Wife paced before the drafty bay window. Her feet creaking old floorboards in a house she didn’t want to buy. Who would want to live in an old house on an otherwise new block? Their house was the biggest but it had cobwebs and the chimney needed re-pointing. This was a fact the other women never ceased to point out when their carts clanged at the grocery or when wine glasses were being refilled at neighborhood parties, red-lipped women exposing their throats as they threw back their heads in the abandonment of sarcastic laughter. Husband wanted it. Husband loved all old things, dusty things. He kept a record player in his study in the basement. Wife was never sure if this was because he loved the lost imperfection only a record player could provide or if it was because those who entered the study would think this. Wife checked the clock. It read, “late.”
She left her post in front of the drafty bay window and went to Son’s room. She opened the door as slowly as she could. Light from the hallway illuminated the interior of the space by degrees until she stopped it’s progress just before it reached Son’s sleeping face. She was just checking, not waking, not even really checking, but passing time. His room was covered in sports posters that Husband had bought him. Players old and new. Collectables and autographs and real game-worn equipment. It was all very thoughtful, expensive. Very nice. Nicer would have been books. Son loved books. Son loved to read and to write and to create. Son didn’t love sports. She had stopped trying to tell that to Husband a long time ago. Son had stopped trying to pretend and had begun trying out for sports teams at school. A book lay on his chest as he slept. Wife shut the door.
Wife had wanted a cat. Had grown up with cats. She closed her robe tighter around herself as she passed by snoring Dog on her way back to the drafty bay window.
The paint on the panes was chipping. They had never bothered to fix it. Something about distinguished and care-worn. The snow was coming harder. Huge wet flakes that stuck to trees and mailboxes like spit coated gum stuck to the bottom of subway railings. Blankets of white were pulled up to curbs and tucked in sweetly. Pillows gathered on top of piles plows had previously pushed aside.
Headlights in the distance. Tires kicking up snow. The bed now unmade. The car swiveled and slid sideways and came to smoking, blinking stop in front of the driveway where it sputtered and then proceeded to try and climb the steep rise to the garage door three times, each attempt earning nothing more than a slide back down into the street. The passenger door opened and Husband stepped out into the knee-deep drift. He leaned back in before closing the door. Wife wondered if Husband leaned in far enough to shake hands or to kiss someone goodnight. He waved at the car as it turned and sped erratically back toward the main road. Husband stood in the snow. Wife thought he looked up at her in the bay window crossing her arms and watching him down her nose. Husband appeared to sigh before he dropped his head and pushed through snow to their front door. He fell and lost his briefcase beneath the blanket. He left it to freeze.
Snow and wind and cold preceded Husband as he opened the door. He closed it again and shivered while he pulled gloves from cold fingers and hat from cold scalp. He stepped cold feet out of shiny black shoes. The stairs did not creak while he climbed them.
“Honey, you’re up,” he said. He held his arms out for her. Wife turned away.
“Do you even know what time it is?”
Husband walked into the kitchen with slumped shoulders. Wife waited until she heard clinking glass before following.
“Yes. Very late.”
“A work thing. I told you about it. It ran long.” Liquor poured and ice splashed.
“What work thing runs this late?”
“We won the case,” he sipped and sighed and their eyes did not meet. “The partners wanted to congratulate me. It would have been rude to leave.”
“Yes, very rude. Did you remember what today was, while you were winning cases and avoiding being rude?”
Wife watched the gears turn in his brain. Little men pulling levers and unveiling images in his mind. His eyes were blank. Wife remembered when those eyes were deep things, intelligent and intense things. She could get as lost in those two clear blue orbs like she could get pleasantly lost in a good book, or a winding country road. Now they seemed cold, surface level. A starker blue. More White Walker and less mountain lake, a freezing blue, a dead blue.
“Today was our Christmas. The one you set up because you had to work during the real one. Son waited up for you.”
Dawn, marble head. Marble head, dawn.
“Oh hun,” said Husband. The second hand became a mockingbird. Wife let him flounder. Tick, tick, tick.
“Okay, well, show me the sports thing you got him.”
Tick. Tick. Tick. Husband hung his head. He drained the first drink and began pouring a second. This one bigger than the first.
Wife stormed from the kitchen. She found the suitcase she had already packed in her closet. She had to push passed work clothes she hadn’t worn in years to get to it. They felt like costumes in a store made for other, more committed women. One fell from its hanger and Wife let it lie on the floor, on top of unworn shoes, discarded.
“You can’t be serious,” said Husband.
Wife gathered some pictures she knew Husband wasn’t in.
“Excuse me. Is this some sort of joke?” he demanded.
Wife zipped the last pocket full of the few memories she wanted to take with her. Husband snatched her upper arm in a tight fist. She could already feel the bruises beginning to form. Wife turned on her hips and planted five knuckles in his throat, laying Husband down. She silently thanked her Krav Maga instructor. Husband sat up snarling and Wife snapped another punched to his temple. This time he stayed on the floor.
Son was confused when Wife woke him. He was more so when he passed his father on the way to the car. She chose his car, the red one with chrome accents that she didn’t want him to buy. It was a sports car. He bought it after Son was born.
The snow was almost blinding. The world became whitewashed, confusing. The way forward impossible. Wife turned on the wipers as fast as they would go. They zipped back and forth over the cold glass and barely opened up the path ahead. Wife and Son looked at one another.
“We’ll make it,” she said. “We’re making it.”
Eric McLaughlin is married to an amazing woman who lets him write instead of watching sitcoms. They are expecting a girl in July. He has never published a short story before.