Chiaroscuro

 

By Peter Portelli

Sally enters the room. She drops her handbag on the bed and heads straight for the walk-in closet. The soft, warm light of the closet spills into the bedroom. My favourite time of the day is coming next.

Her tight black dress falls to the floor. She bends over to pick it up. She is as beautiful now as she was when I met her thirty years ago.

~

It was a Monday, in a café. They mixed up our coffees. I got some fancy double-barreled brew instead of my boring black with no sugar. We swapped coffees and smiled.

On Tuesday, we exchanged a few hurried words. On Wednesday, we sat together instead of rushing out of the café, coffees in hand. And so it started: the best part of my life. We got married two years later. It was not a big do. We were both struggling financially then. We had each other, and that is all we cared about.

The first years were great. She made me smile every day. She also made me angry, and I pissed her off in turn. She said I flirted with intent, which I, of course, denied. She said my mind was often in a different zone from my body and that I hardly spoke at home—oh, and that I never told her that I loved her.

I broke her when I left. By the time I came back, she had changed. I try to make amends. I tell her every day that I love her. I talk a lot—constantly, in fact. She hardly listens or speaks to me now. She hasn’t forgiven me. But I will keep on trying.

~

She is taking off her underwear. Black panties, red bra. She is very adamant about not wearing matching underwear. For her, it is a thing. I couldn’t be bothered. Underwear was never a turn-on for me. It’s a functional item that must come off quickly when the need arises.

I stare at her nude body. I love how the light hits the back of her spine, rolling down the curvature of her small back. She stands there, contemplating what to wear to stay home, a *chiaroscuro* painting waiting to be executed.

I am about to tell her how beautiful she is when her phone rings. She turns around. Four steps bring her back to the bed. I can tell from her breasts that she is feeling cold. Her hands dive into the bottomless pit of her handbag. The phone rings six more times before she fishes it out.

“Hi, Mom.”

This is going to be a long one. Her mom calls her at the most inconvenient times of the day. It is as if she has CCTV installed in our place and knows when Sally is about to sit down to eat, take a bath or put on a dress. Come to think of it, this is perfect timing for me. With the phone in her hand, Sally cannot get dressed. She wanders around the room, phone in hand, mainly listening to her mom telling her things she would have said yesterday or the day before. Sally is good that way. She listens patiently and feigns surprise when appropriate.

“I have to go now, Mom,” she says. “I am running around naked. Don’t want to catch a cold.”

The goodbyes always take a minute or so. She throws the phone on the bed and returns to the closet. She chooses a pink tracksuit, white socks, and those giant fluffy slippers. It is hardly the sexiest of attire, but still, they look good on her. I tell her that she looks good in everything, even a bin liner.

The first time I told her that, she got offended. She thought I was comparing the evening dress she was wearing to a garbage bag. Eventually, she got it and was pleased, happy, I would say. I could tell by the way she smiled all evening. Later that night, she asked me, “Is it true what you said? That I look good in everything?”

“Yes,” I had replied. “And even better in nothing.”

Sex was very good that night. Very, very good.

I stand up and touch her hair as she walks past me. I love how the hair on the back of her neck and arms reacts. She stops, turns, and lets out a deep breath. I know she wants to reach out to me. Her eyes never lie. I know she wants to forgive me. But it is still too early for her. A tear rolls down her cheek. I kiss her.

“Stop it,” she says as she wipes her tears. She puts on some music. Thin Lizzy’s “Still in Love with You.” One of my favourite tracks. The live version with two killer guitar solos.

I sit back on the bed and watch as she goes into the bathroom. She starts removing her makeup, pausing when the first solo comes on. She smiles. She knows how much I love this part. These small things make me realize that, despite how much I hurt her, despite everything, she still loves me.

She switches off the light in the bathroom and looks straight at me. Without saying a word, she leaves the room and heads downstairs to prepare tea. I stand up and walk around the room. It is dark now, except for a lone ray of moonlight that lands on the photo of us that she placed on the chest of drawers. It’s a black and white photo taken the evening before I left.

The evening before I died. Before I was killed, if I had to be more precise. But for me, that’s just semantics. What is important is that things have never been the same again between us since I passed.

And all I can do now is wait. Wait for her to join me.

*   *   *

Peter Portelli calls the Mediterranean island of Malta his home. He is a career civil servant,having served in the highest offices of the public service in Malta. Writing has always been central to his professional life. For many years, Peter thought about writing fiction but had somehow never got around to it. Until recently. He started out writing short stories and has now also completed the manuscript for his first novel, The Armies of God. When Peter isn’t writing, he can be found spoiling his two British Bulldogs rotten, tending to his roof garden,or playing the guitar with a band with no name. As yet.

One Comment

Leave a Reply