March 21, 2021 by The Citron Review
by Linda Wastila
Red velvet shrouds the bedroom windows, cloisters our confinement. Morning? Noon? Does time matter? Beside me, as always, the sheet’s cool indent, evidence Martin slept. Of course he slept. Even in bed his breath rasps through his mask: I am your husband. I am your husband. Now, ensconced in his study to prepare sermons and eulogies no one will hear, this day, like every day, will slouch toward night with tomblike quiet.
Sun cracks through the curtains, falls on the coverlet as if deciding whether to shine brighter or weaker behind the cherry shedding petals. I secure the ever present square of cotton over my mouth, consider whether to shine or fade.
At the stove, the metal spoon clangs against the pot. I like the sound—it reminds me of the rattle of the tympani, your feet tapping the beat, echoes traveling up my spine. I stir harder. Joshua sits in a cartoon coma before the murmuring television. Steam condenses on the window. If I squint, it looks like snow, the same snow that softened that night you were here. Just three months ago.
I press the damp mask tighter against my face, inhale my exhalations, relish the headiness of almost passing out. Outside, the low hoo-hoo of mourning doves. Oatmeal plops into bowls. I carry one bowl to my son, the other I deposit outside the locked study. Two raps on the door and I realize I forgot to slip on my wedding band.
Mid-morning, Joshua goes to his bedroom and I lock the door behind him, tell him to play quietly, in case. Martin remains sequestered in his study. I lie on the floor, phone cradled between my breasts. The walls are thin; I cannot call you.
I wonder if Martin breathes freely in the study. Even inside our home, he never removes his mask—too many parishioners have fallen ill—though he hasn’t visited them in weeks. To keep our son safe, he says. I suspect he cares less about me. I haven’t left the house since the night we spent together so there’s no need to veil my mouth, my nose, or, how I wish, my eyes. Still, most days I wear my mask, a penance of sorts.
The sun passes overhead. Words—a poem?—circle my brain, elude my heart, evade truth to the page. The pen drops, my hands rub circles across the soft mound of my belly: rising, falling, rising.
Twelve weeks. Four days. Eight hours. Thirty-two minutes. You took me to the symphony where, heady from cabernet, we closed our eyes, fingers entwined, as the strings sighed hymns. When you were here, snow fell inches an hour, the hushed night bright with reflection. Martin at his silly conference, Joshua tucked in at his grandmother’s house, and you—you!—nothing between us, your blue, blue eyes swallowing me. Opening me.
Joshua jumps on sofa cushions tumbled on the floor and hums airplane noises. I encourage his daily exercise. I am almost asleep when the study door bangs open. Martin emerges. I jump up. How are you? I ask. What do you need? He shakes his head. Over the KN95, his eyes stare, hard, and settle on the space between my neck and pelvis. He steps toward me.
I gather up Joshua. His hot wet face buries in my neck. I whisk him to his small room, lock the door behind us. He starts to cry. Shush. One arm cradles him close, the other shields my stomach. The door quakes. Shush.
Linda Wastila writes from Baltimore, where she professes, mothers, and gives a damn. Her prose and poetry can be found in Smokelong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Blue Fifth Review, The New York Times, The Poet’s Market 2013, Hoot, Every Day Fiction, and Nanoism, among others. When not working on novels-in-progress, she serves as Senior Fiction Editor at JMWW.
Always a pleasure to read your stories. I always enjoy how much you present the through nuance. You always achieve that delicate act of allowing enough space for the reader to relate to the work through their own experience.