The walls of the shabby apartment shook with her sobs, but he knew he had no right to cross the creaky floorboards and comfort her. Her hands pressed against her swollen belly as she stumbled to lean against the paint peeling off the wall. He didn't make a move to steady her.
"How could you?" It wasn't the first time that hour she had shrieked the words, but it was the first time he found the strength to answer.
The remains of his phone, broken against the wall by her hand, coated the sparse carpet between them. A barrier of splintered plastic and screen, sharp enough to slice his skin, yet even still it wasn't the danger that kept him from moving forward.
"She was there when you weren't." His own words could hardly be described as a shout. Not a worthy excuse, and by her tear-filled eyes she knew it, too.
"I have always been there!" she screamed. "During every hangover, every police fine! I have stuck by your side when every inch of me begged me to leave! To take our son and run! Do not speak to me of abandonment!" Her voice cracked, but she remained firm, glaring at him through their impenetrable wall. "I should have listened, but I was willing to prove them all wrong! I was willing to believe their warnings were nothing but jealousy. But no; they were the truth."
At this, he felt his own voice strengthen, raising from its pitiful whisper to a roar that shook the dim chandelier above them. "You swore to me you had stopped talking to them! You swore to me their words meant nothing- that they meant nothing. I am not the only one guilty! How long have you stayed in contact? How long have you listened to whatever lies they spit out?"
"How long have you been lying? Claiming you've been at work when really you've been with her?" The word was hardly intelligible, nothing more than a hiss, and he met her fiery gaze with his own, refusing to step down. Refusing to let her know. But she already did. "I called today to your office day and do you want to know what they told me? You'd been fired for over a year. A year. We've only been married for eight months!"
"It doesn't matter," he countered, snarling. "I still get money for your clothes. Your jewelry. Every petty thing you beg for. Look around you!" he cried, opening his arms toward their scraggly surroundings. "Look where we are because of you!"
"Because of me? This isn't about me!" Her screams were louder than his own, her tears drenching the floor, mingling with the already moldy scent. Flailing her hand toward their single decoration- a single framed photo of their wedding- she sobbed, "When you married me, you made an oath that you'd love me forever. That I was the only one for you, that day and forever!"
He couldn't resist a mocking scoff. "Don't tell me you actually held onto that. They were just words."
"No." She shook her head, letting go of her pregnant belly to grab her left hand. Sliding her golden band off her ring finger, she let it clatter to the floor. Somehow, it was the loudest sound either of them had made. "They were just lies."
Fleeing into their bedroom, she slammed the door, but it was a pitiful sound when mingled with her crushing wails. The thin walls did nothing to muffle them and as the splintered door crashed close, it shook the walls.
The photograph wobbled, teetering on the brink of collapse for a second longer before falling forward. He only stood, letting it fall, listening to her agony. The frame hit the ground, the glass protecting the picture shattering in a spiderweb that concealed his smiling face. Only hers remained visible, eyes glowing with mirth beneath her snowflake-white veil.
Only when the frame stilled, unnaturally calm when compared to the shaking of the rest of the house, did he cross to it. Did he crouch and lift it, ignoring as the thin particles of glass wedged their way into his thumb and forefinger.
For a moment, he gazed at it, and as he did, the faintest smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. The photo was old and yellowing, the corners wrinkled, and the frame was the same from all those years before. The cracks obscuring his face but radiating hers.
Sighing, he ran a wrinkled finger over her picture before tucking it back into his drawer. Hidden underneath his socks, although it didn't have to be. He had lived alone for the past seventy-five years.
In its place, he lifted the envelope that had arrived in the mail that same day, withdrawing the letter. It wasn't in her handwriting, but he couldn't help wishing it was. Through his wrinkle-set eyes, he re-read the words, already knowing nothing would have changed since the first eight years he had read it.
Funeral services will be held on October 5. Please join us for the memorial afterward.
An address followed, as did a picture of her own wrinkled face. She was so different from the last time he'd seen her, a smile splitting her features as a grandchild hung around her neck, both of them laughing. He could almost hear the sound, so familiar yet so foreign at the same time.
Tucking it into his jacket pocket, he set a hat over his balding head. It was time for his afternoon walk, but if he missed it no one would know but him. They used to take them together, him and her. Before the divorce. Before it had all went wrong.
But through all the years, one thing had remained true. An oath was an oath, and he had kept his.
He had loved her forever.