Finding the Language
Events seldom rang celebration.
They were usually remarkable for perhaps being as dangerous as takeoff or landing, neither of which was comparable with deadheading. This was the truth of Lena’s life.
She inhaled. She exhaled. The flight of all flights, her farewell flight. Something kept her from driving out of the airport parking garage just yet; from returning home to the life that she had grown used to. As she remembered the encounter with Traci, it occurred to her that there was not going to be any real transition without truth. The encounter now brought into focus a near-silent yet pivotal exchange with her husband, Vincent, who was nine years older than she, in their kitchen exactly two weeks ago.
They had both chosen to address with mutual silence what had turned out to be an upheaval. She knew all too well that such a response was far more dangerous than landing. Silence could be insulting; she had been renamed by default of it. She had given that default a name: the abuse and obscenity of silence. Since then she had known that silence was a requirement of keeping secrets. Having taken on her name wholly but not completely obliviously as a girl, and with a good measure of ignorance, she began to understand only recently what she had traded in return for keeping quiet.
Before the end of this past winter, Vincent and she had made the decision together that it was time to start a family. It was not difficult to have made. They had agreed that the kind of parents they wanted to be would not fit in with her constant travelling, so she would now be grounded as a crew trainer.
But Lena was not sure if she should have stopped flying or if she should stop her marriage.
A half hour ago, she had probably gone a little (or much) deeper than she had intended to with these words she had written in the notepad for a letter to her mother:
I go up, I come back down. All in a day and a day’s work. I suppose when I do heal (the hope of that is why I’m writing this to you), I’ll be back on the ground again. I’ve been so afraid, but now I’m dying to touch the ground. Not afraid to heal but to go to that place. I’m going to have to sooner or later. Traci reminds me that I must heal, so I must go there. I won’t be flying anymore, so we’ll see how healing makes its way into my life (hopefully, the way will be roadless like airplanes in flight). Maybe visiting you will be my new way of flying. I’ve had to settle for too long now for regular visits. But it’s time for something different. A different way to go about all this business of me. And him. The scar is always there.
They had left Lena wanting something—something much more than what she had practised and grown used to over the last decade in particular, so she was dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction, unexpectedly though it had just arisen, ebbed her into her memory of her mother’s illness and death. That memory was always in sharp focus, and it now drew a straight line that connected to the name Lena, which had struck and then stuck. Silence, the compromise that she now knew that the name had required to have stuck, had highjacked her, for she could not have imagined having said no to it. (She had uh-huhed it so fast to have helped her mother to have gone quickly.) She had hoped that the name would have allowed her a measure of freedom. But instead it seemed that the compromise had immediately lassoed her. Now here she was feeling hijacked again.
On the day that Vincent’s and her silence had begun, she had been cooking curried chicken. It was his favourite dish. She had traded in her long-haul flight for a short one so that she could be home in time to prepare the meal before he got home from work. They would do their own cooking right here in the kitchen or the upstairs.
She had heard when he arrived, but nothing further. So when she happened to turn around now, she was taken aback by his stealth. He was leaning by his shoulder against the frame of the doorless entranceway. His workbag lay on the floor at his crossed ankles. His two long arms dangled at his sides. How long he had been standing there for, silently watching her it seemed, was not Lena’s contention.
“You don’t want to be married to me anymore.”
She spoke these words with confidence in dichotomy: she feared their implication yet she believed in their accuracy. Then she studied Vincent’s face. Talk of Pastor Rockwell suddenly made sense.
She was relieved that she had now figured out what he had been driving at during and since that talk. This relief reminded her of the time when she had been lightened: she had realized then that her father had not said a word to anyone about what had happened. So she was now confident in her decision to have spoken for Vincent. That had been best, and it would now make things easier, simpler. Not again, she had thought right before the words had flown out of her mouth. No no no she wasn’t just going to stand here in silence, or be held hostage by it.
She had already been silenced and held hostage by her name. The result, the effect, of that old but still relevant decision to have been silenced was an onslaught now. But at least it was a familiar assault:
She felt him all over again pressed up on her. He loomed over her but he was still faceless. He would forever be faceless in that moment. His grunting and the rattling countertop in the hollowness of the washroom were happening all over again. There are no screams to muffle or to repress, because she feels no pain; she swallows any that tries to defy her strict ban of and control over them. She bites down on her jaws while she squeezes her eyes tight shut.
He had been faceless since then.
