These Bare Walls
The mashed potatoes slid into the drain like sludge crawling into a sewer. He tried to keep his composure as he looked over his shoulder — at the plate he placed on the table out of habit. On the plate was the same meal he’d eaten himself, with fish instead of chicken. Wisps of steam still grabbed the air from the broccoli placed next to the pile of snow potatoes.
One year, he turned the phrase over in his head, one year and he was still making the same mistake.
“Do you love me?” she said, her arms wrapped around his waist, her face scrunched against his back as he scrubbed the dishes in the sink.
“I’d love you even more if you’d finish your food once in a while,” he said.
“Don’t give me so much then,” she replied. She rubbed her belly, besides, little Jacob isn’t too hungry yet.
“Or Sara,” he said, “we don’t know yet.”
“I can tell. Certainly feels like a Jacob swimming around in there.”
He crawled into bed alone. Shut off the lights and closed his eyes. Total darkness. Total silence. He rolled over to put his arm around her but she wasn’t there. She’ll never be there again.
In the morning he adjusted his black tie. Used a lint roller on his khakis and poured what remained of his coffee into a to-go mug.
She nudged him in his rib cage until he woke up.
“It’s time to get up, lazy butt,” she said. “Come on, you’ve got your meeting today so you get the shower first, meanwhile I get to snooze the alarm.”
He kissed her on the forehead and got out of bed.
During the drive to work he liked listening to the radio. Morning talk shows. Today they were talking about marriage so he turned the station. Classical music, no words, no one to ruin the mood.
“Marriage is a beautiful thing,” said DJ Brew. “My wife and I have been married fourteen years.”
“Congratulations,” replied his co-host, “I’ve been divorced three times and let me tell you — “
“This’ll be good,” interrupted DJ Brew.
“Marriage isn’t worth it. It’s all about the single life.”
He turned the radio to classical music. When he arrived at work his phone vibrated in his pocket. He checked to see a text from her, “Good luck today. Love you.”
When he arrived to work his phone vibrated.
“Reminder: Leave flowers at Emily’s grave”
“How’d the meeting go?” she asked.
“It went great. I think that promotion isn’t too far off.”
“Jacob will be happy to hear that,” she said, smiling. “Let’s paint his room this weekend to celebrate.”
He walked into the room and stared at the blank walls. The three cans of paint still sitting on the folded up tarp.
“Honey,” she shouted up the stairs, “we’ll have to push the painting of Jacob’s room until Sunday. My parents are coming over tomorrow.”
“Are you still going to your friend’s house for the game?”
“No that’s okay. We can paint.”
“Love you too,” he replied, without taking his gaze away from his computer screen.
“I’m going to the store to pick some things up for tomorrow’s dinner then. Do you need anything?”
“We need some blue painters tape. So we can line the borders, closet, and door-frame in Jacob’s room.”
“I’ll grab some. Need anything else?”
“You’re a goof. I’ll be back in a bit.”
He took the cans of paint off the tarp. He unfolded the tarp and placed it along the length of the wall. Popped open the paint cans. Poured one can into the pan. Pushed the roller into the paint.
There was a heavy knock at the door — urgent.
He looked into the face of a concerned policeman.
“Yes. Is something…” The color drained from his face. “What’s happened? Where’s Emily?”
“I’m sorry, Sir.”
“What do you mean? What happened? Where is she?”
“Mind if I come in? I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
He covered the wall from top to bottom in a pale green, leaving a bit of space above the white border along the perimeter. He looked around the rest of the room. He’d need tape to line the borders, closet, and door-frame.