My Dead Partner by Antonios Maltezos
She whimpered, finally convinced she’d found a deadly lump in her breast, the anguish in her voice escaping into the small bathroom as a hollow sound coming down from the ceiling, through the walls, up from the pooling shower water at her feet, as if from the child she’d never have, she couldn’t nourish.
Her right hand slipped from the rod she’d been holding onto, her fingers hooking the plastic shower curtain, the curtain plinking with each failing eyelet as the pulsing jet of water filled the room, with the sound of her heart pumping, the curtain slowly falling outward to a rigid stop over the toilet. She could see better with more light, and though her nipple burned raw from all the rubbing, she swept her foot across the bottom of the tub for the bar of soap -- one more time, soap suds so the pads of her fingers could work the skin of this strange breast in tight, circular motions, the water pulsing colder and colder.
In a dream, she’d come out of the bathroom limping, favouring her right side. She’d given herself a breast exam, only this time she’d known what she’d find so there was not much surprise, much dread because she still needed to call a doctor -- in the dream and in real life, but not much surprise. She’d expected her husband to notice her favouring her right side, ask what was wrong so she could share. That’s why the dream. But he’d brushed past her already naked. It was his turn, his flab trembling because she’d taken too long in the shower.
Briefly, she’d opened her eyes; checked the time over the wall of his shoulder, and then shut her eyes tight again because she refused to believe he’d be that kind of controlling, even in her dreams.
… the familiar sound of the curtain plinking with each failing eyelet until it was finally free of the last ring and she nearly tumbled onto him. He could have been a woman, all hips and ass, sopping wet and hairless as the ice cold water beat down on his bluish skin, the shower head still set the way she’d left it, on pulse. Bastard was all she could think to say in her dream; he was already dead, his heart of no use.
She’d used her grandmother’s turkey platter to stack his corn, melted a half-pound of butter in the microwave, just for him, spent some time looking for the little corn pokes and then pricked and burned her fingers stabbing them into the ends of each hot cob, just for him, so he’d be relaxed, his system cleansed of all the office clerk minutia he carried around with him where his scalp showed through his hair, so he wouldn’t recoil when she felt it was time and she needed to rest her head on his shoulder.
But she’d forgotten how he ate corn, the rabid insanity, the whites of his eyes as he crunched, crunched, splattering her face, cleaning even her cobs when he was done with his own, the whole weighty mess sliding off her grandmother’s turkey platter in the end, as if it had all been just another dream, sharing a meal, wanting to share her fear and pain.
“Choke!” she said, because this was a dream…
… and he did.
She could see right to the back of his throat, past his swollen tongue to the impenetrable clog of giblets.
She’d try again another time, when she was awake.
She’d gotten dressed and rushed out for another shower curtain, still so frightened of the lump but not yet ready to call out for help. She needed a day or two, she believed, to settle her mind. He never liked her hysterics. She needed her eyes dry, her voice steady in order to fill him in on her worst fear coming true, and then wait for his comfort, his support, his strength. Lead me to the doctor’s office, please; she thought she’d tell him, out of this horrible place. Take me by the hand, if that’s all you can do, but smother me if it’s at all possible, so I don’t feel alone in my skin. Carry me. I need to see a doctor.
She practised on her way to the Mega-Mart. I think I’m dying. I think I’m dying. But first she’d need to hang a new shower curtain.
She tried not staring at her husband as he watched the Sports News, but like a kid who’d just set a prank, she couldn’t keep her eyes looking straight ahead.
“Husband,” she whispered, unable to wait any longer, her voice overwhelmed by the surround of his movie speakers bringing the sport’s fans crowding into their living room. “I’m dying” she said. It was a gamble, a simple test of her courage to reach out, her voice tiny. This could be real, after all, and he might not care. But even if this was just another dream where he would be the one dying, she wanted to see it as it unfolded.
In one moment, she was lowering her head, the tilt favouring the right side, her downcast eyes, her heavy, mournful sighs speaking volumes she hoped, the story of her life, theirs. She brought her hands to her lap, touched fingers as if she were making something delicate, or opening a tiny gift. “I love you,” she said. She did. They had already spent an eternity together.
And in the next moment, he was young again, a store clerk using his broom to fend off an armed thief. It was near closing and he’d been sweeping up, a Cherry Blossom he’d snatched from the display already in his pocket. I won’t get caught. I love you. He swung too hard, and the broom took flight over the head of the thief. The thief curled his toes and shut his eyes, squeezing the trigger, thinking this clerk was a maniac. The thief would have taken off in the next moment, and he did, even as the bullet fizzed and hissed a final thin wisp of smoke out of the hole popped into the wall behind the counter, her husband’s hairs around the wound like lit fuses, there and then gone, his brain splotches cooked into the plaster.
“I know I love you,” she said, her words still at her fingertips. “But do you?”
© 2005-2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas
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