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Miasma

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It is through the guilty arc of his shoulders that Lane knows her husband is cheating on her. In the morning -- signaled by her cat’s persistent meowing and gentle biting and nuzzling of her tangled hair -- she walks down the stairwell to find him already sitting at the counter, shoulders raised high, with a bowl of cereal next to him.

Sunlight reaches every corner of the house, pouring in through the glass doors and window above the sink. The newspaper says it will rain, but Lane does not think so.

Although she is quiet, it is clear he hears her approach. His crunching grows louder, and he fumbles around the bowl with his spoon. Still, he feigns ignorance of her presence, unconsciously tensing his neck muscles but making no move to acknowledge her.

She is a few feet away, gripping the wooden chair of the kitchen table with bloodless fingers. She opens her mouth, closes it, and then opens it again.

“Is she pretty?” The words hang in the air briefly, echoing dimly through the halls. There is no emotion in her voice and her husband strains his ears.
“I’m sorry?”

Lane marches to where her husband sits. With each step, she pounds her feet against the kitchen tile. “I said,” she intones, mouth inches away from his right ear, “is she pretty?”

“Damn it, Lane,” he says with great emotion, whether anger or anxiety, Lane cannot tell. He swipes his bowl from the counter and moves to place it in the sink. Lane grabs him by the arm, which is much stronger than she remembered.

She raises her eyebrows and says, accusingly, “Have you been working out?”

He twists out of her hold and walks over to the faucet. It runs into the milky bowl before he empties it of its contents. He does this all with brutal force, as though he is containing suppressed rage, or that the sound will drown out their conversation.

The cat that awoke her minutes ago enters the room, extending its paws in a languid stretch.

“Do you love her, Tom?” She leans forward against the counter and raises her voice. “Are you going to make the same promises to her that you did to me?” She pauses and says in a whisper, “Do you even remember?”

Tom opens a cabinet, pulls out a tall, empty glass. “Of course I remember!” He slams the cabinet shut. His back is still facing her. The cat, which had been making its way to Lane, darts out from under a stool, retreating into the living room. “We were young then. Stupid. I didn’t know what I thought…I didn’t…” He massages his temples, which he has worked a knot into.

“Didn’t love me?”

Tom lets the question hang unanswered. He has not looked at her all this time, and Lane realizes he might be crying. She takes a few moments to calm herself, then walks to where he stands and wraps her arms around his stomach. “We could still make this work, Tom.”

He rests his hands against hers.

“We may not love each other anymore,” she continues, “but we’re good together. Good parents. Andrew needs us both. You know that as well as I do.”

A sharp noise, a clanking of two objects together, reaches their ears. They both crane their necks to the stairwell just as two small feet disappear from its edge.

“Damnit,” Lane breathes, verbalizing both their thoughts. “You better go up and talk to him.”

Tom’s hands drop to his sides. He squirms out of his wife’s grasp. At first Lane thinks it is to go upstairs as she suggested, but then he turns to face her, and she sees that he is not crying. There is only a distant look to his eyes, and Lane knows he is not thinking of her when he whispers, “I’m sorry. I can’t do it.”





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