by Laura DiMartino

She woke to in that in-between place where dream and mindfulness mingle. A pleasantly obscuring fog, not unlike the cool ground cloud that now drifted from the lake to obscure the trees and shrubs along the shore, robbing all color.

Delores held her eyes closed for minutes longer, listening to the silence. Sibilance. The word came to her unbidden, like poetry, and slowly she realized there were muted sounds all around her after all. A tree rubbed it’s leaves together, a breeze sighed against the window, distant birds argued over the best place to dine. Her own breath synced with the ticking of the wall clock.

Today, she thought. Today perhaps I’ll get up, make the coffee, do some painting, play songs on the radio. At the absurdness of those thoughts, she nearly laughed, then choked up, frozen in her cocoon of blankets.

Perhaps. She drifted off again, dreaming soft, effervescent dreams with no meaning, but comforting, nonetheless.

“Honey, time to get up. We need to talk. I’m grieving too, you know, and frankly, I think this has gone on long enough. Maybe it was a mistake coming here. I thought, well, I thought it would be good to get away, help us…” Jack stopped talking as Delores opened her eyes.

Delores studied her husband for a long minute. His plaid robe hung open from his shoulders, revealing curled hair that formed a V that sunk into his pajama bottoms. His serious brown eyes were shadowed, and it seemed like a patina of grey hung over him.

Jack absentmindedly raked his hand over his stubbled chin.

“Come on. At least help me make breakfast,” he said as he walked away towards the kitchen.

Delores slowly swiveled out of bed, her feet seeking the slippers underneath. Her right hand automatically went to her belly, protectively, and she waited for the phantom flutters in her womb to plague her as they had so often for these past several weeks. This morning, nothing. Nothing but stillness in her body. This, too, saddened her.

In the kitchen, Delores sat herself down at the kitchen table and numbly accepted the steaming cup of hot coffee her husband handed her. The aroma of coffee co-mingled with the scents of junipers, evergreens, wet loamy earth scent, her own and Jack’s personal scents. She realized then, she hadn’t really smelled, tasted, heard, felt, touched or been touched in a very long time. Nor had she wanted to feel anything, sense anything. She resented the encroachment of senses now, and if it hadn’t been for Jack sitting across from her, both hands cupped around his coffee cup, eyes glittering, confronting her, she would have run back to her comforting bed to close her eyes again, shut out the world.

“Look, we have to get back. I’ve nearly used up all my vacation and personal days, and, well, shit’s going on in the company, and I need to be there. Or someone else will. You should get back to work, too.

“And hon? You, we, need to move on. Get back into a routine, be around other people, put this behind us. What happened happened, it sucks, but let’s get on with our lives, yeah?” Jack looked down at his hands, now clasped over his knees.

“No.” The single syllable escaped Delores’ mouth without her thought or permission, but as soon as the word was uttered, Delores felt defeated.

“No?” Jack’s voice rose in incredulity. “We have to get back! I have to work! And I need you to participate in us. You’ve got to stop moping around. Do you think you have a license on sadness? Don’t you think other people have been through this sort of thing and worse? There’s no joy in you anymore, Delores, and to be honest, you’ve just about sucked all the joy out of me!”

“Go, then,” Delores said. “I want to be alone.”

“Alone? For how long?”

“I don’t know.” Delores said, looking out the kitchen window, seeing nothing.

Jack sighed. Then with a suddenness that made Delores jump, Jack slammed his fist down on the table and stalked off towards the guest bedroom he’d been using.

Delores could hear the angry sounds, thuds of Jack throwing clothes into his suitcase. He’s not even bothering to fold anything, she thought. He’ll be sorry for that later. She closed her eyes tight, but this time the kaleidoscope of images was not of sadness, but of happy times shared with Jack. The day they necked out in the cornfields, the first time they cooked pasta sauce together, joking and arguing, finally ending up on the kitchen floor laughing, tickling, licking sauce off of each other’s faces…. the way he gently held her and cried with her at the hospital, insisting they go away for a while.

Delores studied the steam rising from her coffee cup. Outside, the sun was bravely trying to part the fog. She rose up and paddled into the spare bedroom Jack was using at her request. She slipped her arms around his waist, and he froze, shirts clutched in his fists.

“OK” she breathed into his back, leaning into him.

Jack slowly turned around in the circle of Delores’ arms until he faced her. When she lifted her face to his, he bent down and kissed her. Tenderly, tentatively, but when she returned his kiss, he deepened it and lifted her onto the bed. He stretched out beside her, stroking her, still wary. She placed her hands on his shoulders, though, bringing them together again. She was smiling. For the first time in weeks she smiled, and Jack knew then that the world would continue to turn, the seasons would continue to change, and although there might be great sadness in their lives, there was, would be, joy as well.

* * *

Laura DiMartino graduated Columbia College with a degree in English/Creative writing, later got a master’s degree in teaching. After 20 years teaching 5th grade in Joliet, Illinois, she now lives in Florida writing poetry and prose, painting, and protecting endangered animals. She was recently published in New  American Writing #38.

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