Sunday, March 13, 2011

Abide Not By Ill Fortune

Here's a short piece from a few years ago:

I remember when I woke up early one Saturday, about four in the morning. Something had startled me from my slumber, and was immediately apparent in the absence of a dozing woman on the right side of the bed. I groggily sat up, looking toward the open bedroom door, using the tip of one ring finger to dislodge the crust from the corner of my eyes. I could just see the entrance to the bathroom down the hall: the door there was open and the light was not burning.

I wanted to go back to sleep, but despite being exhausted, I knew I wouldn’t be able to rest until I knew why she was up, so I pulled on a pair of shorts and crept out to the living room. The light in the kitchen was on and I peeked in, seeing her sitting at the small dinette table facing slightly away and to my left, just barely allowing me to see the glum expression on the profile of her face. Resisting the urge to move to her side and ask her what was wrong, I watched her silently, her dark hair mussed from sleep. She was generally hard on her appearance after waking, self-deprecating without the humor, but I always thought that her hair in slight disarray made her more humanly beautiful, validating to me one aspect of the attraction I felt to her.

She wore an oversized San Diego Chargers t-shirt, her favorite sleeping attire, and was sipping a cup of tea, the purple box on the table indicating Darjeeling, the used teabag sitting on a napkin folded neatly into a quarter of its original size. She began to hum, and I struggled to figure out what the tune was. One instant it was the strain of a Strauss waltz, the next a Metallica riff—it was no song and every song, it was whatever she wanted it to be in that moment. To me it was an embodiment of her, unpredictable and comforting all at once, whimsical and beautiful.

As I rested my head against the wall, the humming ceased and she reached toward a thin vase in the center of the table, pulling one of two roses from the sparkling crystal. She always kept flowers on the kitchen table. She looked thoughtfully at the rose as water dripped from the stem onto the tabletop, inhaled its scent with her eyes closed, and sighed. I was reminded of a wedding we had attended the month before. It became apparent during the reception that she was becoming frustrated waiting on me to propose to her, and was perhaps doubting our future as time passed and I made no attempt to offer a larger commitment. I had made the decision then, and was in the process of devising exactly how I would go about asking her to marry me, naturally wanting it to be perfect.

Without warning she pulled a petal from the defenseless flower, and because of the quiet her voice seemed harshly loud: “He loves me.”

She carelessly flicked the separated petal away, took another sip of her Darjeeling. No sooner had the mug been returned to the table then off came another petal.

“He loves me not!”

Curiosity, warring with wanting to step forward and comfort her, had the best of me. I wanted to know how this would end.

Shortly, there were but two fragile looking petals on the decimated rose, and both of us could see that the result was not going to be the most desired one. Reluctantly, she pulled one off with quite unnecessary force. It made me think of ripping the tag from a new pillow.

“He loves me,” she mumbled forlornly.

She stared at the one remaining petal on the tortured flora and drew her feet up off the cold linoleum. It seemed that she was going to finish the ritual as she prepared to tear off the final piece, but she hesitated just a moment, and tore half the petal off, accompanied by a wickedly self-satisfied grin. “He loves me not.”

She plucked the last half-petal, and before she could give the final verdict, the verdict of her own choosing, I delivered it for her.

“I love you.”

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