Hold Me

J. Michael Chadwick

Mary returned home from the grocery store and paused in the doorway of Eli’s study. Her eyes burned and her body yearned, but she didn't move any closer. Her husband sat in his overstuffed armchair, dark eyes bent to a paper on public health, his short sturdy legs crossed, while one of his large tanned hands sat in his salt-andpepper hair like a brown bird in the melting snow. He had to have heard her come in the door, but he didn’t look to see her standing in the doorway. She looked at him for what seemed like forever. Fire, fury, and sadness were in her veins. Then she left the doorway and went to bed, alone. The next day she did the dishes and tried to get her mind off of the deadness. It didn't work. She bleached the stains out of his white shirts and tried to bleach the yearning from her soul. That didn't work either. She vacuumed the floor and tried to suck the unhappiness out of the house. Nothing changed. She still remembered the last time he had really held her. They had been married for three years. In the midst of a thunderstorm a green lightning flash had scared her; she had started crying and trembling. Before she realized he was there she had melted into the strong arms of her husband. He had gently rocked her, shushed her, and told her it would be okay with his deep, gentle voice. She had fallen asleep in his arms that night. That had been two years ago. Eli’s congressional campaign and subsequent election had happened in the meantime. His hugs had become increasingly absentminded, as if his brain was so full that he needed his arms for storage and he had no space for her there. His kisses were brief; a peck on the cheek or a quick smack on the lips, never tender or passionate. He still loved her. Or at least, she thought so. He said so every day, and he looked her in the eyes to say it, but those eyes were so full of everything but her that she was not sure he saw her anymore. She wondered what he had been like twenty years ago when he had just graduated from Brown University, newly married and headed to Law School. What if his first wife had felt this way; lost, distant, and unseen? Maybe that was what had really killed her and not the cancer that ate her bones. At other times, she wondered if Eli was distancing himself from her to protect himself from hurting again, as if he were afraid that she herself might somehow leave him alone in the world. But he spoke to her about none of it, and she no longer felt comfortable asking him such questions; once she had asked him why he never wore the red shirt and tie she bought for him. He had not expected the question and seemed upset. In answer, he had said that the color

brought painful memories and then closed the door on her. After the door closed, she’d thought she’d heard him crying softly. When he was home, there was a presence in the house. Even if his mind was occupied, his body was there and she could feel the weight and presence of him affect the flow and pressure of the air that drifted about. When he was away the house felt empty. She looked out the window at rain dropping from leaf to leaf, cascading down the trees that filled their backyard until the water struck the ground. She wondered how his meeting was going. She moped around the house, drank a glass of orange juice, read an interior design magazine, brushed her teeth, tried to take a nap, couldn't sleep and went for a run, gave up after half a mile, came back for a shower, tried to sleep again, and succeeded. From her rising until he arrived home for dinner, this day was just like every other. The next afternoon she sat down and wrote him a letter. She wrote that she felt invisible and insignificant to him and she didn’t want to feel that way anymore. She put the letter on his pillow and then took a long, cold shower. She sat down in the tub and fell asleep with her head against the shower wall, her heart colder than the water pouring over her skin. She did not sleep long. When she awoke, she got dressed and went for a walk, shedding tears around the hill behind their house. When she went back inside she saw a message on the answering machine. Mary, we’re having another meeting today. I won’t be home in time for dinner—in fact, I might not be home before bedtime. Don’t wait for me. I love you. *click* The sun was setting now, and her stomach growled. She made macaroni and cheese. When she was done, she didn’t do the dishes.

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