“You're dying, you know.”
“Well, don't you think you should tell somebody? Somebody besides me, I mean.”
“I didn't tell you that. I don't even know that I am. And you don't know either.”
“You just said you were though.”
“I did not.”
“Then you confirmed that you were.”
“I didn't do that either. Maybe I just feel like I am is all.”
“No. You are. You don't have much time left. Strangers may not be able to tell. But I can. I remember how you used to be.”
“I'm just getting old,” the man coughed up a couple, dusty lung-fulls of air. He'd been combing his hair in the mirror.
“You're not that old.”
“Well, thank you.”
“Not old enough to be coughing like that all the time,” she elaborated, “Not old enough to say that you died an old man.”
“Well, are you going to tell anyone?!”
“Like who, I already asked you.”
“No, you didn't.”
“Alright then. Like who?”
“Like your kids, for one.”
“Our kids, don't you mean?”
“I wouldn't want to alarm them.”
“Well, I just think it would be fair.”
“And besides, I'm not anyway.”
“I've seen your handkerchief. It's like you try to hide it. Like you still think you can hide anything from me.”
“Trying to hide it? Jesus, this is why I just can't... Were you always this way? Seriously. I can't remember.”
She was drying herself with a towel and saw no need to answer what she believed to be a perfectly rhetorical question.
He gritted his teeth and hated her then. At the same time, though, he also knew that this feeling would pass in just another minute.
“Oh, I remember now,” he continued, “You were. Always trying hide something from you. You'd never consider for one second that maybe I'd just put it out of sight so that you wouldn't have to see it. So that you wouldn't be grossed out. But no. And you know, this is when I really get pissed off. When I try to do something for your benefit and you turn it around on me and fuck me with it. All the time. All the fucking time.”
“Yeah? Name one other time.”
“Too many to name even. There must be a million.”
But the man was too tired. And rather, he let his drawn face reply.
“It's just like that,” he went on, though, after a minute, “Right there. Like how you can't just say you're sorry for accusing me of something when, meanwhile, I was actually thinking of you. I had you in mind and was trying to do something nice. And you can't even apologize!”
He was so tired. The words. The circles. He wanted nothing more than to just sleep forever.
“That's only because I don't believe you. I still think you were trying to hide it, is what I mean.”
“Well, that's your problem then. I guess.”
“Well, thanks for sounding so concerned.”
“I'm concerned. Otherwise, I wouldn't have brought it up.”
“You're concerned for... If you're so concerned than you would have approached this a little differently. And some other time might have been nice too. Oh, your fucking timing. I can't help but wonder if you do this shit on purpose.”
“No. I just didn't know when else to do it.”
“Anytime,” the man was so tired...so tired of speaking, “Anytime but now would have been just great. A few hours earlier even. Or, preferably, a few hours from now. Or, most preferably, tomorrow. Or the next day. Or never.”
“Well, I guess that's why I picked now. Because 'never' is when you would have approached it.”
“I would have approached it when there was something to worry about. Something solid.”
“Yeah. Well, something solid is exactly what I saw on your...” but instead of another word; a frown came out, sad eyes looking down at the ground, and a sniffle.
He tried to put his arm around her then but she slipped out of it.
“No,” she picked up with, “I can't do this right now. I can't get into it. And maybe I won't be able to anymore at all, for that matter.”
The man was about to say something but, on second thought, just shook his head.
She was applying cocoa butter to her skin now. And he was looking into the mirror without actually seeing anything back.
“Could I pee, please?” he asked.
“You can pee,” her voice had changed. In these three words, it seemed suddenly cheery...as if the brief but somehow serious discussion they'd just had hadn't happened at all.
“Just one minute. I swear.”
“Okay. But I need to be in here too so...”
“Yeah, yeah. I'll hurry.”
And, just like that, the bad spell had been broken.
She left the tiny room and he closed the door but didn't lock it, of course. And he thought, while unbuttoning his trousers, how this funny little game they always played...this dosey doe...this inability to stand there and pee while she was watching, after all this time, was an un-characteristic so strange and yet it was a cornerstone that seemed to define their marriage. It made him happy though. It was a domestic feeling. He thought about how he probably could have peed in front of other girls and how, in the past, he probably even had. But not her. Why? It was such a silly thing. But it made him smile as he stood there waiting.
