by Meagan Lucas
The twins were sitting at the kitchen table with homemade play-dough. Mercy frowned at the beige lumps and pointed out that it wasn’t colored like the stuff they used at preschool. She liked the colored kind better. Grace thought that blue would be really nice. Mercy thought green. Annabelle ground her teeth together while she scrubbed the sticky remnants of salt and flour offthe inside of her saucepan. Jimmy was away; she hadn’t had moment of quiet in weeks.
Despite the beauty of the crisp fall day, they both refused to go outside. Grace was going through a phase where she was terrified of bees, or anything that buzzed and flew. Her hysterics sent Mercy into fits of sympathetic sobbing. So Annabelle let them stay inside to avoid the tears.
She organized crafts, fixed snacks, cleaned endlessly, and prayed for few minutes of peace while trying to ignore the bottle of Wild Turkey in the cupboard.
“I’m going to go take a shower. Don’t let anyone in the house. Got it?”
“Yes, Mama,” they echoed.
She was naked when the doorbell rang. Wrapping a towel around her body, she was ready to give whoever it was a piece of her mind. She hadn’t had a shower in days. She yanked the door wide, her mouth half open to holler, when she saw it was Thomas, and closed her lips.
Even now, more than five years later, she still felt the same electricity in her skin, the same heat in her belly.
He stood there now, in beige fatigues, his hat in his hand, his dark curls shown from his head. But those same eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have come. I was on my way to the airport, and I…”
“Where are you going?”
“The Gulf,” he said, looking at his boots. “I know I’m a hypocrite.”
Sometimes she’d thought he was too good. He wouldn’t steal another man’s wife, he’d said. When she’d pointed out in anger that he was willing to take another man’s wife to bed, he’d turned scarlet and left.
But now he was here.
“Why are you going?” she asked.
“It’s wrong what’s happening in Kuwait, it’s wrong what they’re doing—”
“Why are you really going?”
He looked up at her. “Because I can’t stay here.”
“Wait,” she said, leaving him in the front hall.
Clutching her towel to her chest she ran to the kitchen.
“Who’s here, Mama?”
“Who rang the doorbell?”
“Just a salesman. But when I was out there, I saw how beautiful it was, and thought you two really need to go outside and play. Get some fresh air. It will be good for you.” Both of the girls stilled, play-dough squished between their fingers.
She lifted each from their chair and carried them to the door. She pulled their coats from the hook and crammed their arms in them.
“Bees!” Grace screamed.
“It’s too cold for bees.” Annabelle opened the door. “You’ll be fine.” She pushed them outside, locked the door and dashed to Thomas.
“I have maybe ten minutes,” he said.
She led him to the bedroom.
His palm cupped her bare shoulder. Thumb stroked her collarbone. His hand slid down the outside of her arm and her towel fell to the floor. She looked into his eyes and saw herself, not as she was now – greasy and tired, but as she had been a half decade ago – peach cheeked and eager. Then his hands were in her hair, and his taste was in her mouth and the entire world fell away.
After, as they lay in bed, legs tangled, she drew circles in his chest hair and listened to the beat of his heart. “It could always be like this,” she whispered.
She felt his chest rise.
As she walked him to the front door, and watched his back walk away from her for what might be the last time, she bit her lip. As she went back to the bedroom and stripped the sheets from her marriage bed, tears fell off the tip of her nose. She sniffed back mucus as she crammed the sheets into the washing machine and measured the soap. But it wasn’t until she was in the shower, with the hot water washing his mouth, and his skin, and his scent from her body that she allowed herself to sob, to let the grief of years of longing rip through her body and escape through her mouth.
Alone, and surrounded by ceramic tile, she thought this other life, these other people who filled her time and aged her body, must be some sort of test, or a punishment, perhaps.
When she was exhausted, she turned off the water, dried off, and put on some sweats. She brushed her hair and wandered to the window to check on the girls. They stood in the middle of the yard, with their arms around each other. She rested her forehead on the cool glass of the door and watched them.
Meagan Lucas is the author of the award-winning novel: Songbirds and Stray Dogs (Main Street Rag, 2019). Her short work has appeared in The New Southern Fugitives, Still: The Journal, and MonkeyBicycle among others. She is Pushcart nominated and won the 2017 Scythe Prize for Fiction. She is an English and Creative Writing Instructor at Asheville-Buncombe Community Technical College.