he stares in the mirror. his face is fleshy, somehow misshapen, as if viewed through a wide angle lens.
he swallows a handful of aspirin and starts the shower. hot water only.
she was up before him. her side of the bed was made. her clothes from last night were folded and draped over the back of her chair. his clothes lay rumpled on the floor, a trail of breadcrumbs from the door to his pillow. one of his shoes is missing. he is still wearing one of his socks when he steps into the steaming shower.
when he walks into the kitchen a while later, she is polishing the silver. breakfast made, eaten and cleaned. half a pot of coffee waiting for him. he pours himself a cup, a little too nonchalant, missing the cup for a moment. he mops the coffee with a paper towel, adds a large amount of milk and sugar and makes his way over to the kitchen table.
she doesn’t look up, straining to remove a small blemish from the crotch of the fork’s tines.
it always makes him uncomfortable when she polishes the silver. it only happens on the morning after a bad night. like she is working to increase their net worth before she files the divorce papers.
he can hear the kids somewhere up stairs, starting to fight, changing their minds, and then shrieking with delight. it’s never quite so easy downstairs.
he could say he was sorry. but that’s like putting your chin out for the blow.
he could be honest. he could confess, well, what could he confess? he doesn’t remember much past dinner. they had been discussing british novelists and he made a passionate case for william trevor. someone had discounted him as ‘more of a short story writer’ and then, well, the details are lost. the night has become a mismatched set of disjointed scenes, spinning one around the other. a drunken kaleidoscope.
he doesn’t have a lot of options. this scene has been played out so many times. it never ends well. if only he could think of a means of retreat without actually having to engage. he’s just no match for her. especially not with a pounding headache, sour mouth, a growing nausea, while she is sharp. sharper than normal after inhaling an hour’s worth of silver polish.
the dog trots in and heads toward him, sniffs his knee, yawns, and lays down at his feet.
he lifts his coffee cup to his mouth and his wife suddenly stops polishing and glares at him. he freezes, coffee in his mouth, hot coffee. should he continue and swallow? should he spit the coffee back in the cup? her look softens for just a moment before she goes back to her silver.
he swallows, places the cup back on the table. now he knows it’s bad. in that one moment she had betrayed herself. she’s definitely wounded.
he must have said something terrible.
he takes a deep breath, let’s it out slowly. he stands and walks over to the desk that sits in the corner of the room. he hunches over, grabs a pen, starts writing.
she looks up to see him at the table. for a moment her face looks hopeful.
he hasn’t written in months. since he lost his job at the junior college. he hasn’t picked up a book or written a line. nothing. it’s been killing him. it’s been killing them both. and the pitiful drunken scenes capping every evening they go out.
but he is writing, and after a while, he tears off the piece of paper and walks over to his wife, and with an earnest look he hands it to her.
she looks down at it.
it’s a check.
three hundred and fifty dollars.
“it’s all we can afford” he says.
she looks at him. at the check.
he’s paying her to let him walk out of the room.
there is a long silence. the basketball circling the rim on a free throw that could tie the game.
finally she folds the check in half.
and puts it in her pocket.
and picking up the silver salt shaker, she goes back to work. in silence.
he watches her. fascinated.
a few moments later, he heads back to the counter, pours himself another cup of coffee, milk, sugar.
the dog follows him downstairs.