"Why haven't you hung any pictures on the walls? No pictures...no art...nothing. It looks like you've just moved in."
She took a drag from her cigarette and blew out the smoke watching it get caught in the path of the fan that was ineffectual in it's attempts against the mid-afternoon heat. She looked at her hand studying the ashes clinging to the edge of the cigarette before moving to stub it out in the ashtray with a frustrated sigh. Across the coffee table from her a clearing of the throat reminded her that he was still there still waiting for an answer to a question she had already almost forgotten. A quick glance around the room did show bare walls and bare canvasses leaning against the walls.
"Actually it's been nearly three years since I moved in." It had been quiet so long that he jumped a little in his seat, startled to hear her raspy voice answering him. Of course it has nearly been three years, he thought. After all it had been nearly three years since the last time they sat across from each other like this, only then they both wore gold bands on their fingers.
"You know I think I keep the walls bare because I prefer the potential that they represent. Like those canvasses leaning by the bookshelves. I bought them at least two months ago with a very specific idea of what I wanted to do with them, yet there they stand still white still waiting and still full of potential."
He found himself nodding- it made sense, kind of. "That doesn't explain why no pictures of your family and friends though." When they'd been married the house had been full of pictures and all the little homey things that make a house a house. She used to bitch about the dust they collected but it never stopped her from adding new pictures. He had always loved coming home to the warmth of that house, so different from the sterile cold feel of the downtown loft he returned to these days. He found himself studying the colors of her furniture and the throws and pillows thrown around the sofa and chairs. Even without the pictures and artwork she still managed to surround herself with warmth. There was a welcoming feel to this bare little apartment.
"How's your mom," he asked when the silence had gone from pleasant to opressive.
"Why are you here Brad?" she countered.
He cringed, hating the steel in her voice- the steal that he'd given birth to three years earlier. He looked up to find her studying him with eyes not entirely hostile but guarded nonetheless. Did I do that to her? he asked himself. Or perhaps he was mistaken in remembering a time when those eyes were open and trusting. There was a hardness to her face now. He couldn't imagine the woman in front of him ever laughing, but he knew she must- that she had in another life and maybe if he looked just hard enough he could find those laugh lines, find where she had buried the twinkle from her eyes. She started to bounce her leg and he could feel the vibrations through the coffee table, it was a nervous tic of hers that he used to find endearing now it just made him want to say what he needed to and get out except that his mouth was suddenly as dry as the Sahara and his chest felt tight and painful. Is this what a heart attack feels like? he wondered to himself.
"Sarah...um...well, really I just came by because I wanted you to hear it from me instead of from someone else."
She never flinched, looking him straight in the eyes but he could feel the tension, could see her closing in on herself almost becoming smaller in and effort to protect herself. Oh Sarah I'm so sorry I hurt you, he thought to himself.
"See the thing is...well, the thing is Sarah that Phil and I are going to get married." The second sentence came out in a rush and at first he wasn't sure if she had understood him. She continued to stare at him for a minute and then she blinked slowly and with a deep sigh leaned back into the couch laying her head on the backrest and staring at a spot somewhere beyond his right ear.
He looked down noticing for the first time the dried bit of mud on the tip of his loafers. He felt like that bit of dried up mud. When he finally drew the courage to raise his head up he found her sitting forward again and studying the cuticles on her right hand. She'd always had great nails he thought. After a long night at the hospital, he come home and try to crawl as noiselessly as possible into bed but she always woke up. She'd sit up against the headboard and he curl around her, his head resting on her chest feeling it rise and fall while she scratched his head softly with her long nails- relaxing him as he told her about his day. Her nails weren't long anymore, they were short and looked chewed. He fought the urge to cry, suddenly wanting to crawl over to her and rest his head on her chest while begging her forgiveness and kissing the tips of those bitten down nails. But he didn't, he wouldn't because he had done what he had to do but that didn't mean he'd ever meant to hurt her so or that the guilt would ever leave.
She finally looked up to meet his gaze, no more steel in her eyes just a calm sadness. "I already knew. I knew the other night when I was watching the news and saw that the appeal had been overturned." She looked down for a minute and then right back up nodding a little to some but of internal dialogue. "It's a good thing", she said. "I'm glad."
He noticed that there was only a little bitterness in her gaze, mainly though there was just acceptance. He nodded too. "I'll...uh I'll send you a picture. From the ceremony."
She laughed then. It was a rueful laugh to be sure but a laugh nonetheless and her eyes almost twinkled. "Maybe I'll put it up."
They chuckled together then, each knowing that this would be the last time they'd see each other.