“Can’t you see I’m trying.” I starred into her eyes, pleading for her to hear me.
“No. I can’t. You’re always at work. How am I supposed to see anything when you’re never here?”
“I work so you can go out for coffee and buy new plates every time one of them breaks.” I knew I probably shouldn’t have said that, but it seemed like that’s all she ever did.
“If you think that’s all I ever do then that just proves that you’re never around. Who do you think cleans your clothes, huh? Do you think they just magically appear in your closet? Who do you think cleans the dishes that you always break?”
“If I was never around, I couldn’t break your dishes.” I heard the dog whimper under the table and I called his name. I thought he could ride with me for the day.
“I want that dog to stay home with me.”
“But I’ve decided that he’s supposed to come with me today.” I held on to the dog’s collar, making sure he’d stay by my side.
“That’s a stupid decision!”
I waited a moment to see if she would realize what she said, when she didn’t apologize, I said, “If you think I’m so stupid then you don’t need me around. Fix the garage door yourself.” Then I turned around, called the dog to make sure he followed and I walked out the door.
I told myself I would not apologize this time. Every time we fought, I would be the first to apologize and give in, but not this time. Obviously, if she thought I made stupid decisions she didn’t need me. I doubted she even noticed that I wasn’t home half the time, she never called me. It felt like I was always the one calling her.
We both knew my long hours wouldn’t last forever, once the contract was set, I could go back to my normal hours. But I guess we were both tired. We longed to have each other by our side again, we missed the days when we would eat our meals together and talk before we fell asleep. We just didn’t know it: it was barred under all the anger. Toward the end I don’t think a morning went by that we didn’t fight. Then at night, when I got home, we would make up—if she wasn’t asleep by then.
On my way to work that day I saw a couple walking on the sidewalk, laughing. I found myself wishing that was my wife and me. But it wasn’t, instead I had another meeting. I left the dog with Wonda at the front desk and forgot the argument with my wife.
“All I do is drink coffee and buy new plates! Huh! That man drives me crazy! The contract, the contract, the contract! For goodness sake I know about the contract. If he would only stop for a minute and remember his wife I could deal with the contract. But like this—if it goes on for much longer, I’m talking to the mayor myself. No building should keep a couple apart.” Carol set the spice back on the tier rack and closed the cabinet door. “At least then he could fix the garage door.”
“I just miss my husband is all, I know he’s only doing is job. But look at what he’s turned me into, a lonely wife who talks to herself. And he took the dog!” Carol grabbed a jar of pickles from the pantry and brought it to the counter. “I’ll cook his favorite meal and bring it to him at work so we can talk.”
Carol angled her elbow, wrapped her hand around the lid and tried to unscrew it from the jar. “Goodness. It’s not opening.” Carol picked up the towel and placed it on the lid to get a better grip. “Oh, my dryer!” Carol heard the dryer rang and dropped the towel, leaving the pickles close to the stove. “Maybe once the contract is over, we’ll stop fighting and he’ll let me have my dog back.”
At lunch hour I heard Wonda talking to her husband over the phone and I decided I should call my wife. I guess I understood where she was coming from. It did seem like I was always at work; I disliked it just as much as she did. So, I called her but no one answered. After I ate my meal I tried again; still no one answered. I knew she was mad at me, but I didn’t think she would ever ignore me. I thought maybe she was taking a nap or cleaning the dishes so I went back to work.
I sat down on my office chair just as I heard sirens. I instantly felt uneasy. I tried calling my wife again, but she still didn’t answer, so I decided to go check up on her. Driving home I was thinking of the worst things possible. I kept my eyes open for any accidents along the road, but the road was clear all the way up to the house. When I saw our home, I saw a house covered in flames.
I ran to the nearest fire fighter and asked him what happened. When he told me, I fell to my knees and prayed. I prayed for her life. After fifteen minutes two fire fighters came out of the house, empty handed. I felt like all the air in me had been sucked out. One firefighter was still in the house, but they wouldn’t tell me anything else. I starred at the burning house. As the heat of the fire warmed my face, I imaged everything my wife must be feeling.
I stood waiting, while the others watched as they did their work. I imagined the firefighter walking through the door carrying my wife; so much it could have been real. But the image was only in my head . . . they never came. I looked at the firefighter’s faces searching for any sign of hope. I watched them slowly bow their heads as if they were saying goodbye, then they went back to work. At first, I heard the firefighters yell orders to each other as they continued their job. Then slowly their voices faded and all I heard were my wife’s last words. They repeated in my head over and over; then I remembered the last words I said to her. I covered my face and sobbed like a young boy. I had nothing to say, not a word came out of my mouth . . . my wife was gone.
I later learned that she and the firefighter had been trapped in the basement. For months the only thing I could think of or dream of was the repeating image of my wife surrounded by fire. In my dreams I would try to save her, but the fire wouldn’t let me through to her. I knew that death comes to everyone. You always know that one day you’re going to have to say goodbye, but no one ever thinks of the last words they will say to that person–or will have said. No one ever imagines that your friend could die when you leave them after a fight. I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for the way I spoke to her that morning . . . the way we spoke to each other—I wish she wouldn’t have died that day. Now I’ll never get the chance to make things right.
“Well young lady that’s the story you asked for.” I wiped a tear from my eye, then I looked at the young woman and said, “Don’t leave any argument unsettled.”
The young woman wiped tears from her eyes and said, “I won’t.” Then she took off her apron and ran out the door. Leaving me with my coffee.