“Don’t you remember?” A soft thud from her book closing echoed through the room. I felt her eyes on the back of my head. “Don’t you remember how it used to be?”
“Of course, I do,” I stood in the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee. I checked the clock on the wall, it was 7:24 AM and I had exactly six minutes to walk out the door to make the morning train. “I think about it all the time.” I sipped the hot coffee, it needed sweetened up a bit.
I heard the shift in the dining room chair and turned to see her standing there, tears in her eyes, her night robe in a dwindling tie. Her eyes were wide and wild, and hair wispy from a restless night. I couldn’t comfort her, not right now – though I wished to. None of this was her fault. I walked to the fridge to grab the coffee creamer; the lights inside were blinding in our dark home.
“You’re not listening,” she raised her voice. “You haven’t been here for weeks.”
“Kristen,” I finished with the creamer, closed the fridge, and grabbed a sugar cube from the counter. I could feel her eyes still searching all over me. “This is hard for me too.”
“But you go to work,” her voice croaked. “You don’t have to stay here and relive this nightmare every day.”
“So don’t,” I said simply and turned to face her. “I told you I didn’t think it was a good idea for you to have all this time to think.” I sipped my coffee again; it was just right. The cold liquid creamer brought it to a temperature that was perfect.
“How?” her hands reached for me, she quickly dropped them and rubbed her temples in a circular motion. “How do you go about acting like everything is normal?”
“What choice do I have?” the tension was closing in, I could slice it with a knife, then slice it again like butter. “Maybe you should talk to someone that is trained to deal with these kinds of things.” I walked towards the other end of the kitchen island and opened my briefcase. I grabbed my watch.
“I’m talking to my husband,” her voice was raspy and dry. “I remember a time when you didn’t shut me out like this.”
I sighed and realized my patience was wearing thin. “Is there a handbook or manual for this, Kris? Is there a movie or documentary that can tell me exactly what I’m supposed to do? How I’m supposed to feel?” I slammed my briefcase shut with more force than I realized. Kristen jumped at the sound. I didn’t want to do that. I took a deep breath and approached her. “I remember how it used to be,” I wiped the tears from her eyes and gazed into their pits. “The only way I can think to get back to how it used to be, is to do the same things I was doing before; going to work, coming home to you, working in the study.” I felt my eyes welling with tears. “I’m trying,” I gasped and took her face into my hands. “I'm trying like hell."
She grabbed my hands and shook her head, "You disappear in the study, James. You're gone all evening into night. Half the time you don't come to bed." She continued through my denials, "I'm just so alone. Just because you're here doesn't mean you're with me."
I sighed and dropped my hands, "I'm here Kristen. And I'm doing my best."
She nodded, "You think so?" She asked and backed away from me towards the table. "You really think you're dealing with this the best way you can?"
I put my hands up in defense, "I don't want to do this before work. Let's talk when I get home."
She turned to the dining room table and grabbed the book she was reading. She hastily opened it up as she came back to me. “Look at that!” she yelled, thrusting the book into my chest with force. I looked down and realized it was Great Expectations with loose papers inside. “Don’t pretend that this is better than what I’ve been doing.”
I looked at the papers. I looked at my chicken scratch handwriting and half pot drawings. The sketches were knots and the mechanics about how they work. I saw the photo. All these things that were never meant to see another’s eyes besides mine. Other sketches of the human body, the skeletal and muscular system, the whole body, and others of the upper body. The photo. A single photo I had stolen myself.
“Why did you take these?” I couldn’t look at her.
Hey eyes widened and she threw her hands in exasperation, “That’s your response? You want to know why I stole this from you?” She stopped. She waited for a response. I said nothing. “It’s madness!” she screamed.
“It’s not madness!” I threw the items across the kitchen in a rage.
“This is not the right way to grieve, James.” I ran my hands over my head, fingers through my hair. “You’re reliving it, you’re obsessing! Every night in that study, you’re anguishing over the details.”
I was feeling short of breath and began to sweat, “I wasn’t there Kris.” I started pacing, my vision was getting blurry. I could only see red, could only feel my heart beating in my throat. “I’m just trying to understand.”
“I wasn’t here either,” she said more softly. “But trying to break it all down, rationalizing what he felt, figuring out the pain…it’s not going to put you there. It’s not helping you, or us.”
I felt the walls closing in. I took deep breaths and counted to one, two, three repeatedly. I couldn’t fight with her anymore. “I’m here now Kristen, I’m here with you. I’m here for you. I know you may not feel that way,” I felt my heart beat slow. My vision began to clear. “But I’m here now.”
Silence. For once this morning, she had nothing to say, and I was regrettably relieved. She knew I didn’t want to do this; I didn’t want to get hyped up before work. I checked my watch, it was 7:31 AM. “I’m sorry, I have to go. We’ll talk tonight, I promise.” I reached for her and gave her a kiss on the forehead. I quickly turned towards the island for my briefcase and coffee.
“What day is it?” she said. “James, what’s the date? What’s the day of the week?”
“It’s Tuesday,” I exclaimed and gave her a look. “Tuesday the 12th. I have the Jefferson’s account review this morning and the Griffith’s tomorrow.”
Her blank face was motionless and unreadable; it was hard to see her like this. “Maybe you’re right,” she wiped the tears from her eyes and pushed her blonde hair away from her face. “I need to talk to someone else.” She took another look at me, dropped her eyes, and walked back the hall to her room.
“I got it right,” I muttered, but she didn’t hear me.
I darted to the kitchen sink and washed my hands. I wondered how late I’d be if I missed the train. I dried my hands and headed to the foyer for my shoes and jacket. The grey shoes matched my suit better than the blue ones. I grabbed my keys from the holder and looked at the white board calendar above. The electric bill was held up by a magnet, due next week as well as the reminder for the trash collection over the holidays. I looked at today’s date, October 12th, and written in large red letters “Jack’s 18th birthday.”