The man looked down at his paunch then and wished, if only for her, that he was a little more fit...and not possibly dying. Because she deserved better. Someone she could be proud of and proud to be seen beside. And even just going for a walk once in a while would have burned off most of this excess fat. And maybe if they just walked together. Hadn't she been asking him for a while now if he would do just that? No. He had that wrong. Rather, it had been a while since she'd asked him that. But just how long exactly? A year? Jesus Christ, could it have been even longer? And suddenly, he felt ashamed and wanted to take her tiny hand and look her in the eye and tell her how sorry he was. Surely, it was never too late. Unless she...
She was merely an attractive female is all. Still. They weren't that old. He was merely old beyond his years. But could he somehow stop this whole crazy train from derailing? Or had it already. And even if she... He surely deserved it. Oh, the heartbreak that might be there lying. But oh, the heartache that he must have put her through. Not the acute kind. Not that piercing, for an instant kind of sting that lingers for days or months even. But the chronic kind. The kind that wears and weathers people down over years like erosion. The kind that they'd obviously been living with...since the beginning? Could it be true that, in the end, they just weren't right for each other after all? That they never were? No. He refused to believe this. He refused because it wasn't true. For how then, after all these years, could he still just love her so much...in his way. And it was in little ways that he loved her so much. Her little movements. The little things she said in her little voice with the little, determined look on her face. The little things that she'd always buy. The strange and seemingly useless (or at least unnecessary) products hanging up in her shower. And it was her shower. Still. After all these years. It was still her place. Her domicile. He was just a visitor there. An alien on alien soil surrounded by all these seemingly useless products. Home was a strange planet for him to live on. But he loved it. How he loved it so. Every waking breath. Every footstep along that carpet. And every breath she took as he'd lie there beside her. For hours. Perfectly captivated just to watch her sleep. Her little face. Its determined look gone at those hours. Perfect, blissful, oblivion. It was like she was in heaven then. And so was he. And how perverse did that make things?
She knit little things. He wrote horrible things. She bought little things that helped brighten up his day. Did you she do it for him? It didn't really matter. In fact, it was probably more what she did without thinking that he must have loved the most.
“You know you're shallow, right?”
It had taken him a long time to urinate. Perhaps, another sign there of waning.
“I know. You tell me that all the time,” he said as she passed through the door again to put on her camisole.
“You know that though, right?”
“I don't think there really are any shallow people or any deep people. People just see things differently is all.”
“You would say that.”
“I mean...if by 'deep' you mean; deep-thinking. Then I doubt either one of us are truly accredited philosophers. I've never claimed to be that anyway.”
“No. And I know you still don't get it. Deep is how much you feel. It's how much you process. I swear, sometimes I wish your heart and liver were in the other's place. But then, I guess, you'd really be dying. Or, make that 'dead'. Dead a long time ago, probably.”
She did deserve better. And maybe his death would be the best thing for her. The best thing that ever happened. She could remarry. They weren't that old. Not 'old' like he'd pictured them together so many times. It was one of his favorite little daydreams. An imaginary clip. They were running late for something. An engagement. Perhaps, 30 years into the future even. And, once they'd gotten themselves ready, she was having trouble moving her aluminum walker towards the door. A walker with tennis balls on two of the feet even...just like the old people have. And he was trying to assist her. And she said, “Now, now,” in her little old lady voice, “Just take it easy.” He loved this little clip and couldn't wait until they actually lived it. That would mean that they'd made it. Through all the hardships and misunderstandings; they were still together in the end. Old folks just trying to make it out of the house in a somewhat timely fashion. It would mean that they'd also stopped working by then and finally had an infinite amount of time to spend together. Just together. They could finally relax. Without all of the duty that came along with living from paycheck to paycheck and still trying to prove something to the world. “Now, now,” she said. Her hair was grey but still the same length with the same bangs cut just short of her eyebrows. “Now, now,” it always seemed to echo. She had a sweater on in this little vision and her back was bent over just slightly. But there were the same glasses that she always wore...even just now putting on her camisole.