But it had been the sounds, really. They had almost driven her insane. And she had thought afterwards that only when something was your fault punishment was meted out. So it did not mean that Daddy didn’t love her. The punishment seemed, sometimes, to mean quite the contrary. Somehow that conflation, punishment and love, remedied a little girl’s pain, for it evened out the violation against her while she had grown into a woman. She now wondered how she was going to even this one out in the here and now. She wondered what her mistake was as that woman. She wondered if it was serving up the punishment again while standing in front of her right now. It seemed that he still wanted to tell her something. So, what was it that he didn’t want to do? Be with her? Make love with her? What didn’t you want to do with her anymore, Vincent? She dared not ask. She dared not hear the answer, either, from his own mouth. She dared not go there.
The best thing that Lena could do was stop. Stop everything! She turned the stove off, leaned her behind against the kitchen counter and stared dead at Vincent. She still felt confident that she was right, for he still neither validated nor invalidated her statement, which she had made on his behalf.
“Is that so, Vincent?” she said. She was begging without wanting to, which made her even angrier now.
He did not reply, and she felt how the pot of meat looked: halfway done.
Lena admitted that telling herself that she did not want to know the truth was the same as saying that her pot of curried chicken was begging to be finished cooking. While the pot or the contents could not care any less, she did. She cared a whole lot. Yet if she posed any additional questions, they would be purely to fill space, purchase time or fake deference. But she did not want answers right now. She anticipated that they would be too embarrassing, perhaps brutal.
She looked at Vincent, who still stood there looking back at her. He was probably lost in a stupor or catatonic. She wasn’t about to feel sorry for him, though. He’d chosen to attempt to confess something when instead he could have chosen to enjoy fellatio in between her cooking and his eating her curry chicken. His sudden reticence, which she blamed on his tendency for diplomacy, seemed a sudden recoil rather than the choice to be silent, given that he had had something seemingly pivotal—urgent, possibly?—to tell her? But his silence was appropriate for the time being. It was a perfect bookend to the cancellation of his telling, confession or whatever the hell he had meant it to be.
She relaxed a little, let the tension in her body collapse. That helped to keep a tight seal on a volcano that was bubbling inside her. She tried to steady her mind and not think about the next day and the day after that and infinity, but the outcome was tentative at best: she felt as though she were an airplane struggling to climb hot air.
She shot him a deadly look—at least she intended it to be. She supposed that if he stopped fixating on her wedding rings, she could overcome this obsessive urge to search his eyes insolently to try to figure out what was really going on. But then she’d rather not know. Not now.
She tried her hardest to ignore or to look past them, those eyes of his. But she ended up with an imprint in her mind of his tired, good-for-nothing face. It was as if she had never seen him before; his face was practically unrecognizable. She settled for looking at it anyway.
Looking at his face was more tolerable than looking into his eyes.
Vincent left the doorway—untethered from her in this crazy manoeuvre that they were still entangled in and finally let her be. Lena held her hand out and looked at the rings. She turned the outer one clock-, counter-clockwise, her third finger harnessed by the two perfect circles. The gentle brush of metal against her skin took her back to that night in the hotel room when he had slipped the first on while they had lain in bed. Although the occasion had been meaningful, she appreciated that it had also been simple. There had been no fanfare, except for their lovemaking afterwards, the crowning of their matter-of-fact engagement.
She remembered that she had felt certain that Vincent could do no wrong thereafter. And the way that she still loved him had provided that surety. They had had each other’s backs.
And he had loved hers. Literally. Her back, exposed in the apron, would already have made him lose control. For he would follow the curve of her lean; let his fingertips graze from the nape of her neck all the way down; let her feel like a queen, his African queen, which he would call her. But he didn’t love her spine anymore, did he? And what about her lean or her being his pride? She wouldn’t let these pieces of gold become a shitty cover-up now that she wasn’t his pride anymore. She had chosen white instead of yellow for heaven’s sake! She had been so darned careful and deliberate too. That well-thought-out choice mocked her now. And so did this marriage.
She held her hand out. The rings were searing the flesh of her finger. Just listen. They wanted to burn a hole right down to the bone. To burn or not to burn. She twisted them around and around; faster and faster. Just yank the darn things off!
Suddenly, she noticed that her finger had turned a shade lighter than the others, as if the melanin (probably the blood, she thought) had seeped away.
Then she realized that she had been so distracted by the searing and her chameleon finger that she had forgotten to slip the pair off and drop them both down the kitchen sink. She could just open the kitchen door and toss them across the way as if they were a nickel and a dime, she thought. She could toss them away just the way she had tossed her memories away. Or were those merely suspended in the clouds? she wondered, then thought that the rings could not be like pocket change. In fact, they were purchased bonds, questionable though the owner, she, could be. These days her memories were yielding much more results than the bond of the pair.
