By: Kayla Meyers
His bags were packed, sitting in a jumbled heap by the front door. The sky outside grew increasingly dark with storm clouds drifting in from the south. Elongated shadows sprawled throughout the eerily quiet house, drowning out the usually warm, inviting atmosphere of their home with a cold bleakness. The air was unnervingly still and thick, as if someone had enclosed their small corner of the world in a glass jar and forgotten to punch holes in the lid. Everything was silent except the soft, rhythmic drumming of raindrops on the rooftops and pattering against the windowpanes like idle hands on a tabletop. It was as if the world was holding its breath as it waited for the inevitable disaster to strike.
They were upstairs in the bedroom, neither of them speaking. He was standing in front of the dresser mirror, systematically fastening the buttons on his green army shirt. Seeing his impassive, composed face made her feel like crying all over again, and she forced herself to look away. Her thin, delicate form was lightly imprinted on top of the yellow and white comforter which lay across their bed. Absently her fingers traced over the raised stitches that created the fluid pattern of large yellow roses intertwined with baby's breath. His mother gave it to them as a wedding present, and over the ensuing five years since then it seemed the most integral events in their married life had occurred around, on top, or beneath the soft plush fabric; very young and just starting out in life, they couldn't afford a honeymoon and so their first night as husband and wife was spent in this house, on this bed, under this comforter. Their first marital squabble had taken place in the bedroom, then later resolved when he came back after a long drive and crawled in behind her, remorsefully pulling her against him. He'd sat next to her on the bed when she'd received word that she was getting promoted at work, and spent the night covering her in congratulatory kisses. And finally, just last week he'd come home to find her in the spot she was lying in now with tears streaming down her face, clutching a crumpled piece of paper to her chest. The letter said he was being deployed to Iraq for the next year.
Finally he turned and faced in her direction. She didn't look back, her eyes fixed on the place where he'd slept next to her every night for the last five years. Her eyes were glassy and dull, and while she was staring he doubted she was actually seeing anything. Still her restless fingers moved across the embroidered flowers, her nail snagging a few stitches here and there, causing them to begin fraying at the seams. Looking at her made the painful tightness in his chest return, and he fought against the strong current of emotion, struggling to keep a hold of his anchor of composure. She hadn't been eating, he could tell by the pallid, lifeless tone of her skin along with the purple-black circles under her eyes. It was a habit she'd developed to cope with stress, like biting your nails or chewing gum, although in the past five years she hadn't had a reason to resort back to it as means to control anxiety. Until now. It broke his heart that he was the cause of it.
After a moment he moved over to where she was lying and stood in front of her. She remained motionless at first, and then slowly, almost involuntarily sat up. For the first time that day, their eyes met. He leaned down to pull her near but she resisted, pulling back just out of his reach. Her eyes roamed over him, taking in every curve and bend and freckle. Eventually she settled back on his eyes, and they gazed wordlessly. He tried again to draw her close, and this time she allowed him. A thousand kisses had been shared between them; passionate, tender, sweet, but none like this one. Even in their embrace with their lips planted firmly together, they could both feel the separation happening between them like strong hands dragging them away from each other no matter how they fought against them. Her lips were not loving or affectionate but only desperate. His fingers were the same, grasping her not in desire but in the frantic, hopeless way a man at the edge of a cliff clings to a slippery rope. It was the only thing left for them to do; a final kiss, a kiss of goodbye.
She pulled away, looking up at him, studying the flecks of color in his eyes. Her fingers played with the collar of his shirt, rumpling it then flattening it again, over and over. She looked down suddenly. "Your boots are going to ruin the carpet," she told him indifferently. "We spent a lot of money on this carpet."
Yes, in fact, they had. "I know," he said as he dug his heels deeply into the floor. The black marks they left would never come out. Good, he thought. Let it go to hell. Who cares, anyway?
She sniffled and let out a sharp sigh. "It's raining, don't forget to put on your jacket before you leave. It will probably be cold on the plane."
"I will," he said.
"Did you call your mother? She said -"
He pressed his lips to hers, cutting her off shortly. She cried out a little, squeezing him tightly as she buried her face in his neck. He held her one last time beneath the comforter, and when it was over they laid next to each other without touching, her brown hair fanning around her face on the pillow and him on his back, staring up at the ceiling. He slowly turned and raised his head, looking over her shoulder at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand, then looked back at her. She got up wordlessly and he followed her, they got dressed and made their way downstairs, both of them feeling as if they were walking in a dream. They walked out into the dreary afternoon and he put his things in trunk of her car before climbing in beside her. The rain continued as they drove, and by the time they reached the airport, it had turned into a torrential down-pour. Angry gusts of wind pushed the tiny hail in a downward slant, the bits of ice hammering on the hood and skittering down to the pavement.
"I'll call whenever I can," he said, his voice barely audible above the pounding of the rain on the car. "Do you have the address to write to me?"
"Yes," she said flatly. She refused to meet his eyes, instead looking straight ahead into the stormy afternoon. "You're going to miss your flight."
He exhaled deeply and reached over, lightly squeezing her arm. She didn't move. Neither of them said 'I love you'. He got out and got his things from the trunk, then began toward the building. She watched his shape, distorted by the rain, as he moved through the crowd. Outside, the sleet thundered harder still on the roof of the car, echoing hollowly in her ears. Suddenly, she realized he'd left his black hooded jacket on the seat beside her. She took it and started to go after him, but when she looked back in the direction he'd been walking, he was already gone. She sat there with his jacket in her lap, running her fingers over the soft material. Bringing it up to her nose, she inhaled long and deep, taking in the faint smell of his cologne. Slowly, she pulled it over her head and pulled out of the parking lot, beginning the drive back home, alone.