by Marla Cantrell
Inspired by ‘Reflecting Room’, Dan Steinhilber
I took a Valium first, and I chased it with vodka. I wanted to feel the way I did when I was with you, when we lay beneath the shifting light of the sugar maple, awash in fall. On those days, on the quilt so old the red had faded to pink, the black to gray, I traced your lips with my finger. I traced the ring of white where your wedding ring should have been but wasn’t, tossed as it was into the ashtray of your Tahoe on your way to meet me. I ran my own finger around the pale circle of your skin like it was a map of what would make me whole.
The Valium didn’t work. The vodka didn’t work. I didn’t feel electric the way I did when you pulled me to you. This thing I liked best was not how it made me feel, but how I must have felt to you. My chest pressed against yours, my waist so small it seemed breakable, my hair a dangerous road you lost your way in.
When the phone rang on those risky days, I held it to my breast before answering it. The tap of your knuckles on my door sent shards of light through me. I’d open it at odd hours of the inky morning, not having slept, carefully dressed in fluttering gowns and sharp heels, and I’d lead you in, your destiny there in my bedroom, I believed, and I’d undress you, the taut lashes of your shoes a challenge always.
I think of you now, how the light caught sorrow sometimes, as we moved together, because there was always jittery light, the sun, the bedside lamp, the moon. I shunned it the way you do the homeless man with a spray bottle and a dirty rag who runs to your car when the traffic light shows red. It came back, of course, the sad moments, the secret held between us, and you were not equal to it, and you sank back into your ordinary life.
I drove by your house last night, a predictable Tudor. The front door had been painted turquoise, the silver trash can was covered in an apron of pink-checkered fabric, and the wreath on your door was gaudy with fall leaves and shiny baubles. Your wife must be a Pinterest addict. She must log on, crazed by domesticity, by the possibilities of quippy sayings like “Keep calm and drink a pumpkin spiced latte.” She must stay up late, pretending that an organized pantry is the same thing as a good marriage.
If I were her, I’d kick it up a notch. I’d take a drink now and then. I’d read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and buy a whip. I might even leave you while you were in the shower, singing, because you always sing when you’re in hot water. And when you stepped out, light would pour in from the bathroom window, flooding the marble floor, pushing beneath the rigid door. So much light you wouldn’t be able to look away, no matter how much you wanted to, no matter how earnestly you tried to find one dim place to call your own.