The correct shade of Lena’s ring finger returned. But then it went numb. She repeatedly opened and closed her hand. She now felt like an astronaut on a spacewalk gone wrong. As if she had been catapulted from the anchor, her tethering unfurled. Farther out and away she slipped. Then the gravity of realizing the absence of gravity left her feeling even more out of control. In the dead-ringing silence of the space-kitchen, she was indeed at the mercy of a very deep void.
Lena finally gave in. Still leaning against the kitchen counter, she cried. But since laughing at the same time was more tolerable than crying alone, she laugh-cried. That sound was cacophonous in her head, but it provided both release and relief. It also prevented and contained the volcano. She would not allow that, she told herself. Not now. While she was firm in that decision, she could not contain or prevent her bitterness, however. It masked the irony: she had something of her very own both to tell and confess to Vincent.
The thought of her secret shrank her into the defiled twelve-year-old schoolgirl.
Something else had taken off with Lena since she had landed, even though she was still firmly on the ground, in the seat of her car. She sat forward and pulled the sun visor down. Her eyes reminded her of Traci’s. She had been crying until she now realized that she still was not ready to leave the airport parking garage. Lena thought whatever had taken off with her had to be the unravelling of her marriage.
How bereft it was for this little while. She searched her eyes for the reason. Maybe it was not an unravelling. Reversal, then? Stuck in reverse? That seemed to be how both Vincent and she were now. She flipped the visor back up and sat back. Today the neat wrapping of time was becoming undone; the distance that time had created being erased by pen and paper. She had touched them together, and dared have said something about the years gone by. Her passenger, and the upheaval with Vincent had precipitated this outcome, even the words themselves. Both her secret and her memories, which she believed she had buried, had now been unearthed. Her memories had burrowed through her mind like a parasite, and now all those years had just merged with today.
Having addressed her mother had to be the catalyst for her suddenly strong sense of dissatisfaction, for the words she had written so far seemed to have resolved her silence into this suddenly narrow distance between the present and the past. She felt an urgency to do something about that dissatisfaction, her own unhappiness. She needed to do something that she had never done before. She could not leave things at just those words. She needed to describe this sense of urgency; she needed to define it by making an account of the past—exactly what had happened.
A long time ago, she had dismissed diarizing as a common dubious thing. She had labelled it—itemizing gratitude, or seeking reconciliation of one’s own thoughts in a constructive manner—trite. She had felt incapable of isolating or focusing on any clear intention that could have proved diarizing essential, pertinent.
But now here was this fresh prompting to write, to define, to make an account. It intrigued her. Fraught with mysteriousness, this prompting seemed to promise an emotional, dramatic catchall. Could diarizing be that viable solution? Could it make for an unfettered accounting on her own terms? Was diarizing in exchange for catharsis even possible for her? She wanted to test these waters, unsure though she was about how to start her telling. She wondered what those first words would be about what had happened and if they would make for a telling or a confession. What her words would or would not be she needed to find out. The thought of returning home as the same person she had left it that day—now her final flight began to feel like a farewell—was all but inconceivable.
Lena gave herself over to that ever-increasing prompting until it awakened her completely. She melted into surrender.
Desire and attempt, one and the same, concurrently aligned themselves with the nervous beating in her throat. They created the current shoring her up to write everything down. She waited for the first complete thought, a spark of memory, to take shape. Kernelled in a quiet purpose, her clear intention made her uneasy. But she would not be dissuaded. She dismissed her uneasiness as muted excitement. She could not forgo the thrill to tell now.
Traversing the lined sheet of paper, her hand made firm strokes as though it was in a race against her own thoughts, which were redolent of her past. Lena felt in command of the pen, which began to lead a trail of ink that flowed like blood.
1994. December 16 was my last day of school. Today August 12, 2016 is my last day too. Starting a new job in two weeks. Things were different that morning. When I woke up I didn’t hear you singing. The songs had become familiar. I still remember the folksy one that you said you used to sing as a little girl playing the stone game, the one with the risk of smashing your fingers. Nothing was familiar that morning. Everything was different.
Thanks to time. But then again there are some things that no matter how far I’m flung I can never forget. You didn’t wake up before me or for me as you always would to make my breakfast, prepare my lunch and preen me to your approval. Not even to even out the Vaseline. When I over-applied it to my face you removed the shine (my skin has lightened over the years).
