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State Of Grace

"I never said I didn’t love you!" Simon pinched the top of his nose between tightly shut eyes. The beginning of a headache speared down the top of his skull.

His wife of fifteen years, Grace, glared at him, tears racing down her cheeks, mascara tire tracks skidding in their wake.

Five minutes passed. Ten. When he was sure there were no words left to say, he pushed his chair away from the table with a scrape. "Typical," she clucked under her breath.

So this is 40. 42, actually. And today he felt every bit of it. He wanted nothing more of this age, he decided. It’s a bummer.

A coffee cup slammed on the kitchen table. He could see the spoon jumping in response. And just for a second, he smiled. Grace told him he was childish. Perhaps she was right. Or maybe, he’d just seen too many cartoons in his time. Right now he felt like tweety bird in the cage, Sylvester’s paw reaching through bars, clawing the floor.

8:15. She should be going or she’d be late. He heard the click of a compact being shut. There’d be no sign of emotion when she tick-tacked out in her high heels. The nasty stuff always stays behind locked doors with her, like all things in her life. Professional to the core. Accountant extraordinaire.

"Try and do something useful, like the damned laundry!" She snorted just before slamming the door.

The was a palpable lightening of the air after she left. His mother used to call people like that - oh, let’s face it, her - a wet blanket. It reminded him of an old ‘30s cartoon character who walked around with a cloud over his head. Perfectionist she is though, she does it one better, he thought. She supplies the thunder, lightening and sound effects too.

Do something useful, she said. If he had, he’d have stayed in bed. Now that would have been really useful. It was his day off, after all.

Alas, he was awake, much as he had been at 3:00 when he’d awoken from a dream where he fell apart, literally, limb by limb.

And as he went to the kitchen for another, peaceful, cup of coffee he realized that there was nothing useful he could do for her, not now, not ever. He had outlived his usefulness, his expiry date had passed. Sour milk. Curdled. Or was is she who had curdled? He guessed the whole damned lot was curdled. And if he had a backbone, he’d toss the lot down the sink.

He poured his coffee, went to the table and stopped. She was still here. The coffee cup with its bright red lip marks. The crumpled tissues with clots of makeup. The stubbed out cigarette, curling blackly in the ashtray. And two she left in a pack on the table. He sighed. It’s been five years since he smoked his last one. And he wanted those two more now than when he’d first quit. Go figure.

He picked up the pack, turned it over and over in his hands. "I am the Great Magician," he said to the dripping tap, "watch me make two coffin nails disappear!" He laughed. Grace hated it when he stuff like that, so now, well, the appliances get it. Now wonder they’re always breaking down. He laughed again, the tone just a little bit higher.

He should clear off the table, he thought, but in his mind he could see static shocks of anger spearing his fingers. He decided he should leave it all there for now, at least until he found the rubber gloves. And a cross and some holy water.

Laundry. He drained the last cup of coffee, placed the cup by the pot for future reference, and headed upstairs where the dirty laundry lurked. There were towels, still damp, hanging limply from the racks. And sheets. Cleaner that they should be for a married couple, but not fresh so he stripped the bed. A couple of errant socks pulled from under the bed. "Gotcha!" he said.

"We should have had children," he said to the left one, "I’m talking to socks." He flipped the pair into the hamper. As he pulled the pillow cases from the pillows, he realized they were still damp too. He never had the heart to tell her she drooled, or that she snored like a lumberjack either. Oh well, he did too. There, they did still have something in common.

Well that was it. He carried the hamper down to the basement where mice and shadows live. The furnace burped on in acknowledgement of his arrival. In the corner of his eye he saw something skitter away. If Grace knew there were mice down here, she’d be apoplectic. So it was his little secret. He just didn’t have the heart to trap them, and after much study he realized there was no such thing as an inhumane trap. So he didn’t tell her.

He thumped the hamper down and began the odious task of sorting the dirty laundry. There were jeans and socks and night clothes (she insisted on pajamas), the sheets of course, and towels (sapphire blue). His drawers, her slip. Nylons. They always struck him as creepy - they retain their shape, even of the bunion on her left foot. Stand them up and he could see her, tapping her toe in annoyance.

And the delicates. A bra - which moulds who? Her panties - utilitarian. They used to be nice, but now, just comfortable. And that was all.

He did the sheets first because they’re big, easy to flip, easy to fold. It was the little things that take so much, the socks to match, and God help him, knee highs, and tiny underwear that don’t really fold but can’t stay as they are - they drove him crazy. So he always left those for last.

