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What You Cannot Forgive
They sat up late at night, by the window in their kitchen. Outside the city glowed in the valley, orange, white and red lights. The man drinking coffee and the woman wrapped up in a blanket. They sat a few feet apart in the gloom. The house was quiet save the baby monitor on the counter, occasionally letting out the sounds of their child. The woman pulled her legs up onto the chair and rested her head upon her arms. The man leaned forward in his chair, “You should go to bed.”
“Will you come with me?”
“No.” The woman looked to the man.
“Well then come to bed.”
“No.” The man emptied his coffee. He washed it out in the sink and dried it. He turned and leaned against the counter top. In the dark he couldn’t see the woman’s face. She unfolded her legs and turned the chair to the man. She folded her arms and asked,
“What’s wrong with you?”
“If you don’t tell me nothing will change.”
“Everything’s changed.” She frowned in the black night and wrapped herself tighter in the blanket. The man pinched his toes upward on the linoleum, as he would in thought. Silence filled the space between them and expanded the room. From the monitor came a few disjointed words. The language of sleep, from the child’s mouth. The man picked up the monitor and held it in his hands. The smooth plastic vibrated softly from the feedback in the child’s room.
“Talk to me,” the women said.
“What do you want me to say?”
“Anything.” The man sat down in the chair beside the woman. They were pulled away from the dinner table. They kept it in the kitchen and the dining room was rarely used.
“I’m going to stay at Brian’s.”
“What about her?”
“You can take care of her for now.”
“Can’t you take her?”
“No, I’ll be leaving for Spokane soon anyway.” The woman felt her eyes grow wet.
“Don’t leave, please.”
“It’s not my decision.”
“Yes it is,” she said exasperated.
“No, you made it yours when you were with him.” The woman flinched at the barbed words. She wiped her eyes on the blanket. A soft white crochet fabric, she had made it last year. The man stood and put a hand on the glass window. The city was beautiful in the night. The day left and took the minor details with it. The ugly particulars of cracked streets and dirty vagrants disappeared, leaving only the bright lights that deceived those that looked upon it. The woman let the blanket fall and stood with the man, rubbing his shoulders. He shrugged off her touch. She held her chest and stood alone.
“She'll ask where you went.”
“She won’t remember me.”
“She’ll want to know what happened to her father.”
“Tell her then.”
“Tell her what,” she said frustrated.
“The truth.” She looked at her feet.
“Why not?” The woman made an annoyed sound.
“I will not tell her what happened.” He turned quickly,
“Why not,” he snarled. “Because she’ll know her mother is a w****?”
“Don’t call me that,” she screamed. The baby monitor in the man’s hand shook with a few rustlings of the child. She looked down at the floor, remembering the sleeping child. The man held the monitor up, watching the green light on the upper right corner of the device. They waited for a few moments and the child sighed, returning to her dreams. The man let his hand fall to his side again. The woman remained fixated on the floor.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“I know.” The man turned and pulled the woman to him. Her head just reached his nose and he inhaled her scent, the cloying smell of shampoo flowers. She wrapped her arms around him and held them loose but secure. The woman rested her head upon his chest.
“I shouldn’t have left the house. I should’ve hung up the phone.”
“It’s okay,” he said into her hair. She looked up at him questioningly.
“Why do you say that?”
“That it’s okay even though you’re leaving me tomorrow.” The man matched her gaze.
“I’m not sure.”
“Think then, be sure.” The woman could tell he was furrowing his brow in the darkness.
“I guess it’s because I love you. But you were with him and every time I see you, he’s there.”
“If you love me so much why won’t you stay?”
“Because I won’t forgive you, I don’t want her to grow up with us hating each other.”
“I don’t hate you.”
“Why did you do it then?” She put her head back into his chest.
“I don’t know. I’m so sorry.” The man reached up to her face and ran his fingers down her cheek,pale flesh in the forlorn shadows of the night.
“I remember when you loved me too.”
“I still love you,” she said fast.
“No you don’t, even if you do it’s not the same.”
“It could be. We can be happy again.”
“You say that because you’re sorry. You don’t believe it yourself.” She pushed her head away from his chest and shook it, no.
“I do believe it.” The man let go of her and pulled her head back. He held her face in his hands. She let go of him with one arm and touched her hand to his. She closed her eyes. The man watched her closed eyes. He felt the dying of their love. The slow and wretched jerks of the warm feeling inside of him. The smothering of it by the freezing waters of loss. She opened her eyes. She let go of him and took his hand in hers. She led him into the living room. They lay down on the sofa in front of the television. The woman kissed the man. The man did not smile. And in the darkness of night, they made love. For all the times they did before and for all the times they never would again.
The next morning the man was gone. The woman sat up, naked underneath the white blanket. The sun peered through the morning clouds and into the window. She wrapped the blanket tight around her shoulders and walked upstairs to the child’s room. She was sleeping in the crib. The woman put her hands on the railing of the crib. She stroked the child’s hair; it was dark brown, the color of her father’s.