nightmare version of a minstrel clown.
AT THIS TIME AUTHORITIES BELIEVE ALCOHOL MAY HAVE PLAYED A ROLE IN THE ILL-FATED INCIDENT …
She staggers back against wall, some sort of thin, waterlogged reed in her hand. She looks at it disbelievingly, detachedly, then to her husband, who is not looking at her, but rather at the small screen above her.
Oh, no – was he ever looking at me?
Weakly, wincing in bright, clear pain, and never taking his eyes off the screen, he props himself on one elbow.
And now she can see: neck brace burrowed under his chin, twisted leg enclosed in a sort of oblong cage with rods penetrating its purple skin at different angles, bandages, bandages everywhere seeping with what she hopes is only iodine. And when his swollen lips part in a feeble attempt to speak, wires crisscross his broken teeth.
“Ohhh … Maageee … peeez-no … donn-be-gon … I-luff … alllmyfall … done-be-dea – .”
Before he can finish, her mouth snaps open again, and a torrent of gritty, ice cold water jets forth, gallons upon gallons, spanning the room, splashing against the far wall and the solitary door with its perfectly square glass window, and settling into shimmery pools on the pea-green linoleum floor.
OFFICIALS REPORT TWO OCCUPANTS WERE IN THE VEHICLE AT THE TIME OF THE ACCIDENT, BUT, SADLY, ONLY ONE SURVIVED …
Of course it’s linoleum, she thinks from some far off place. And we never replaced the shutters – tisk, tisk. And that blanket’s an ineffectual piece of crap because –
AN AUTOMOBILE MECHANIC FROM KONA, HAWAII …
-- we’re not at home at all. We’re in a hospital room somewhere on Maui … or at least half of us is.
THE PASSENGER, WHO REMAINS UNIDENTIFIED AT THIS TIME BUT IS BELIEVED TO BE THE SPOUSE OF THE DRIVER, DID NOT SURVIVE THE INCIDENT.
BACK TO YOU, BOB.
The last thing that occurs to her, as that ethereal part begins its mystical undoing, and Robert Dovin – son to Belinda and Peter, brother to Dr. Cassandra McFadden, D.D.S, and father to no one – cries his wife’s name though his ruined mouth and reaches for the television, is that her husband is, finally, talking to her again.