She was taking off her tee shirt by the time he had finished feeding the cat and climbed the stairs to their room, and in the one soft light burning on his bedside table he couldn’t help but stare at his wife as she undressed for bed. “You’re beautiful,” he said.
“Drunken sot,” she said, “but thank you.” He shuffled to her side of the bed, but she slipped under the covers before he could deliver the hug he had been thinking about for the last two hours.
He paused, catching his balance on the bedpost, then lumbered over to his side of the bed. As he pulled off his shirt and pants, he could hear her rustling in bed behind him. When he turned to look, all he could make out was the contour of her back under the sheet. He dropped into bed with a sigh and pulled up the sheets. Rubbing at his eyes, he clicked off the light, sending the bedroom into total darkness. The hazy afterimage of the bedpost floated in his line of sight for a moment then slowly faded to nothing.
“That was fun tonight,” he said, yawning. They had been at the neighborhood block party.
“Yes,” she said. He could tell she was rubbing her arm underneath the sheet. He paused, waiting for her to say more, but she didn’t.
“Trace, you OK?” he asked. Again, there was a long pause before she spoke.
“Lily O’Connor was raped over in Ravens Falls.” Her voice was small out of the darkness. “Mary told me when you and Steve were out grilling on the deck.”
“What?” Tom was nursing a bottle of red wine buzz that would blossom magnificently into a bottle of red wine hangover by morning. The blackness swallowed his last slurred syllable, a sure sign of impending sleep.
“She was raped. At a party. In the woods.” The smallness of her voice struck him through the drowsy wave he was slowly sliding under. More silence.
“Jesus.” He rubbed his eyes and rolled to face her, or at least the general spot where her voice was emanating from in the dark. “Is she alright?”
“Who did it?”
“Mary didn’t know. Some college kid. Mike and Carrie were out of town last month for their anniversary. It’s why they weren’t at the party tonight.”
“Poor kid. How does Mary know?”
“You know Mary. She hears everything.” She rolled away from him, and when her voice stopped, he again nearly drifted off into sleep. From her side of the bed, magnified in the black room, he could hear the sheets ruffling, like they were gently sliding across her shoulders. A second later, he heard the breath catch in his wife’s throat.
“Trace, what’s the matter?” The darkness pillowed him in silence.
“It’s nothing. They’ve just had so much trouble with Lily, and now this. Mike’s talking about putting her in private school, so she can finish out her senior year,” she paused and rustled in her nest of covers, “Once she’s feeling better.” Her voice was thick.
The crickets kicked up in the back yard, puncturing the silence and covering his wife’s barely audible weeping. He tried to fend off the wine swells in his head by focusing on the clock, but it wasn’t working. “Damn,” was all he could think to say. “Why won’t she say who did it?”
“No one knows,’” she mumbled, “She’s just keeping quiet.”
“Hmph,” he mumbled.
She didn’t reply but started crying, hard and silent, so hard, in fact, that Tom reached out into the void and placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder; she shrugged it off and slid farther away from him.
“You’re an asshole.” Tom sat up, fumbling for the light. She stopped him with, “Don’t.”
“Why am I an asshole?” He sat up in bed, turning to stare at her shadowy figure coming more into relief as his eyes adjusted.
She rustled the covers and he sensed that she was on her side now, facing him. “I’m sorry. You’re not. It’s not you. It’s not that.” The silence flowed around them, insinuated itself between them.“You really don’t know, do you?”
“That’s why I’m asking.” Jesus, less wine next time.
“You knew it happened to me in college, too, right? Junior year, by my asshole ex-boyfriend Tyler Martin. That guy that lived on your floor? You never once said anything to me about it.”
“Wait,” he said, faces registering and flickering across his memory, “Really?”
“Yes, really. You had to know. Everyone knew.”
His head was spinning. Only two hours ago they were sitting around the fire pit, holding hands, sharing those couples only stares. “Honey, no, I never knew about that.” But he had. He had buried it away with all the accumulated detritus of those blurry years in the hopes that it would disappear. People did things. Everyone graduated and moved on, started lives. He barely knew her then, and Tyler was certainly never shy with the girls. His face burned with shame and doubt.
“Sure. Whatever,” she said, her voice getting lower again, “Goodnight.” She rolled onto her side and was silent, quietly sobbing into her pillow. He wanted to reach out to her, grab her arm again, hug her, but she seemed suddenly too far away, lost in a gulf of blackness and bedding. He could feel her shoulders shaking; they sent tiny shivers along the mattress, and her sobs, though muffled, were like cries heard from a distance. It felt to him as if a vast gulf had broken open between them and, staring blindly into the nothingness, all he could do was try to plumb its contours and its depths.
This was a good read, Brian. The last line was both beautiful and a punch in the gut. The layers you’ve woven into this narrative…so well written.
Maybe I’m dumb but I don’t get it.
She didn’t tell him, but her only defense “Everybody knew” What kind of teacher is the author?
Guilt by disassociation. Well crafted.
Poignant commentary on how sweeping sexual violence under the carpet causes repression, guilt, and pain
The dialog between the couple feels real, and there’s a lot of engaging and real irony that makes the reader think:
The things people won’t say but still want others to know (his perspective).
The conflict that can be caused by trying to avoid confrontation (her perspective).
A very marked comment on how the past (especially past trauma) effects the present–in human relationships. A well-told tale.
My opinion: The last sentence was too poetic and too much like the writer’s voice and not the character. “..all he could do was to try and plumb its contours and depths”.
Also, the philosophy didn’t quite ring true, particularly coming from someone who earlier in his life said that “…people did things, moved on and got on with their lives..”
Game, set and match…..all is forgotten and forgiven.