What he remembers most is her heat.
She would get up for work before he did because she had a longer commute. He would feel her get up, get out of bed, hear her start the shower, and because he could, he stayed in bed for an extra half-hour longer than her. He would slide his hand through the sheets, under the blankets and feel for her warmth still radiating from where she had been sleeping. She would come back, lean in, her hair still wet, her skin hot and flushed from the shower, kiss him goodbye. They wouldn’t see each other again until the evening, and sometimes that seemed hard, being away from her all day, and feeling her warm place in bed was a way to have her close for just a little while longer.
He sits now, looking out the sliding glass door, his eyes roaming over the backyard. It snowed last night while he slept, a stark white blanket laid over the world. Pretty, yes, but also cold, empty, dead. He sips his coffee, a single cup of instant, poured in a cup of water he had heated in the microwave. He has found that it is wasteful now to make a whole pot; he just ends up dumping most of it down the sink. He feels cold. The coffee sliding its warm trail down his throat helps, but the feeling doesn’t stay.
She got home before he did, too, and sometimes he would walk in from work and the lights would be low and she would not even say a word, just swarm him, wet mouth and nails and breath, she would show him everything, pose for him in ways that he liked, bent over at the waist in her short skirt, just a peek of her showing from under the hem. He loved that about her, she was a show off, a tease. He would reach for her and she would slap lightly at his hands, tell him not yet, just wait, I have something special planned. She would touch him when they were out, she would whisper things, graphic, filthy things, sometimes shockingly so, into his ear at dinner at his parent’s, and he would have to endure his father’s golf stories all the while the image of her doing the things that she whispered in his ear dancing in his head, her fingers dancing lightly across his fly under the table, the whole while her smiling and laughing, sipping from her wine glass, laughing at his mother’s goofy knick-knacks, tossing her hair, her eyes glittering and full of fire.
His coffee has gone cold. He looks around his kitchen. He didn’t turn on the overheads, so the only light in there comes from outside, white blue and unforgiving. The dishes have piled up in the sink, but he isn’t really ever hungry anymore, the food seems to be all bland and tasteless. On the sliding glass door he can see the outline of a heart she had drawn there months ago when it was warm and rainy, a trace of her that had never been washed away.
He would come home sometimes defeated, tired. His job paid well, but his boss was an unfair tyrant, would blame mistakes on his underlings, take credit for their ideas. Her voice would be soft, warm, and he would slip into her arms like bathwater, she would say all the things that he wanted to hear, that he was talented, that he was being taken for granted at that shithole, she would say forget all that, come here, and she would lift her blanket where she had been sitting on the couch watching some dumb movie, she would let him in, mute the TV and she would listen to him. He always seemed cold and her body would warm the two of them together, I’ve got enough heat for the both of us she would say.
How he remembers it happening is, one day he woke up, slid his hand under the sheets, and it was cold there, where she should have been was empty, she was just gone. But of course this is not true; he knows that. What really happened was a thousand little things: when she needed him to be open he was closed, when she needed him to listen, he didn’t, when she just wanted to hold his hand he pulled away. He didn’t understand her, what she saw in all these silly things, why she loved all those old sappy movies, why she read those insipid romance novels, why she took the time to prepare a whole tray, properly arranged with cups and saucers when they were just trying to have a cup of tea.
In the end she was wrong about something: she didn’t have enough heat for them both. He realizes now, staring out at the frozen dormant trees, even at the end, even after she had packed up all of her stuff in boxes, she had still tried. He couldn’t remember when it started happening, but they started sleeping back to back, then after that she started sleeping on the couch, saying she just wanted to finish this movie, but he would wake and she would be gone to work. She would be back there under her blanket when he got home, only now she didn’t lift the corner for him, she would just smile a brief sad smile and go back to watching the TV. Then the boxes arrived, all brown corners and shapes, wardrobe boxes, and boxes marked in her looping script: “Bathroom Stuff,” “Books,” and somewhat cryptically, “Other.” He doesn’t remember ever talking about it; the boxes arrived, and she filled them up. The last time she spoke to him, she had slept in what used to be their bed, because the boxes had taken over the couch. In the morning, he felt her get up, and in his half-awake state, he forgot about the boxes, and he slid his hand under the sheets to feel her heat, to keep her close for just a while longer. She spoke then, in a whisper, asked him to get out of bed, to come and take a shower with her, to get up and have some coffee with her, to fucking say anything, do anything to make her feel like she was making a mistake, that he wasn’t dead inside, do anything at all to make her stay, please just say anything… but he pretended not to hear, acted like he was still asleep. He just couldn’t face her, couldn’t take her anger or to see the pain in her eyes, pain he had maybe put there, he just somehow… couldn’t. You really are a cold-hearted bastard, aren’t you, she said in a normal volume, like she knew it, but still couldn’t quite believe it, and she got dressed and she left. That evening when he got home from work the boxes were gone.
Now sitting in the stark and frozen white-blue light, he can see her key sitting on the counter where it had been when he got home from work that night. He shivers. It is cold enough in the house that he can see his breath.
I suppose it is just in my nature that if the word is heat, I will fill the piece with ice and frost imagery. This one was from August, and I have been sitting on it for a while because I was contemplating entering it in a flash fiction contest. I ultimately didn't enter it, partly because I dislike paying entrance fees, but mostly because I put it off until after the deadline. Regardless, I really like this one and I think it works really well.
In case you are curious, the word for Sepetember was "learning," and the piece I wrote for that was accepted for publication by Grand Central Review (grandcentralreview.com), and should be available to read on their site soon. The word for October was "fright," and I didn't actually write one for that yet, because I have been preoccupied with real life events recently and haven't had a lot of capacity for imaginary stuff.
I am also currently editing my second novel, Flagg. I am once again cursing my inability to properly punctuate while I am writing and wanting to fight myself from a few months ago. (JUST USE QUOTATION MARKS, YOU JACKASS, YOU CANT RUN A SIMPLE SPELL CHECKER AFTER YOU ARE DONE FOR THE NIGHT? OH MY STARS AND GARTERS, THERE ARE KEYS FOR PERIODS AND QUESTION MARKS, PAL.)
Oh, and be sure to visit my publisher's website (pennamepublishing.com), join the launch team for Antiartists, and check out other PNP writers as well.
If you are here and reading this, thanks. I hope you enjoy what I do. If you don't, tough, 'cause I'm just going to keep on doing it anyway, sorry.
Seriously, though, thank you for reading my stuff.
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