IN HER EYES • by Lynn Vroman

The view from the seventh floor is impressive. Tiny ants crawl over each other heading home from work, picking up their kids at daycare, or meeting spouses for dinner, no doubt. So average and mundane they are — so ordinary.

“I had a great time, Bobby.” She hugs me from behind, pressing her young body against my bare back.

Bobby. God, I hate that name.

I peel her arms from around my waist and turn to meet her vacant blue eyes. I wish they were green. Bright, deep, intelligent green that would light up when I walked into a room — that would register understanding when I talked about politics, religion, literature… anything.

“Yeah, me too, honey.” I plant a kiss on her forehead like she’s a little girl, and not the twenty-five-year-old with whom I’d just spent two hours messing up the bed.

“Hey, listen,” she plays with the hair scattered on my chest, “why don’t we go away for a while.” She wriggles her well-manicured eyebrows. “Drink all day, play all night?”

She shouldn’t make me feel dirty and guilty and hollow. I can hardly look at her. If I had to eat with her, sleep with her, talk to her… I couldn’t.


“You know I can’t.”

Bobby! You never want to do anything. All I’m asking for is one weekend.”

I suppose she thought her pouting lips and batting eyelashes were cute. I’ll bet she thought herself irresistible. I’m sure her fluff would work on a guy her own age. I know it worked on me when I was younger. But the green eyes that pleaded with me back then were full of passion. Her eyes are as dull as an old, faded blue car.

“You’re not going to convince me.” I head into the bathroom to get dressed. I can’t stay in her apartment with its pink carpet and music posters tacked on the walls. The space screams superficial, and I crave substance.

I hail a cab, knowing she watches me leave. It’s a routine both of us have participated in for two months. I think she’s infatuated with me — maybe even thinks she loves me. I can never get away from her fast enough.

I reach into my coat pocket and find my gold band. I slip it on my left ring finger.

When the cab pulls in front of my brownstone, sweat gathers on my brow. Guilt eats my gut. And for the thousandth time in the last two months, I wish I were stronger.

The spring night pushes a soft breeze through my hair, a lot grayer now than it was a year ago. I long for the fire of my wife’s green eyes demanding I explain my whereabouts. I want to have the opportunity to lie to her.

Instead, I’m greeted with the accusing brown eyes of her mother. “Where’ve you been?” Her hair is in disarray, and the deep circles under her eyes mirror the ones I know are under mine.

“Work.” I remember a time when she respected me. Her disgust is more potent.

“Liar,” she says. “I can smell her perfume on you.”

Shame has been no stranger to me these last two months. I’ve grown to relish it. It’s raw — it’s something. “I’ll shower.”

“Don’t go in there until you do.”

“I won’t,” I say to her back. She walks into the kitchen — done with me, I guess.

The shower scalds my body as I scrub a thick lather of soap over every inch. When I rinse off, I repeat the process, though the feeling of dirt and grime are enduring parasites eating away at the subcutaneous layer of my skin. I stay under the blistering spray for as long as the heat refuses to leave. But the cold always finds a way to creep in.

When I open the door to the room we’ve shared for more than a decade, the smell hits me first. Unhurried death slams into me with the force of a hurricane wind gust. The scent curls into my nose, promising inevitable victory. I’ve already conceded to it, unlike her mother.

I walk to her side of the bed; the darkness isn’t an obstacle. I don’t need light to guide me.

When I sit on the edge of the bed, I clasp her fragile hand in mine. She smiles in her morphine-induced sleep. The guilt I carry taps on my back, but I ignore it for the first time today. I just look at her, willing her eyes to open.

Please open your eyes.

Hours go by. The window reveals only stars and the moon, hiding the rest of the world from our sanctuary. I keep hold of her hand, talking about everything… anything, never mentioning where I’d been the couple hours before coming home to her. But when the digital alarm clock sitting on the nightstand reads 10:30, a knock on the door interrupts us.

“Come in,” I say, standing to stretch the muscles in my back.

“It’s time for Ginny’s next dose.” My mother-in-law shuffles over to her daughter, crowding me until I finally step back. We’ve been practicing the same routine every night for almost four months. The doctors said there’s nothing else to be done. After a year-long fight, our team lost.

