She was still wearing her work clothes — that was the first thing he
noticed when she opened the front door. The rumpled, red turtleneck, she
must have had that for three, four, five years, the way the elastic in
the neckline sagged; he remembered her complaining about needing new
clothes to wear to Jonah’s Christmas recital or to a Christmas party at
her sister’s or something — it had to have been Christmas, that was
when she always lost her common sense with money, when she managed to
drag him into spending it like there was a bottomless pit of it hidden
off somewhere. It almost tickled him now, to see it nearly threadbare and part
of a pisspoor collection of office-friendly–
“Oh,” she said, rapping her knuckles on the door frame. “Oh, oh, shit. I forgot you were coming over tonight. Just finished picking up dinner. Fried chicken – I got two buckets if you’re hungry.”
He blinked. He had only now considered that this upcoming Christmas was only a few months away, and how would she manage to scrape together presents for the kids when–
“Are you going to come in?” she asked, with a slight tinge of annoyance that managed to bring him back to his senses.
“We need to talk about the house utilities,” he said, still hovering on
the stoop. “I called PECO today about the gas.”
“Oh, shit, I know–”
“And they said it was still, still under my–”
“I know, I know,” she said, turning her back to him and heading inside, waving her hand in a way that made him feel like he would faint from the rage that suddenly flushed his face. “I’ve just been busy.”
And then there was red.
“You know how much I’ve asked you to just switch the utilities to your name,” he said, following her without even bothering to shut the door behind him. “This one thing.”
“I know,” she said.
“This one god damned thin–”
“I know,” she repeated, putting her hand on the staircase railing.
“I am dying and you know it and you still can’t, won’t, whatever the fuck do this one fucking thing–”
“I know,” she said, half stammering, half shouting–
“And when the kids are asking why it’s fucking cold in the house, you can’t start saying it’s because I’m a cheapskate, and it will be your own fucking fault for once.”
“Don’t you start,” she screamed to the carpet. “When you were the one that hid this from all of us in the first place.”
And in a second, he felt his hand on her shoulder, felt her spin around with her throat throbbing and panting like bellows, her eyes glassy; he saw small, dark shadows at the top of the stairs looking down at him, murmuring; he heard the blood drumming in his ears. And he wondered that if he was actually dying, maybe now, when he thought he at least had a few more weeks. Which was still a lot of time, he thought, to tie up odds and ends and–
And then he realized she was looking up at him, terrified – of what? And his hand was still on her, and he wondered if he was forcing the two of them back into this pattern as a last semblance of normality. A last suggestion that everything was as it always was. Would be.
And the drumming stopped and the walls were just the same old eggshell white they had painted them and the leering shapes at the top of the stairs broke out into small whispers before padding back into their rooms.
And he looked back down at her, at her slumped shoulders, her clenched fists, the slow and steady crescendo of her sobs. She always had so much more finesse to her anger. She never screamed, said awful things, not without him around.
“I don’t know what time you’re on,” she said, closing her eyes and leaning against the wall. “Any of us, for that matter. And it’s just a name.”
Just a name. Somewhere, in the heady mixture cooling anger and mounting shame, he felt a mite insulted.
“I’m sorry,” she choked out. “It’s my fault.”
But there was no desire to fling anything back in her face.
Sorry for the absence. I had a long, weird, and rather crappy past several months, to keep it short and simple. I’m finally hitting that point where I’m starting to feel okay again, and where I need to do something other than share caustic Facebook statuses.