By Linn Siljebo
The sounds coming from the television set appeared distorted by the time they reached her, seemingly panting while eagerly seeking to graze whatever skin of hers was bare. She knew that the noise only became noisier due to the loud snoring of her husband, who was comfortably seated in his leather armchair—as always this time of night, this time of year, this time of every time she could remember now—with one hand curiously still gripping the remote control. A sudden sound from a different yet equally annoying television commercial caused the old man to flinch and briefly unclench his hands. She observed the thingamajig as it fell to the floor, but was certainly too tired to care, while the man continued sleeping soundly.
Ten years earlier may have been a point at which she would’ve retrieved the item and placed it back in his hand posthaste. Nowadays, there’s no such effort. If that same, late, evening would’ve been fifteen years ago or so, she would still have given him a gentle nudge on the shoulder to wake him, suggested that perhaps she should switch off the television and that they head to bed for the night instead. After all, it was late at night, and he might have agreed that she had presented him with an excellent idea indeed. Perhaps she would’ve given him a quick smile, taken him by the hand and lead him to the upstairs bedroom, and he wouldn’t have minded. She barely remembers those days anymore.
Emma wished that she still had the body she once did. These last few years seemed like they had forced upon her a physical decline in her overall condition, or perhaps it was just time for all of the aging, dry cells in her body to finally unwind. To her, however, things seemed an awful lot like a decay she hadn’t anticipated. No one warned her about this when she was younger. Things just seemed better before, she supposed.
There would be the occasional complaining, sure—quietly and only to herself—although not done purposely. A policy of not getting involved with negative nonsense was avidly maintained, so as to not risk becoming that cranky woman up the street from that even crankier woman who always refused to get along with fellow humans. But Emma couldn’t possibly complain aloud, and she would frequently remind herself to not cause any sort of trouble whilst simultaneously thinking that even if she did, any litanies would surely only be met by their own echoes.
He wasn’t even angry anymore. There was no shrugging of any kind. No raised voices. The mood within the walls of their home was that of a relative nothingness—a desert without heat, oases or even random hallucinations.
She supposed it was her own fault. After all, no one was forcing her to stay. There was no gun being held to her head by either herself, or by anyone else. She could relieve that crushed velvet and plastic wrapped couch of the weight of her presence at any chosen time, she thought to herself for the nth time. The door was right there, and this time, it wouldn’t be to briefly step out for some milk. Shouldn’t she, she could at any time; no children would be caught in the middle, and the townhouse would sell itself; they could be happy on their own rather than being miserable together; he couldn’t possibly disregard her points if only she presented them in a well thought-out way and while there were other people in their immediate vicinity, forcing him to listen until she had finished speaking; he wouldn’t be able to track her down and drag her back by her hair again if he was dead.
Emma looked around the small living room, observing the dust on the floor while making a mental note to wipe a smudge off the window that was being illuminated by the street lights outside. She forgot to clean again, she said to herself. Things hadn’t been this bad before, she thought, and her life hadn’t seemed this empty before. She found herself staring at her unsuspecting husband, whilst emitting into the universe a frequency of longingly wishing that he would wake up, sit down next to her and at least display an indication of an inclination to want any form of togetherness with his wife. In her mind, their life together had mainly been a slow no thank you to that of happier days, the beginning of which being the moment they both said “I do.” And now, much later, Emma was finally able to admit to herself that her poor mother was right all along, even though she wouldn’t possibly have been able to admit it but five years earlier when the old lady was still alive. But now? No, it’s too late now—just like her husband once said.
That muddy October night, Emma decided to make that very least effort after all, putting all of the pointless broadcasts—and her ears—out of their misery by turning off the television herself before slowly making her way up the stairs and into the bedroom. The abrupt end to the bawling sounds caused the old man to wake up enough to notice that Emma was no longer in the room with him, and after having taken a few moments to gather his recently awoken senses, he, too, found his way upstairs—not because he wondered where his wife had gone, but rather because he knew where she was. Hiding, he used to say.
She still used to watch him while he slept next to her in that wretched bed of theirs, but these days only to wonder why she had to be so stupid as to pick him. For what? To defy her mother’s wishes and to think she was finally and truly free, once and for all. Because she thought he was a different person than he turned out to be. She certainly hadn’t envisioned that life for herself, or anyone.
Emma was awoken by the sound of something she couldn’t quite put her finger on—a ringing of sorts, or perhaps an unusual alarm clock with a strange, steady tone. A terrible pain in her chest and ribs reminded her, like he did, that she shouldn’t be smiling and that this—whatever it was—wasn’t funny.
