He watches her without eyes, primal, rattled, senses heightened in these times. She could have been miles away, not ten feet away. She is neither close, nor far. She is always there. Just go, he wants to say, but he could not bear it if she did. He could not endure the solitude. He needs her there, plastered, permanent. He needs her like oxygen, just like that, standing, blankly, near the stove, the orange kettle, the sameness, the stillness, her stature, her silence, standing there, amidst the wallpaper, engulfed by the twisting ugliness. Nouveau floral she had called it, steel blue, flat pink, banal, indifferent, but how could she have known. He forgave her then, and now, for neglecting to consider the swirling lines might make it worse for him, a labyrinth of convolution, the unsettling nature of it. But he forgives her. She is loyal, the way he needs her, unmoving, assuaging and sickening, slight movements irk, but, still, if not for the wallpaper, he might have felt more at ease, and so he is pained by it, the looping, the time he’s gotten caught in there, the unfathomable. And maybe in a different setting he could manage the steel blue, the infinite twisting, the pointed leaves, sharp, chastising, and she is naïve, in the midst of it, entangled, wears it like a shroud, as if to say take that beast, this is what you deserve.
She moves, then, slightly, and he wants to shriek at her, tell her to go, but he needs her like this, all of her, the languishing way about her, as if she had swallowed the the sun in her mouth, the light emanating off her soul, and he never believed he could need this part of her, the image more than the other. Some part of him, a part he can not now conjure, believes it is a deceptive presence, and she might dissipate at any given moment. So he is immobile, too, fearing the worst, the end of a thing with no end in sight.
Don't flare at me, he thinks he hears and gets stuck, disturbed, knowing it’s wrong. You mean glare, he wants to correct, but imagines if he parts his lips he will implode, and anyways she will not respond, and if she did she might destroy the very essence he immures. The chair scrapes the floor, and she turns to him, then, and he sees her, askance, her eyes brightening, recoiling.
“What are you doing?” he asks, expels it all in a rush, in one breath, a frantic, shaken rush of motion where lips tremble and freeze.
“Making tea…you know.” He hears it clearly, the words enunciated just so, convincing him she said it, and he wants to stew, ruminate, but then the whistle, the steam, the bellowing, and her movement, the way she turns squarely away from him as if in revolt. And for a quick moment, he is reasonable, melancholic, contemplating something about her frailty, the way she holds herself, there in front of the stove, as if it is enough and nothing more is required. She picks up the orange kettle off the burner, hesitantly, warily, and he looks directly at her now and she turns unexpectedly and catches his gaze, knowingly, instinctively, and their eyes lock, and his eyes rest on her, the sharpness of an elbow, an ear protruding, the face blurry as if seeing her through an opal glass, and he is lost in the depths of her, a visage, melting like an incineration, and it might have settled right in his mind, if not for the sadness, the garish orange, the white ear, the nouveau floral, the asynchronous, elements too corporeal and rogue, the steam rising from the bedlam.
“I don't deserve…” she begins, and the missing word means everything and nothing, and he can not decipher these monosyllabic sounds, so he pauses and ruminates on the final thought, the absence of it, considering it could be you or this, and he agonizes, cringing at parts of things like the water from the orange kettle trickling down now into her mug, painfully, interminably, and then the next and the next, and then she does it, what he has anticipated all along, what she must, what he expected, she opens the silverware drawer, and the jolts hit him, the clang of metal against metal, and the residual vapors still present mix with her light and all begins to grow and intensify like a convergence of elements, an insemination.
“Stop it. Please.” He covers his ears to shield himself.
He could not tell her what. He could not speak over the tremble and the waves assimilating, evolving, militant, apocalyptic, an army of sounds exiting her mouth, a war inside his mind.
She closes the drawer and walks over to the table, lithesome but sure, sits down across from him with an awareness the worst has passed. Now, she settles, eyes downcast, intent upon the motion, the gentle up and down rhythm of the tea bag, a gentle cadence in the steeping, the molecules breaking free, rising from the cup, anointing.
Elizabeth Brown's work has appeared in Sleet Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Gravel, Wilderness House Literary Review, TreeHouse Arts, the Hartford Courant, and elsewhere. She resides in Connecticut.