The rain beats against the window with its persistant tapping. Out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of lightning, and I tilt my head and listen for the thunder. It follows seconds later.
My fingers drum restlessly against the arm the chair, my knee bouncing in tune. The flairs of lightning cast odd distorting shadows across the room, and the thunder that groans after it rattles deep inside my chest.
My eyes flick to the clock on the wall. I have been waiting for twenty-three minutes now. I watch as the second hand moves around the clock's face, making my waiting time twenty-four, then twenty-five, and twenty-six.
But time is not an issue. I have waited for much longer than this and have kept my patience well before. I am not the type of person that fears the loss of minutes, as if they are precious. No, in fact, I prefer the soft reflective moments that waiting provides. I do not get many opportunities to just sit quietly and be still. Unless it is required for me to do so.
My fingers jerk up and down, flinging back up quickly against the leather arm-rest. I am not impatient, though my hands are twitching with impatience. I simply need something to do with myself while I wait. So my eyes stare at the clock, my ears absorb the thunder, and my fingers bounce on the arm-rest.
Minutes turn to hours and hours to days. I watch the clock as the days turn to weeks and the hands begin to slow.
The rain ceased a long while ago and I no longer remember what it sounds like when the wind blows it into the window.
Her car snaps gravel beneath its tires as it rolls up the driveway. Abruptly my fingers grow still and my eyes swivel from the clock to the front door, the brass knob gleaming with the new light of dawn that filters in with shades of pink from the window.
My face tightens but I try to keep myself calm as I hear her open then shut the car door. I try to swallow the dryness on my tongue but it sticks to the roof of my mouth. My ears perk up at the familiar tune of her keychain, rustling with a metalic song as she searches for the house key.
Feeling like a statue brought to life, I brace myelf on the arms of the chair and force myself to rise. My legs waver momentarily but still hold. I face the door as if waiting for a jailer to bring me my meal. I set my jaw as the key slides in the lock, slowly, trying desperately to be silent.
She comes in the door and turns around quickly to shut it, taking care to not let it slam or creak on its hinges. She exhales softly, relieved, and turns towards me. She gasps.
"Where have you been?" I ask, a foreign darkness hanging in my tone.
She lowers her hand from her chest as her heart slows back to normal.
"I told you, I went out to dinner with my friends." She says, lifting her chin, her eyes narrowing as if daring me to question her.
I point to the clock without looking at it. "Do you see what time it is?"
"I didn't realize I had a curfew, dad."
"You saw Jesse, didn't you?" I demand, taking a step towards her.
"What? No! Why the hell would I want to see him?" She scowls, yet I see the glint of fear in her eyes.
"You weren't wearing lipstick when you left," I remind her coldly, the details bursting before me as I step even closer.
"Oh, please," she huffs. "Like you could remember that."
She shoves the hair from her eyes, and I notice the ring is gone from her finger.
She realizes her mistake and quickly slings her purse onto her shoulder, her fingers curling around the leather strap. "Well, I'm going to bed now." She tries to move past me, but I catch her by the wrist and when she turns to hit me, I catch her other wrist.
She struggles for a moment before being still, her eyes hard as I restrain her. I raise her left hand to my face and look closely for her wedding ring, but, indeed, it's not there. I let her go suddenly and raise the back of my hand.
She winces as if I am going to strike her, but then she sees my golden ring, that I am merely showing it to her, and her eyes soften. I let her go without a word, and she walks by me slowly before running away to our bedroom, locking the door behind her.
I go back to the chair and sit down, weariness washing over me upon waves of jealously. I hang my head and fall alseep to the low ticking of the clock as it takes away the time.
Some time in the late morning I awaken to the guttural wails of a woman heaving. I sit blinking as my eyes adjust to the oddity of the sudden brightness before the sound hits me.
I rise once more and walk down the hallway to the bedroom. I pause before the door and try the handle. It's unlocked, so I enter. I follow the gags and sputters to the master bathroom and see her hunched over the toilet, spitting out thick brown slime.
I stand in the doorway, watching her objectively, a dullness fogging my mind. She retches up air and spits once more, then, shuddering, senses my presence. She turns her head wearily towards me, the dark rings under her eyes exaggerated by the dim bathroom light.
Her hands drop to the floor and her knuckles curl in the bath mat. She breathes slowly through her mouth, a dry, desperate sound. Her eyes raise to mine with bitterness and anger, awaiting my inevitable judgement. But, I say nothing.
I move towards her and ease down on my knees in front of her. I brush the hair from her sticky lips and push it gently behind her ears.
