She could feel the sun behind her eyes, burning bright and hot like brass in an arsonist’s inferno. She could feel it running down her neck, through her shoulders, down her back. Her fingertips scrabbled to the edge of the tub for a facecloth, stark white against her skin, then laid it over her face. It was hard to breathe, this way, the hot cloth blocking her mouth and her nose. A blacksmith beat against cochlear drums. That her metal still resisted was surprising.
She said, “You want a divorce?”
“No!” Quietly. Exhausted. “I don’t want a divorce. I want you! I want my wife!”
“You have me.” Her voice was muffled and plaintive, like Crimson and Clover on AM radio in a car with whitewalls and rust.
“Don’t do this.”
She couldn’t help it. “Don’t do what?”
“Don’t lie. Don’t deflect.” He pulled the cloth from her face. “I know you, Selena. You can’t hide from me.”
Glaring into his face with bloodshot eyes, she looked so young, to him. Angry and broken and hiding in the first safe shelter away from home. He had been afraid of her, then. Her fury and her hurt, it had been terrifying to him. Then.
She said, “Let’s ditch the third-year psych, shall we? I don’t want to have a baby. I don’t want it. How many times will I have to tell you?” There were tears and a trembling around her mouth and her hands were tucked under her chin like a child’s. “Why are you doing this?”
He shrugged. He pulled over the vanity stool, a gift for her he had made of his dad’s reclaimed barn boards a lifetime ago. The parka gaped open when he sat, slight relief in the room’s humid heat, but he pulled it around himself anyway. “I’m afraid,” he said, almost smiling.
She snorted. “Please. You’re never afraid.”
“You want the list? I’m afraid you’ll leave. I’m afraid that everything I’ve done for us will never be enough. I’m afraid those rocks will kill you, out at the breakwater. I’m afraid you’ll go hiking again at dusk and the cats will find you. I’m afraid you’re… going inside again, and I won’t be able to get you out this time.” Breath ragged and hot. So close to her face. “I’m afraid all the time, Selena.”
“Why?” She hugged herself in the cooling water. There would be deep red crescents on her shoulders in the morning.
“You’re… sleepwalking, when you’re awake. You’ve got this look like -.” He pushed his hands through his hair and around his neck, staring down at his feet on the white rug, on the blue tile.
“Like what?” Defensive. Her stomach clenched and rolled.
“I’ve had nightmares about you stepping out into traffic on your way home from school. Do you understand? I have nightmares from seeing you so stuck in your own head.” Condensation beaded on the side of the tub, then spattered the floor below; dark stars on porcelain sky. David, hands clasped behind his neck, arms tight against his jaw, breathed out and watched them fall.
This is the fourteenth part of what is turning out to be quite a long story. If you would like to read it from the beginning, you can find it here.