He

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, maybe always.

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.

He had 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 doctor.”

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 altogether.

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.

As 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. He 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.”

She would 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.

She 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 up, and the filter was hazy and nostalgic. She had a classy way of dressing, with 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 routine.

“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.

“What?”

“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 died.”

“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.

 


They

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.

 


For

the weeks following the incident, she told her friends the story of the dumb 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 honest and simple life. That is the goal,” and felt totally disconnected from the person 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 separate ties.

“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.

“Excellent.”

“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.

 


His

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.

“What’s wrong?”

“Pittman called me into his office and told me I didn’t work there anymore.”

“What?”

“I got fired, Patricia.”

She was silent for a second, then she sighed.

“This is the worst possible time for this.”

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 inconvenience.”

“Don’t talk to me like that. I told you-“

“Christ Patricia-“

“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 said.

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-“

The car shook with the impact. As his car spun from the collision, he 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.

“Patricia.”

“Peter? What’s going on? What happened?”

“Patricia, I’m hurt. I don’t think I’m gonna be home tonight.” He shuddered, and his lungs felt heavy and wet.

“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.

“Peter?”

“I love you, baby.”

“I love you too.” But it wasn’t enough. “So much.”

They both wanted to believe it was true.

In`at*ten"tion (?), n. [Pref. in- not + attention: cf. F. inattention.]

Want of attention, or failure to pay attention; disregard; heedlessness; neglect.

Novel lays attract our ravished ears; But old, the mind inattention hears. Pope.

Syn. -- Inadvertence; heedlessness; negligence; carelessness; disregard; remissness; thoughtlessness; neglect. -- Inattention, Inadvertence. We miss seeing a thing through inadvertence when do not happen to look at it; through inattention when we give no heed to it, though directly before us. The latter is therefore the worse. Inadvertence may be an involuntary accident; inattention is culpable neglect. A versatile mind is often inadvertent; a careless or stupid one is inattentive.

 

© Webster 1913.

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