By Liz Ross
It starts in her mouth, a slight tingle on the tip of her tongue. That’s odd, she thinks, running tongue over teeth to investigate. She’s at dinner with a group of friends and does her best to quash any flash of curiosity or concern. Blaze’s husband has cheated and they’ve gathered, Blaze’s dearest, to offer support. This is about Blaze, she tells herself, not whatever is going on with you. She nods when the conversation requires, looks down at her hands when Blaze begins to cry. By the time the last bottle of wine has been drained, and the dessert plates cleared, the tingle has become something else, a numbness that has overtaken her tongue and feels poised to slide like a stain down the back of her throat.
Her husband is asleep when she slips beneath the covers beside him. He wheezes, a Lilliputian whistle, the tell she trusts to know he’s asleep and not just pretending. In the morning, he’s gone – buttered bread and showered, a short note left near the coffee maker.
ENJOY YOUR DAY, he writes.
It’s hard to be sure, but it seems the numbness has spread from the back of her throat down one of her arms. She showers, and with her good arm, picks up after him, wet towel on the floor near the sink where he shaves.
By dinnertime the numbness has spread to her back and down both of her legs.
HOME LATE, her husband texts. DON’T WAIT ON DINNER.
She uncorks a bottle of pinot, grabs a glass by its delicate stem, goes outside onto the patio. The kids next door are playing with a garden hose and there is the sound of water hitting the fence, giggles and shrieks, loud feet pounding the lawn. She settles into an Adirondack, pulls the cork, pours herself a full glass. The sun swells as it sinks, fireflies blinking into the gloam. She takes off her shoes, wanting to feel the cool grass between her toes, but she can no longer feel her feet.
He slips into bed late, hours after she’d undergone the elaborate routine of facial scrubs and mists, oscillating brushes and ridiculously expensive creams that promise to make her feel young again. In the morning he’s gone, another towel left near the sink, coffee rings on the bottom of another cup, another note.
MISSED YOU LAST NIGHT, the note says.
These sort of staged affections keep her guessing. Did he miss her? Intimacy was easier to pretend on paper, she knew. Yet they’d had their moments. Happiness, like migratory birds, flew in and out of their lives.
Blaze calls. Her husband is moving out and she needs a distraction. They go to the movies at the fancy theater, the one where the seats are leather and recline, where you can push a button and a waiter will appear with your chardonnay and truffle fries. It’s a romantic comedy and not the best choice; it makes Blaze so thirsty she drinks three glasses of chardonnay. After the movie she drops Blaze home. From the curb, Blaze’s house looks the same, but inside half the furniture is gone and nails show in the walls where art once hung.
She feels inspired to purge, starting in the kitchen, culling long-forgotten juicers and pasta makers, boxing them up to donate. She’s in her closet, knee-deep in clothes she’s pulled from hangers, when she hears the rumble of the garage door opening. He’s home early, standing in the kitchen, holding flowers.
“For you,” he says.
They’re beautiful, peonies and roses, he definitely dropped a pretty penny.
“Let’s go to dinner,” he says.
They go to the place on the corner with the sourdough and sea glass. She orders scallops for the beurre blanc and capers. He gets the fish and chips and douses both with malt vinegar.
“I took Blaze to the movies this afternoon,” she says. “ She needed a distraction.”
He stops chewing, the tiniest of movements around his eyes, a flinch avoided.
“You’re too good to her,” he tells her.
“She’d do the same for me.”
He looks up from his plate and she remembers how he used to look at her, like something precious he’d guard.
“I don’t know about that,” he says, another fry disappearing behind his teeth.
Back home, he lights a candle and opens a bottle of wine. They sit on the couch, barefoot, her body awakening and straining for contact.
The next morning he’s gone again, granola crumbs across the counter, another note.
THAT WAS NICE, he wrote.
She tidies up, wipes the countertops, plumps the cushions on the couch. In their bedroom, while making their bed, she remembers the earring, how it sparkled, tucked into a fitted sheet, the shock of it because it wasn’t hers. Diamond solitaire, modern bezel setting, Blaze couldn’t imagine where she might’ve lost it.
She has kept Blaze’s earring in a wooden box with other important things—birth certificates, deed to the house—certain one of them would notice eventually, the rage shimmering around her like an aura, how it caught the light, not unlike a diamond.
Blaze calls again, says she has something for her, a gift.
“A token of my appreciation,” Blaze says.
She would like to think guilt has come for Blaze, that her own husband’s infidelity has forced a reckoning.
“Remember that earring I lost?” Blaze asks.
“I had this necklace made for you with its partner,” Blaze says.
Blaze holds the necklace up so she can see, helps her with the clasp at the base of her neck. With the thick bezel setting, the diamond feels substantial, a heavy reminder hanging just above her heart. She can feel the weight of the diamond against her skin. She can feel everything. The numbness is gone.
* * *
Liz Ross has an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in LEON Literary Review. She lives and works in Southern California.