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Paul Maliszewski

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Five Days

  

1.
We had dinner at the table and talked. It was hard to talk at first. I talked, and she said not much. And then I couldn’t talk, but I kept trying things. We ate salad and we ate beans. After a while, I thought of something to say. It got a little easier as the meal went on.
        She said she was pretty tired.
        Okay, I said.
        Then she said she’ll just sleep downstairs.
        I said her name and looked at her. I’ll sleep downstairs, I said. It’s fine.
        Okay, she said.
        I told her I was sorry I made her uncomfortable.
        It’s not that, she said. It’s about boundaries.
        Some of this seemed so pointless to me—boundaries. For example, she got herself a beer but didn’t ask me if I wanted one. I was right there. We were making dinner together. For Christ’s sake. What was the point of that? What boundary was being created, acting like I wasn’t there?
        You don’t need to do all your own laundry, by the way, I said. If that’s another boundary. I’d noticed her delicates needed doing, and I offered, and she said no, she could do them on her own.
        Because I think I do a good job, I said. I always did the laundry, for us and the kids.
        She smiled. I never said you didn’t.
        I know, I said. I’m just teasing you a little. But you know, it’s like one thing I do really well. No reason not to keep doing it.
        She said, We’ll see.
        I nodded, then looked down at my salad, empty save for a few almond slivers.
I don’t expect things to go back to how they were, I said. I’m not unrealistic. I know it’s going to take time. And I’m going to keep working, I said. And here I started to cry. Working and working to earn your love.
        She started to cry a little, but I wondered what she was crying at. Was it what I’d said, or was it that she wished I wouldn’t work, that I’d just give up?
        In the kitchen, I cleaned the counters and got milks set up for James and Elliot. I also set up the coffee pot for the morning. She got some stuff together and went upstairs without saying good night.
        I finished in the kitchen and then I headed downstairs to the basement. I needed to get my pillow; it was upstairs.
        She was already in bed. Sorry, I said. My pillow.
        That’s okay.
        I said good night. I didn’t look at her. It was hard to look at her. I felt embarrassed.
        Good night, she said.
        Downstairs, I stopped at the door to the basement. There was a pile of recycling there, catalogs, this thing our younger son had made at the museum today, which I thought I’d keep actually. I stood there for a few seconds, looking at the pile. I guess I can keep doing recycling? That’s okay? I listened to the sounds upstairs. I thought, She’ll come down, right now, and ask me to come up. Maybe she’ll say she can’t sleep, or something. I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but it was still in my head.

  

2.
I called her my love sometimes. I heard myself say it. It came with a certain pang, of course, but I couldn’t stop. It just felt right.
        We were looking at the new bathroom. It was almost done, the work. The sink was hooked up, and the toilet, but the whole room was stuffed with the workmen’s tools. She liked it, and liked looking at it, the tile especially. I think I designed a nice bathroom, she said. I agreed, but thought, Yes, but I saw that it got made. I was here, with the men, every day. Maybe that doesn’t count for anything. I don’t want to be bitter.
        The kids were downstairs watching an old Scooby-Doo with Dick Van Dyke. I started to cry again, and I thought I saw her pity me. It looked like pity. I don’t know what to do, I said.
        She nodded. I know you’re trying, she said.
        Later I told her I was going to do some laundry. That okay? I asked her.
        Whatever you want, she said.

  

3.
We had our first session with the family therapist. I was surprised she said she wanted a divorce. She’d been saying to me she didn’t want that. She wasn’t sure what she wanted. She seemed madder than when we talked, just the two of us. When I’d look over at her, she gave me angry eyes. Did talking with the therapist there make her madder? Was it having an audience? I didn’t understand.
        Later, I asked her about wanting a divorce, and she just said that’s how she felt today.
        So things are worse? I said.
        They’re not worse or better, she said. She was keeping an open mind, she added.
        I asked her how she could say that: How do you keep an open mind but want a divorce, or want a divorce but be keeping this open mind?
        She just said she was open to changing her mind.
        That was something, a scrap of hope maybe.
        You seemed mad, I said. Today.
        She was mostly mad at herself, she said.
        We didn’t talk much more. I was walking her to work, and we were there.

  

4.
She went out tonight with her German friends. The Germans were this whole new group. I’d never met them. Around two, she got home. She was drunk pretty bad, having trouble walking, big looping steps. She had trouble even pouring herself a glass of water. She stumbled up the stairs.
        I did some dishes and then went to check on her. She was curled on the bed, eyes half open. She tried to get up to get pajamas on, but gave up. I said I’d help. I said, I won’t look at you, I’ll just help. I took her socks off. I just want to help, I said.
        I asked her if she felt like she was going to be sick, but she said she was fine. Then she went to the bathroom and, of course, was sick.
        Next thing, the shower was on, and she was in the shower. I sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. I was worried about her, worried about her making it to bed. I also didn’t want the bathroom to be left a disaster, didn’t want the kids to see it in the morning. The shower turned off and then I heard weird noises—their bath toys rattling around and then a thud.
        She was lying on the floor, sort of in a towel. Can I come in? I said.
        Yes, she said. I stepped over her and started to clean up. There was a big clump of what looked like shit on the floor.
        Is that poop? I said.
        If it is, she said, I didn’t do it.
        I cleaned that up. Then she stood and started trying to clean the sink. The sink was where she threw up. I don’t know why she had to throw up in the sink. She’d done this before. It was a big mess.
        I’ll clean it up, I said.
        No, she said.
        It’s fine, I said. I don’t want it to make you sick. I touched her back. The towel was coming off her. I saw her breasts, and she covered herself.
        She went to bed finally, and I finished cleaning on my own. It was no big deal. The hardest part was figuring out how to get the drain loosened on this new sink—I’d never messed with it before—and then how to get it screwed back on, since the post thingy that the drain screws into wobbles around. Kind of a pain, but I got it. I looked around the bathroom. It looked okay. I put the toilet seat up in case she was sick again. I took the trashcan down, so it didn’t smell in there. Then I went to check on her.
        She was in bed, on her side, sleepy. I said, I have some Advil—I’d gotten some Advil—but she said she was fine. I tried a second time to get her to take a couple, just so she didn’t wake up with a terrible headache, which she was going to, but she wasn’t having it. I said, I’ll leave the bottle of Advil by your water. I didn’t know what else to do. Good night, I said. She said something that approximated good night. I kissed her on the back of the head, then turned out the light and left.

  

5.
I was reading to our younger son. We were sitting out on the porch. Pretty day. He’d picked a Leo Lionni book, and I started to tear up part-way through, my voice cracking. The ache of what was to come hit me hardest when I read to them. Just the thought that I won’t get as many chances like this. There will be days now when I won’t see them.

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Paul Maliszewski  is the author of Fakers, a collection of essays, and Prayer and Parable, a book of stories. The Hypothetical Man, a collection of stories written with James Wagner, is forthcoming.

All Responses:

Respond to a Prompt:

Submit your response to our current prompt(s). See our Submissions Guidelines page for details.


Paul Maliszewski  is the author of Fakers, a collection of essays, and Prayer and Parable, a book of stories. The Hypothetical Man, a collection of stories written with James Wagner, is forthcoming.