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Fingers around his throat, slim fingers, strong fingers. The cold, hard metal of a wedding band warming by the second against his neck and he is gasping his lungs are shrieking but when he opens his mouth no sound comes out— “Please, please,” he tries to croak.
The door rattles violently in its frame when she spins and slams him into it, loosening her grip on his windpipe for a moment. And then it begins again.
Their front door is still broken; Parker Bravo has to shove his shoulder up against it twice to get it to budge. He really has to take a look at the hinges soon. At last, it swings open without a sound, letting him out of the buckets of Pacific Northwest rain that ran in rivulets down his car windows the whole drive home.
It isn’t until after he unwraps his scarf, wincing at the lingering tenderness on his neck, that he notices their home of almost ten years now is still and dark as if empty. He pads down the hall, past the painting of Paris they chose together at IKEA. She is usually home. Something doesn’t feel right; unease creeps up his spine.
“Elena? Elena, I’m home.”
He finally finds her sitting at the dining table. It is the quiet sound of sobbing that leads him to her— a hiccup here, a breath of silence there. In one hand, she swishes a small pool of cherry wine around the base of an almost-drained wine glass, chipped on the rim. The other hand flies to her face to streak the tears away the moment she spots him.
“‘Lena? Look, I know I’m late, there was a pileup at work— ” he begins, but she cuts him off.
“Don’t.” She slams the glass down on the table, and he flinches away from her. “Don’t even start. You could have picked up your phone.”
“I thought you’d finally left me.” Elena’s mouth twists into a venomous smile. “I didn’t blame you for a moment.”
He sighs and reaches towards her. “Let’s not do this today. Come on.” He hopes she doesn’t notice the telltale tremble in his voice. When she doesn’t move, he risks an “I love you.” The words hang in the space between them, not enough to fill the quickly growing silence so he crosses to the other side of the table and plops into the chair beside her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.
She sighs and leans into him. “You’ve always been a good liar.”
“I mean it.” He does. He means it like the first time he said it, under a streetlight on a cold December evening when they were still kids, but it seems like every year that passes she hears him less. Then he adds, “but I’m too tired to do this with you tonight. Come on, let’s go.” He rises from his chair and tries to tug her with him.
Her shoulders stiffen, and she pulls him back down. “No. No, you’re too tired every night. You don’t talk to me anymore. We’re doing this tonight.”
Again he tries to rise; again she pulls him back.
“Why are you avoiding me?”
"You make everything about you. Come on, Lena. You know my job makes it hard for me to be home."
"If you wanted to, you'd try harder."
“You just don't understand. I guess I should have known what I was getting into when I got hitched to a highschool dropout." The moment the words are out of his mouth he wishes he could draw them back in, pluck them right out of time and smooth over the wrinkles.
"It's your fault I had to drop out. You son of a-"
In one swift motion, Elena swipes the wine glass up and slams it into the side of Parker’s head with such force that it shatters, leaving a jagged glass stem in her grip.
This is not the first time, and every time is worse. He owns a scarf and long-sleeved shirts now. He knows how to let stubble grow out to conceal the colors on his jawline, how to receive an apology when he knows nothing will change.
No relationship is perfect, right?
And he is lucky beyond belief to have her.
Anyway, what would they say? A man who can’t stand up to his wife. They would never understand this love that they share. They don’t know about the way she brings him back to himself when he’s lost, how at her best she makes him feel like he’s discovered a way to bottle sunshine for his darkest days. They don’t know. They can never know.
"I was set for an Ivy. I lost everything because of you."
"How much have you drank?"
"Does it matter to you? You never care about anything else I do."
“Yes, I do. You think I'm selfish, but I've given you everything."
"Shut up! Just shut up!”
"You always say that like you’re in charge of me. You don’t tell me what to do."
“You never seem to have any problem doing the same to me.”
Elena storms over to his side of the table. She picks up the closest chair and swings it at him. It makes dull contact with his hip. All the while, she never drops the broken wine glass.
His jaw. His upper arm. His chest. Everywhere she hits him, he remembers a time her touch was more tender.
He once filled her hands with the stems of roses, and he thinks now that maybe those were more dangerous than the jagged piece of glass she wields. Because those brought him here, didn’t they? To this very moment.
If anyone walked past 6020 Blackwood Drive right then, they wouldn’t be able to see the single illuminated window from the sidewalk. But, if they listened carefully, they might hear the sounds of the fight within— a woman’s voice barely muffled by the walls, and was that shattering glass or a wind chime? Only the leaves on the trees, still and quiet, could tell.
The lights blink out in the surrounding houses, room by room, until the only glow left on the block save the streetlamps is the Bravos’ kitchen light.
A tiny figure comes shuffling through the kitchen door, all mussed hair and flannel pajamas. Everything halts.
Mia. Eight years old. Parker’s pride and joy, squinting blearily at droplets of blood sprinkled liberally on the grey tile floor, interspersed with more shattered glassware. Awakened by the noise to find her father curled up beside the cabinetry, her mother above him.
“Go back to bed, kiddo. It’s just a bad dream. It’ll be over in the morning.” Parker’s voice is deceivingly steady. He didn’t know his daughter was home; he thought she was spending the night at his mother’s.
“Why are you hurting him?” Mia bursts into tears.
“You have got to be joking, what are you? Two? Shut up and go back to bed,” Elena snaps, but Mia remains rooted in place. “GO! Go, or I swear to god you’re next.” Elena starts across the kitchen, reaching for Mia with the same hand that gashed Parker’s arm open.
In an instant Parker has uncrumpled himself off the floor and staggered into Elena’s warpath. “Don’t touch her.”
“Now who’s telling who what to do?” Elena shoots back.
“Start moving back, kiddo. Wait for me on the other side of the kitchen door,” Parker says over his shoulder.
“I can’t take this. Do you know how much my head hurts right now? Shut her up.” Elena rubs at her temples.
"You know, it was your hands I fell in love with first. For most people it's the eyes, or the lips. But I always thought you had gentle hands."
He hears Mia’s footfalls grow quieter as they lead out of the kitchen.
“What are you trying to say?” Elena softens.
“I love you, I always have, so I’m sorry for this.” Elena’s brow furrows, but she doesn’t react quickly enough to stop Parker when he moves. Her grip meets empty air as he dashes out into the hall and slams the kitchen door closed.
“Mia, take the keys and your dolls and go to the car. I’ll be there in a sec.”
Parker faces the closed kitchen door. On the other side he can hear Elena sobbing again, slamming her open palms against the wood between them.
"No, no, no, no. Parker, don't leave me. You love me, you said you do. I believe you, I'm sorry. Everyone always leaves. Please don’t leave me,” she begs.
“I do love you. That’s why I have to do this.” Nothing can change how much he loves her. Not even this.
He knows she needs him. It makes it hard for him to walk away.
He drives along the interstate, one speck on a shining ribbon of speeding light. The rain has let up, and the road stretches out before him.
In the backseat, headlights sweep over Mia’s face, briefly illuminating eyes fixed on a rubber duck and a doll in her lap. She holds one in each hand, playing at a conversation between the two.
“No! Stop hitting me! I’m leaving. Shut up! Shut up! Please, please.”