By: Keith Manos
The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air. The crisp rush of air held Kevin there by the glass, cooling his warm skin and enabling him to study his shadowy reflection. He wondered if all husbands looked like this, whether all men shared that perplexed expression that labeled them as married. Kevin exhaled. His breath misted in front of his face on the window, and for a brief moment he couldn’t see outside. In quick desperation he used his palm to rub the fog off on the glass.
He was waiting for Sheila’s Toyota to pull into the driveway. He always waited for her like this, always unsure these days if she would return when she left after dinner. Kevin pressed his face against the windowpane and enjoyed again the brief chill against his cheek, concluding that this is how husbands should behave. That they should wait for their wives to come home safely so they could share the amusing and troubling events of the day that had happened during that agonizing time of separation.
Kevin hadn’t always waited like this. Their love was certainly different before. Kevin remembered Sheila naked beneath him, the way her heavy breasts swayed as he lurched into her, the way they trusted each other to complete their lovemaking without theatrics, and afterwards, how he massaged the white swell of her back, and the cooing she did as his hand journeyed up and down her spine. Not like now – because now he had to remind her where to put her hands on his body, and she demanded he go slowly and stop all that spastic pushing. To be sure, each of them took turns giving orders. And Sheila didn’t moan anymore, turning her head away instead, her eyes closed, waiting for him to finish so she could slide out from under him and go into the bathroom where she ran water into the sink and brushed her teeth.
He’d finished the bathroom for her last week, updating it with new towels, rugs, faucets, and a shower door. The old towels were stained so badly Kevin had been embarrassed, remembering how he rubbed his groin with them. They had once shared stolen moments in the bathroom long before, giggling as they urgently undressed each other. They had ignored the damp rug against their skin when they collapsed breathlessly to the floor, their sweaty faces pressed against each other’s hard shoulders. Sheila locked the bathroom door now, making him wait until she finished. She refused to let Kevin see her naked.
Hovering at the door, he would ask, “Sheila? Almost done?”
“Wait,” she had said, her voice stern and unapologetic.
Kevin had placed his ear against the door, eavesdropping on her sounds, especially when she toweled herself off, imagining her as she bent over to dry her knees and ankles. If the shower was on, he would move back into the bedroom and open the dresser drawer where Sheila kept her panties and bras. Until the shower stopped, he would fondle the fabric, enjoying the feel of lace and satin against his fingertips. He remembered how they looked on her when she undressed, how just gazing at her that way aroused him.
Now he waited for her in their living room, sitting on a cushioned chair he had slid next to the open window, his eyes on the street where little pools of light from street lamps fell on the gray pavement. He viewed his face in the window glass again, pale and pinched, and wondered if he looked that way to Sheila, worrying that maybe he had always looked that way to her – eyes that blinked too much, blotchy cheeks, a skull-like mouth. What did she see in him? He decided he would ask her when she returned, in a casual way of course, maybe as they sipped herbal tea and munched on crackers at the kitchen table.
Actually, Kevin blamed Charlie, the dog, for Sheila’s current lack of affection. The damn yorkie used to hop onto the bed and sniff at their groins whenever they made love. Charlie had even bitten his ankles three times when Kevin moved on top of her, making him wonder if Sheila had trained the dog to do that. He’d come home from teaching English literature at the community college, and Charlie would start growling whenever he walked in the door.
Other nights, Kevin had massaged Sheila’s feet as they watched television – Law and Order because they both liked seeing the defendant get his at the end. When did we stop doing that? Kevin pondered. He missed those evenings when they sat side by side on the sofa, their shoulders cuddling with each other, and wished he’d taken a selfie so he could Facebook their friends with the photo of the happy couple.
On weekends he took her shopping, waiting patiently outside the dressing room while she tried on dresses or shoes. When the credit card bill came at the beginning of the month, however, Kevin had asked about her spending – only about what she had purchased, mind you, when she’d gone shopping without him; he’d gladly pay any bill; he was only curious.
“Does it matter?” she had said, making him feel guilty for asking.
Kevin recognized this as rhetorical and didn’t answer. He sensed it: Her need to have the upper hand.
He had caught her lying only once when he had called Thompson, Schmidt, and Crane asking for her, and he’d been told all the paralegals had been given the day off. However, he never asked her where she had gone that day. He simply wrote down the date on a steno pad he kept on the nightstand next to their bed, waiting for the right moment to show it to her and wondering if maybe he would have to add additional dates.
