Sandy is late for work.
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Though she has brushed her teeth seven times in the last two days, I can still detect the faint odor of morning sickness on her breath. She tells me that the pad-Thai we ate on Saturday night, undercooked, still hasn’t left her system, and that she’ll need another few days to recover. Wanting to believe her, I tell myself that only her side of the plate we shared had been undercooked. When that doesn’t work, I try flattery, mentally boasting to myself about my iron stomach – the same stomach that can barely keep down a pint. Yesterday, I even tried to convince myself that I had food poisoning, too, and in an attempt to induce vomiting, I jammed two fingers down my throat, even though I felt fine and only gagged.
‘Have you seen the manuscripts that I was working on last night?’ she asks me, mismatched articles of clothing hanging off of her as she shuffles through the apartment, adding papers to the bulging shoulder bag rubbing against her hip. I shrug my shoulders.
‘No,’ I say softly as I slide my hands into my pockets, ‘but I love you.’
She shakes her head – not the right answer, I gather - and resumes her hunt for the dematerialized manuscript.
Sometimes I wonder why important things disappear. My favorite pair of socks disappeared last month. Sandy told me that I needed a new pair anyway, that a hole was forming in the toe of the right sock, and suggested that if I was so heartbroken that I could always buy a pair from the same brand, similar shape and size. I explained that it isn’t the same. It’s strange, but it is the particulars that give me the most satisfaction. The particulars give things order. My big toe needs air, I told her; my heel needs to glide across the carpet, I need to feel dust bunnies tickling my skin between fraying threads; I need my socks to smell a certain way, to feel a certain way. She called me stupid and threw a shoe at me.
‘How about giving me a fucking hand?’ she calls from the other room. I nod my head, even though she’s out of sight and can’t see me. It feels right just the same.
I lower myself onto all fours and begin looking under tables and chairs, pressing the side of my face flat against the carpet’s bristles. They smell like cigarette fumes and Lemon Tide. I close my eyes and breathe in a lung full. Sandy walks in, triumphantly waving a wad of papers.
‘I found it on your – Jesus, what are you doing?’
‘I’m smelling the carpet,’ the only reply I can muster. ‘The smell reminds me of the pair of socks I lost awhile back.’
‘The socks? Those dingy things? Listen, I told you, I’ll buy you a new pair when I have time. Right now, I need you to come lock the door after me. Hey – space case, can you hear me? I don’t have time for this.’
I can hear her, vaguely, but the carpet smells so beautiful that I forget to respond.
‘Christ, forget it. I’m leaving. You’re impossible. Just make sure to lock the door behind me, okay?’ I hear her heels clicking across the tile as she stamps to the front door. I hear the hinges of the screen door creak as she steps out. The sound of it snapping shut makes me flinch.
I walk to door and watch as she eases the car onto the street. Her tires, all-season, spin momentarily on a sheet of black ice, hissing until they find traction and grab hold of some snow. She gets a little ways down the street, stops, backs into a driveway, then drives past our house in the opposite direction. I watch her glide by, spinning up dirty clumps of snow on the sidewalk. I lock the door and rest my forehead on the wall, biting my lower lip.
‘Drive safely,’ I say, as if she were standing in the doorway, smiling and waiting for a kiss goodbye, instead of disappearing into the snowy grey mist down the street.
As I lock the door and turn to walk away, I realize that I forgot to graze my fingertips across the wall – a ritual that I’ve developed to cultivate good luck. The pads of my fingers itch, so I run back and swing open the door.
‘Drive safely!’ I call into winter, cupping my hands around my lips. I yell it twice, just to be safe. I rush back inside, sliding my fingers against the wall. It still feels awkward. Different. I repeat this routine twice more, but each time the wall seems cold and foreign. Today feels different. I always touch the wall when I tell her to drive safely. Always. Today is different…
It feels all wrong. I want to tell her that I love her. I want to say goodbye.
I lock myself in the washroom, my sweat soaked back pressing against the bowl of the toilet. I close my eyes and think about her car skidding off the road and into a pole, wrapping around it like a rubber band. I think about a large semi-truck, diesel powered and driven by a silhouette of indistinguishable gender, overweight and listening to loud country music, slamming into the side of her tiny Ford Focus, which is in month seven of a four year lease, crumpling it like an empty aluminum can. Only it’s not empty – Sandy is inside of it, and she crumples too. I think about the sky falling and crushing her, fusing her body and the metal roof together like an ice cream sandwich. I like ice cream sandwiches, but they seem so ugly when they are made of steel and blood and my wife.
I need Sandy. I need holes with socks in them, socks with holes in them. I need sandwiches made of ice cream. I need Lemon Tide carpets.
Don’t all leave me at once.
She said that I am impossible. With the words ringing in my ear, I let my head hang inches away from the toilet water, my fingers jammed far down my throat. My stomach tightens, but nothing comes.
"Imperious, choleric, irascible, extreme in everything, with a dissolute imagination the like of which has never been seen... there you have me in a nutshell, and kill me again or take me as I am, for I shall not change."
From his Last Will & Testament, Marquis de Sade