Ars Melodia – after 1229 Sheffield by Brian Vander Ark
It’s well after one in the morning when I hear the scrape of his boots on the front walk, the jingle of his keys as he flips back and forth across the ring, too drunk to see colors in the dark. When he tries to cross the threshold his foot catches on the step, which is how I know where he’s been. Matty’s a liar, and a prick, but somehow he’s not irresponsible. At a certain point, he never tries to drive home, and it’s the same point at which he always trips over that top step. Which means he walked back here, which means he was at Len King’s bar seven blocks away, which means that he was, in all probability, with Len King’s baby sister, the hip-swishing twenty-five-year-old with blond tips and bra straps that don’t match her top.
I’m not sure if I’m awake because I’ve been waiting for him, but here we are either way. I haven’t left the house tonight, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t kept up with him. I’m on one of the stools at the bar in the kitchen, fingers still wrapped around the stem of my empty glass like I’m trying to throttle it. When he comes in from the hall I swivel to face him, and he grunts, surprised to find me up. “Hey,” he says, tossing the keys over the back of the couch. “What are you doing still up?”
“Did you fuck her?” I ask him, and for a moment his unconscious sway comes to a halt. He stares across the open space between the two rooms, an invisible line of demarcation, and I can’t tell if the question did anything else to him, because it’s too dark or I’ve had too much or he’s just not going to give me the satisfaction.
“Who?” he asks—which, of course, is miles away from a No. In fact I should probably be concerned that the question itself hasn’t already narrowed it down. I suppose I could say You know who or something to that effect, but then he could draw us out another five minutes playing dumb, and now that he’s finally home I am very tired and ready for bed.
Matty shakes his head, like I’ve made some mess he’ll now have to take the time to clean up. He shrugs out of his coat, which he also tosses over the couch despite standing right next to the coat stand. “Tracy wasn’t working tonight.”
“Well it was pretty charitable for her to show up, then, wasn’t it?”
“It is way too late for this,” he grumbles, and I wonder for a second whether he means too late at night, or too late in the larger sequence of cause and effect. Doesn’t matter: it’s both. “I’m going to bed.”
“Fine,” I tell him. It’s as good an answer as I’m likely to get, as good as I really need.
What follows is a sort of dance: I’m at the kitchen sink, rinsing the night’s dishes; he’s at the fridge, downing the rest of the grapefruit juice. When we pass each other between the granite counter and the island, we both turn sideways, cross each other without touching, two bodies slipping by like ships in the night. It happens again in the bathroom, while we’re both brushing our teeth. (Why? We both must be wondering. What is there to be healthy or good-looking for anymore? Or maybe only I am.) It’s the same alchemical process that occurs every night. All our anger and disgust, dissipating into a cloud of exhaustion and dread for the coming morning. Eventually we don’t even care who ends up where because the sheer drain of that decision is more than we can bear, which means that somehow, against all sense of universal logic or justice, we’re falling asleep in the same bed again.
Still, I lie awake a while longer, staring bleary-eyed at the red of the digital alarm, the twin eyes of 2:00 staring back at me in defiance. It’s late spring, the night clouded over with tomorrow’s thunderstorms, and what moonlight makes it into our bedroom is faint, sickly, like a parched stranger crawling in from the edge of the desert. I think about the house stretched out on the floor below us, the neat symmetry of its furniture, the carefully crafted placement of its bric-a-brac. We’re not a married couple—we’re museum curators. Or, perhaps, we’re artists, and the house is our installation. An exquisite likeness of a life lived well together. Leather sectional, wine-colored Karastan rug, row of posters from Broadway and the West End. Photos of Cameron on his wheelie bike or in his father’s farms at the hospital. Our fake history is better than most people’s real ones.
I want to find some sort of warped comfort in that, that whatever we’ve made together is at least enough to impress our friends from a distance, like a dilapidated English manor. Maybe the reason we’re here now, the reason that my husband is even at this moment tossing his arm over my hip in his sleep, is that the show isn’t just for everybody else. It’s for us, too. We’re suspending each other’s disbelief. It’s a sad way to live, and lonely. But many sad things are also beautiful. At my age, the definitions loosen. You play your life where it lies.
In the morning, back in the bathroom again, I think that I can smell something on his body, a fleeting scent so foreign, so contaminated that it makes me dizzy with nausea. But then he showers, and brushes his teeth, and eats something sugary, and by 7:25 he’s pleasant enough again, so I let him kiss me, and our son, and when he waves to me from the car as they back down the driveway I wave back, and say to him, soundless, voiceless, I love you.