quin-stevenson-14889
Photo by Quin Stevenson

The dish had shattered into such tiny fractures that there seemed to be blue dust all over the kitchen floor and spread to the adjacent living room carpet.

On her hands and knees, collecting the little missiles, she thought about how maybe this wasn’t entirely her fault. After all, she’d been working more too. She’d been the one to say they should wait a few more years to have kids. Maybe he saw that as her pulling back. No kids after seven years when you’re perfectly healthy means that you don’t find the prospect of multiplication romantic.

They were two bodies of water unmoving, stagnated into one, isolated lonely gulf. Even though she liked the image, she began to see other options. She asked herself if maybe their marriage were like land — a land formed on a fault, just waiting for the plates to shift enough so that something would finally break.

I am nothing but his fault, she thought.

As she gathered the pieces of broken glass in her cupped hand, some of the shards splintered into her palm, enough to draw pinpricks of blood smaller than tear sheet perforations. She dusted the remaining pieces into the sink and turned on the garbage disposal.

Now the eggs were overdone and a green-gray halo had formed around the chalky yolks.

Tuna salad on rye with tomatoes, though filling, wasn’t too heavy with only an hour of down time before working out.

When he finally came home, he didn’t look tired, and he didn’t make any excuses. Instead, he hung up his navy blazer and immediately asked her if there was any dinner left before he’d removed his Oxfords.

Forty-five minutes had passed since she finished dinner. She had changed into her leotard and tights. Through the pink tights, he could see that she was still strong even though she’d quit dancing after college. Watching her in her outfit made him feel warm and sad. She looked less like a dancer in costume and more like a soldier in uniform. Her hair was combed tightly back and pulled up in a tight little brown braided fist of a knot at the top of her head, hairspray taming any flyaways.

With her hands resting on the back of one of their chairs, she began to count pliés in first position. He remembered that one. It was easy. She’d taught him so long ago.

After only eight counts, she complained of the hazards of desk job leg atrophy.

He saw scattered pieces of mail sorted into piles: bills, magazines, mail-out coupons, and what she deemed fit for the trash. That pile was the biggest and neatest because she was going to deal with it first.

After she’d pushed the rest of the tuna salad to him from across the table, he asked her if she would be heading out, but she cut him off.

“I’m just warming up. I had to get into my gear to remind myself.”

Remind her of what, he thought. Remind her that she isn’t a pound fatter or an inch bigger than she was in college? That she can still dance? Is that what this is about?

“Just getting it all out, and shook up so I can really do something,” she told him. “I don’t know, maybe start volunteering with the company in town. They’ll be getting The Nutcracker pulled together within the next month. Maybe I could see about finding one of those women’s groups that offers therapeutic dance courses or something — cancer patient services or battered women shelters. They do stuff like that around here, I think.”

“I’m sure you could find something, but don’t you think it would be a bit of a time suck?”

She frowned, switching from pliés to tendus.

“I shouldn’t have said it like that. I just meant that it would be a lot, but you should do it if you want — whatever makes you happy.”

“What a philosophy,” she quipped, a half-smile curling up one side of her mouth. “I’m not sure about happy, but I think it’s worth a shot. It’s something to shake up this routine I’ve gotten into.”

At that, she removed her hands from the back of the chair and stretched her arms parallel to the floor, shoulders down and chin perfectly straight, making a lowercase “t” with her body, alternating her form from print to cursive as she pushed each foot through its stretch its respective side. After running through a set of twelve, she turned her palms forward and continued with the next exercise in the set, thereby exposing the minor yet visibly fresh punctures in her skin.

Noticing, Mark asked her, “What the heck is that from?”

“My mug at work broke. I dropped it in the break room today.”

“Must have been a nice mug. They don’t normally break like that.”

“Nah. Nothing special. It just fell really hard. The floor they have in the kitchen is tile, you know. I was afraid I’d cracked it.”

“Don’t they have janitors for that, though? I mean, it has to be some sort of liability issue for you to be picking up glass like that. You should have just called and left a note. That’s what they’re paid for.”

“Probably.”

Her right arm reached up, and the other followed it, one hand leading the other in a delicate scooping motion to the floor so she could stretch, pulling her nose to her shin. He heard a long cracking noise as she pulled her face closer to her ankle.

“God! That sounds terrible. Is that OK? Shouldn’t you kind of ease into that?”

With both her hands grasping the arch of her foot, she continued to hold the stretch.

“It doesn’t hurt. I just have to keep doing it until my body settles into all the old routines. I should have never stopped. It’s just too easy when you’re not performing to give it all up.”

He wanted to argue about the cracking, but in her tights, she did look pretty, and he would rather think about her hosiery. They had that soft seam running up the back that was a powdery cotton peak starting at the opening of her instep all the way up her legs.

There was no use getting excited about it, though—especially now. He wouldn’t have felt right about doing anything anyway. It wasn’t that he expected her to refuse. That, actually, is what deterred him.

So he moved to the living room, bringing with him and opening the stack of bills she’d separated on the table. The cell phone bill was due the twenty-sixth, the same as the energy bill. Rent was always due on the first when his paycheck came in, so no problem there.

He shuffled through the stack and she continued to stretch, using the counter tops and doorways as her barres. Sometime after he turned on the TV for a little background noise, she nearly faded out entirely in as she worked the chores of preparing for the next day. The clatter and rattle of slamming utensil drawers and the Tupperware tumbling from the top shelf added another layer to the television’s low-volume conversations.  When he looked up from the bills, she was pasting pieces of bread together with organic peanut butter and raspberry preserves. Then, she scooped the remainder of their tuna dinner onto lettuce in the Tupperware.

He was surprised to hear the kettle’s humming of a perfect middle C interrupting him an hour later. She was already making the tea she would drink before bed, and it was only 9 o’ clock. That was his signal: he could either join her in bed in the next fifteen minutes, or he could skulk into the room after she’d already fallen asleep. Not being tired, he remained on the sofa watching the news.

He vaguely remembered her offering him tea earlier, but he hated green tea, which was all they — or she, so they — bought. It upset his stomach.

Now that he was paying attention to the screen, he saw that the news banner headlines ticking updates about looming natural disasters, recent major highway accidents, and the flagging economy. The news is never news when the format and content are more or less the same. That is what he thought when he saw the last line, threading across the bottom of the screen, advertising the breaking news of the arrest of a B-list actor overturning tables in Vegas.

When he woke up on the couch, he had been sleeping face-down in the brown corduroy cushion so that the lines had formed on his cheek. He rubbed them, and then his eyes to see the television playing a very early morning recap of the day’s events he’d watched four hours ago.

The bedroom lamp had been left on the lowest setting, and the half-drunk mug of tea rested on a coaster. He didn’t know what overcame him, but he grabbed it, and downed the rest of the cold, sedimentary tea, which caused him to gag. This he did as quietly as possible not to disturb her.

Her long brown hair was still wound in its bun–fist, but her bangs had flopped out and covered her eyes in sleep. In a cocoon of covers, she lay with the white sheets pinned around her. When he broke in, he discovered why she had taken such care to protect herself. To bed she had worn nothing but pink fuzzy socks. He’d never understood why she did this. At first, it was funny. Then, it was cute and sometimes sexy. Tonight, it was painful.

Under the sheets, he did not touch her at all until he was turning away. She faced the nightstand, and he, the window. The process required his backside to brush against hers. That used to be funny, too.

This is the second installment of a short story I wrote in 2012. The first can be found here.