Do You Know What I Mean?

Submitted into Contest #97 in response to: Start your story with an unexpected knock on a window.... view prompt

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Fiction

I’m having my first cup of coffee at the absolutely ridiculous hour of 2:20 a.m.


At 42, which might be the meaning of life, but a shit age to be female, my body went completely rogue on me.


I gained 40 pounds in the course of three months; my circadian clock decided that anywhere from midnight to 3 a.m. were perfectly appropriate times to say, “Wakey-wakey, eggs and bakey.” Quite enthusiastically at that. But at 46 now, I'm used to it in a weird way. I don't curse about much anymore at least.


The husband tells me, “Just go back to sleep,” as if it weren’t the very first thing I tried when everything went haywire. Sort of like he said, “Just work out more,” when I gained the weight. I had already been hitting the treadmill for 4 miles a day, dripping sweat by the time I’d been on it for a mile, four hours before he woke up, grumbling about the stale coffee and demanding that I make a fresh pot for him.


Any-who, I heard it on my second sip of coffee, just as I was lighting my first gratifying cigarette of the day, and, fortunately, before the dog did. His bark can shake a house it’s so loud and the husband sleeps kind of fly-like—any weird noise or movement and he bolts from bed and races downstairs all worked up, usually armed.


Tap, tap, tap on the front window. A decidedly human noise.


I sigh thinking it’s one of the kids friends and I don’t really WANT to go out there and chew out some kid at 2 a.m. but I know I have to take care of it. The husband.


When I step outside barefoot in my yoga pants and sweatshirt, it’s not a kid and I startle a bit and wonder why I just walked out there in the middle of the night like I’m not a five foot two, hundred and five pound middle-aged woman.


Then, I make out who it is in the porch light and smile. All I can say is, “What the hell?” with a huge grin on my face and hug him before I remember that he doesn’t like to be touched. He loathes it, in fact. He’s a sexual assault survivor like me. That’s how we met—in a support group.


“I’m sooooooooooo sorry. I forgot,” I say very apologetically for invading his space like that. It was just so good to see him that it was my immediate go-to.


“You’re cool, Lizzie. I missed you.”


“Lemme grab my coffee and smokes and come on out. Want anything?”


“I’m good. I’m really sorry to come by at such a weird time but I need someone, and you were the only one I thought of.”


“I’m happy you’re here. Really. I’d invite you in, but the dog and the husband.”


He nods that he’s heard me and looks at me sadly.


I come in through the front door and there’s a .44 pointed at my face.


“For fuck’s sake, Liz. I almost killed you,” the husband starts, “what the hell are you doing outside? It’s one of the kids, right? Or the police? One of their friends? What is it? Jesus. Answer me.” The ‘answer me’ is spat out like he’d given me a chance in between the questions TO answer him.


“My friend David stopped by.”


“AT 2 A.M.?”


Technically 2:23-ish, I think and just nod.


“How does he even know where you live? I mean, you haven’t seen this guy in nearly 10 years.” There’s a tone of suspicion in there.


I shrug. “The internet? I dunno.”


I think my radar was down sort of. It IS really weird to get a visitor from someone you’re friend-ish with at 2 a.m. unless you’re a drug addict but for me, it was so normal to be up and about at that time of day that I didn’t really think much of it. Heck, 2 a.m. had me thanking the sleep gods for letting me have an extra hour or two that week.


“Is he some kind of tweaker or something?”


“Not that I know of,” I say as he places the gun down and goes outside where I overhear him loudly ask, “Why are you here? What do you want with Liz?”


I don’t overhear David’s side but I’m not worried either. Hubby is loud and harmless.


A couple of minutes later, they both come in and Prince, our house-shaking guard dog lifts his head in a bored manner and puts his head back down on his paws. Apparently, the big dude punched his card on the time clock without me realizing it.


Hubby comes over to me and gives me a kiss.


The only time he’s affectionate is when he feels threatened or if some random guy looks at me too long as a claiming move.


“Night Liz. I love you.”


"Night, babe. I love you too."


That’s the only time he says ‘I love you’ too. To claim me. To make sure other guys know I’m not available.


He adds, “Nice to meet you, David,” to let David know that he’s not worried about him. He is as evidenced by the kiss and I love you, but he’ll be damned if he gives that impression to David. In fact, the whole ‘invite the stray dude in’ was all about giving off that ‘I am SO SECURE with myself and in my relationship that OF COURSE you can come on in in the middle of the night and hang with my WIFE’ vibe.


He’s like a fucking peacock, is he not? I smile a little bit to myself at the display of plumage and take over from there. “Let’s go in the other room so we don’t keep Ross awake.”


Hubby turns around and says, “Why don’t you both stay right there.”


Oops. Did a little insecurity just slip out? I think it did. I smile to myself over that as well and comply, offering David a seat at the dining room table.