That was the luxury of your attention, Mother. Always touching me when I was getting ready on school days, dressed up on Sundays. I never heard you complain that you were tired. I guess you were so dedicated to me, sewing and housework. Even to him. You were a great time manager, Mother. I never complained about my share, because you always paid attention to me.
But I just didn’t want to leave the house without it. So I demanded it. I liked the feel of your eyes on my back whenever I was leaving. But I regretted my demand. Not since have I more regretted anything. People shouldn’t have any, I guess, but I do.
He was usually gone when I was getting ready. I remember as if it were only yesterday when I found out that I’d been mistaken about our routine—and I guess his as well. And that feeling I got—so indescribable to me then. Maybe when shock and embarrassment are mixed together they make a brand-new feeling. That was what I felt. Then he turned his head and looked right at me. It was as if the oxygen got sucked out of the room, and then I was left suffocating.
He pretended that I wasn’t even standing there, so I figured that he liked what he was doing to me. Which was what gave me that brand-new feeling.
Lena felt as if that volcano had finally erupted, as if the hot metal poured out of her rather than flowed from the tip of the pen. Her feelings, which spelled the shame of her taboo, charted that molten course. Facets of her repression and her consciousness; her past, present and future all culminated for a nascent appraisal of her shame, which she still avoided and deferred. But her shame was now accessible, indelible upon the pages. As if the notepad had been smeared with some communicable disease, she stashed it back into the glove compartment.
Then like a child returning to the cupboard to pilfer a forbidden favourite, she snatched it back out:
I’ve never told anyone before about how I came to lean on my right side. If I did, maybe that would lighten this weight that’s been like the dead body that I’ve strapped to my own back. At first your death eased all that weight. This ease was strange comfort. Like the comfort I felt when you took away my ability to tell. That’s what you did. Now I don’t want Vincent to beat me to my own telling with his own. He has something he wants to tell me. I’m pretty sure what it is, which I’ve even told him. But I can’t allow him to say it before I tell him what I must tell him.
Telling you would’ve resulted in me having not been renamed, come to think of it, wouldn’t it? Telling definitely would’ve taken away the mystery of the lean or how I ended up with it. You were onto something after the prayers. You asked me why I walked like that, remember? But you really couldn’t have imagined it at all, Mother.
Telling might’ve led to only gossip. Church gossip. If Mother Laird knew, maybe that would’ve changed everything. If she had known, maybe she wouldn’t have betrayed me. She called me a backslider and some of the worst names I’d ever heard before. All because she saw Vincent and me kissing.
I doubt that people would’ve only gossiped, though. They, especially your church sisters, would’ve been outraged, ready to strike like a nest of vipers. “That dog mistaken for a man!” “You see that girl, the one walking with the lean? Her own ‘pa’ caused it and you wouldn’t like to know how.” That’s exactly what they, those Jamaican ladies, would’ve said. I never cared much for them. They were too old-fashioned and gossipy. But still their condemnation might’ve made a real difference, despite their self-righteous outrage. They were all another Mother Laird, probably.
Vincent has a confession of his own. I just know it. I can’t help thinking that. Whatever it is, it’ll be no different than what Reid did. Probably. Maybe, if there’s any difference, it’ll be that I lean to the other side. Vincent has never minded it before. He said that it had attracted him to me. That it added something. Maybe he meant my nimbleness in the bedroom.
Nimble or not, love or attraction, there is a threat. It’s lurking. I can sense it. I can feel it. It might correct my lean altogether or cause the left to compensate. I’m not even sure which would be worse.
On the following day, Saturday morning before noon, Lena had just returned home from having visited her mother’s grave and taken issue with particles that had gotten, or always had, the upper hand.
The moment that she had entered the house, she noticed that the dirt trekked in on the doormat was all over the foyer as well. Vincent was still at the gym, she thought, so she might as well do some cleaning until he got home. They needed to talk. Curried chicken, she thought. Maybe she would make that and they could talk while he ate.
Suddenly, she remembered Vincent’s confession—had it not been a confession?—he still had not told her anything. She had been in the middle of doing that exact same thing—cooking for him. Her brilliance, she thought. Even to think of cooking that same thing for him again (so soon) was a devastating affront (this was all too soon). She gave herself a mental smack and stormed off down the passageway, but the affronting thought made her feel as if she had been stung by a bee.
Next to the kitchen, wherein she had dropped her bag on the table, was the laundry room. From out of there she grabbed the vacuum. As she walked back, she noticed something about the living room. She set the vacuum down and dropped the extension hose as if the queen bee had now attacked her, and came into the room.
