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Something familiar glimmers at the back of my mind as he smiles in that tolerant way and I ramble on about my day at work. I push away the almost-formed thought, unwilling to admit that he wasn't really paying attention to me, and I continue my story, words dropping out of my mouth like hail from a storm.

"I just can't believe some people," I say. My hands smack at the air, as if I could slap some sense into my co-worker while standing in my own kitchen. "She just sat there, not saying a word. It was so obvious. Randy knew I didn't crash that system. Hell, he knows that I, of all people, understand what's at stake. You know, Randy gave her so many opportunities to tell the truth and she was just a brick wall."

The glimmer is becoming steadier, and I can't push it away. I turn toward him, one hand on my hip, my voice raising a decibel. "Do you know how hard it is to work with someone who can't take any responsibility for her own mistakes?" He stands at the stove, slowly stirring the sizzling vegetables around in the deep frying pan.

"A Moment" by Miki Nilan

"A Moment"

by Miki Nilan

"Mmm . . ." His lips don't move.

He isn't listening. The thought pops so brightly I blink, speechless.

"Can you stir this?" he asks, holding the wooden spoon out towards me. I take it and begin to beat the peppers and broccoli. "Easy," he says, "they're supposed to be crisp, remember?"

He leaves the kitchen and I hear him go into the bedroom. The bathroom door closes, then a few minutes later, water runs. He returns to the kitchen, gives me a blank smile, and gently takes the spoon back from my hand.

"What would you do?" I ask. He opens the cabinet above his head, retrieves a small jar of sesame seeds, and begins to sprinkle them on top of the popping vegetables. I push now, not really caring what he thinks, just wanting a fight. "If you knew that someone was doing something that was hurting a project you were working on, and her actions, even though they weren't deliberate, might cause her to lose her job, what would you do?"

I pull a chair out from the table and sit down hard. He lifts the lid from the saucepot on the back burner and the steam rises, fogging his glasses. "Well?" I ask, looking at a pair of scissors on the tabletop. I wonder about them.

I watch his back; look at the thin spot in his hair that wasn't there when we first met, notice the way his elbows have grown so pointy that they look almost dangerous. Twenty years this Christmas, I think. I rest the side of my face on one hand, look out the window, and pick up the scissors. I forget about my job.

What's going on right here in my own house, I wonder, in my comfortable, predictable relationship? Snip, snip, snip. The scissors make a comforting noise as I absently open and close them. Who is this man silently cooking dinner? Snip, snip; you know, they seem to say. Snip, snip.

"Stop it," he says. "Can't you set the table, or do something to help?"

I open my mouth, then close it tightly. I look at his paunch, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and wonder when this happened. I admit to myself that it's true. Some time in the last year, the tectonic plates of my marriage have shifted. I've tried to ignore the quietness that covers us like a soggy blanket, the lack of sex, the absence of real conversation, the sparkle in his eyes that fades as he comes through the door each night, only to kick off his shoes, and grab the remote.

The plates clink against each other when I pull them out of the cupboard and a strange thought rumbles through my head. He's shedding a million years a day, I think. He's moving at light speed and leaving me here -- wherever "here" is. I brush past him to reach the silverware; our backsides graze against each other while he piles rice into one bowl and vegetables into another. He hums something I can't identify.

I grip the table. We haven't had a fight in months. We haven't talked about anything more important than the checkbook in even longer. The pressure beneath the earth swells. My feet begin to itch. I know. I've known for months but I've refused to put together a disaster kit.

Suddenly, from behind me, he puts his hands on mine and lightly pries my fingers from around the edge of the table. I turn around, look up, right into his eyes, and see all the years we've accumulated. I see so many all-night talks in the darkness, the secrets only he knows about me, and those that I know about him.

Then, I see a glimmer of our future.

 

Bio: Dena Gast lives in Southern California and received her B.A. in English/Creative Writing from California State University in 2000. Her work has appeared in The Pacific Review and on the stage of the Hi-Desert Playhouse in Joshua Tree, CA. Currently, she is honing her writing skills through workshops and writing a novel in the historical-fantasy genre. To contact her, send email to womanwrytr@yahoo.com.



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