He said that he had been asleep for too long. She vaguely recalled some mumbling about one thing and some shouting about the other. Knocking things over. Falling, with no one to catch her and no one to stop him.
A wave of adrenaline and concocted options washed over her. Where was he now? That swine. She would kill him. As soon as she was able to move properly again, she was going to kill him. Keeping silent and entirely still—listening and waiting—the sound of distant snoring reached her clearing mind as she proceeded to scrape her bruised self off the floor, vowing to use the very same shovel to bury him with. A mostly upright view of the surroundings had Emma thinking the time of day could be near-dusk, or perhaps even dawn. It didn’t necessarily matter though. Should she leave now or later; would he hear her as she closed the front door behind her; how quickly could she run—if she could run at all; who would spot her through the window of a better home, only to catch up with her outside to inquire about what the hell happened to her, if she is all right and who they should call if not an ambulance because she looks like a few different types of crap. She would attempt to run, but how long would it take before he caught her? Perhaps it would be over just as quickly as last time, when she learned her lesson. Granted, the last time was several years ago, yet it seemed like just now and now sure was something. She was able to take a few steps, and was surely capable of continuing until she reached the front door. Finally reaching the other side—the outside—was crushingly close, but Emma couldn’t take any more and couldn’t take this again, didn’t want to do any of it again yet probably needed to. Again. She only wished that the house would collapse behind her, should she manage to take a few measly steps on the other side of that threshold he never carried her across anyway.
As she made her way to the washroom, Emma found herself thinking that perhaps she oughtn’t to be blowing anything out of proportion after all, and that she maybe only needed to freshen up a bit and wake up a little more. There would surely be an adequate and sensible explanation for what may as well be entirely coincidental where conclusions have been hastily drawn. After all, who was she to pass judgment on a situation she didn’t know much about? She would be fine, as she probably just needed a mirror and a seat.
Despite its modest size, the washroom allowed the presence of a slight echo, which feared even timid movements of a body. The walls contained the sound of a fatigued choir, with the harmonies being but distinguishable through that of a breeze. The floor tiles comforted the naked soles of her feet like any grass warmed by rays of sun would have. A little further inside stood the large oak tree, and next to it stood someone she had almost entirely forgotten about. Her face lit up, as did his, and she immediately hurried across the plain to get to him as quickly as she could. There was a great familiarity to the way in which the timothy brushed against her pale shins and bruised knees as she ran, and it wasn’t until her hands were already folded behind his neck and her forehead finally rested against his chin that she began apologizing profusely—for nearly having forgotten, and for being so eager to be that close to him again. Breathing. She felt a smile and him ensuring her that he had been waiting in that very spot all along, that he really hadn’t been left there waiting as long as she might think, and that there was no reason to apologize further or ask for forgiveness. He asked to show her the creek they once hid by, to which she nodded a quick yes and said she missed those emerald rocks and water lilies. As she leaned over the water surface and smiled at her rosy cheeks as if she didn’t know any better, she hesitated for a moment before asking him why he still didn’t have a reflection, after which he, too, leaned forward and lifted her bloodless heart from the water whilst explaining that if one were to look closely enough, one might be able to distinguish that the bottom of the creek but consisted of broken lovers. While he pointed at the empty hole in her chest, she was already nodding at the steady beat of drops of water against white porcelain.
Barely standing up but certainly not sitting down, while covering her face with her chapped hands, Emma thought to herself that if anyone saw her in that state, she would disappear—absorbed by the nothingness and everything of the infinity, becoming her own negation and thereby never having existed. Upon taking the shape of half an atom, she thought, her life would live itself backwards, and it would be impossible to discern what her dreams, thoughts or hopes ever were.
And with that, a decision was made. She thought it already—the door was still right there—and the sleeping man upstairs remained just so, as she stepped out into the night.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a freshman Business Management student at Monroe College, and I am a few years older than I will admit to being. For as long as I can remember, I have written creatively—whether it be in the form of a story of a pony at an age I can’t quite recall today, or that poem my 1st grade school teacher thoroughly embarrassed me by reading aloud to the class. I haven’t shared much of my writing in the past, other than those poem-filled notebooks I used to gift my sister twice a year some time ago now, and there have been long periods of time where I haven’t written a single word. My hope is that the things I share through the Monroe Art Collaborative from this day forward will be well received, and further still, I hope to inspire you to pick up your favorite pen and dive into the world as you create it.