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Fiction issue: Jane

May 1, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST

The door between us, I imagined her curled up into a ball on our bed, her head in her hands. She must have cried herself out because I didn’t hear any sobs, just the soft sound of her breathing.

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She’d been crying for hours, and try as I might, it was impossible to calm her down. I’d moved to hit her, hoping it would halt the tears. It didn’t. Looking back, with her behind the door and me glued to the hallway floor, that was pretty damn obvious.

But I’ve never been the best in situations like that. I know that’s no real excuse, but that’s all I’ve got. The day had started out alright, and there’d been worse mornings. Recently, at least.

I’d been switching positions — cross-legged, knees up, legs straight out — for the past hour, trying to figure out what the hell I should do. Should I go in there? Lay down next to her? Put myself at her mercy? Part of me was scared she’d locked the door, which left me to sleep on the couch. Or maybe, eventually, I’d fall asleep on the floor … and when she’d wake up in the morning, she’d open the door and see where I’d slept and feel awful and start to apologize, to start to see things my way, maybe even make me breakfast … but the rational part of me realized that wasn’t going to happen.

That was just me hoping everything would fix itself.

I’ve made mistakes, but lately my mistakes seemed to have hurt her more and more. Like earlier tonight, when I’d right-hooked the dead space next to her head. I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I did. I kept asking myself, “What the hell were you thinking?”

My dad would say I wasn’t. Thinking, yeah. I can’t argue with him on that one. But I hadn’t been thinking all day.

“You’re going to be there, right?” she’d asked me that morning. I’d nodded. There’d been a time when she wouldn’t even have to ask. She would just know, know that I would be there. For friends’ birthdays, trips to the grocery store, doctor’s visits.

Doctor’s visits. She’d been excited, and, ultimately, I wasn’t. When she broke the news, I said, “That’s great; that’s wonderful,” and embraced her. But then I thought about what that would mean for our lives, and I didn’t want any part of it. I’d be giving up too much. There’s no way she can have it, I resolved.

I was being selfish. Should be “we” not “she.” It takes two, and all that crap you hear.

Was that movement? I could hear the springs in the bed creaking, but was she just repositioning in her sleep or getting up? I feared the latter. What would I say if she came out and confronted me? What could I say?

Then, I worried she wouldn’t come out, that she would stay in bed all night, and I would stay out in this hallway all night staring at the door and … and nothing would get resolved. Her not wanting to see me, that was terrifying. I had to do something — I couldn’t just let the night end with us where we were. I pushed my back against the wall to stand up, but the door opened.

Her white T-shirt was wrinkled. Her cheeks were stained. Her hair was frayed. It hung over her face like a shield. When she saw me, she stopped in the doorway, her hand resting on the knob.

“I thought you’d be gone,” she said.

I slumped against the wall.

“No,” I said. “I was just about to come in and see you.”

She didn’t look angry. She stepped into the hallway.

“You know,” I added, “to apologize.”

She took the few steps over to the wall and slid to the floor beside me. She looked tired, like, why-am-I-dealing-with-this-right-now tired. Resigned, that’s the word. She looked resigned.

“I don’t need an apology,” she said.

“Why not? I need to apologize — I want to apologize. Not showing up to support you today, at the doctor, and what I did in there? Almost hitting you? That’s bullshit. I know that. I shouldn’t have done it.”

My elbows were propped up on my knees now. She took my left arm in her right. She put her head on my shoulder and sighed.

“It’s not good enough anymore for you to know that after the fact.”

The fight we’d had, all the crying; it must have worn her out, I thought, because her voice was flat.
I looked down at the top of her head. I wanted to rest my head on hers, put my hand in hers, brush some of that unruly brown hair out of her face. But this moment wasn’t one of those moments.

“What do you mean?”

She pulled away from me but kept our arms entwined. She leveled her eyes with mine.

“We’re not good anymore,” she said, “and we haven’t been good for a while now.”

I couldn’t argue, but if she’d only let me take some stuff back, she’d see it could get better. I didn’t know how to articulate that, though, so we sat in silence. The minutes inched by.

“What are we going to do?” I finally asked.

I thought back to my feelings when I heard the springs creak. I wish she had just been repositioning herself.

She shrugged.

“You can move out in the morning.”

She unwrapped her arm from mine as if I were fragile. On the balls of her feet, she inched back into the bedroom. I heard a soft thud as the door closed and, a moment later, the click of the lock.

The sobs came then. Large and loud.

(Sky Chadde is VoxTalk editor.)

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