By Jan B. Parker
He turned his back to her, not in a mean way, but a natural one, because the machine beeped and he loved his coffee fresh-brewed. He loved his wife, too, but on days when she woke up cranky, and he reckoned she wanted to take it out on him—whatever it was—he put into use what he’d learned over the many years: it often pays to be a little deaf.
She came up behind him. “Probably to make sure I’m doing everything right.” She leaned against the island while he sugared the two cups, adding cream to each, more into hers than his because, she proclaimed, ad nauseam, to prefer Boston coffee. Whenever he considered ‘Boston coffee,’ his mood turned snarky and he found quips descriptive of her pretentious nature. Like so many other things in life though, he turned the cheek. “For God’s sake. It’s not a sin.”
This morning, she kicked things off with that preliminary soft voice, pre-chide, he liked to think of it, and just for the sake of his own relief and to be a tiny bit passive-aggressive, he clinked the spoon against the stoneware cup in the same rhythmical beat as the flow of her words to him.
For a deaf man I hear well enough, he thought, trying not to smile, because he knew in her mind, she was probably being diplomatic about presenting him the list of everything he’d done wrong the day before, the week before, the month, the year, his life.
So judgmental. Clink-clink-clink. There, he thought, signaling his stir complete.
She paused, took the coffee mug he offered, and actually said, “Thanks.”
He was dazzled by the outfit she wore —- yoga pants and a soft tee. He adored the color rose pink. It made him feel a bit lovey and reflective. You haven’t dressed like this in a very long time, showing your profile through thin-worn cotton, parts of you now chilled, and for a split-second, he stepped out of himself, realizing the season had altogether changed from summer into fall. Indeed, there was indeed a change in the air.
Maybe you’re cold. You haven’t come to me like this in such a long while. You’ve not said thanks in forever. These considerations caused a surge of something wild to course through him.
But she started up again, blah-blah-blah, on her way to the couch and didn’t stop until she sat cross-legged in the middle which, according to his calculation, was so painfully close to his preferred spot, it threatened to nearly crowd him out it. Nearly, but not quite. It entertained him to think of her trapping him there with her pronounced sensuality. But wait. Is she being cagey? Is there an agenda here? What exactly does she want?
Yes, dear, I see your fine breasts pouting. Splendid, I must say. Your curved collarbone. Strong shoulders. The darling pooch below your navel. And yes, the topmost inseam of the yoga pants. Maybe, he thought, sex and having sex with me is all you’re after right now. His heart thumped and bumped, a drum in the cathedral arch of his ribs.
So he bunched beside her in his spot on the couch and smiled, timid in a way, because he had not expected her behavior or her attire, and also because, as usual, he’d not actually heard a word she’d said but wanted to pretend differently. The Big Bad Wolf in sheep’s clothing entered his mind, and he quit smiling, guilty as self-charged.
She placed her arm along the back of the couch while she ran on and on about something he could not venture catching up to. Then, with a kind expression on her face, she cupped his shoulder and patted her fingers lightly on the top of it. His manhood became suddenly joyous. His armpits sweated. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I blow my chances to have sex? I didn’t even know I wanted it!
She stopped talking and sipped her coffee. He sipped his. She looked him in the eye, and he let her study him, or at least do what he believed was study. It felt that way. It looked that way, especially when her kind face morphed into something more thoughtful, maybe serious. Lines of contemplation deepened around her eyes. She cocked her head, brows stitched high upon her forehead.
Uh-oh, she wants an answer, he thought unable to fathom her question. Instead, he mimicked her expression and raised his shoulders, meaning in the framework of his mind, ‘What in glory’s name are you talking about?’
When she pulled away and sighed, he knew it was over, not just the chance to have sex with her, but to have anything else with her, ever at all. It was over. She told him so with her eyes and that tell-tale shake of her head, no and no and no.
He shrugged with open palms. “What’d I do? What’d I say?”
She snorted, and just when he believed she was going to speak, she uncrossed her legs, stood from the couch, and walked away —- not just out of the room, but out the house, and into the SUV she’d packed earlier with all her essentials. She got in and drove away.
He raced to the front porch to see her vanish down the tree-lined avenue of their gated community, the one he’d worked so hard to attain for the last thirty-years, ministering to that damn, stuffy congregation, week after intolerable week —- the comings, the goings, the births, the deaths.
But her stunning absence whittled into him so that he, the preacher, could barely breathe. He fell to his knees in front of the whole neighborhood, and there between the elegant columns of his pristine home, he propped his chin on the tips of his steepled fingers and prayed. Never mind what for, he thought, jonesing hard for another cup. Coffee’ll do the trick, he admitted, not even once remembering Boston.
Copyright Parker 2022