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Mystery

Secrets between lovers are like blinders on a horse. They help us focus. Our touch, a laugh, a sigh. They can carry us through a whole weekend. Standing in the middle of his office he remembered her laughing when he told her this on their first weekend together. They’d been drinking coffee in the well-appointed kitchen of the victorian Air BnB. She’d wanted to know about his family and his dog, ‘You had a dog, right? You like dogs?’ and his ‘first time.’ Like an overmatched boxer, he’d bobbed and weaved, sometimes clutching her just before she overran his defenses. She’d laughed, he’d laughed. But after a cup of coffee, he’d offered his insight.


Secrets between lovers are like blinders on a horse, he’d said around a smile. They help us focus on what’s important. They can carry us through a whole weekend.


Her mouth had popped into an a perfect ‘O’. Eyes opened wide and disbelieving at first. Then those same eyes crinkled, her shoulders slumped and she started laughing. She slapped him on the arm and said ‘You’re amazing.’


Yeah, amazing, he said to the desk, couch, computer, lights and window of his upstairs office. Just amazing. Standing in the middle of that office he studied each one like a grade school teacher brow beating a disinterest student in hopes of squeezing an answer from them. They all sat silent, just like the student.


Where is it, he exhaled.


The answer came in a flash. Bracing one hand on the top of his desk, he knelt down on one bad knee and then the other. Knees were shot from years of pickup basketball played on unyielding concrete courts. He ran his hand on the underside and found the only splinter in the entire room pierced the side of his hand.


Dammit. He felt the warm blood release and slide across the back of his hand until gravity stepped up and said I’ll take over. Droplets dropped and a stream of his blood trailed on the floor out from underneath the desk.


He held that hand up close to his face and watched the blood run down his arm. Then he pulled the splinter out and sucked on the open wound a minute.


Screw it. He stretched the end of his sleeve into a makeshift bandage and held it tight. Then he wiped the floor clean of his own blood. A bloody cuff on his sweatshirt will be the least of their worries. Small victories, he guessed.


Hurry up, she said. Louder than last time, louder next time. He knew the signals.


I am, I’ll be there in a minute. His lie floated down the steps like a dying quail return in a friendly tennis game.


You said that an hour ago. With the measured tone of voice, she’d smashed that lie into the tattered hallway carpet runner. He could see her gritting her teeth, clenching her fists trying not to explode. Hurry up, she said. Louder, just like he expected, too.


Over the past year, since The Crazy, as they called it swept south out of the city and down 218 towards their farm, he’d ‘liberated’ pocket change along with some ones and fives, sometimes a ten-spot and, holding his breath,a twenty-dollar bill. Now, he, well it was really ‘they’, had a 2nd rainy-day fund he called The Crazy Day fund with around $2500, give or take.


Right now, the amount didn’t matter because he couldn’t find it. He couldn’t find it because he couldn’t remember where he’d hidden all these months.


Another crash from downstairs interrupted his focus.


Honey, babe. What are you doing? He used his soft voice, sometimes it helped.


I’m breaking things... so they can’t use ‘em. A mix of anger, fear and a childlike happiness at breaking things. She always liked breaking stuff. He was pretty sure she liked it best when he watched her unleash all that deeply-held raw pent up anger on a deserving object.


Ok, he said. Makes sense, he thought.


Her family hated him. Dad and two sons were accountants. Mom’s a born again evangelical. They’re right, he’s wrong. So, he knew they’d think The Crazy Day Fund topped the list of all betrayals, real and imagined.


He studied the desk in front of him, the desk where he’d sat and struggled for the last 2 years to create something out of nothing. It was a traditional oak desk. Swedish, no Danish. “Too freakin’ heavy” was her brother’s judgment when he asked him for help getting it up the stairs. He was right, so they took it apart and formed a bucket brigade up the stairs, handing over each part until it all sat there like an Ikea creation only one with real wood.


She’d delivered two Nitro Stouts in ice-cold mugs. Here, she said. You guys deserve these. She threw a smile over her shoulder at him and left.


Now, he savored the memory of those jeans and how well she wore them that day 5 years ago. Or was it four?


His memory had always been excellent until 6 months ago. It started with the flu that hung around like her parents on the holidays. Everyday he dreaded getting out of bed and usually found a reason by noon to get back in it, pull the covers over his head and hope that tomorrow it would be gone.


It worsened. Aches tormented him all day and into the night. She drove him to the hospital when she heard his lungs gurgling.


I’m okay, he’d said. The next thing he knew he was waking up again in his own bed, watching the EMTs leave. She pulled the door closed and followed them out. He heard her agree to call them if she needed anything.


He opened his phone and found it was 11 days after she’d driven him to the hospital.


Since then he started forgetting things. Keys, shoes, phone and where he left them became a daily source of laughs. Then people’s names disappeared not completely but like a flourescent light with a bad connection. Sometimes on, sometimes not. Leave it on for awhile and it flickers until it flickers off. Another day and it works fine.


As his memory flickered off more and more the laughs dwindled and the silences grew.


