by Emily Dagostino
The kids are sleeping. I’m standing, folding laundry on our bed. Sean enters the room and enfolds me in his arms. My face presses against his chest at an odd angle, my neck craning and his forearm awkwardly shoving my chin upward.
“We made it,” he says. “We made it to the weekend.”
My left hand holds a fistful of T-shirts and boxer shorts. My right arm lamely wraps around his waist. I adjust the angle of my neck, pressing my ear flat to his chest. I can hear his heartbeat.
I immediately remember the stretch of time years ago in our love, before children, when we were so close and completely sheltered in the solitude of our union that I would often lay on his chest as he slept, pressing my ear to his heart and listening to that steady, constant thrumming that loosed every remaining tension from my bones, like pebbles falling free from some rocky cliff. That was eight years and two kids ago. There were fewer tensions. We were coming from different places. I retrieve my arm from around his waist and put the shirts in his dresser.
“I’m sorry,” he says, apologizing for his part in the latest scuffle about which we’d earlier started at each other.
“I don’t even know what that means,” I say, my voice a vice. “What are you even sorry for?”
“I haven’t showered in a week,” he says. “I’m taking a shower.”
He slams the door behind him as he leaves the room.
The frenetic buzz of the pedestal fan we bought after our basement flooded. The drone of cicadas through our bedroom windows. The pierce of silence as he parks the car, walks the dog, as I fold laundry, my back turned to him. Any noise is better than the sound of one another’s voices.
An hour passes in this silence. Then Sean is sleeping. The flat sheet is pulled over his head, so he looks like an eyeless ghost, sea green and patterned, with an elbow peeking out. His snores are subtle and, finally, this is a sound coming from him that I can stand. The gentle waves of air whirring in and out of his throat loosen the clenching around my heart. Fondness and endearment rise and fall with the snores. Loneliness seeps through me, and I cannot remember the last time we made love.
I want his arms to reach for me, his lips for mine. I want to be wooed and seduced, to be asked how I feel, to be listened to even when I’m frustrated, to be permitted to be angry sometimes, to be held even after I’ve let go.
I think he wants the same things. I know I am not giving them to him, either. I am guilty and ashamed for not doing my part. I am aware that this is how love erodes. I am afraid for our marriage. Cultivating it isn’t a priority for either of us. It’s lost in the diapers and deadlines, the flooded basements and yardwork. It’s lost in the dishes and the laundry, the crying and hungry and blissful babies, and all the joy they bring.
We are caught in everything about our lives but each other.
I wash my face, brush my teeth, pee and flush, drink my water, turn out the light, turn down the fan. I sense the silent invitation being extended to me in the dark to pull the sheet back from Sean’s face, lay against his chest and let the steady lull of the man I love’s life persuade me to turn away from the bad and toward the good, and to sleep close together again.
As he snores beside me, I don’t bend over his body to listen to the steady call of his heartbeat. Instead I turn onto my side, away from him, and I go to sleep.