Afterward, they rested in one another’s arms, his fingers clenched into fists and hers gently massaging the ache between his shoulder blades. Their foreheads touched delicately, their noses scraped and tickled alternately, their breath, a single breath between them it seemed, pouring in and out of their lungs as their breasts heaved with relief. It was done. They both knew it, realized it, relived it in their screaming, but otherwise silent, minds. It was done.
They stayed that way for hours and when they finally slept, a fitful yet dreamless sleep, it came not as a relief, but as an inevitable need fulfilled by bodies that could no longer resist the urge to leave the world of action. The only word shared by the two of them, before drifting off into this quieter world of slumber, was "Lovers." They both said, whispered it on the tops of their shared exhalations, echoing each other, neither knowing who had said it first. "Lovers." Then sleep. Then, also unavoidable, morning.
A different morning, another place and time: two people at a table, not glamorous or alluring in the early hours, dawn still twenty minutes away. The table with its metal legs and frame and brightly decorated top, a synthetic with a yellow plaid design. The chairs with matching legs and a naugahide plush seat and upper back. The room splattered with paint and unwashed dishes and forks and spoons. Two cups, filled with coffee, unwashed or even rinsed for several days on the table between them. She, the woman we’ve seen fall asleep. He, a stranger.
"Busy day today?" she asks him.
"The usual. The same," he replies.
"Late night?" she wants to know.
"Probably," he tells her. "I’ll call when I know."
"Right," she says.
The ritual conversation bores her almost as much as it tires him to repeat it. Daily they sit this way, slobbering over their mugs of foul-tasting brown liquids, repeating the question and answer pattern established in the early days of their marriage. Eventually, she feels, they will alter the chat, ask and answer some other question but right now there are no other questions, no reasonable alternative answers. He works double shifts to support her and her problems. She should feel gratitude but instead she only feels the boredeom of lonely days and lonelier nights.
"I’ll make you a sandwich, all right?" she asks, continuing the rite of passage.
"Yeah, fine," he says, knowing that he will throw it away as soon as he can. Her sandwiches are not appetizing, bring no enjoyment. He cannot abide them.
"P&J all right for you?" she wants to know.
"Sure, why not," he tells her, "but no mayo."
"Okay, fine," she says, not admitting that she ever added the egg-yolk and lemon substance to a peanut butter and jelly.
She goes about her business. He leaves the room.
When, as dawn illuminates the road in front of their tract home, he opens the door and moves off down the street, on foot as usual so that she can have the car again, she stands half dressed at her window watching his retreating back. Unbeknownst to him, who never turns to see if he is observed, she witnesses him toss the sandwich bag into a neighbor’s garbage pail rakishly seated near the curb. She smiles at this, not caring if he eats the result of her work or not, then turns and lets the shear rayon curtain fall back into place.
She sits on the bed, opens a drawer in the night table and removes the syringe and the small bottle of medication. She performs her second ritual of the morning and in mere moments she feels better, more suited to the pursuits of her day. She begins anew: thinks about her clothes, her hair, her makeup, creates an image of herself that will ultimately become a reality, or nearly one, and then she rises and starts the work of a woman in desperate emotional penury.
The telephone rings. She checks the clock: 6:55. It has begun. Her husband has passed the corner. It has begun.