by L. J. P. T. Krallek
“Where were you today?” he asked, looking up from his book as she came into their bedroom, her jacket halfway down her arms. She shrugged her shoulders and went to sit at her antique vanity, placing her back to him. In the first years of their marriage, she’d turn and look at him while readying herself for the night; the last several had held only cold, squared shoulders and rigidly straight backs and stilted answers to half-hearted questions. “I wasn’t sure you were coming home.”
“I nearly didn’t,” she replied, pulling an earring loose from her right lobe. “There’s not much reason for me to stay now.”
His jaw tightened and he remembered the girl who had come into his shop, full of laughter, who had stolen his heart. That girl had slipped away in the last three years without his noticing. “Well,” he began again, “where were you while you were out?”
“I… I went to see Vera,” she said, as she pulled her hair out of its high bun, slowly untwisting the strands around her fingers, her eyes staring absently towards the mirror. “I was hoping she could cheer me up. But she was busy, and I… I couldn’t talk to her after all.”
“Oh,” he said. He pulled a flannel robe over his midnight blue pajamas, coming to stand behind her as she flicked the buttons of her blouse and it dropped onto the back of her chair to join her discarded jacket. “Why not?”
“Because,” she began, then sighed deeply and shuddered. “I didn’t have the words. And she wouldn’t have understood.” Arranging her earrings neatly in her grandmother’s jewelry box, she straightened her comb and brush, placing them back into the side drawer.
“Really?” he asked, more quickly than he intended. “I figured that talking about stuff was what you two did together. I mean, you certainly don’t with me.”
“Not like you would know, Simon. I’m not the only person who can start a conversation,” she shot back, her face creasing with pain and darkening her eyes with the promise of the coming storm clouds of torrential tears.
He lifted her chin up, her curls sliding out of her eyes. Pulling her face away from his hand, she forced a smile that lasted a few seconds before quivering; her face melting and eyes growing round as she pressed her lips into a thin line, her face gaunt from holding her breath.
“Come on,” he whispered, taking her arm and leading her to the bed. Reaching down, he drew the thick, chocolate hued comforter around her bare back and shoulders. At his touch, she flinched away, and pulled the blanket into her hands, twisting the fabric into tight bunches.
“Do you remember the day we picked this?” she asked, her eyes falling away from him. “I wanted it because I said it’d be like sleeping in hot cocoa.”
“And I thought it was to match your hair so you could pretend that the bed was eating you,” he said, turning away with her shirt and jacket over his left arm and wiping his face with his free hand. Simon drew the curtains shut, blocking out the orange glow of streetlights that pricked against the darkened windowpane.
She let out a laugh that ended in a gulp and she began to reach out for him, then faltered and let her hand fall to her side. Her downcast face haunted him, pulling him back towards the bed. He encircled her with his arms, rocking her against his shoulder while she shoved her fists into her eyes like a child resisting sleep.
“Alessandra,” he started. “You don’t have to go out tomorrow. Let the bed eat you if you need to.”
“I’m okay,” she said as she straightened her back, wriggling her nose to shake off a singular tear. She pulled away from him and wrapped her arms around her body, shrinking herself into a cocoon. “Simon, stop worrying. I’m okay.”
“If you go out…” he faltered, mumbling. “You might not come back to me.”
“I didn’t think you cared if I did anymore,” she said to her knees.
He sighed, his voice catching in his throat until it gurgled with each breath, unable to form into words and paralyzing him from touching her. He felt her drifting away from him as they sat silent on the unmade bed in middle hours of the night, inches away from his body but miles away from his heart as she shut herself off, shut herself away, grieving in some shrouded island of thought that she’d never share, where he could never follow her.
“Simon,” his name was little more than the whisper of sheets and the brush of a curl against his hand as she laid her head on his knee.
“Yes, my dove?” he stroked each curl that framed her face, letting the strands wrap around his fingers and fall away onto her neck.
She let her arm fall across his lap in an attempted gesture at their dresser where a box of pregnancy test strips stood at odds with her carefully placed containers of cosmetics and hair clips, standing as a reminder of their last attempt to pretend their marriage still had a chance at a happy ending. “The box. Please, throw it away,” she said. “I don’t want to see it again.”
“Yes. It’s in there.”
“Could it have been wrong?” he asked.
She turned her face down, into the bones of his leg, and he felt the warmth of teardrops sliding down his inner thigh. “No. It was a negative. The first was positive. And the doctor said…”Her voice trailed away as a fat tear darkened the bedspread like a raindrop after a drought gives color again to sun-baked dusty roads.
“Maybe you should call your mother,” he leaned down, his body covering hers as he tried to surround her with an embrace, to pull her back together and make all the broken pieces fit the way they had before that night. “Maybe a woman could talk to you in some way I can’t.”
“That’s not going to make this better. She said I’d make a terrible wife and an even worse mother,” she said, her voice muffled and croaking. “She’d tell me it was for the best, that I’m not ready, that this just proves everything she ever said about me. I already know she was right, I don’t need to hear her gloating.”
“Then, I guess it’s just going to be me, Alessandra,” he traced the veins in her neck. “I don’t know how you’re feeling, but I’m willing to listen. Please, just speak to me. I am here, and I will always be here for you. Stay with me. I can’t understand, but I can care.”
L. J. P. T. Krallek was raised in Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula. She writes mostly fiction, with a special interest in fantasy in the style of Tolkien, Lewis, and McKillip. Outside of writing, she also enjoys reading, drinking tea, listening to classical and folk music, and spending time walking through woods, bookstores, and antique shops.