Her footsteps echoed through the empty sanctuary, the sound making her flinch with each pew she passed. She imagined the entire town could hear the reverberations, knowing where she was and why.
Lighting a candle, she chose a bench far from the altar, smokey with burning incense. She knelt briefly to cross herself, a niggling worry caused her to pause, concerned she had forgotten the correct order and that it wouldn’t take. She needed all the help she could get.
Like deciphering a baby’s cries, she could interpret his sighs. Which one meant he was tired, or frustrated, or just plain angry. This morning, she was surprised he didn’t hack up a lung, his level of ‘put-upon-ness’ was reaching epic proportions.
Hearing the tell-tale expulsion of bad air through the door, knowing her question would only add to his passive-aggressive tantrum, she asked anyway.
“Are you okay?”
The rustling of paper told her he had snapped the News Journal in response to her concern.
Running through the possibilities in her head, she tried to narrow down what she could have done to piss him off while he was sitting on the toilet.
She had scoured the floor and shower tile, had hung clean towels, pulled out all the dirty clothes in the hamper, there was plenty of toilet paper. What could her shortcoming have been this time.
Rapping lightly on the door, there was no turning back now.
“Baby, is everything all right?”
“I’m busy in here!”
It would do no good to hang around the bedroom waiting for him to emerge, so she went about her morning chores. She’d find out soon enough her crime.
A cup of hot tea cradled in her hands, she was sitting at the kitchen counter when he stomped into the room. Not looking up from the mesmerizing swirl of cream and tea foam, she asked yet again.
Opening the refrigerator, he pulled out a jug of orange juice, drinking straight from the container. After draining all but a small swallow, he capped it and returned it to its designated spot on the right, center shelf.
Even when he was being spiteful, he still unconsciously followed his own dictates.
Squeezing the cup to the point she thought it would shatter, she silently counted to ten. She had used up her self-imposed three strikes. Any more inquiries into his mood, would only make the situation worse.
Now, she waited. He expected her to instinctively know why he was upset, and was playing his own waiting game for her to admit her error.
Opening and slamming cabinet doors, loudly rummaging in the pantry for food he didn’t intend to eat, and rattling drawers of silverware were his version of waterboarding. He thought she would break. He hadn’t noticed that she was no longer susceptible to his torture.
Continuing to slowly drink her tea, feigning indifference she didn’t feel, he stood at the opposite end of the counter, trying to stare her down, drumming his fingers on the peeling, yellow Formica. When she wouldn’t rise to the bait, he walked away without another word. It was now her turn to sigh.
After he left for work, she went back into their bathroom, an armful of towels to put away in the tiny linen closet. The toilet seats, standing at attention, were another signal of his displeasure. Leaning in to close both lids, she finally saw what his snit was about. He had retrieved a discarded, empty cardboard roll from the trash and returned it to the dispenser. The new, full roll of toilet paper she had hung earlier that morning, was resting on top. The end folded into a precise point, rolling from the top.
This was his not-so-subtle way of telling her she had hung the paper wrong again, rolling from the bottom. Toilet paper…. he had been upset over toilet paper. Shaking her head, she couldn’t understand why it even mattered.
“It’s not like it doesn’t work if it rolls the other way.”
Making the adjustment, she finished her housework and was curled on the couch reading when the phone rang.
Listening intently to the caller, she began shaking her head, slowly at first then with increasing disbelief.
“What are you talking about? This was all about toilet paper? You’re leaving because of toilet paper!”
Her eyebrows knitted into a severe frown, her jaw muscles working in tight circles.
“Are you serious? I’ve been walking on egg shells for weeks. Every damn thing I do is pissing you off. This isn’t about me, it’s you who’s changed.”
Rising from the couch, she began stabbing the air with her finger.
“Don’t patronize me, you’re making new rules every single day. How am I supposed to keep up with all of that? What is wrong with you?”
Lifting her chin, she stood rigid, listening to his accusations, her free hand clinching and unclinching in a tight fist, tears threatening to fall.
“You are such a coward! You couldn’t come home and talk with me like a man, like an adult, you had to call me? I’m surprised you didn’t just text it.”
She didn’t wait to hear his retort, hanging up her cell phone with as much force as she could manage, longing for the solid handset of an old-fashioned landline to slam down.
Dropping back onto the couch, she sat dejected, trying to make sense of what just happened. Tried to piece together what had gone wrong in their lives. They had once been so happy, crazy stupid in love. Now, they were less than roommates. Roommates actually like each other.
Looking up, a framed photo of them taunted her from it’s spot on the mantel. Taken in sweeter times, when they still held hands and stole kissed, she knew without looking the note penned on the back was ‘Summer, Highland Falls.’ Less than six months later, the smiles were gone, their love in tatters.
Finding herself back in the church where they had pledged “until death do us part,” she wondered why it always had to be either sadness or euphoria. Could they find their way back to somewhere in-between.
I sent my challenge to Tim at A Flood of Foreign Capital: “Love and pregnancy and riding on a camel cannot be hid.” ~ Arabic Proverb
Interested in joining the Challenge? Stop by Indie Ink for details.
*I discovered in my research (yes… I do research when writing fiction) that “Summer, Highland Falls,” was the title of a song by Billy Joel, first released on his 1976 album, Turnstiles.
They say that these are not the best of times
But they’re the only times I’ve ever known
And I believe there is a time for meditation
In cathedrals of our own
Now I have seen that sad surrender in my lover’s eyes
I can only stand apart and sympathize
For we are always what our situations hand us
It’s either sadness or euphoria
And so we’ll argue and we’ll compromise
And realize that nothing’s ever changed
For all our mutual experience
Our separate conclusions are the same
Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity
A reason coexists with our insanity
And so we choose between reality and madness
It’s either sadness or euphoria
How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
Perhaps we don’t fulfill each other’s fantasies
And as we stand upon the ledges of our lives
With our respective similarities
It’s either sadness or euphoria