Double Paned: A Short Story

Double Paned
Why we try anymore, I don’t really know. This white tiled kitchen is no longer the happy place where we painted the walls “Yellow Brick Road” that hot summer afternoon. The honeymoon phase was real but what came after was more than I had ever bargained for.
            The perfume I bought her last Valentine’s Day makes me nauseated now as I sit across our second hand kitchen table from her. I don’t even have to look at her to know that she is dreading this awful routine. There are only two wine glasses and two plates between us and yet it feels like we are worlds apart.
She gets up from the round wooden table and grabs the bottle of Malbec. After all, why talk to your husband when you have a perfectly good bottle of red wine? I let her go this time. Lately, trying to make her stay hasn’t worked. Chloe sways down the dim hallway and slams the bedroom door behind her. The least she could do is close the old, stiff doors gently.
            It is 8:05 and the sun has long since set. I stare out into the night through our small kitchen window and can’t help but think about whether or not tonight is the night. So many nights I have sat in this exact spot and thought about leaving. The door is right there. I wouldn’t even have to pack my things because this small, overpriced house has granted us such little room for things. Even if I wanted to keep old photo albums or little league trophies, she wouldn’t let me. She has been sensitive to dust lately. Marriage should be about give and take but I am convinced she only knows how to take. She’s taken my life and all the good in it.
            Tonight is different. It doesn’t take very long before I realize I can’t do it anymore.
            He’s staring out that single paned window again. Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have a drinking problem if he would just look at me. I put my hand out on the table, hoping he will take it. Hoping that maybe this thing we call a marriage isn’t completely dead. If only he were to look at me and see the pleading desperation in my eyes. I wait, but nothing. Not even a glance in my direction. The cream oak chair creaks underneath me as I adjust my weight as to not embarrass myself and pull my hand back into my lap. That sad, blue plaid shirt he’s wearing is warm and soft; something Tim will never again be.
            I remember the faint smell of fabric softener that first caught my attention so many years ago.  Finding a 20-year-old man who wasn’t afraid to break out the Snuggle softener sheets at the old Laundromat on Fourth Street was rare. Memories of those autumn days back in Boston when everything felt right, just makes me realize how wrong everything feels now.
            I grab the bottle from the table. I prefer white but just about anything could make me feel better in this moment. I push out of my chair and stumble down the hallway. The medication is finally kicking in. I don’t mean to, but when I make it to the bedroom I slam the door behind me. It hasn’t been our bedroom in a long time.
            Sometimes I wish he would just leave and never turn back.
            The car keys are in my hand as I make my way down the damp driveway. It has been a while since we’ve had any rain but it feels strangely fitting tonight. The sky is dreary and the clouds are moving in rapidly.  Is this what freedom feels like? When I reach the beat up Chevy S-10, an invisible weight tugs at me. It may just be my conscious nagging at me but I think that leaving my cancer-ridden wife could wreak havoc on my life. My hand rests on that cold, silver handle and my heart beats loudly in my chest. My life has all come down to this one moment and for the first time in years I don’t know if leaving is the right thing to do.
            I hear the whine of the front door when it opens and closes, fully aware of where my faithful husband is off to. I sit on the floor of the dark bathroom with the mostly empty bottle cradled between my legs. I can feel the tears coming on again but choke them down like I always do. I pull off the blonde wig that weighs too heavy on my head and throw it across the room. It only flies a few feet before hitting the wall and sliding to the ground. I don’t have the energy to even get up and retrieve it. This malicious cancer seems to have taken everything from me. Another long swig keeps the bitter bile from coming up because the only thing left in my stomach is this aching pain.
            I remember the day we found out. While it knocked the wind out of both of us, it also created a hole that neither of us has bothered to patch up since.
            “Mr. and Mrs. Marron!” The oncologist met us with a blinding smile on a Monday morning four years ago. We sat across from him in his expansive and bright office. The floor to ceiling window behind him overlooked a vacant park. 
            “Dr. Torosian, I’d like to say it is great to see you but under the circumstances…” Tim and the charming doctor shared a nervous laugh.
            “So?” I tried but couldn’t hide my annoyance.
Another uneasy smile from Mr. Happy Doctor, “Well, the tests came back—”
“Positive.” I had finished the sentence for him.
“It is a lot to process and I want to express my deepest condolences,” speaking as if I was already dead. “Of course this means treatment, very aggressive treatment.”
I tuned everything out after that. No need to hear someone tell you how sorry they are that death is nearer than you had originally planned. The prognosis, at best, was five years.
            After that, we tried to be in it together like the families you see in cancer movies. What once seemed manageable slowly turned into a nightmare as the hospital bills started to come in and we came to the understanding that my life was over.
