became conscious, sometime in the fall, that she
didn’t care about him. This came on the tail end of the realization that he
didn’t care very much about her, either. And it had been that way a long time
The first sign had been that she hadn’t gone
out of her way
to take care of him or nurture him in any way when he had become sick
with Strep throat
“Peter, you’re going to have to sleep
on the couch.” She had said to him.
been running on a track for the last two days, from the bed to the bathroom,
gargling with antiseptic and swallowing vitamins. He
would make loud attempts, with the door closed and the bathroom fan running, to
shake phlegm from the back of his throat and spit it into the toilet.
“Huh?” He said.
“I don’t want to give any of my kids
strep.” She said, shaking pillows out of pillow cases. Patricia taught
fourth grade special education classes.
“Baby, I’m almost over this. My fever
broke yesterday.” He said.
She leaned over the bed, and put the back of her
hand on his forehead. As she did this the braced herself on the bed with her
other hand, and her hair fell to one side of her face.
“No, it didn’t. I’m calling the
Which had been nice of her to do, but
he had still been exiled to the couch. The couch was large, and not comfortable
or broken in at all. They rarely sat on it.
A few months after he recovered, he
had been walking down the sidewalk in downtown Lubbock, something he hated doing. He had taken a job in
the city with a computer company right after college, dazzled by
what he thought was a great opportunity and an enormous salary. But the city
was one of the ugliest places he had lived. There had been no thought of aesthetics
when it was built; each building had been erected with no regard for the
building around it. This was followed by flat expanses of
nothing, fields stretching across the Texas plain. And the people were something else
It was like walking through a
dream, one tinged with sorrow. Seeing trash blow down the street, in the fall,
he knew he needed to get out of the city.
he crossed the street, a
large horn broke his revelry. He had almost stepped in front of a
municipal bus. He rushed through the consultation he had scheduled,
and went home. He
called into work, and told them he was taking the rest of the day off.
had landed another client, and he was tired.
He took off his socks and shoes at the
door. He wanted to tell
someone what had happened, but he didn’t have any friends outside of work, so
he changed clothes and waited for Patricia. While he
waited, he told the story to himself a few times, perfecting it.
When Patricia came home, she toed her
shoes off at the door, and threw her keys on the coffee table.
“You will not believe the day I just
had.” She started. She put her coat up in the hall closet. “Clarence and
Timothy got into a little tussle, and it ruined my entire day.”
always tell stories like this, with no explanation of the children’s
backgrounds or personalities. They were simply names floating out in the ether.
“Then I passed out report cards, and
Margaret started crying, which meant that Pauline had to cry, you know, to show
support.” She laughed at her own little joke, and went into the kitchen to make
something to eat.
wasn’t an ugly woman, but she was
tall, and her features were plain. She was the type of woman that
looked very good when personal portraits were taken; with her hair done
and the filter was hazy and nostalgic. She had a classy way of
cashmere coats, and muted silk blouses.
He waited for her to tell all about
her day, as she made a sandwich. Then it was his turn. This was their
“I almost died today.” He said. She
ducked down to look at him, from the kitchen, through the bar.
She swallowed what she had been chewing.
“I was downtown, walking around. I was
on my way to my 3:15 with Eric
Salzburg of Salzburg Graphic Design. So I’m thinking about the meeting, and my
pitch, and I stepped into the street, and I heard a horn go off-“
“You weren’t looking?” She asked.
“I was preoccupied.”
“No, you were being stupid. You never look before you cross the street.”
“Hey, a little sympathy here. I almost
“From your own stupidity.” She said,
taking a bite out of her sandwich, and carrying the plate into the dining room.
“Did you miss the meeting?”
“No, but that’s not really the point of
the story.” This wasn’t how he imagined this going.
“I swear to God, you are just like one
of my kids.” She went on to tell a story about a child named Justin, following
a ball out into traffic. Peter sulked for the rest of the day.
had met each other in a bar, two
years before. Both of them were unattached, and they began dating shortly
after. He wooed her, because that is what young men do, and she allowed herself
to be wooed. Each step of their relationship had progressed because it was
time: they had intercourse on the third date because he wanted to see her
breasts, and she wanted to be seen. They moved in together so they could have
sex in the same bed every night, and share expenses. They did romantic things
together, and thought themselves in love.
Soon, it would be time to have a
child, and get married. She wanted a baby, and he wanted to stop using condoms.