Dust was everywhere, it seemed, and on everything. It had invaded crevices and corners! The fireplace mantel was just the worst. Lena hated dust. Dust was incorrigible, but that fact had never stopped her before from being compulsive about getting rid of it.
Lena went into the kitchen and reeled off a wad of paper towels and yanked it from the roll. She crushed the sheets together and lightly dampened them at the sink (she cleaned surfaces with warm water or vinegar, not chemicals). She was going to remove the items from the mantel and properly restore it—because it needed to be for Christ’s sake! Shit! Something had come over her. She swiped everything off the shelf with the back of her hand. The picture frame, the vase, and the priceless figurine of a mother and a daughter crashed into the walls and onto the floor. Pieces flitted across the room like flying fish.
Spent, she pressed her back against the wall and wished her rage would recede into it. The harder she pressed, the quieter the noise in her head got. She could think again—what had just happened? why the sudden chill? The morning was warm, and the air had not even been turned on.
Surveying the detritus and itching to use the bleach-white pieces of paper, Lena felt her anger turning into fury.
She forced herself not to think about the figurine, now in smithereens. She had bought it from a gem of the store to which her friend and neighbour, Claudette, had taken her. Lena picked up a dangerously angled shard of glass, thinking that it had to be from the picture frame. She broke into wiping.
She began to wonder where so much dust had come from. She had never allowed any surface, crevice or corner to have gathered as much. She was always fastidious about eliminating formation of the annoying but inevitable occurrence. She now refused to accept that dust was elusive, her pursuit of its elimination now as inapt as her name. When Lena turned over the wad of paper to the clean side, she saw what she thought looked like a red rose petal at first, but then the rich colour was tainted with the grime of all the dust.
The screaming nerves of Lena’s hand snapped her back into her body. She dropped the bloodied paper towels, and an object fell pinging off the dark wood floor. She raised her forearm, but the leaching blood startled her. She dropped it back to her side.
She remembered that about the same amount of blood had streaked down her inner thighs. She had bent over and inspected her own pudenda to have located the source: broken skin. That was the case again now. She resisted screaming out. She was afraid she would unmute the wails of the defiled twelve-year-old schoolgirl.
Lena held out and looked at her hand, which was still leaching blood. Her whole arm was quivering while the pain sensors were screaming. She curled her fingers over the incision and cradled her hand on her chest. Then she returned to the kitchen and took her phone out of her bag.
Her unsteady voice seemed to have been enough for Claudette to have forgone the doorbell in favour of firm raps on the front door. Lena came and opened it. With her fist over her heart and her blouse bloodstained, she looked like a confused bird just before becoming a victim of light pollution.
“I don’t feel so good.”
Claudette reached her hand out and took Lena’s by the wrist. She uncurled the fingers and inspected what they hid.
“Oh dear,” she said. “It only looks bad.”
“I’d rather lose my hand than my life.”
“No such thing!” Claudette had said before she led the way into the kitchen. Now she opened the tap and told Lena to set her hand under the cold running water. She picked up a dish towel.
“Maybe I’d rather lose everything.”
With every wink of blood from the slit, the water had washed the cut clean, leaving a rose-coloured swirl in its wake. Claudette applied the towel for a compress.
“Sorry. Just staunching it. Now, I think a cold drink of water should do you some good.”
“I’d rather something hot.”
“Cold it is for you, my dear. You’ve been pretty well warmed up as it is.”
“I feel so terrible.”
“So then let’s cool you down.” Lena sat down at the table, and Claudette filled a glass with water from the sink and set it down in front of her.
While Claudette switched the kettle on, opened and closed the cupboard, set down an empty cup, she hummed a song, which Lena found comforting. Lena became transfixed by the steam wafting from the lip of the shiny appliance. The water had come to a boil. Claudette settled onto the chair directly across from her.
As the woman brought the steaming cup to her ever-so pursed lips, she said, “Let me take some of this heat for you.”
Lena had only one sip of the tap water, which tasted unpleasant, perhaps tainted. She was still watching steam, but from her neighbour’s cup. She thought Claudette’s unfashionable glasses lent her face a severe look now. She waited anxiously for what Claudette would have to say.
“Don’t remind me. And to think I just got it.”
Claudette peered over the frame of her glasses at Lena, a finger looped through the handle of her cup, which was on the table. “You can always replace that, my dear, but you’ve just sliced into your hand.”
Thinking of curried chicken and dust, Lena was suddenly embarrassed. “You really want to know how?”
