When he got home, she wasn’t there yet. Because this never happened, he assumed she’d gotten an angry phone call from Chelsea, who would have told her everything in such a way that he would be the stereotypically chauvinistic sex fiend. He would be unable to wait to explain himself or defend himself against her accusations and threats. So, he called her.
That’s when he heard her phone vibrating on the counter, right next to a half-emptied glass of room-temperature orange juice that had been left there for, he guessed, about nine hours and thirty-some-odd minutes.
He checked the phone, and saw that no one had called her all day except for him.
Draining the glass, he proceeded to corral the rest of the unwashed breakfast dishes to the sink. He’d only turned on the tap when he heard the door open and the jingling of her keys banging on the side of her thigh.
“You’re home early,” she said, before he could greet her.
“You’re home late—well, later.”
“I’m taking cues from you.”
She pushed past him to the refrigerator with her lunch bag and purse still hanging from her arm. Scanning the contents of the refrigerator, she reminded him that they were out of milk and shut the door.
“Were you in a hurry this morning?”
She wasn’t paying attention, so he repeated the question, this time with more concerned, projecting so she could hear him over the clanking of the dishes he was stacking.
Again, he repeated the question.
“Oh, no. I mean, I guess. I didn’t sleep much, so I was slow starting.”
“Thanks for doing the dishes, by the way. I have no desire to do anything tonight. I’m thinking of skipping out on the art center, too.”
“I’m not quitting. I just need to regroup. I can’t start out running on low. I don’t know. I am exhausted.”
He paused, and let go of his question about her suddenly renewed interest in ballet, not because he knew the answer but because he thought of another question.
“Hey, speaking of dishes, have you seen my chip bowl? I couldn’t find it the other day.”
“It was broken.”
“What do you mean, ‘It was broken’? You mean you broke it.”
He was surprised to be accusing her of anything right now, especially when it concerned the breaking of the ugliest dish they owned. Neither of them had ever liked it when they’d gotten it for a wedding present from his mother. It was a kitschy periwinkle blue, octagonal porcelain bowl inconsistently covered with a grainy glaze, bought at a craft fair. Because it was a gift from his mom, however, they couldn’t re-gift it or return it. So, when she wasn’t visiting, it was designated as his TV food bowl. When she was staying with them, it would sit in its glory seat in the middle of the living room coffee table, full of multicolored glass-beaded balls.
Now, it “was broken,” and the fault of how it had been broken was left unassigned.
She hadn’t said anything.
“I’m sure it was an accident. I’m not mad or anything. I just thought it was odd that you said it like that.”
“Well, it was broken, and it still is broken.”
“What is this about? There’s no need to be weird about it.”
“I’m not. I do find it really funny that you expect me to admit breaking some damn little bowl to you when I sure as hell think there are bigger things to be confessed here.”
“God. You’re going to do this now, aren’t you?”
“Me? Do ‘this’ now? You’ve got to be kidding me. You are such a—you know what?”
Gathering her steel, she paused.
“You know what? I’m not going to do ‘this’—ever. You are so messed up, you have no idea what you’re doing.”
She headed to the door.
“I’m not doing anything anymore. I told her it was over. And it’s over.”
“You admit it!”
“Of course I do. It’s not like I’m proud of it or like it’s easy or that I think it’s okay. I don’t, but I messed up, okay?”
She turned her back to him to pick up the purse she’d only just hung up a few minutes before, and she was already digging for her keys.
“Stop. Just wait. Just calm down.”
She was weakly raging; a single cord, fraying and cracking with the first hungry sparks of flame. He’d never seen this before, her so delicately hard—all brittle strength.
“I’m leaving. I need to get out of here.”
“Don’t act like this is news to you. You knew and have known. We should have talked about it, but we didn’t and now we can. Don’t leave now. It’s over. We can work it all out.”
She wasn’t going to wait, and when she grabbed the door handle, beginning to leave, he asked her to “please wait.”
Before she opened the door any wider, he caught her by the wrist.
The pull wasn’t that hard—or at least not very hard. What he expected was something like a see-saw struggle. He would tug gently, just enough to arrest her in his grasp so she could pause long enough for him to explain, long enough for her to wait before they regretted anything else. She might shove him with her elbow, but she’d stop because then they would talk and cry together. They would agree to begin again with her demurely agreeing that it was best and that they had something worth fighting for, and he resolutely promising to tell her everything from now on.
What he didn’t expect was the one quick, sudden snap and immediate protrusion of something sharp slicing his skin when he closed his fingers around her wrist and yanked.
She stood in the doorway with her purse still hanging from her good wrist while the other’s limp hinge flopped downward.
He stepped backward, slowly. He examined his cut, a wound he deduced could have only been inflicted by what he thought was her bone.
“I’m sorry,” he stammered softly, turning the words over and over until they found their own crazed cadence. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. So sorry.”
When he quit blubbering, she said only, “I know.”
He didn’t seem to understand her, so, she said it again: I know. She calmly walked to the kitchen to get them each a tea towel, holding her injured arm close to her waist. She returned to find him with his shirt off, wrapped around his hand, and she joined him. When he saw her wrist and repeated that he “didn’t mean to,” she fashioned a bandage for herself and then one for him, using only one hand. Finally, he stopped talking again, taking a break to suck the pain through air pulled through his teeth as she secured the bandage around his hand. They didn’t fight. Instead, they sat there, pressing their makeshift tourniquets as he continued to talk. Once it was finished, she looked at him, her face growing wan from shock and loss of blood.
After she had sat down, she realized she couldn’t get up again.
“We need to go to the hospital,” she said. “Can you get the phone? I can’t get up.”
Mark stood up but didn’t get the phone right away. He inched toward it slowly, reaching his unscathed hand toward it, still immobilized by his unbelief. Compound fractures don’t just happen, and they certainly don’t happen like that. When he got the phone, he knelt down next to her and pressed the three numbers on the tiny keypad to call an emergency squad because he knew he couldn’t drive her with his hand cut like it was. He still couldn’t figure out how it had happened—to him or to her—but it had and the accident had rendered him incapable of doing anything to help her, save for making a call for help.
He rested his head on her knee, wedging himself between her legs and the bottom of the couch for support and he sent the call. Waiting for the operator to pick up, he looked at his wife, mouthing, “I am so sorry.”