            He told me he understood that the high-rise apartment in the city had to go along with the Mercedes and I believed him when he said he would do whatever it took to keep us alive. We were okay for a while. We were okay.
            The night I finally realized we weren’t, ended in shards of cerulean china and words that could never be taken back. Another fight over insurance, heavy spending and the fact that he didn’t think I loved him anymore.
            “You love your disease more than you could ever love anyone. Your sickness has overcome you and it is all you know!” Tim yelled at me, back turned. I tried to stay in my place. I tried to be the wife I knew he deserved but sometimes fate hands you a fight you can’t win. Fate was a son-of-a-bitch and that evening in our dark worn-down kitchen he owed me a new china dinner plate. A symbol reminiscent of our marriage: once beautiful, now broken. 
The only good thing about this God forsaken neighborhood is that there is a bar only two miles down the road. And just like I have done every night for the past year, I start off towards the familiar scent of disappointment and despair. Chloe likes to be alone with her destructive thoughts and definitive actions. I, on the other hand, prefer making an ass out of myself at local joints. Besides, this was the only bar I hadn’t been banned from.
“Back again?” Jacob the young bartender meets my glassy glance the same way he does every night and pours the whiskey. Unlike doctor’s appointments and chemo sessions, this was a routine I enjoyed. I wave him off the same way I do every night and fall into my regular seat.
“She could fucking try, you know?” He doesn’t really know but he nods anyways. He is a young college graduate who doesn’t know what the hell he is doing with his art history degree. For now, and probably a while, he’s here every night to listen to my nightmare of a life.
“So I’ll take it there haven’t been any new developments?” I shake my head and Jacob pretends to clean the bar in front of me as if to show the non-existent crowd behind me that he is good at his job.
 “Right.” Sometimes I think he understands me better than she does.
“It’s just… it’s terminal and… it just won’t let her go. For my sake I wish it would just take hold and balls up!” He doesn’t say anything. It isn’t the words themselves, but the weight they hold that snaps me back to reality.
Terminal. I can bitch and moan as much as I want but that word turns my world of cheap booze and prolonged days into something concrete.
“I knew it would ruin her life but did it really have to ruin mine too?” These kinds of things don’t even surprise me when I say them anymore. I know I’m a prick. Jacob looks up as if he’s praying to God that I will leave and never come back.
Don’t worry Jacob I contemplate leaving every night.
I know I shouldn’t drink while on the pills, but how else am I supposed to keep sane when I know my husband is doing the same thing just a few miles down the road? I stare at the empty bottle lying on its side on the gray linoleum. How easy it would be to just leave it all behind right here and now.
The doctors had been worried about depression but what they didn’t pick up on was that I was already there. There was really no hope for me and we all knew that. No matter the prayers, the baked goods or the endless stream of casseroles that I couldn’t keep down, my life was doomed from the start. Ovarian cancer wasn’t new to my family and I have known since I was young that this life could be short.
Back in 2009 during a late night of confessions and secret telling, Tim and I agreed that we wouldn’t let time or the possibility of the fatal illness ruin our relationship. We knew the odds and the chance we were taking but it didn’t matter. We were married a year later. We had seen the sunrise at the Grand Canyon, walked the Great Wall, been to the top of the Empire State Building and visited the set where they filmed The Office. It really was one of those stupid whirlwind romances where you come to learn the real meaning of soul mate. A kind of romance that beats out Fabio and any of his overly sexualized vixens. I just hoped with every cell in my body it was one that would last.
Tonight is different. I came so close. I made up my mind for the last time and yet here I am, on my way to a blackout while she’s at home plotting even more ways to make my life miserable. Nothing has changed and I’m afraid it never will. Everyone knows I’m scared shitless of the inevitable future, but they’d never say it aloud.
The brunette to my left, although not very pretty, reminds me of Chloe. The way her hair used to shine on those late afternoons in the city was my favorite thing in the world. I remember the night I proposed and the emerald dress she was wearing. The way it skimmed over every part of her body perfectly. How the lace gave me glimpses of the porcelain skin underneath. All I want in this moment is to go back to that crisp February night and do it all over again. Her hand in mine as we made our way to the suite. The way her beautiful locks tickled my face as we made love. Everything felt right.
Jacob pours me another glass and I dutifully choke down the life I had never anticipated.
“What’s a pretty girl like you doing drinking alone?” The average looking girl flashes me a grin and settles into the seat next to me.
Not even the whiskey could convince me that she’d ever be as beautiful as my wife.