Sheila demanded Kevin install a security system. A burglary had happened three streets over. “Don’t you want me to be safe?” she had asked, flipping her auburn hair off her shoulders and then crossing her arms across her ample chest.
Of course he wanted her safe so Kevin ordered the security system. But he looked around the house – What did they own that a burglar would want to steal?
And when Charlie died after he broke from his leash, dashed into the street, and was flattened by a car, Sheila blamed Kevin – he had been walking Charlie at the time. She demanded they buy a new dog, another yorkie, but Kevin resisted. Caring for Charlie had been too much. They had resigned themselves that they couldn’t have kids, and after a while, neither of them cared enough to find out why Sheila never got pregnant.
Rain splattered the window now, and he worried about Sheila driving that evening on the slick roads. True, she had been driving for over twenty years but still he was concerned. “I’m going out,” she had said.
Where? Although desperate to know, Kevin had learned not to ask anymore. It only started an argument, and Sheila had the advantage: She could slam the door on her way out.
For some reason, the rain reminded Kevin of the time last year when he had suggested they go on a cruise, either Alaska or the Caribbean, and showed her the brochures. They could travel over his winter break or during the summer, whenever she wanted. Sheila, however, glanced briefly at the brochures and dropped them without comment on the kitchen table for Kevin to pick up later. No, he decided then, we should at least talk about a cruise, so he left the brochures on the table, giving her another chance to examine them. When he came home from the college the next day, they were gone.
Possibly, Kevin considered, she was visiting her mother tonight. Kevin never did. He wasn’t allowed. “She’s not your mother,” Sheila had explained, and Kevin accepted the fact that she was right. Her mom was in a nursing home, the poor woman suffering from dementia.
“Maybe we need counseling,” he responded, trying to catch her off guard.
But Sheila seemed prepared for this. “What could a counselor tell us about ourselves that we don’t know already?”
Again, Kevin recognized Sheila was right.
Still, Kevin had tried. He compromised on the Christmas tree issue – They went artificial. He had made reservations at The Abbey, the kind of restaurant where they replace your fork the moment after you set it on your plate; where young men scoot back their heavy chairs, get on one knee, and ask their dates to marry them; where classical music plays from hidden speakers and dim lighting reflects elegance and high menu prices. Sheila ordered the seared salmon, while Kevin struggled deciding between the filet mignon and the pork chops. She waited impatiently until he finally chose the steak, and afterwards as they waited for the check, he suggested they get a hotel room. For fun. He smiled mischievously and reached for her hand across the white linen cloth on the table. Sheila accepted his hand, declined the proposal, and did not smile. They drove home instead, pausing at the door to disarm the security alert.
He checked the street again. The rain came in misty sweeps over the driveway and lawn. Kevin thought about calling her cellphone, but would that reveal his desperation? Anger her? What are you doing, Kevin – Checking up on me? Jesus!
Over beers at a tavern one Friday night months ago, Kevin had lamented about his marriage to his brother, a confession really, which, in Kevin’s view, implied weakness. Michael, his brother, apparently recognized this and told him to try harder, to get counseling, to do something – anything, man. Michael even went on to say that it might be good if they broke up because then Kevin could date a hot college coed. He winked mischievously at Kevin and grinned.
“And lose my job?” Kevin stammered. “Are you serious?”
Michael eyed him over the rim of his glass of scotch. “Maybe marrying Sheila was a mistake. How much longer do you want to live like this? You’re not getting any younger, Kevin.”
Kevin kept his eyes on his Heineken bottle, as if it was a student’s paper he had to grade. “I took her to The Abbey. I suggested we go on a cruise. I pay for her clothes.”
Michael leaned back and studied his brother’s face. “Yeah? And how did all that work out?” Michael was being rhetorical too, so Kevin kept twirling his Heineken bottle.
His brother persisted. “Are you thinking about a divorce?”
“No, of course not,” Kevin had said, waving a hand in front of him as if he could swat the word away. But did he? Did all of this – the dog, the evenings she spent away, the locked bathroom door – mean divorce?