Claudette lowered her head a tad.
“I know I’m not crazy. But I feel that I am.”
“And I know that’s why you called me over.”
“We’ve been married for eight years, Claudette! Together ten!”
Lena felt her eyes grow small with that same embarrassment that had made her squeeze them tight in the washroom. Her anger was a shimmer now; she turned away from it before it could turn into a shadow of something grey. Claudette had just confirmed for her that she needed to get to the bottom of the reason for what she had just carried on with in the adjacent room.
“Do you think I’m man crazy?”
“Whatever do you mean by that? You’re a married woman,” Claudette said. “That ought to give you some kind of guarantee against going man crazy, whatever that means to you.”
“I married him for one guarantee. Can I ask you something else? What does my marriage look like to you?”
“Oh dear. I’m afraid that’s not going to help you—the question or the answer.”
Lena fidgeted with the improvised compress.
“We should put something on that and cover it properly.”
“I will,” Lena said. “I’m sorry to’ve frightened you.”
“I wasn’t. Why don’t you come over in the morning, hmm?”
Lena stopped with the compress and said, “I’d like that.”
“You know drapery and listening are two things I do best.” Claudette got up.
“And it’ll be Sunday. Your sewing room brings back so many memories. Claudette? Thank you. You’re a very good friend.”
“Welcome, my dear, and a very good friend you are as well. Now come and let me help you clean up that mess.” Claudette paused in the doorway. She put her hand up on the doorframe. “Remember you don’t have a marriage without you being present. Otherwise you lead separate lives.”
After Claudette had left, Lena placed herself upstairs in Vincent’s and her bedroom. It was almost four thirty, so she thought that he was working out for a long time. She hoped that that was what he was really doing. As a matter of fact, she’d be convinced when he headed straight for the shower.
She was now looking out of the window. The day had turned gloomy and dark. The weather wasn’t going to help either, she thought. Since morning she had been looking and hoping for any signs or encouragement to help her break their impasse. She lay on the bed and turned onto her side and faced the edge with her good hand, her left, under the side of her face. Her right was heavy, her skin cold and clammy. She hovered somewhere between feeling aimlessness and mindlessness but she was never thoughtless.
She did not believe Vincent’s suggestion of counselling was altruistic. Not for one minute did she believe. Between Reid and Mother Laird, abandonment and betrayal had made her ironclad. She would not be easily fooled as before.
The two-week time off that Lena had taken between jobs suddenly seemed inadequate. It was pointless that she tortured herself with the pressures caused by the scarcity of time and the abundance of guilt. She waited and listened for Vincent to come through the door and up the stairs.
Together they had planned and agreed to become parents after establishing their careers. Things had worked out for them both, she was sure he would agree. But now she had crucial questions about their future together. There was a thud downstairs. She sat up. Time to find out the answers, get on with life. But she had to wait about another fifteen minutes. He walked in and pulled his shirt off over his head. He seemed rather in a hurry for the shower. Running away or hiding from something, Vincent? she almost said. Then she let him have it.
Vincent stood in the doorway of the laundry room and threw his gym bag down on the floor in front of the washing machine. He felt as though he had left the gym with weights strapped to his ankles. Nothing more than anxiety, he thought. He had passed Lena’s car in the driveway, and now he suddenly got this picture in his mind of her waiting for him in their bedroom, perhaps ready to accuse him of something different today. He had even stretched his workout longer than usual; he had used that time to strengthen his strategy.
He now came into the kitchen, where he opened the fridge. It was in here two weeks ago that she had accused him of not wanting to be married anymore. He had kept silent since, neither denying nor confirming. He began slapping together a tuna sandwich. That was a long time for her to go without them making love. He could do without the sex himself because of the situation. He had thought that he would love to make love to her when he got home, though not if the act was only going to fill the deep void of their recent silence. He had failed to get her to buy into counselling with Pastor Rockwell. He would not settle for containment any longer through his own silence (of course silence was not the best method, he knew, but it had served its purpose). The time had now come, it felt right, to figure out exactly what her angle was, which direction she planned for them to move in.
Before the accusation he had merely suggested the counselling, and they had also met with their minister before they had gotten married. Their pre-marriage counselling had merely touched on her mother and her father. But Lena’s and his limited discussions about either of them did not prevent his window-like view on how they still affected her. He suspected that those visits and her sexual aggression, which was regular but not as persistent as going to the grave, were signs of hurt. He now remembered the sexual aggression. He loved her prowess, not the aggression to such a degree.