Her eyes falter, growing glossy with tears. She stares down at her shaking hands, buried in the mat.
"Are you all right?" I ask, touching her chin with my thumb, wiping away the gritty moisture.
"Fine." She turns away from me, prefering to stare at the rim of the toilet.
I rise to my feet.
"I'm not going to work today," I tell her decidedly.
She turns to me, a flash of confusion and anger across her face. "Why not? Just because I'm sitting here barfing, you're going to just stay home from work and bum around the apartment like you won't get written up for-" She breaks off, seeing the look in my eyes.
I gaze at her silently for a moment before leaving her alone. I go to the kitchen and turn on the faucet, letting the water flow out until it became ice-cold. I fill up a glass and bring it to the bathroom, not surprised to see her standing in front of the mirror. She looks at me oddly as I hand her the water, my hand lingering on the glass until she tugged at it for me to let go.
I go back to the kitchen. A few minutes later I hear the shower running. I consider making breakfast, but my stomach has turned to cotton and swelled with unease. I wash my hands in the sink, the cold water stinging my skin. I stare at my ring as the soap foams up and over it, bringing back a luster that had faded when my anger had emerged.
Lost in thought, I watch the water chase the bubbles down the drain, hardly blinking. Something brings me back, and I abruptly turn off the water and turn away, wiping my hands on my pants as I listen for the shower. It is still running. I walk back to the bedroom and enter, noticing the bathroom door is shut. I tap the door twice with my fingernail, and her voice carries itself to me.
"I'm in the shower," she calls.
"I know," I reply.
After a hesitant silence, she responds: "Come in."
The bathroom is full of warm steam. A haze covers the mirror and I am a blur in its reflection as I pass by it to the shower. The glass door of the shower stall is hazy as well. I see her through the mist as a soft pink silohouette.
I stand gazing at her, then place my index finger on the glass. I draw a line from her lips to her stomach. She turns and sees me standing there, her eyes widening with surprise. She turns off the water, which continues to drip in protest.
"Do you want something?" She asks, her voice tight.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better." She turns the water back on, shying away from the spray as it starts out cold.
"Want some breakfast?"
"Sure," she says too loudly, her back to me as she pumps shampoo into her hands.
"I can ma-"
"Take me out for pancakes," she interupts.
I bow to her in my mind, then fade from the room like a shadow.
In the bedroom, I strip down to nothing and freshen myself up with clean underwear and extra deodorant. I stand at the vanity mirror and brush my hair with her comb, secretly admiring the way it make my hair curl at the ends. I pick out my hairs from the teeth when I finish. I pull on some nice-looking jeans and a green polo shirt. Then I stomp into my faded black boots. No socks. They just made my feet sweat.
As I straighten up, I notice her cell phone sitting on the bed, near her pillow. Temptation arises within me. I ask myself, am I such a jealous creature that I need to raid her phone's memory to find out if she was lying to me or not? Am I that desperate? Am I that untrusting? Suspision still snags at me. My fingers twitch. It would only take thirty seconds to find out. My eyes flick to the bathroom. The shower still runs. What if she caught me? What would she think of me? What would I do if she really had been with Jesse?
My feet carry me to the bed, softly against the carpet, my boots thudding mutely. My fingers reach, and take hold of the phone. My heart quickens, my palms sweat. I unlock her phone and thumb through her recent calls. Then I hear the shower cut off, followed by the creak of the shower door as she steps out. The calls seem clean. Dare I continue? I flick to her text messages, knowing it will be a few moments before she dries off.
Melody: 8:32pm. "Hey wher r u?"
Reply: 8:40pm. "Sry lots of traffic b ther soon"
Melody: 8:41pm. "K"
Reply: 10:13pm. "Wherd u go?"
Melody: 10:15pm. "Bathrm"
Reply: 10:16pm. "Lol"
Melody: 10:18pm. "Shut up"
Jenny: 12:22am. "Hey had fun 2nite gud seeing u"
Jenny: 12:24am. "We shud go to lunch soon"
Reply: 12:27am. "Sure we'll see"
Jenny: 12:30am. "Yeah clear ur calendr. And tell ur husband to let u off the leash more often"
Reply: 12:32am. "Haha"
Jesse: 12:46am. "You on your way?"
"What are you doing?"
I drop the phone on the bed and turn around. She had come into the bedroom for her comb. Damn it.
"Just getting ready," I reply.
She raises her towel and dries her hair, exposing herself to me. My mouth turns dry and wet at the same time. I know she saw me. She waits for me to confess. Or lie.
