Open With Insomnia
Patrick rolls over in bed, wipes the sweat from his brow. He then takes his hand and smears it against the bed covers. It comes away damp. Just stay calm, he tells himself as he settles back into the sopping pillow. No sense in waking Marta.
The air feels like it belongs to a blast furnace. Or maybe a sweat lodge. Patrick is just renting it out for the night, and how he wishes he could send it back. Package the atmosphere, ship it up to god. This one's defective. Could you send us one of those new seventy five degree summers?
It could work, he muses as he watches the ceiling through a swimming haze. Even the paint looks bedraggled, sallow and worn. The summer hasn't been kind to it, either.
Patrick thinks about his knee—the left one—the one he busted at that job site all those years ago. The workman's comp had seemed like a good deal at the time, but then the doctors had hemmed and hawed and said in very unconvinced tones how sure they were that he was going to make a complete recovery. That he was going to regain at least some of his mobility.
Betrayal is an Earnest Promise
There is a cane resting against a stand by the bed. That is all.
Something bumps against him, and Patrick rolls his heavy head to the side. Marta is stirring like a deep sea leviathan, undulating in her sleep. Her hips bump against his, then retreat. Subconsciously, maybe, she recognizes the danger. In this heat, two bodies together might catch fire. And then of course so would the bed and they'd have to get a new bed and that would be a waste. So, she pulls back and Patrick doesn't regret it almost.
Reality: Write Your Own
He looks down at his face, or at least he goes cross-eyed trying hard enough to that it doesn't make a difference. By all rights, he's made an effort, and so he's justified in deciding that it worked. What he decides he's seen is this: a young man, smooth scalp glowing in the deflected hallow from the ceiling , face as round and as bright as an egg. He doesn't care that this might be classically ugly. This is what he wants from his face, and he's tried hard to see it so this is the way it ought to be.
Call Me Colorado
Here's what Patrick's face actually looks like: there are wrinkles.
Great big ones, too. Creases deep as valleys that careless hikers can fall into and spend whole days fighting from which to emerge. Clefts of skin and aged skin sticking loosely together with a plaster that might just be salt water.
You could run a plow through the furrows in his forehead, if you particularly wanted to harvest years. They don't taste like much, though, and they get quite bitter if you let them ferment.
Patrick dreams about younger women, their arms like languid icicles reaching through the sweltering haze. He imagines bodies of water and shadow pressed against his. Marta wouldn't particularly mind, even if she knew, but guilt is a reflex. It sits low-slung and miserable in the pit of his throat and waits for an excuse to fling his stomach up through his face.
But there is no need for guilt here. Not yet. It's dark and it's warm and all he really wants are eyelashes like fans that whir with motor calmness and drive the Fahrenheit off his chest.
The Dimensions of Comfort
Great dollops of sweat roll through the night. He catches them, herds them down the contours of his stomach.
They are wide, deep contours indeed. They curve and swell and curve forever. A sedentary life is both a stranger to muscle and truth. He feels well padded with fictions.
His feet know the path between the bedroom and the couch. They wear it proud as game trails, or maybe merit badges on their callous coats, but the truth is that they don't remember much else. There were years past when they knew kitchen tile, the padded interiors of cars, smoke and rocks and the gentle rush of a receding tide, drawing sanctity away like the mouth of a preacher when he breathes in. Once upon a time his feet were socialites, but their sensory chatter has long since dwindled to a hum.
The Statues You Know
Marta is unchanged. She's like a rock. Patrick wonders how this could be the case, but then he remembers that she's a woman, and that These Things Happen. You don't argue with granite.
If he wanted to be picky, he decides, he could fetch a picture. Go and pull it headlong off a shelf and hold it side by side with her face and count the places where the little colored frame and the breathing copy diverge. He could...and maybe it might prove him wrong. She could be as different as he is from the Patrick that used to run and catch footballs and drive nails through sweating ply in the burning heart of July afternoons. She could have aged, too.
Just thinking about it makes him breathe a little more reluctantly, as if they're living off of the same stash of breaths.
Well, they are married after all.
Once upon a time they had a wedding. It was defined by a swoosh of dresses and little else. The taste of cake is a concept so worn through that it's impossible to picture when you need to. Memory is just re-creation, anyways. Patrick has read this somewhere.
Enter the Magician
He re-creates, now. He re-creates at will.
There were afternoons he spent with his friends after the accident. Beer cans crunching mixed with a chorus of clattering meds. There were days he took off from work, just to be with Marta. There were nights he drove, carving a tunnel through the autumn fog, to see her in the hospital with little Lucas—long before he grew up.
Almost indisputably these are fiction, but what isn't?
The odor, low and fallow—smoke from another room—isn't. It climbs under the door and tickles its way through the smell of sweat that clots the air around him.
Left the stove on again, he expects. It's become something of a habit, ever since he nearly fell down the stairs. Pop something in, let it cook, and then walk away and forget it because the alternative is realizing that it's there and knowing you have to walk down those steps to get it, even if you're not hungry and more and the thought of plummeting has cleaned all enthusiasm from your gut.
Quietly, under his breath, he curses.
The Good Soldier
He ought to go and get it. He knows this. Dereliction of duty does not live in his conscience.
Or he could wake Marta, and through the sleepy mumble they could hash out a plan wherein she agrees to be grumpy and half-conscious, but turns off the stove anyways.
Patrick looks up at the ceiling. Water has been evaporating off his body and pooling there in an aqueous rectangle. It is sleek as any mirror, and he reflects on the bag of old and slouch that it contains.
He doesn't want to do anything for the sake of this creature. It is so unbeautiful; so empty of the things he's learned all his life to praise.
Maybe the oven will catch fire. Maybe it won't.
The heated air hammers on his chest and he wonders how much worse that could be.