Ethan snores softly beside me. He has been asleep three hours, and I have been awake again. I slip out of bed and pad down the stairs, glancing in the dim hallway light at the painting Ethan bought for me. I glance at it every time I go up or down the stairs. Its heavy brown, blue, and white strokes remind me of crockery my mother used when I was a little girl. The subject, however, has nothing to do with kitchens or childhood. It is a painting of a husband and wife sitting on the floor, on a colorful rug. The man has been pushed to the side of the painting, and he seems preoccupied, busy doing something with his hands. The woman’s face is the warmest, brightest focal point, and it rests on her husband’s shoulder. Her legs curl contentedly beneath her long blue skirt.
Downstairs I set the kettle to boil and stare out the window into the silvery-black night. Ethan walks in.
Here we are, together in the kitchen, man and wife, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, but the bones don’t fit together.
“Anna, you can’t sleep?”
“I didn’t mean to wake you.”
He puts his warm hand on my shoulder. “Want to talk about it?”
Since the last marriage counseling session, Ethan has been practicing his concern for me, urging me to communicate. I appreciate the effort, but I still don’t trust my own words to be the truth. Since depression and insomnia became the norm for my life, my words and thoughts are freighted with sad sentiments I never used to have. I don’t want to claim them as my own, so I remain silent.
The kettle whistles, and I move out from under Ethan’s hand to pour the water into my tea cup.
He sighs and rakes his fingers through his hair. “I wish we could figure out what’s causing it. I mean. . . could it be me? Something I’m not doing right? Do you need a break from me?”
I sip. Swallow. “I just am this way,” I say.
Ethan looks close to tears, his fists pressed on the countertop. I feel another sadness especially for him. He is so distant, saying these words I can’t imagine him speaking. Here we are, together in the kitchen, man and wife, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, but the bones don’t fit together.
He emits a low sound of frustration and goes back up the stairs. I watch him go, feeling curiously disconnected, as if I wasn’t actually a wife at all, much less his.
Then I toss the rest of my tea down the drain and climb the stairs after him. He is next to the painting in the hallway, but his gaze is out the window, at the moonlit bushes waving their ghostlike heads on the grass below. I come up behind him and place my head on his shoulder.
“It’s okay,” I whisper. I am looking at the painting my husband bought me, and I feel the tenderness of the wife in the painting. Mrs. Roussel, her name is. Mr. Roussel is looking elsewhere, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if my husband can be a stranger to me, or I can be a stranger to myself. “It’s all right, Ethan.” I speak against his warm neck.
He has his arms around me, and somehow, amidst all the strife of not knowing how we got here, I’m in our joined world again.
“How can you say that?” he whispers hoarsely.
“I don’t know,” I say, breathing in the smell of his skin, so familiar to me, like the memory of the crockery my mother used when I was young.
He turns so I’m curled up against his chest. “I don’t know either,” he says in a softer voice. He has his arms around me, and somehow, amidst all the strife of not knowing how we got here, I’m in our joined world again. It is a sweet refuge that takes me by surprise when I find it, like waking up and finding the one who loves me most is right there, kissing me, and so I return his long and beautiful kiss.
For more art and romance, check out the November 2017 edition of Spark magazine.
Meet the Author
Amy Krohn, mother of three, lives in rural Wisconsin. She has published a book of short stories, A Flower in the Heart of the Painting, available on Amazon. Other stories and poems have been published in literary magazines such as Kindred, Baltimore Review and Spark. You can follow Amy on her blog.