"I'm sorry," I say at last. I pick up her phone and take it to her, averting my gaze from her moist, warm flesh. "I didn't see what you said to Jesse." Shame pulls at my heart strings. What if she told him hell no, I don't ever want to see you again? What if she told him, yeah baby, I'll get the wine, you light the candles? I grit my teeth as she takes the phone from my hand.
She strikes me with the back of her hand. My cheek bursts with pain as white and black flash before my eyes. I say nothing, hanging my head.
"Stay out of my shit unless you want me to expose every little lie you've ever told me," she hisses darkly, her breath hot and close on my lips.
My heart flutters, I breathe heavily through my nose, I stand like a statue. After a moment, she goes into the bathroom after snatching her comb from the vanity, slamming the door.
"Damn it all," I swear, leaving the bedroom. I'll never find out now, I realize. She'll have deleted her texts by now. There's no way she'll ever speak to me again.
I sit down in the chair by the door. I pull my phone out of my pocket and stare at it. I've never cheated on her, I tell myself. Never. And I never will. What am I doing wrong? Why would she decide to sleep around with other men? Am I not good enough? Have I not provided her with everything she's ever asked for? My phone buzzes in my hand. It's my supervisor. No doubt asking me if I'm okay, really just wanting to know why I'm late for work.
"I'm not coming in today," I say outloud. The phone continues to buzz. Soon he gives up and my phone tells me I have a missed call. He leaves me a message but I don't bother to listen to it.
Why did I even bother staying home? To spy on her? To discover her lies? To comfort her while her stomach was upset? To spend a worry-free day with the woman I married? All of it? None of it? I don't know.
The clock on the walls ticks with delicate accuracy.
A dog barks outside, viciously. Then the bark begins to fade away. I glance out the window. A dog chasing a squirrel down the middle of the street. One of them is going to get hit by a car, I think morbidly, the thought bringing a hint of a smile to the corners of my lips.
Down the hall her footsteps draw near. I push myself from the chair and turn towards her. She wears a purple dress, as silken and floaty as a cloud. Black sandles on her feet, thick golden hoops hanging from her ears. Her black handbag tucked under her arm. She pauses at the edge of the carpet.
"Ready?" She asks.
"If you are," I answer.
She moves past me towards the door, flinging it open and going outside.
We take my car. I drive her to a pancake house and we get a table for two. We sit in a booth by a window, across from each other. Our waiter is a young, blemished boy with small teeth. I get orange juice and coffee and she gets just apple juice. Once he walks away, I make a joke at his expense and she laughs. I smile, my heart lifting. She's not angry with me, I think.
Pancakes, bacon, eggs, grits. We eat and I even dare to feed her a spoonful of my grits, before I have taken a bite. She accepts it and I lick the spoon clean, smiles on our lips. She wipes syrup from her face with a napkin and my heart soars even more. Her ring is on her finger. The little diamond sparkles in the yellow fluorescent bulb above our table.
After our meal is consumed and the waiter takes away our soiled plates and napkins, I sip on my coffee and she sips on a glass of water. We stare at each other.
I ask, "Do you want to go anywhere else?"
"Like where?" She queries.
I shrug. "We could see a movie."
"Nothin' good's out," she reminds me.
"Go to the mall?" I offer.
"We don't have any extra money to spend right now, what with you taking random days off of work and what not."
A bitter taste unlike coffee fills my mouth. I ignore her comment, adding another packet of sugar to my mug.
"You'll get diabetes," she warns lightly, sensing my discomfort.
"You'll get old," I reply. I stir my mug and take a drink to hide my wry grin.
She kicks me under the table and I refuse to flinch. I take another drink, wishing I had something stronger.
Tires squeal outside and I turn my head. A mother leads her children, hand-in-hand, across the parking-lot to get some pancakes. Cars stop and wait for them to pass. What if they didn't stop? I wonder. Would anyone even bother to get out of their cars or from their tables to help?
"When do you want to have kids?"
I look at her. Her gaze is far off, staring tables down at a young couple feeding their baby mashed banana pancakes.
"I don't know," I answer slowly. "I guess two years, maybe three."
I watch her. She stares down at her glass of water, poking the ice up and down with her straw.
"Ready to go?" I ask.
"Not yet." She raises her head and watches the baby across the room, smiling a little each time the baby or the parents giggle. Then a waiter drops a plate, and glass and silverware clang all over the floor. The baby begins to cry.
Her face turns sour. She stands up, snatching her purse.
We drive for thirty minutes of absolute silence, hearing nothing but the rumble of the engine, the low hissing of passing cars, and the occassional clicking from the turning signal.
