She woke at three in the morning and found that she was listening to a snow plough scraping past their home, running its blade up against the sidewalk, doing a good job because it was the first big accumulation of the year and the snow plough driver was fresh and not yet deep within the winter of his discontent, not yet fed up with the loneliness, imagining, as he ploughed through the neighbourhood, what it must be like sleeping through one solid night by a woman like her.

               

Or it may have been a distant rumbling, the kind she’d wished would come closer when she was a child, pause over their home because her father was always obliging, resting closer to his edge of the bed, his snores red and glowing, keeping time as her mother held the bottom of the covers up with her leg. She’d get in between her parents where the sheets were crisp and cool, her hand lagging behind feeling for the faint bristles on her mother’s calf. “You need to shave your legs,” she’d whisper, and then they’d cuddle, count the seconds from thunder to lightening, the wall of her father’s back keeping her safe so she could trade Eskimo kisses with her mother, giggling when they were scared the thunder might bring down the house on their heads. 

 

*

 

She stood before the medicine cabinet not sure if she could get naked, her hands on the knot of the belt holding her robe closed over her breasts. In the mirror, she could see it had been days already. Her hair was flat, the color of her skin around the eyes slightly off, not sickly, not yet, but dirty. “I need to wash,” she said in a bathroom voice.

 

She undid the knot, her fists kneading her soft belly.

 

*

 

As a little girl, she walked the park with her father. It was better with him. Though she loved her mother to no end, her father allowed her to run, his hands in his coat pockets, a cigarette dangling from his thin lips. “Sweetheart,” he’d say now and then, and she’d look back at him, always unaware of what she’d done wrong that needed him calling her name. It was the way they’d walk the park. He’d smile, his cigarette bouncing up and down, and she’d smile back, thankful her hands were free to roam about the landscape, picking up used straws, or bottle caps if she wanted, her father’s eyes always peeled for danger.

 

*                  

 

She stared at her foot resting on the edge of the tub, the paint of her toe nails chipped and peeled, the flecks of ruby red probably collected in the socks she’d tossed by the bathroom door. Her nipples had stiffened to the promising sound of hot water pulsing, the skin stretched taught over her breasts free finally of the bra lying discarded next to her panties. She wanted to touch her breasts, in her mind the lump like the simple yoke of a hard boiled egg, the smell of new plastic, the shower curtain, flaring her nostrils. She was ashamed and excited by the color she’d chosen for her toe nails, though it had seemed a harmless color at the pharmacy. When? It felt like a long time ago. She poked her fingers between her toes, clearing away the lint from her socks, her nipples just barely brushing across her thigh, first one nipple, and then the other, her back twisting and arching like the silly woman she was. She’d painted her toe nails for him.  

 

“Oh,” she remembered, and then dropped her foot back on the floor. She reached for the door of the medicine cabinet, conscious of the weight of her breasts, the healing rush of blood and electricity coursing through her body, swelling the back of her tongue so she felt light-headed. She swung the mirrored door open, her image a ghostly blur, and plucked her razor from the slim glass shelf. She set it down on the ledge next to the shampoo, peered through the steam looking for her husband’s form as she stepped into the tub. When she heard the deep murmur of her name in his voice, she clutched and groped herself as if her trembling hands were really his.     

                           

*

 

… her husband behind the wheel, the two of them on a highway somewhere, her yolk a huge mass pressing up under her chin, impossible to breathe regular, her arms more like appendages than limbs, no hands, fingers to twist the dial on the radio, a bullet-proof partition between them as if she’d done something wrong, and he was her transport to the prison where she’d waste away, out of his mind forever, her body, her face, just in pictures he’d keep at the bottom of a closet. The years would pass before he’d reach for the old shoe box, his own life in his hands, his fingers, his eyes dry, his Adam’s apple moving like a piston trying to well-up some tears for a lady he once knew.

Finally liberated, her bones disjointed -- then she would have told him.

I was dying.

 

*

 

He’ll move from room to room calling out her name, quietly at first, as if she might be busy with some household chore. For years she ironed his shirts in the bedroom, the little TV on his bureau a good companion. He’ll think she’s in the bathroom, in her privacy. He’ll try the door, ready to look away if it gives. When it does, that’s when he’ll notice her toiletries are gone, pushed aside and knocked over daily as if his can of shaving cream had been a bulldozer, the smell of the new plastic shower curtain so overwhelming he has to close the door.

                     

Honey, he’ll say, about to ask the question she’d wanted to hear all these years. Where are you? He’ll call her by an old name, instead, his concern buried inside the words haunting him now: Sweetheart? Where are you? Perhaps not too loudly. He might already have a feeling she’s gone, taking only those things that were hers alone.

 

He’ll clutch his chest, but she doesn’t care.

 

It’s only a lump, she’d tell him if she was there. It’s only a lump and it’ll go away.  

 

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Antonios Maltezos

Fiction

 

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