Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
Bruised, without the love of my husband, seemingly without friends, I sank back into apathy. What good had getting out of the house done me? All I'd gotten out of it was injuries and bills, and more bitter knowledge than I wanted to have. At least before I'd had the illusion that I still had a few friends. But those phone calls from the hospital room had destroyed that fantasy. I was alone.
I took to waiting for Frank in the living room each evening. When I'd hear his key in the door I'd stand. He would come in, either greet me or not, and go into the dining room to eat his supper. He never touched me, never reacted to me with more than cold politeness, never treated me as either a friend or an enemy.
I came to wonder how he could do it. It had been months since we'd slept in the same bed, and in all that time he hadn't given me one tender touch, not one lustful look. I'd thought men couldn't control themselves, that desire for men was something overpowering even for the most monogamous men, but clearly Frank could control his desire. He did it so well that had I not known him already, I could have sworn he was gay, or a eunuch. It wasn't that I yearned for him to take me to bed – that part of me was as dead as the rest. It was that I couldn't understand his seeming lack of interest, a lack of interest that appeared to be total.
I might have been a roommate. I still had my rings on my finger, the diamond he'd given me on the night I'd accepted his proposal, and the plain gold he'd slipped onto my hand on the day of our wedding. I knew where our marriage license was, attesting to the fact that we were man and wife. But I felt like I was without a husband. He neither loved me, nor desired me, nor cared about me except as I could cook his food and wash his clothes and keep his bed straight.
And I wasn't sure that he would say anything to me if I ceased to do these things. If I stopped doing his laundry, would he protest – or would he simply do it himself? I was afraid to test the question...
March had come, and I was almost over my bruises. It was spring in Albuquerque, the wind blowing as it always does in that season. I woke up one morning to hear Frank stirring in the kitchen. His one consideration was to try not to wake me as he got ready for work, but for some reason that morning I had awoken anyway. I got off the sofa and went into the kitchen.
"I'm sorry to have disturbed you, Genesis," he said.
"It's all right, Frank," and it almost sounded natural.
"Still, I suppose I might have been somewhat quieter."
"It's fine, Frank, really." We were almost having a conversation.
"In that case, I'll have my breakfast now." And he turned from me back to the counter, where he resumed pouring cereal into a bowl. It seemed that the almost-conversation was over.
I watched silently as he poured cereal, and milk, and wolfed it down standing at the counter. When he was finished he set the bowl in the sink and ran water into it. I'd found bowls like that almost every morning.
"Would you like something else?" I asked.
"No, Genesis, thank you." And he turned and walked past me as though I were one of the dining room chairs.
I followed him. "Frank, I don't know why I woke up so early, but I am awake. And we're married. Please, don't treat me this way." I was making an effort not to sound like I was ready to break down, though that was how I felt.
He turned to look at me. "You turned your back on our marriage. And I am treating you accordingly. You have no complaints, Genesis – I could put you out on the street with nothing." And he turned around again, and walked off.
I stood there in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room while he put on his socks and shoes, and left for work. When he was gone I realized I could still feel my bruises. They'd been fading, their color almost gone now and the pain minimal, but just then I felt them strongly. I went into the bathroom and took a couple of pills.
An hour or so later, sitting on the sofa, I was still hurting. I took a couple more pills. After a while, as they began to take effect, I became woozy, and though the effect was right there I couldn't remember whether I'd taken any at all, so I took two more. And then, becoming thoroughly disoriented, and laboring under the pain of my heart and the feeling that life wasn't worth it, I dumped the whole bottle, what was left of it, into a glass of Coke. I drank periodically, forgetting the pills which were dissolving in the acidic beverage. And then I laid back down, and must have pulled the blanket over me, for that's how Frank found me. And I slept...
For the second time in less than a month I woke up in the hospital. I couldn't imagine why I was there. When I turned my head Frank was there, in a chair, reading some sort of magazine. I tried to speak, but all that came out was a croak. He raised his head and lowered the magazine. "How are you, Genesis?"
I still couldn't speak, my throat was so dry. He must have guessed the problem, for he poured a glass of water and held it to my lips. I drank, only spilling some of it.
"Why am I here?" I asked, able now to speak.
"Apparently you overdosed on your pain medication."
"The bottle was empty on the coffee table, and there was a dangerous amount in your bloodstream. They pumped your stomach, or it could have been fatal."
That word didn't stir anything in me – neither dread nor desire. I was empty. "I don't remember taking more than a couple..." I said.
"I hadn't realized you were still in pain," Frank said.
That did cause a small stirring. "I've been in pain for nine months, Frank."
He considered me for a moment. "I confess I fail to understand why, Genesis. After all, I didn't betray you – it was the other way around."
"Have you stopped to consider my side of things?"
The icy formality came back full force. "Your side of things? Genesis, your side of things was a bed that held you and a man – a man I had thought a friend. It was a bed that contained adultery. That is your side of things. I see no need to consider it."
My throat was raw, and my heart was raw, and I had to force myself to go on. But for the first time we were actually discussing what had happened, and I thought I might as well keep going down that road. "I know what I did, Frank. I can't help knowing – I was there. What I mean is my ... my heart ... my soul. Do you know what it's like to love someone, and betray that person, and have to live with the knowledge of what you've done?"
"Why no, Genesis, I can't say that I do. I was faithful to our vows, remember?"
I stared at him. "Frank, you never used to be like this."
"So selfish ... so ... It's all about you, isn't it?"
"It was about us, Genesis, but you destroyed us. All I have left is me."
"And all I have left is pain and loneliness and a dark blank."
"You should have thought of that before—" and he completed the sentence with a graphic way of saying what I'd done.
I think I gasped. I know I was aghast – in all the years I'd known Frank he'd never been so crude, not in our wildest bedroom conversations.
He must have noticed my discomfiture, for he gave me a thin cold smile. "What you did was disgusting, Genesis. Are you surprised that I describe it in disgusting terms?"
I looked at him steadily. "Yes, Frank, what I did was disgusting. It disgusts me. I hate what I did. I'm so sorry for what I did. I've told you that before."
"And sorry doesn't change what you did, does it?"
"I never said that it does."
"Then I don't see what we have to talk about." He stood up. "I'll let the doctor know you're awake." And just like that the conversation was over and he was gone.
They sent me home two days later. Frank drove me that time. It was an utterly silent ride, the barrier between us as cold and impenetrable as the Antarctic ice sheet. I didn't even try to reach him. It seemed to me that he was unreachable.
I was worn out – not physically, but emotionally. I collapsed on the sofa and slept most of the day. I woke in the evening, and fixed myself something to eat, and sat up staring dully at something on television while Frank went to bed. And after a bit I began to feel sleepy again.
And something else came too. Twice I'd almost died, and Frank had shown little reaction. He'd as much as said, after the accident on Menaul, that he'd be happier if I were dead. His concern for me, after two incidents, was so minimal that I wondered if he cared at all. It seemed to me that he took care of me in any way at all only because he was my husband, and therefore obligated to do it.