Suddenly she says, "I want ice-cream."
So we go get ice-cream.
I berate myself as she picks out her flavors. Why am I being so nice? Why am I not burning up with rage? Why have I not backed her into a corner and demanded the truth from her lips?
I tilt my head to watch her. She points at the rainbow sprinkles and bounces on her toes excitedly like a child, asking the server for some. I smile. Because I love her.
We go home after that.
She yawns as she enters the apartment. "I think I need a nap," she sighs happily, rubbing her belly.
She turns to me suddenly. I freeze as she walks towards me, uncertain as to what her intentions are. I try to search her eyes but she squints them too much as she smiles. She kisses me on the cheek, where she had hit me before.
Then she slinks down the hall to the bedroom, leaving her phone on the end-table near our room. I stare at her, confused. She winks at me before going inside the bedroom. She locks it.
Why? My mind yells.
Why the hell would she deliberately... Does she want me to know to truth? That... That perhaps she really was just hanging out with her friends all night... But her texts to her friends ended too soon... Where was she if she didn't come straight home? My lips tremble and I hold them down with my teeth.
I could find out, I could find out right now. She obviously wants me to look. My legs drag the rest of me down the hall. I listen at the bedroom door. Silent. Or is it? My heart beats so loud that I can hardly tell where it is coming from. I sigh and snatch her phone from the end-table. I go into the kitchen and sit at the table.
"This is bull-shit," I mutter, glaring down at her phone. I sigh again and unlock it. I find her text messages and find where I left off.
Jesse: 12:46am. "You on your way?"
Reply: 12:48am. "Ya be there n 10"
Jesse: 12:50am. "I look forward to seeing you"
Reply: 1:03am. "Wats the gate code?"
Jesse: 1:04am. "5504"
Reply: 1:05am. "Nvm"
Jesse: 5:26am. "You're welcome"
And that's the end of it.
I stare. What happened? What was she doing over at... At Jesse's for nearly four and a half hours?
The phone lets out a happy little chime, and I flinch. One new message, it tells me.
I open it without hesitation.
Jesse: 3:11pm. "Is he home?"
Anger, piercing, throbbing, twitching. I squeeze the phone, hearing something tiny crack inside. I want to throw her phone. I want to scream. But then, a twisted, sick idea brings up a dark joy.
Quickly my thumbs go to work.
Reply: 3:16pm. "No"
Reply: 3:17pm. "Want to come over?"
I'm shaking. I'm nervous. My heart is racing. I've never been so angry. But I've also never been thus pleased with myself.
I wait impatiently. What will he say? What will I do if he comes over? I blink rapidly, tapping my boot on the tile floor.
Jesse: 3:21pm. "If you want me to"
Reply: 3:23pm. "Oh yes plz. We can continue frm last nite"
I grin, my face feeling slick with sweat. I chew at my lip. I'm so clever, I tell myself.
But suddenly the phone begins to ring. Jesse is calling.
"Shit." I cover the speaker so the noise won't alert my wife. Quickly I reject the call.
I hold my breath, listening. Faintly, I hear the clock in the den, but nothing more. I sigh with relief.
He tries calling back, but I hang up on him once more. I stare at the phone, pratically drooling.
Jesse: 3:31pm. "Are you okay?"
Reply: 3:31pm. "Yes y?"
Jesse: 3:34pm. "Why won't you answer?"
Reply: 3:36pm. "Idk mayb i dont want 2 talk 2 u genius"
I snicker at the kitchen table.
Jesse: 3:38pm. "Answer"
Two seconds later he tries calling again. Yet again, I reject him.
Reply: 3:40pm. "Stop calling me just come ovr"
Jesse: 3:42pm. "Did he hurt you again?"
A coldness creeps into my stomach. I would never hurt her...
Jesse: 3:45pm. "I swear if he hurt you again I'm going to kill him"
Weariness washes over me. The thrill and the fun has gone. My anger has been muted with sorrow. What has she been telling this fool? You go to him for comfort and shelter, as if you have been wounded by me? What have I done? Are you afraid of me?
I leave the phone on the kitchen table and go to the bedroom. I try the handle but it's locked. I get on my hands and knees and peer through the crack under the door. The lights are off. She must be sleeping.
I hear her cell phone chime from the kitchen. I ignore it. I go into the den and sit in my chair. I blink slowly, my body feeling limp.
I was good to her... Wasn't I? I thought it was she who kept me on a leash, but... Jesse... Does Jesse make you happy? If so, why do you come home to me? If you do not love me...