Having understood that that she had lost her mother at a young age was one of the causes of her hurt, Vincent also thought it explained why Lena went to the grave: to carry the hurt there. But his question was, Did she ever leave it there? He was always careful not to touch the subject of loss directly or overtly or suggest that she stop the unending visits. And what about her father? Her complete refusal to talk about him—except the mere mention of his abandonment of her—had to be another (or the other) wound. He honestly did not know where to begin where the man was concerned.
Vincent had sat across from her at the kitchen table in the middle of July. Aside from his fear that he could seem selfish for broaching the sensitive topic when she had just come off one of her flights, his biggest hurdle was how not to make her paranoid or suspicious. But he had to get her to see the need for counselling.
As he reminded her of the pre-marriage counselling, she reached for her glass of wine. “I’d like us to do a few sessions now.”
She swigged the red and said, “So, you’re suggesting that we need couples therapy?”
“I think it would be good for us.”
She let the bottom of the glass clunk the glass table.
There was that paranoia, he thought. And that glimmer of suspicion in her eyes. He was all too familiar with what he thought was one of the side-effects of her wounds: her silence—her refusal to talk about something with which, he recently suspected, her mother could very well have been buried. He now wondered if there was also something that could be traceable to him as her husband. Vincent had even suggested that she try to reconnect with her aunt or try to find her father, even though he had observed that a brush against or a tap on any of those wounds seemed to cause her the same discomfort. He was being indirect and covert and he knew that. Skirting around her wounds was as futile as her silence about what or who really had caused them.
“There’s got to be more to this than what you’re letting on, Vincent.”
“Well, things may be a lot for you with all the plans we’re making.”
“That’s right—that we’re making. Together.”
“I know, sweetie, but maybe I am overlooking something. I think it’s just a really good idea to meet with him again.”
By the end of July, Vincent had been attempting to continue that same conversation when she had made that accusation in the kitchen. He thought that the outcome of that attempt could have been a reaction to their plans to start a family or to have ended her almost daily flying. Maybe he had started (wasn’t that all he’d done? he thought) with the wrong words. Since then he had remained reserved and observant. He did not want to add to the stress of change, so he had been seeking the best way to restart and finish that kitchen-table conversation.
Even as he wolfed that sandwich down, he bought himself more time to think. When he had left the gym, he had thought that the weather undermined his efforts, for it dampened his optimism. Everywhere and everything looked dull. Then as he pulled into the driveway, it was obvious that she had already returned from her graveside visit. And he had just climbed the stairs with those weighted-down feet. Suddenly he wasn’t sure whether he should be relieved that he found her the way he had imagined.
She sat up at the top of the bed. Her arms barred her chest, and they made her look ready for a war. The wide berth of the door gave him the impression that it was an invitation to that war. He, awkward and uncomfortable, felt as though he were walking into such an entrapment. He walked in anyway but he did an about-face: continued silence would be best for the time being.
“Hey,” he said. “How was your visit?”
The torrent that she unleashed on him the instant that he had removed his shirt felt like the force of the shower for which Vincent yearned, beating him down. Her lash, pointed and deliberate, emboldened him almost instantaneously to change his mind back. He decided to match her passion not only with his determination to end the silence but also with his motivation to get to the real reason for the silence.
“You make me sick!”
The tension of her tightly wound words diminished the power of the words themselves, inasmuch as they could not physically harm him. He imagined that they bounced off his shirtless chest. He loosened the string of his joggers. Apparently she had planned this attack. The fabric slinked down to and around his ankles. He could not step out of the pant legs quickly enough; he was suddenly worried that he had allowed their silence to have made the situation worse than what he had calculated.
“I wish you wouldn’t say that.” He removed his underwear.
“That all you have to say for yourself?” She stared directly at his privates.
The underwear was dangling from his bruised fingers, which he had worked to the bones. Vincent suddenly felt like a boy, not a man. He caught on to the reason quickly: for the first time he was uncomfortable being naked in front of his wife. His nakedness was laced with this grating self-consciousness. “I’ve a lot more to say, Lena.”
“That’s not my name. Please use the real one from now on.”
That bothered him more than his unusual reaction to his own nudity. Then again her reaction to his nudity bothered him as well, for it seemed she would ravage him cruelly, hurtfully. He stepped behind the door of the en suite bathroom, unhooked his robe and slipped his arms into the sleeves. Only after he had loosely, calmly tied the band around his waist did he allow himself to speak again.
“I’ve known you for ten years. Don’t you think I’d remember that Lena isn’t your real name?”