That night, after they made love and
watched television, he considered what it would be like to sleep next
to her for the rest of his life. It wasn’t a horrible life; casual friends
who become lovers. But he wasn’t crazy about it.
the weeks following the incident, she told her friends the story of the
thing her boyfriend did. Peter started to
believe that he was trapped. He paced back and forth; he bought a pack
of cigarettes. He dug through his books, looking for a philosophy book he had read years ago. He read his notes in
the margins, scribbles like
“Live every day as if the world were ending… because it is,” and “An
simple life. That is the goal,” and felt totally disconnected from the
who had written them.
He had believed in things then. But
the things in his life had become his life. He had become a slave to routine
and simple pleasures.
He was thinking this all over one morning. Patricia was putting on stockings on the edge of the bed, her bra drying in
the bathroom. Peter admired her, half naked, hair done, and skirt just so.
He came out of the closet, holding two
“Tie?” He asked, holding them up.
“With that shirt? The blue one.
Matches your eyes.” She said, slipping on one of her pumps. Next to her was a blouse and a blazer, navy, to match her shoes.
“Bob and Karen’s party is going to be a
nightmare and a half.”
“Fake a headache.” He said, slipping
the tie around his neck.
“Bob won’t let me. He’ll just get me
an aspirin, and more wine.”
“Fake a stroke.”
She made a face. Bob Goldthwaite was
the assistant principal at her middle school. He was always throwing dinner
parties. She walked into the bathroom, and slipped into her bra. She
got the first few snaps, then walked over to him and turned to
let him finish.
He hooked the top two, then slipped a
finger in between the strap and her back, to snap it. She
turned quickly, stumbling away from him.
“Don’t you dare!” She laughed.
They were both in a good mood, and
they were both being careful not to wreck it.
“Can’t blame a guy for trying.” He said,
slipping on his jacket. She put on her blouse, her blazer, and they walked out
the door together.
They made a cute couple.
first stop was a coffee shop, for
a latte. The woman at the counter started his coffee when she saw his vehicle
pull up. It was always ready a minute after he walked in the door.
He paid, thanked her, and walked out
into the morning sun. It was bright, but cold out, pleasant weather for Texas.
The morning was all meetings, and
during his first coffee break of the day, he smiled over the memory of the
morning banter with Patricia. After lunch, he was called into his
manager’s office, and fired. He hadn’t been pulling in as many clients lately,
and they needed a bulldog. According to his boss, he wasn’t that man. For
the second time that season, he wasn’t paying attention, and had stepped in the
path of danger.
Peter had an odd lump in his throat,
and if he had been a different man, he would have argued, maybe made a scene.
But he was not that man. He walked out of the building for the
last time, the contents of his desk in a box. He drove
around for a bit, wondering what he was going to do. At two in the afternoon,
he called Patricia on her cell phone. It was her free period.
“Peter?” They rarely called
each other during the day.
“Yeah, it’s me.” He said.
“Pittman called me into his office and
told me I didn’t work there anymore.”
“I got fired, Patricia.”
She was silent for a second, then she
“This is the worst possible time for
He felt sick to his stomach, and mad.
“Well, I didn’t expect to lose my job today, I’m sorry if it’s an
“Don’t talk to me like that. I told
“I told you, ‘stop calling in every
time you have a cold, meet with more clients, take some freaking initiative’”
Her curses were sanitized, like everything else about her. “But you never
listen, Peter. You never listen.”
“Okay, I do not need this right now.”
He put the cell phone to his other ear as he stopped at a stop light.
“You’re going to have to get another
job.” She said.
“Where, Patricia? Where? Where is
there to work in this town?”
“This is your problem.”
He saw the light change out of the
corner of his eye, took his foot off the brake, and flipped the visor down. The
sun was in his eyes.
“No, this is our probl-“
car shook with the impact. As his car spun from the collision,
saw the other car ricochet into the side of a building, for less than
three seconds. The phone had flown out of his hands, and was
lying on the passenger seat.
Part of the driver’s side door had
rammed into his side, and there was a blossom
of red spreading across his
shirt. He felt immense pain; numbness. He was aware of parts of his
body he had always taken for granted. It was if he and the car had
been welded together. His legs were broken.
Patricia called his name several times, screaming.
He picked up the phone with one hand;
the other was part of the frame of the car.
“Peter? What’s going on? What
“Patricia, I’m hurt. I don’t
think I’m gonna be home tonight.” He shuddered, and his lungs felt heavy and
“Peter, oh, Peter Peter Peter Peter.
Oh GOD, no.” He heard her wail. There was nothing to be done.
“Patricia.” He said, not wanting to
go. There was so much more.
“I love you, baby.”
“I love you too.” But it wasn’t
enough. “So much.”
They both wanted to believe it was