Monday, October 19, 2015

A Slightly Familiar Couple

     The man looked familiar, but Joanne couldn’t quite place his face. He was staring at her expectantly, and she considered faking, “It’s nice to see you.” But then at once it hit her: This man was her husband, they’d been married for thirty-two years. He was smiling. That’s what threw her off, she decided. When did he begin smiling? It wasn’t like him. Maybe he was up to something. Or perhaps he’d banged his head. Should I check for bumps, for blood?
     “Jo,” he said.
     “Yes,” she said.
     “Happy birthday, Sweetheart,” he said.
     Oh. That. Had he bought me a gift? Had I opened it already? I wasn’t paying attention, Jo realized. Lately she didn’t pay as much attention as she used to – not to her husband, and sometimes not to herself either. But he kept smiling, and Joanne felt she had to say something in order to get him to stop. Otherwise, this could simply go on indefinitely.
     “Thank you, Sweetheart,” she said. This didn’t work. His smile only got bigger. He must be in pain, Jo surmised, using muscles in his face that have long lain dormant.
     Joanne thought about leaving the room, escaping, but for the moment couldn’t remember what other rooms stood nearby. What were the choices? Maybe there were none. Perhaps they had just this one room. Nonsense, what home has just a kitchen?
     “You are so beautiful, Jo,” the man said, surprising her again, and making her wonder if perhaps this wasn’t her husband after all. He certainly spoke in a manner very different from that of her husband. But no, this has to be her husband. And something is wrong. He must be injured. Perhaps he’s dying. That must be it. And didn’t she see him taking a pill earlier? Medicine momentarily postponing the inevitable?
     “How long do you have?” she heard herself ask.
     “All night,” the man said. And his smile somehow grew even wider.
     Well, just one night, and then this would be over, and she could get back to whatever it was she’d been doing thirty-two years ago, before she’d gotten into this mess.
      But now this man, her husband, stood up before her and held out his hand. She could see no other option but to place her hand in his, and suddenly she was on her feet too, and he was leading her out of this room, out of the kitchen, and, as she’d guessed, there were other rooms. And the room to which he took her was the bedroom. All at once she recalled what she’d been doing thirty-two years ago, because she found herself doing it again, and this man was not yet her husband. He was her boyfriend, her lover. He was the man who took her in his arms and made the world melt away, and he did that for her now. Everything around her disappeared and she saw clearly what was really important, for it was all that remained.
     “I love you, Jo,” he now said.
     “I love you, Raymond.”
     It was a truth she knew she could hold onto, at least for a little while.

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