You Don't Listen Anymore
“It wasn’t me,” my wife, Doreen, says. “You know I never shop at Albertson’s. I was nowhere near that store.” She stands there, her coat dripping on the entry carpet, shoulders clenched, her face boiling resentment.
I shrug and go limp on the couch. “It sure looked like you. Same raincoat, same hairbut, okay, okay, it wasn’t you.” She’s giving me that boring-in look, hard-frozen. I feel foolish with silly needles of fear, caught by someone who might have been her double.
No, I know it was her, wearing the turquoise raincoat I bought for her birthday; it was her, hunched under the awning squinting through the downpour hammering the parking lot. I know she saw me, sprinting to the car with my coat wrapped over Jenn. It was hersame familiar stance, craning on tiptoes, as I drove off.
That night in bed, Doreen raises over me on one elbow. My back is to her and I pretend to be asleep. Her tepid breast presses into my arm.
“You stopped believing me when I tell you things,” she says, talking low as if to my subconscious self. “There’s a wall between us that didn’t used to be there. You argue whenever you get an answer that doesn’t satisfy you.”
I stir, pulling the covers tight over my neck. “I don’t know what to believe,” I mumble. “Not since Tom.”
“Good lord, that was five years ago, and”
I don’t want to look at her. “I want to believe you. It looked like you.” I know it was her; I don’t have fight left in me.
She reaches under the blanket, slips her hand over my hip and down past my stomach.
“I’m your nursie,” she sings, nursery rhyme-like, “I’m here for your bath, Mister Johnson.”
I lie still, thinking maybe she’ll stop, but she flips the blanket over my waist and continues to paw at me. I block this, find images of Jennifer Jennifer in the car: the sweet damp odor on her wool jacket, raindrops on her face, fogged windows, my pulse racing from clean desire of her.
“Oh, my, Mister Johnson, but this very large handle needs a bath and I’ve forgotten my washcloth!” She pries my hips over. My eyes stay closed. I breathe measured, like Jennifer did, while Doreen roots and grunts pig-like on my stomach. Alcohol and garlic work its way up my body, and I pull the pillow over my face.
I focus on Jenn’s words, her sighs, delicate skin, the comforting tones of her voice. I am there again with her, inside our fog bubble, the rain drumming above us. We find the heat in each other’s eyes. It is our second meeting. The first time I asked her for coffeeshe said no, that she didn’t talk to strangers. I said if she’d meet me againthe same place, one week later, then I wouldn’t be a stranger. She hadn’t said no; her slight smile told me she wanted to say yes. She waited under the same overhang until the shower paused, then looked back at me twice as she walked to her car. The second look I took for a yes. One week later it rained again, this time harder, this time with a power that insulated us, a force that released us. A connection, we called it, something from another life. She joked about being Cleopatra. I trembled from her touch. I’d relived her touch through the endless waiting week.
“Nurse must give Mister Johnson a hot bath. Nursie knows what her little dumpling man patient needs.” She slides rough hands under my hips, rocks me and presses dry lips down hard. I cannot think of Jennifer’s fragile touch now. I’ve lost Jennifer’s face as the demented nurse slams against me. Anger wells at Doreen. This is her sort of pleasure; what’s left when tenderness dies. I won’t give in.
“I know you saw us,” I say disconnectedly, looking down on her rioting, root-stained mass of hair.
“I want the truth,” I say faintly, “You were wearing that turquoise raincoat I gave you”
“Lie still. Your treatment’s almost finished, Mister Johnson.”
I pull away, but her fingernails dig into my ass. “The truth” I say in a feeble, pinched way.
She bites mealmost too hardand laughs.
“I exchanged the raincoat,” she said. “I told you. I wanted a blue one.” She sits up. Her redlined mouth is raw, her mascara smeared. “That’s why you don’t believe me anymore. You don’t listen.”