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Ben Bradley woke to a dawn-darkened room, dusty grey light spilling through the dirty mini-blinds. For several moments, he tried to remember where he was, why he lay alone in his bed in this spare, empty room.
Where was his wife? His kids? Where were the pounding of feet, the babble of early morning news programs, the sound of the shower, the smell of coffee?
Then, he knew, and it fell onto his brain with the full weight of reality.
He was alone here in this dingy, spartan apartment. His wife and kids were at their home--his home once--in another part of town, probably going through the morning routine he had expected upon waking here.
Three months, he sighed, wiping sleep from his eyes and sweeping the sheets off his body. Three months and I'm still not used to being alone.
Shuffling into the bathroom, he chuckled sarcastically at how easy he thought this would be; ditch the wife, ditch the kids and ditch all the problems.
He voided the evening's liquid into the stained toilet bowl in his cramped, messy bathroom, stepped out of his underwear and kicked them back into the bedroom. They fell into a heap of dirty clothes piled at the foot of the rumpled bed.
Snapping the shower curtain back, Ben slumped against the cool, clammy tile as the needle spray jabbed at his tired flesh.
Within a few minutes, he'd finished and proceeded on to the other morning rituals of shaving and teeth brushing and dressing. As he knotted his tie before the full-length mirror hung slightly askew on the back of his bedroom door, the phone jangled on the floor near his bed.
He knew it was her even ashe stood staring at the phone. A complex mixture of emotions welled up at the prospect of speaking with her: jittery fear, anger, a longing, lingering sadness, a righteous--if callow--pride at her being the one calling him and not vice-versa, and finally not a little nervous love.
It was the kind of electric love he had felt when he had first seen her; the kind of love that careened through his stomach when he had first held her hand; first kissed her, first seen her naked.
At the beginning of their separation, Ben felt that each of these phone calls, each contact with Maggie was an opportunity to work things out, to get off the path that would lead, eventually, to their divorce. A chance to regain what was slipping away.
But it never worked out that way. Their conversations always seemed to be weighed down with kids and money and bills and possessions. As they clutched at all of these things, their marriage drifted away from them, and Ben had begun to feel that nothing could be done to stop it. It was as inexorable as the tides.
Now, he accepted her phone calls with a weary resignation that she would always be in his life, always just tantalizingly out of reach.
"Hello," he finally said after he'd picked up the phone and sat down on the bed. He heard a TV in the background, the sound of flatware clanking on plates, distant voices. For a moment, he smelled coffee, and his heart contracted in his chest.
"Oh! Ben?" came a small, distracted voice, as if her mouth were pulling away from the receiver. "I was just about to hang up."
"I was getting dressed," he said flatly. "What's up?"
"Today's the day that Matt needs to get down to take his SAT, remember? Look, I know that I said I'd take him, but I've got a meeting clear on the other side of town this morning. You'll have to take him."
Copyright © 2005 John F.D. Taff