Back upstairs he went, not quite sure what to do. It was spring and the sun shone brightly through the windows, glinting off the dust on the leaves of her myriad of plants. She said he always killed them, so he wouldn’t touch them. He and the leaves would know the secret. In the back of his mind he remembered she said something about putting away the winter clothes. Yes. That’s what he would do.

Underneath the bed sat bags of summer clothes; these he pulled out, his and hers, and left them in neat piles on the bed.

He started with her things, the heavy sweaters and wool suits, the long sleeved black things she wore to formal events. And him, well he had his turtlenecks and a heavy blazer, a vest he never wore, and a couple of flannel shirts. Different people, different lives, he thought. She of the linen and tweed and silk, me of the denim and flannel and sweats. I could put everything, summer, winter, spring in a bag, he thought. And then, naughty boy, why didn’t he?

He placed her spring things on the appropriate hangers, the winters, into the bag under the bed. He turned over the mattress too for good measure. But one idea that wouldn’t leave him was how easily all of his stuff would fit into the big suitcase, the one that lives behind the furnace, waiting for the day they might actually take a long trip. Maybe its day had come. At least it would keep his stuff from touching hers, you know how it is.

So he went to the kitchen and poured himself a coffee, waiting for the washer to stop. The lipstick mark on her cup sneered at him and he stuck out his tongue. If you were so honest as you say you are, he thought, you wouldn’t wear that shit that leaves footprints where ever you plant your lips. Not that they’re animate objects. He laughed. Oh God, what has happened to him? Must be spring.

He could smell the ashtray so he dumped it, rinsed it out and put it back on the table beside the cigarette pack. He could smell them too, though he was sure it was his imagination, that cloying fall leaf smell. Not nearly so good as how they smell when first lit. Sure they stink like cat pee after the smoke has settled, but while still burning, well, there’s no smell like that. Like the living room when he was a child and colourful polyester and cotton was king and shag carpets swallowed your toes in burnt orange and brown and mustard yellow. We drank pop out of plastic glasses kept cool in avocado green fridges and the adults laughed as they sipped on their rye and ginger or gin and tonic and we played the game of Life in the basement where one wall was cork, the other plastic wood and Jenny’s dad was always drunk but then, nobody thought to take away the keys. Yet miraculously we all survived. Except Paul of course, but that was between him and his motorcycle and beer and a storm sodden road…water under the bridge. As complicated as things were then, they were simpler too. He’d never understood before how his parents could say that about the second world war, but now he did.

All those laughing parents are dead or retired, he thought. Their children? Dead, wishing they were retired, or just plain wishing. Much as he was. And longing for cigarettes or something else forbidden in this unforgiving time. Then he thought, perhaps that was it. He is the unforgiven. Didn’t he and Grace dream glorious dreams in between the fits of passion? Enough that they felt the world was their oyster, or was it just they were both spoiled? Caught between the cross-hairs of the true baby-burn-your-bra-boomers and the famous indolent generation x-ers? Perhaps. Or perhaps the whole damn bunch of us got so good at lying and at blaming everyone else that somewhere we forgot we are human and that no matter what else, we are fallible.

The washer stopped. Time to flip. He knew where he was going. Oh yes, she’d see the cleanest clothes of her life. And in between the loads he’d take that great jeezly suitcase and give it a dust and cram everything in it he possibly could. On top of that he’d pile his unmentionables - the hopes, the desires, the disappointments, the regrets, all of that crap too. ‘Cause if nothing else, for once in his life, he, he himself wanted to be responsible.

When he was done packing, he returned to the table. The cigarettes sang their siren song and he remembered how it felt to feel that touch on the lips, that burning warmth through his mouth down deep in his lungs, that rush when it’s been a while…Hand resting on pack, he stopped. She’d done that to tempt him. What she didn’t know was how much he longed for that touch on the lips, that feeling of warmth, the glow that you get when somebody loves you. Cigarettes don’t love - they’re inanimate objects. And Grace? Who the hell knows. All he knew is that he couldn’t remember the last time she’d embraced him with the passion those bloody cigarettes had.

So he wrote her a note:

Amazing Grace, how much I missed you, when did we all fall apart? How sweet the sound that silence brings, the kind when no one’s around. I did love you, no question there, but I’m tired of kneeling to altars of tweed and forever begging repentance. So long, fair well, may the road treat you kindly, I leave you in grace, my Grace, fair well.

She hated it when he did stuff like that. And he smiled.

2000 C. M. Harris Davies