In his dreams there are bodies speaking with tongues that curl like smoke, their language fluid and harsh. His eyes are vacant. He grips me by the throat, his thumb on my windpipe. I thrash and the dog starts to bark. The sound brings the soul back into his eyes, then he falls on top of me, crushing me, and weeps into my hair. I lie still and wait. It is better when he cries than when he does not.
When we make love he bathes me in his sweat, bears down on me, his hands gripping me gently, something he can’t let go of. I don’t know what he sees in my face. My breath comes loud and slow.
Someone else has crept into his skin and taken his place, scarring the body, marring the arms and shoulders with tattoos. My husband never liked tattoos, frowned at the lily on my hip.
All day he and the dog sit in the house. He strokes her head as he stares at the television, not bothering to change the channel when the soaps and talk shows come on. Honey will not leave his side, nudges him and whimpers, rubs her flank against his legs when he starts to shake and sweat. She sits at his feet watching him, gnawing her paws.
After work I wander the mall, weave in and out of slow-moving clumps of humans: mothers dragging tired children by the wrist, gaggles of teenage girls fingering cheap trinkets and looking for boys. I ride the glass elevators up four floors then down again, stare out at the rows of storefronts, glowing like the gate to heaven, the floors shining in the artificial light.
This mall has a movie theater. I buy a ticket for whatever is showing and nestle in the dark amongst strangers, inhale the smells of sugar and butter, listen to the murmurs, the hands rummaging for popcorn.
I can’t help but imagine he is there with me, the cold sweat on his neck, faceless figures sitting behind him, their hands hidden.
There are ghosts in our house. They hiss and shriek in the night. He speaks to them in violent whispers. I want to ask them questions, but I don’t know their language.
I come home and find him at the kitchen table, staring at an empty plate. He’s set all four places. I do not ask who the other two are for. Honey’s teddy bear-eyes move from me to him, her brow going up and down. He reaches for her and rubs her ear. She thumps her leg with pleasure. I open the fridge and try to think of something to make, even though I’m not hungry. I want to say we’re out of this or that. I want to smile, say, “I’ll be right back,” and mean it.
There’s a mini-mart nearby and a 24-hour supermarket. I like to sit in the parking, safe and anonymous in my car, and watch the people wander in and out: the college kids on a beer run, lonely bachelors doing their shopping one bit at a time, husbands and wives picking up milk on their way home. I imagine what’s waiting for them.
Tonight he will roll towards me, pull me in, crush my body against his. I will not be able to tell if he is awake or in that space in between: where his eyes might open, where his movements are quick and deliberate. I’ll hold my breath, listening to his rate of exhale, and wait.
About the Author: Lindsay Merbaum is a San Francisco-based fiction writer and essayist whose work has appeared in Pank, Electric Literature, Hobart, Anomalous Press, The Collagist, Lost Coast Review, Harpur Palate, and Dzanc Books Best of the Web, among others. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a storySouth Million Writer's Award. Follow her on Twitter @Merbizzle.
Story Song: "Sweeter than Anything" by PJ Harvey
Photo Credit: Teri Vlassopoulos