“Then take a long vacation together. Go somewhere,” Michael advised, but his face showed even in the dim light of the corner tavern that he was growing bored with helping Kevin. “Like on her birthday.”
“Jesus, Kevin. Figure it out.” He finished his scotch.
At the living room window Kevin craned his neck left and right and admitted to himself he missed Sheila. He especially missed her laughter. That was when she was the most intimate really, the closest – how she lifted her chin to the ceiling as if her giggles needed more space in the room. When, Kevin tried to recall, had she laughed last? He resolved that he needed to tell more jokes, even if they were knock knock jokes. Sheila still smiled, but they were those functional smiles, the kind patrons give their server at restaurants when they bring them their drinks.
Kevin had witnessed that smile when she opened the felt box that contained his last birthday gift to her, a gold necklace with a heart-shaped pendant, her initials etched on the back. She politely thanked him, placed the necklace back in the box, set it on the dresser, and removed her earrings while Kevin stood behind her and waited to see if she was going to say anything else. She didn’t.
The sudden glow of a car’s headlights bounced on the wet pavement, and Kevin leaned even closer to the window, his breath coming quicker now, making little circles of fog on the glass. He settled back in the chair, however, when a station wagon came into view and passed his house. The rain slowed, and Kevin considered what he would say to Sheila when she returned.
Was there a new show on television they could watch together? Like Law and Order, one they could make their own. Kevin decided to relent and let her buy another dog, even if it was another yorkie. He’d find those cruise brochures and get other ones, maybe for the Greek islands.
He left the chair and went into the family room, turned on the television, and checked the program menu to find their new show. But when would she be home? Soon? Kevin, of course, realized he would accept whatever she wanted to see, so he turned off the television and returned to the window. Once again, the sharp air cooled his warm skin.
Waiting, Kevin remembered his mom and dad – how they compartmentalized the way they interacted. Dad changed the oil in the cars and cut the grass, Mom did the shopping and cooked the meals. Those paths never crossed. They ate their meals together, watched the same television shows, and went to bed at the same time, both of them accustomed to this way of living. They never argued. They trusted each other to come home. Kevin wanted that marriage.
Kevin finally moved to the door, opened it, and stepped out onto the driveway. He abruptly discovered he was shoeless as the moisture from the rain soaked his white socks. His eyes widened. The Toyota was parked in the driveway. When had she come home? He touched the hood of the car. The metal was cold.
Kevin peered into the empty car. Where was she? His priority shifted to search and rescue. Sheila would appreciate this, he reasoned. He stepped closer to the street and scanned their neighborhood. His eyes fell on the Schoner home. Last summer, he had spied Sheila stroking Pete Schoner’s arm on the patio during the neighborhood block party, a look of admiration in her eyes . . . no, it was adventure – the mystery of what could be. Her eyes gleamed, and his had darted from her face to her chest.
He had to find Sheila. Had she come into the house without him knowing it? He went back inside, and his feet grew cold against his wet socks as he padded across the linoleum floor of the kitchen and into the carpeted dining room. Even in the semidarkness of the room, Kevin could tell she wasn’t there. He reversed himself and walked down the hallway past the empty guest rooms to the master bedroom. He paused at the door, which was closed halfway and listened. Was she sleeping?
Kevin opened the door, turned on the light, and saw the empty bed where the mattress still sagged from his body’s imprint and the sheet and covers were still thrown aside – the same way he had left them this morning. He checked the bathroom, but Sheila wasn’t there either. Nevertheless, he turned on the shower so she wouldn’t hear him surreptitiously open the drawer where she kept her panties and bras. Why not? he decided. He loved the way they sent an electric surge through his blood, the memories they summoned. Kevin’s fingers searched the drawer, even into the corners, but felt nothing. He stared into the empty drawer for a moment and then checked her closet, which was vacant too except for a row of plastic hangers across the bar. Had she left again? Back to the window, Kevin decided with an air of finality. He’d wait all night if he had to.
Keith has published ten books to date, including his debut novel My Last Year of Life (in School) in 2015, which was traditionally published by Black Rose Writing. His other fiction has appeared in both print and on-line national publications like The Mill, Wesleyan Advocate, HiCall, Chagrin River Review, Storgy, and Lutheran Journal, among others. In 2000, Keith was named Ohio’s English Teacher of the Year by Ohio Council of Teachers of English/Language Arts.