“You seem to have forgotten a lot of things!”
“Like what? Actually, you know what? I get it. You not wanting to do marriage counselling is hard for me to understand—just like the way you’re looking at me right now is hard—”
“Oh, I see. Just you being Vincent. You should be allowed anything you want.”
He sighed, tucked his hands into the pockets of the robe. “It’s as if you’re . . . that Christine girl and I’m up against that goddamn Phantom of the Opera! Like something’s stealing you away from me.”
“I can do without the artistic reference.”
Stepping towards the bed, he said, “Christine, listen—”
“Have I done something to you?” she said. “Do you want to leave? You can spare us the—”
“I don’t want to leave! How’s that?” He looked squarely at her from the foot of the bed. He remembered that he had started with those exact words in the kitchen; he had almost just told her exactly what he had intended all along to tell her. Seemed as though I don’t want to had turned into the longest four words he had ever spoken.
“Fine. Then what were you trying to tell me?”
Vincent removed one of his hands. He needed to be exact.
“You want us to go to counselling,” she said.
“Because I don’t want to . . . see you living like this anymore. So, would you please let us meet with Pastor Rockwell? Because here’s the problem. The truth as I see it, Christine. It looks to me that there’s something going on with you. I don’t know, but maybe that has something to do with your father more than your mother.”
“How did he get into this?”
“Well, he is your father. You never want to talk about him. Maybe we could start there?”
“Don’t, Vincent! You know I don’t go there.”
“I get it. What he did was like kryptonite to you. You were only a child for Christ’s sake. After your mother died this guy left you for someone else to parent you!” Vincent removed his other hand and closed both his fists. He leaned forward and bore his weight down on them into the mattress. “So I get it—he wasn’t a good guy.”
“Was not? Please, I’m begging you. I can see where this is going and I’m not going there with you!”
“Which leads to the obvious: he’s affecting you, even though he’s not around, isn’t he? And don’t take this the wrong way, sweetie, but you visiting your mother’s grave so often lately—well, that doesn’t seem all right to me either.”
“Why’re you bringing all of this up now?”
“Because I think we need to talk to someone.” Vincent stood up straight. The depression left by his fists rose like bread in an oven. “And because it’s dark around us too, and it’s not just the weather outside. But as to what’s causing the darkness, well, let’s just say I’m taking a shot in the dark at figuring that out myself. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“Okay, Vincent, you win.” Lena grabbed a pillow and crushed it against her stomach.
“It’s not that way, Christine. I need you around. And not just sexually. We’re about to have children.”
She folded and squeezed the pillow against her chest until it tucked right up under her chin. “So, this was what you wanted to tell me. It’s been how long now?”
“This isn’t just about two weeks ago, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“And now I’ve become a problem. My past is never going to change. So go! That’s just in case you needed to hear it from me to ease your conscience.” She tossed the pillow aside.
“There’s nothing like that to do with my conscience, Lena—Christine.” Vincent raised his arms and cradled the back of his head in exasperation, his fingers interlocked. “I need for us to do the right thing, work it through.”
The waistband of his robe had become undone, but he didn’t care. He dropped his arms back to his sides.
“I didn’t see any of this coming.” She choked up.
“All right. Okay. I understand.” He approached her.
She put her hand up as if to stop him. “I just need to get a hold of myself, okay?”
“Something happened to your hand?”
“Maybe what happened was that I went temporarily insane!” she said. “I’m pretty convinced I am right about now.”
She moved away to the opposite side of the bed as if she did not want his getting near her. She was acting like a caged bird in a panic.
“Why’re you pulling away?” he said. “Let me see.” Vincent reached across the bed for her hand with a wound-dressing adhesive strip in the palm. He had caught it, but she yanked it away. His fingers snagged the covering, under which was a gash. It began to bleed.
Lena screamed, and Vincent immediately saw that there was something deeper going on with her, and it was deceptive. And so was the gash, for it was small and almost superficial and yet seemed smart enough. She began to tear off and gather up the bedcovers with that same hand, beside herself. He couldn’t be more confused, and he was also frightened for them both.
When Lena knelt at the edge of the bed, Vincent stood dumbfounded.
“Look at this blood!” she said, clutching her bleeding hand by the wrist.
“What’s happening with you?”
“You and him! Both of you’ve ruined me!”
She looked like a helpless little girl. That made him angry.
“Lena, how? Lena, tell me how.” Vincent’s robe hung by a single shoulder.
He did not think he was one, but he certainly felt like a failure.