He wouldn’t have to worry if he showed affection and said ‘I love you’ more often. Do you know what I mean?


He finally goes upstairs, somewhat comfortable, I guess, and I address David. “What’s up?” I say as I sit down across from him and light a cigarette up, careful to blow the smoke away from him. 


“I moved to your neighborhood about three months ago,” he starts, “and I noticed you out with that big guy,” he says looking over Prince’s direction, “and…”


I wait. I’m not a patient person, so I’m thinking and? finish the thought. You can do it.


“Are you happy, Lizzie?”


Now that stops me in my tracks. No one has so much as asked about my day in more than an automatic, ‘Have a nice day, ma’am’ way in over two decades, much less wondered if I’m happy. I stammer out with, “I…I…uh…yeah, you know, life’s okay enough.”


He looks at me so softly and so kindly that I start crying. Not bawling like my dog got free and I can't find him, but tears forming. Sort of like when I'm out walking Prince.


“That’s what I thought. I see you crying all the time.”


Now it’s him probably thinking I should say something. Or not because he continues with, “Come with me, Lizzie. I’m every bit as miserable as you are.”


I shake my head no. “I can’t.” I know Ross is probably listening and add, “Things are fine; I’m not miserable.” It’s not a lie. I’m not miserable. I’ve been completely fileted out by life; by disillusionment. Kind of a step below miserable. But I can’t say that because the husband.


“You CAN. I didn’t think I could either but coming home from work tonight and seeing your light on and I thought with her at my side, I can do anything.”


I’m flattered, I guess, but it sort of gives off the very same vibe that I cry over. Like I’m supposed to be there for them. Do you know what I mean? Like I’m responsible for their happiness and their success and their shit in general and I’m supposed to just suck my shit up for the good of the team, all neglected and taken for granted and self-contained.


It was the use of ‘her’. I’m an object, not a real person with real feelings. He wants to claim me; I'm chattel, nothing more than that. A trophy, a prize. (As if I am, which I'm not--I'm a normal person with quirks and flaws--no big prize.)


Because of how we met, we know intimate things about each other. We know details of each other's assaults and we know what manner we've both used to cope and carry on after our respective assaults. But we don't really know each other. Definitely not enough to run away from our lives together.


I think of hubby’s display of plumage and insecurity and all that and nod to myself that he’s smarter than I give him credit for being sometimes; he has better instincts than I do and feel a bit bad for sort of making fun of him in my head.


“I need you to leave.” It’s a quiet but firm request. I don’t need hubby coming down with that .44. It’s WAY more drama than this should require and definitely more drama than I want.


He doesn’t move.


I add, “Now.”


“I’m sorry I’ve made you uncomfortable," David says, still not moving.


Softly but with the right tone that Prince understands, I say, “Come,” as I stare down the now believed to be potentially dangerous man across the table from me.


At that, Prince punches the time clock and is back to work. He comes over, sits down next to me and stares at David and David understands intuitively that all I have to say is one more word and he’s the nightly meal for all 160 pounds of American Akita-Inu. I know this because he gets up and heads to the front door, shaking his head the whole way and muttering to himself and lets himself out, closing the door gently so as to not disturb the man upstairs.


My shoulders, which I suddenly realize are somewhere around my ears drop. I pet Prince and tell him he’s a good boy and give him the ‘off’ command. He goes back to his bed and lays back down.


I hear, “You cry?” I don’t respond. He doesn’t care and I’m right about this because it’s followed with, “What the fuck do YOU have to cry about? I give you everything.”


See?


“Goodnight, honey," I say.


“You handled that right," he responds.


I’m a big girl. I already know this. I call out, “I love you.” I do actually, which is what makes all of this suck all the more. I really do love him and I’m going to feel really bad when our youngest, Caleb, turns 18 next year and I leave.


But probably not as bad as I feel now. Do you know what I mean?


I hear the door to his room close and nod, mutter a little, “Yeah, of course. No one to claim me from, right?” at the lack of the reciprocal, ‘I love you, too’. I wonder if he does secretly love me and feels like his very presence and demands on me and my time and his twice a week, “So you wanna?” offer of sex after sitting there all night with his arms crossed like I don’t exist until sex is on the menu should suffice as evidence of that.


Do you know what I mean? 

June 05, 2021 00:33

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4 comments

Marie Bishop
21:40 Jun 14, 2021

Really great story, you captured that possessive relationship absolutely. Great job.

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Maria Bray
00:28 Jun 15, 2021

Thank you. :)

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Josh C
07:59 Jun 14, 2021

That's a very sad story. I feel really bad for Lizzie. On a more technical side I really love some of your descriptions. The dog who is 'off the clock' and the husband who is a peacock were such great metaphors. And the body going rogue in mid-life was a great opening, it really hooked me. Great work!

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Maria Bray
10:47 Jun 14, 2021

Thank you so much.

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