I allow myself an hour before I heave my thin frame off the floor and look at myself in the mirror. The deep auburn locks that used to cascade over my petite shoulders are gone. My round, bald head doesn’t shock me as much as it used to but I miss the way Tim used to look at me when it was there. I trace the dark circles under my eyes and run my fingers along the overly pronounced cheekbones. I understand why he won’t look at me anymore. I am merely an apparition of the woman I used to be.
I take one last glance before I turn the lights off and exit our sad excuse of a bathroom. I strip off the oversized, oatmeal sweater and cotton leggings that cling to the nothingness beneath them. I go to the closet, and for the first time in a long while, pick out one of Tim’s old button up shirts. The sleeves are wide and the hem hits close to my knees but I take in the familiarity of the easy fabric and the cologne that still lingers at the neckline. It feels good to feel good about him again, even if it is only for a minute.
“Maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem,” I say out loud, hoping that in doing so those words will become true.
My special pharmaceutical and wine cocktail suddenly hits me hard and I sit down to avoid falling over. The pain starts in my head as if to alert me that an intense hangover is on its way. I’m used to it. This routine is a familiar one. I can feel the warm sheets underneath my gaunt hand and muster up enough energy to crawl under them.
“God, help me to be more than this. Help us.” I don’t usually pray, but tonight it seems fitting.
...
My haggard walk home isn’t as painful tonight. Only four drinks in, I decided it was time to go home.
“So you come here often?” she had asked me with a wink. I tried to meet her suggestive glance provocatively but I couldn’t get myself to even look her in the eyes. The comfort I used to feel in flirting with random women at bars vanished the moment she opened her average mouth. At least she was patient; I’ll give her that.
After waiting too long, she scoffed and stomped away.
The sidewalks seem to twinkle from the excess dew that has accumulated there now. The rain has made everything appear even greener. I reach the end of our street and can see the lights are off in our shack. The light never seemed fitting as light usually means hope and God knows there was none of that left for us.
My hand fits around the brass knob on our front door and I become nervous although I know she is already asleep. We’d have to talk in order for her to question me about where I was anyways. The door creaks like it always does and I stumble a bit as I barely make it over the threshold. The darkness falls into place around me as I make my way down the long, blank hallway to our room.
I’ve become good at sneaking in and make no noise as I void myself of everything but my boxer briefs. The moon shines in through the double pane window in the corner of the room and it accents the hollowness of her face as she lies, so still, in our bed. The corner of her mouth is turned up a bit and I can see that remarkable smile in my head. It may just be the whiskey but all of my feelings for the woman in front of me come rushing back. Knowing she is at peace in that moment comforts me.
I turn down the sheets and slide in next to her willingly. I find her small, warm hand and hold it for a while. She doesn’t stir and neither do I as I drift away.
It had been Tim’s idea to drive out to Arizona for the weekend and despite my bitching about the long car ride, I had secretly wanted to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon just as much as he did.
I handed him a Frito as he made his way down Highway 64. The way he embarrassingly sang along with The Civil Wars still gave me those insatiable butterflies in the pit of my stomach. “I’m gonna break things, I’m gonna cross the line and make you wake up ‘cause you won’t,” he sung under his breath in hopes that I couldn’t hear him while fully aware that I could.
His hair had been ruffled by the wind and the break of dawn was on the horizon behind us as we raced to beat the rising sun. I had thrown my sunglasses on, doubting Tim’s ability to make it to the lookout point in time. Although I wouldn’t have minded spending another night in the Grand Canyon State, it was Tim’s fault for our tardiness. Waking up at four in the morning may have sounded like a good idea after a few beers the night before the excursion, but waking him the next day was like trying to raise him from the dead.
We were used to beating the odds though and just like he said we would, we started the morning, my head on his shoulder, watching the sun light up the world. If there was ever a time that I would admit to believing a hole in the ground was beautiful, it was that morning.
I wake with her hand still in mine and hope that if she awoke during the night, she kept it there, even if to just make me feel better. I’d like to roll over and hold her but it may not be a welcome move seeing, at this point, our nature is to act like complete strangers. I can still see the clouds outside our window. The light outside is grey but in a sort of optimistic way. I enjoy mornings.
The bright LED light of the clock on our bedside table reads nine o’clock. I can’t remember the last time she slept this late. I silently curse her for not yet taking her morning dose of medications.
“Chloe. It’s nine. You need to take your pills.” No response.
“Chloe.” Does she think this is cute? I turn on my side and shake her shoulder lightly seeing as any more force might break her. Nothing.
“Chloe?” The crack of thunder outside startles me but not much. I try to catch my breath as I roll her onto her back. Without a sound she now faces the ceiling. Her mouth is still crooked in that small smile but the warmth in her touch is gone. Everything is gone.
The rain starts again.