He shook his head and tried to focus. The kneehole drawer was empty, he was sure of it. Plus, his knees were still pleading ‘not again.’ Either pedestal held three drawers, the bottom drawers deep enough for his files. He started at the top. Paper clips, rubber bands, ear plugs - oh right, he meditated up here sometimes - pens, notepads, scratchy stuff of no value now. 2nd row held more papers - bills, receipts, unpaid reminders, collection notices, bank statements. They’d pulled their money out last month.


He held his breath and opened the bottom drawer on the left.


More crashes and booms rose up from downstairs startled him. Then he smiled. She was having fun. How much longer was the question.


This drawer held empty pendaflex folders. His mind held empty memories for what they’d once held.


She’d been up here yesterday, helping him pack. Maybe she has them. Didn’t matter, he couldn’t remember what they were and they wouldn’t need them where they were going.


He bumped the roller-less, coaster-less wooden chair to the right and found the same thing in that bottom drawer.


Shit. He’d spin the chair if it would. He slouched in the chair and stared at the ceiling. A few minutes of that and he closed his eyes, letting the sounds of her therapeutic destruction fade.


He’d loved her from their first conversation at the Hideaway, sitting side-by-side on its duct-taped barstools. Her rescue dog at her feet. On the bar counter, a shot of Jack in front of her and Jack and a shot of pickle juice in front of him. He’d spoken to her rescue dog at first. After the 2nd shot he’d raised up and made eye contact. His world changed forever. He’d found the love of his life.


Over more shots and laughs and dog walks and arguments... he’d taken off the lovers’ blinders and found he loved all of her. Mmmm... but about the 2nd year of marriage he realized love and marriage are different creatures. The marriage creature had to be nurtured with trust and a decent job, patience, listening skills not just charm and jokes and crazy weekends. God, and openness and trust, too.


Like most couples they’d stumbled forward through kids and a few economic downturns. The last one being the worst and then about a year ago The Crazy swept south out of the city and down 218 towards their farm. As news of its spread he conceived The Crazy Day Fund. Being a nurse, she was secure in a job. So, he started ‘liberating’ pocket change along with some ones and fives, sometimes a ten-spot and, holding his breath,a twenty-dollar bill. Now, he, well it was really ‘they’, had $2500, give or take, for ‘crazy days’ up ahead.


Right now, the amount didn’t matter. He couldn’t find it.


Screen door slammed. She’s outside. He opened his eyes and studied the recessed lighting she’d installed in this office six months ago. He’d been in the hospital, knee replacements. Both. She’d wanted to surprise him. She’d succeeded.


It’s nice, babe.


Really? Hands on hips, head tilted to one side. Eyes focused and gleaming in delight.


Really. He turned away to study her surprise, along all four walls. Nice.


It was still nice.


But his memory flickered off more and more after the surgery. Maybe the pain-killers, maybe the lack of mobility. Maybe his reluctance to come down the stairs any more.


He opened his laptop. He’d made his sister’s face the screen saver. Smiling, bright as a mid-day sun. Beautiful. Then her image warbled and faded as tears rose in his eyes.


His sister’d been a cutter. They’d talked about it, even sat in on a therapy session so her therapist could explain it to him while his sister sat off to the side, hugging herself and rockin’ and sometimes looking up and nodding, tears in her eyes. Tears in his, too. Cutters cut themselves where no one can see them cutting or where they cut on their body, a secret all their own to feel something or to stop feeling something. Scars leave a reminder, sometimes pleasant he’d heard. Secrets in marriage... they’re done in secret too and they’re to help both parties not feel something. Both sets of cuts are survival mechanisms. A fw precisly chosen secrets can help your spouse avoid feeling something... can Some are acts of love, a means to sustain the unsustainable, a buttress against the hurricanes that arise from within broken psyches. Takes one to know one and he knew her. That’s why he loved her, he surmised long ago.


This whole replay ran through his mind like a YouTube video, over and over, while he wiped his eyes and waited for his heart to calm down.

Screen door slammed again.


Are you coming?


His heart rate wouldn’t slow down. It wasn’t racing but it wasn’t slowing either. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. He tapped his knuckles and inhaled deep and then announced: Why don’t you go and I’ll catch up?


Silence.


Are you sure?


No, but he had to find that money.


Sure. I gotta close up... gasp... a few files. Might take awhile.


Then he waited.


You’ll lock up?


He relaxed. Sure, he said. Wouldn’t want anyone to break in. He laughed, she laughed.


Well, I’ll walk through and make sure we have everything.


He rose and headed for the closet. Clothes, shoes. Ah... yes, the cubby hole he’d built behind the baseboard.


Love you, she said. Love you, he answered though he knew she didn’t hear him. The screen door slammed once again. Babe’s diesel engine fired up. That’s the name for their diesel F-150. She revved the engine a few times and blew the horn. He knew she’d be waving.


He rested one hand on the closet’s frame and caught his breath. His heart rate raced away. I can do this, he said. I can do this.


He braced his back against one side and anchored his feet against the other. Then like a department store elevator he dropped, inch by inch until his butt rested on the floor and he leaned over to his side and gasped.


He laughed a little. After this he said, I’m getting in shape.


He stretched out to the loose board and banged the side of his hand against one end of the loose board. It popped open.


The cubbyhole was bare except for a single 3 x 5 index card. He grabbed it and read the words slowly.


Secrets, babe. You should have told me. Love,






April 16, 2020 18:30

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