Register Thursday | June 20 | 2019

Staying In

Third-Place winner in the Quebec Writing Competition

We’re sitting in our living room, not quite facing each other in the slightly grease-stained, white wing chairs I brought into the relationship. It’s your idea to sit down here. You have something to tell me, and you tell it to me, your head tilted forward in a way that means I had better put aside the movie quotes and overblown accents. I listen to your bullet points. You’re outlining the ways we’re broken.

After number two, I aim my eyes over your shoulder, out the living room window. The rounded treetops behind our building are full of golden light, dusty with the snow that’s blowing around.

When these two chairs used to be in my old apartment, I would sit in one and lay my quarter chicken take-out on the other, and fire up the Space Channel. We may as well not even have a TV now, and you’re sitting in that chair; and I can’t just switch off this conversation. The only thought possible in this room is that you’ll never want me to touch you again.

You’re reconstituting something I said to you. Something I don’t remember saying. Later, you’ll tell me, “I didn’t mean what I said,” but for now I bake in it.
The wind has blown the branches bare outside our window. I wish I could be among the trees in the mountain park, on my skis, like I was this morning. You were at work, and I wasn’t, and I climbed hill after hill. This morning, they all seemed steeper than usual. I tried to keep my skis straight and slide uphill with each stroke; but I kept slipping on the packed snow. I won’t slot myself into the fishbone slashes of other skiers; so I went off trail. My ski tips brutalized the carefully powdered bushes, their up-springing branches all around me.

Resting at the top, I scanned the treetops. That was how I saw the woodpecker. He was huge, hanging on a maple trunk, dipping his blood-arrow head in and out of a hollow. I watched, steaming, snow dusting my jacket. He paused after every few pecks and cocked his head, as if asking himself whether all his digging was really worth the trouble. I stayed there beside the trail until my wet clothes got too cold to bear.

You could be in three and a half other rooms of our apartment, but you’re still facing me in the other wing chair, waiting for me to say something. I won’t be saying I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you want.

Last week, when we skied together, your clothes were never right. First you had to change gloves, then your scarf. Stopped beside the trail, watching you change, I could almost count each calorie of heat the wind peeled off me.

“Do you know another way you try to dominate me?” you said, pulling on your coat. “With your eyes.”

That day skiing, making our final break across the lake toward the chalet, we had to lean into blasts of wind that could have knocked us on our sides. I glided along in the tracks beside you. Your Gore-Tex hood may as well have been a turbojet in your ear, and you made me repeat everything I said. I answered back more sharply than you deserved, until we stopped saying anything at all. In our parallel tracks, listening to the swish of our clothes, the things we’d already said rolled around in my head like tiny ball bearings in a hand-held game I had when I was a kid. I could never get all those balls to settle in the right divots.

The wind rattles our living room windows behind you.

“Well?” you say.

Not good. How much of this conversation have I missed? I can’t read your face because I’ve been looking out at the sun and snow. You’re a wife-shaped silhouette.

“I was asking you a question.”

Part of me is already telling you I need to clear my head—one of my patented walks.

“I’m here.” I shift in my wing chair, but not to get up.

I’m not usually around for this part. As the room comes into focus again, I can actually find your eyes. Softly, softly, I remind myself, and you don’t look away.
You haven’t forgiven me yet, but you’re searching my face. I tell myself, we’ll be OK, after this conversation is over. Not right after, but maybe when we’re cooking together later; or when our dinner guests arrive. Maybe in bed after. We will be whole again, I tell myself, and I actually believe it.