I don't let myself finish the thought. I close my eyes before the tears can fall.
I awake with a start. She screams at me.
"What the hell is this?"
I look up at her and she thrusts her cell phone in my face. I recognize it as texts messages, but it blurrs and she takes it away before my eyes can focus on it.
I sit up slowly, my guts twisting unnaturally. I open my mouth to speak, but she continues.
"I wanted you to see we were together and get jealous, not blackmail me into inviting him over!" Suddenly she threw her phone at me. I duck just in time. It shatters against the wall.
"Why?" I demand. "Why are you with him?"
A streak of pride brings a smile to her lips. She raises her chin, tossing her hair back. "He's good to me," she answers.
"Am I not?" I cry, standing up. "I have given you everything you've ever asked for! I asked to marry you, and you said yes! Why, after all this time, would you decide I'm not good to you?"
Her eyes narrow. "You..." She hesitates, then jabs her finger into my chest. "You never let me do what I want to do! You only buy me things you think I want. You don't ask first. You just assume I'll like something glittery because I'm a female." She scoffs.
"Those are called presents, you stupid-"
"And another thing! You're always so jealous. Every damn time I've gone out with my friends, whether I've gone to see Jesse or not, that's the first thing you assume."
"Well, obviously, I was right!" I snarl.
"Obviously," she echoes. "You know," she adds thoughtfully. "I never even thought about cheating on you until one night I came home late and you asked if I had." Her voice reeks with disgust.
The breath catches in my throat. What? Am I really that... that envious?
"Were you ever happy?" I ask at last, my voice barely above a whisper.
Just then, the doorbell rings.
My ears follow the sound while my head turns towards the door.
She moves by me as smoothly as if on roller blades. She turns the lock and opens the door in one swift motion.
Jesse stands in the doorway. He sees me and frowns. His hand rests on my wife's shoulder, his thumb stroking her collar bone as he leans down to gaze straight in her eyes. "Are you all right?" He asks.
She looks at him with such intensity that I feel as if I'm intruding on something very personal and intimate. But that's my wife.
"Don't you touch her," I warn, stomping up to them.
She nuzzles up to him, placing her hands against his chest. He wraps his arms around her back, staring at me. The triumphant look in his eyes burns me with hatred.
I grab her around the waist and pull her away, then shove Jesse out the door.
She falls dramatically to the carpet, and Jesse stumbles backwards over the step to our door and lands on the walkway. He jumps up quickly and he stares at her, seeing if she's okay, then he stares at me. As if taunting a drunk man at a bar, he raises his fists to his chin and hops on his toes.
Accepting his challenge, I step outside.
She sits cross-legged in the floor, watching us from the doorway.
He takes a jab at my face but I dodge. I pop my thumbs and ball my hands into fists. We circle each other. I act as if I'm going to punch him, but then I raise my boot and kick him in the shin.
He bends over, yelping, clutching his shin while spewing out racist obscenities. I smile.
"Jesse!" She calls.
The smile drops like a dead fish from my lips. I punch down on his head and he sprawls onto the ground. He rolls and groans, cursing my mother and my conception.
I face my wife. She is afraid of me, now. She crawls backwards and stands up against the chair. "Don't come near me," she hisses, a beast trapped in the corner of its cage.
I walk inside. Her eyes widen. She backs up to the wall, her bare feet crunching over the remains of her cell phone. I wince for her.
"My darling," I say softly, stopping in front of her. She presses herself into the wall. I take her hand in mine. I raise her hand to my lips, kissing it gently. "If you love him, then take him."
I avoid her eyes, pulling my wedding ring off with some effort. I press it into the palm of her hand, closing her fingers around it.
I look at her now through watery glass. Her eyes are red. I'm cold, and my heart feels numb. I wanted to wipe away her tears before I left, but none have fallen. I turn away from her and go outside.
I say nothing else, stepping over Jesse and walking towards my car. He babbles something unintelligible after me, and with a feeling of satisfaction I wonder if I gave him a concussion.
I feel like running my key down the side of Jesse's truck, but I resist the urge. I get in my car and buckle up, sitting there for a second before turning on the ignition. In the rearview mirror I see Jesse struggling to stand, my wife watching him from the doorstep. I look away.
I put the car in drive and head on down the driveway. Right before I turn on the street, something thuds into the side of my car. I flinch and hit the brakes, and suddenly the passenger door jerks open. My wife throws herself inside and shuts the door.
She turns to me.
"Where are you going?" She asks.
I mask my joy by casually adjusting the rearview mirror.
"Where ever you want."