This will not be the last time. I realize this before I even have the chance to get in the shower and try to wash it away. I realize it before I have the chance to throw one leg out of bed, and touch the floor, because maybe if I could get that far, and feel the hardwood beneath my toes, if I could get at least one limb out of this bed I could walk away. Unfortunately, I realize it while the sheets are still wrapped around us, tangled and askew. Unfortunately, I realize it while he is still breathing hard next to me. In our embrace I can feel his chest rising and falling, smell the musk in the air and taste the salt on my tongue.
This will not end here.
And I don’t care.
This realization hangs over my head like the sword of Damocles. Just as I would do almost anything to go back to my previous safer life, I won’t. I know I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. I would be tortured by an unfulfilled desire, an ache. So instead I will be tortured by an impending doom.
My heart jumps. I move quickly to hide, and conceal my face. I press myself down hard into the mattress until my vision is black and I see stars, and I am holding my breath, trying to find a new galaxy to land on when I realize the noise came from him turning onto the mattress towards me. Nobody else is here. Nobody has walked in.
I am safe.
He yawns and pulls gently on my hair, pulling my face away from the pillow, and rocks me onto my side so we are face to face.
Outside a Blue Jay is calling for its mate. It sounds like a long drawn out “Jaaaaay”. He begins to talk to me about birds, information and facts he picked up from his dad who became an avid bird watcher during the last few years of his life when mobility became difficult. He and his brother used to sit for hours with their father, each holding binoculars, a flask of whiskey. All three of them absentmindedly touching the shadows on their faces. He whispers to me that Blue Jays are very intelligent birds, sometimes imitating hawk calls to threaten other birds in their nesting areas, as well as being extremely protective, known to dive at human neighbors until trust is built. The bird continues his song, and I listen through the cracked window, gray light is slipping in, and he is calling louder now. He wants her to come back. Blue Jays are monogamous until one partner dies. I am impressed by this bird and his love. His devotion. I close my eyes to the face of the man looking at me. He doesn’t have the right face. He doesn’t have the same touch. He is rougher. His whiskers are scratchier. His hands are bigger and his eyes have no light, no color, they are simply pools of dark ink. I am aware of my partner, somewhere in my heart, calling for me, eyes bright like the Baltic Sea. Cars drive by, I hear the radios, the tires kicking up leaves, and I am fervent, making sure the sounds of their engines disappear into the city and not up his driveway.
“Relax.” He whispers to me, takes a finger and pries my eyes open. “Look at me.”
I’ve been looking at him for years. At Easter. At a beach in Florida. At my in-laws anniversary. In the back of a cab, when I pretended to be sick at a party, said I had to go home. I’ve looked at him in faded family pictures, his arms wrapped around his younger brother, their names knitted on little sweaters handmade by their Grandma. I looked at him on my wedding day as he stood to the right of his younger brother. I watched him give his brother our rings. He watched as his brother slipped it on my finger.
“Where do you think she went? The Blue Jay? I hope a cat didn’t get her.”
He slides his hand up my torso then back down to my hips, he kneads the flesh and digs his fingertips into my thighs. He is definitely much rougher, and even though he is holding back I can feel the strain in my skin and I am not safe. Not anymore.
“Probably an owl.”
“Really? But owls look so sweet and innocent. Like a vegetarian bird.”
He laughs and continues working between my legs.
“Not at all. Owls are solitary predators who hunt at night. Jays stick together, so owls use stealth and surprise as their primary hunting tactic.”
I feel damp and sticky.
I mull the words in my head. Stealth and surprise. Solitary.
The damn Blue Jay is still crying outside and I am worried that an owl ate his mate during the middle of the night. I feel so bad. I was in this bed and just outside the window she was being eaten alive. I probably couldn’t hear the screams of the Jay being carried away because of my own moans and selfish groans.
He nuzzles my neck and my cell phone vibrates on the bedstand. What will Christmas be like now? He reaches up and twists his index finger around my necklace.
“Do you like it?”
I put my hand over his. My wedding ring catches a prism of light that pierces my eyes and I want him to pull the blinds together tighter.
“I love it. You shouldn’t have given it to me. I’ll never be able to wear it.”
“You can wear it here.”
I hear a warble coming in from the backyard. We both go silent, and listen. I pray that I am not the reason the Blue Jay lost his mate, that there wasn’t something I could have done during the night had I heard the attack.
“The funny thing about owls,” he continues after a few minutes, “The males must not only flaunt their assets, but give the females actual gifts to win them over. Like small rodents.”
I unclasp the necklace.
There are bruises on me I will need makeup to conceal.
This won’t be the last time. I know this.
The sword swings above me, hanging by a horsehair. The Jay is screeching and the owl is waiting. I let him push me onto my stomach. I let him do what I won’t let my husband do.
The clock blinks eight thirty a.m., I know today will be chilly; I hope I brought my coat in the car.
About the Author: Kathryn Morrill has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia College of Chicago. She tends to write about strange obsessions, power exchanges, disintegration, sex, and birds. Her Twitter handle is @Morrilldilemma.
Story Song: "Time is Running Out" by Muse