I wish she’d take me with her.

Before the medicine is shot through her I.V., Ginny’s eyes open. They’re brilliant, stunning, even though the rest of her face is sunken and hollow. They shine from the morphine, but I refuse to acknowledge that.

I take back my place on the bed, reclaiming my wife’s hand. “Hi, baby.” I feel both weightless and full when her eyes find mine. I remember the man I used to be.

Her mouth forms a soft smile. “Hi, Rob.”

When she says my name, I soar.

Lynn Vroman is a struggling writer who moonlights as a server to pay the bills. When not listening to the characters inside her head, she’s spending time with her husband and four awesome children. Her work can also be seen in The Penmen Review.

Rate this story:
 average 2.3 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Gwen

    Brilliant! Wonderful voice. Loved it.

  • Michael Stang

    Lynn, with tales like this your serving days/nights are numbered. A fine flash.

  • Anthony J. Miller

    This was wonderful. Love how you brought it full circle at the end. You really made me feel his despair, then dramatically punched through it – the “Hi, Rob” line was a great touch. Excellent read.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Why should we feel for this piece of crap who can’t be truthful to anyone? The physical way he dishonors his wife is the smaller part, perhaps. Fine writing can’t make up for a spineless nothing as the protagonist.

  • Trace McCracken

    Gee, Sarah, lighten up. The guy is not the most honorable fella, but he is a human and not quite ready to cash in his chips. That’s all beside the point here, though. Once again, the writing style makes me want to see more of the story and it was excellently done. And that’s what this site is all about, critiquing the writing of the submitters. I suspect you may have been the victim of a cheating significant other, and that’s unfortunate, but that’s not what this is all about.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Are we just critiquing the writing, or the entire world the writer creates? The writer has presented us with a narcissistic whiner. As I noted, the author is a fine writer, but there’s more to crafting a work than just the mere words. A writer wants to evoke a visceral reaction from the reader–and I sure felt one. Which is what this site is all about.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    “I reach into my coat pocket and find my gold band. I slip it on my left ring finger.” Obviously he was dishonest with the “twenty-five year old” about having a wife.

    A quandary about uncontrollable urges is no excuse for dishonesty to the “twenty-five year old.” Is one supposed to find a “wink” with this?

    The mother actually understands what’s happening but wants to spare her daughter the agony. But he –“Unhurried death slams into me . . . The scent curls into my nose, promising inevitable victory. I’ve already conceded to it, unlike her mother.”

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Subtle and disclosive good writing about a man named “Bobby” whose name we bothered to know and a “twenty-five year old.” I don’t think it’s about Sarah about whom another critic has written “I suspect you may have been the victim of a cheating significant other, and that’s unfortunate, but that’s not what this is all about.” That IS what its all about.

  • Trillian

    Attacking the writer for creating a character who isn’t noble or honorable is somewhat ridiculous. Visceral reaction or not there are more professional means of addressing the complexity besides bellicose complaints.

    I loved the this story and I felt for your protagonist despite his shortcomings. Who says they all have to be saints. Nabokov, I’m sure, would agree. 😉

  • Betty Villareal

    Excellent flash piece. As a reader and writer, I like stories with an edge. This one fulfilled my needs. Perfect characters are boring.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    OK. Perhaps the writer’s intent was to allow her character to reveal himself in all his awful abysmalness, so that we recoil from him as we do from Humbert Humbert, who wasn’t a delirious lover as HE saw it, but a slimy pedophile as we do. In that case, her final line would be beautifully illustrative of her character’s inability to see beyond his own needs–the hunger to BE loved, while unable to give what love requires. But if most readers are responding to his self-described anguish with sympathy, then I’d think the writer’s story has failed if that was the intent.

    In any case it’s all about the story–not the person who wrote it or the readers who respond to it.

  • Rose Gardener

    Without condoning or decrying the character’s behaviour, or arguing about the character’s likability, I liked this STORY and gave it 5 well-deserved stars. What struck me reading this was he was a believable character, flawed and therefore human, the way all the best characters are. I sensed his loss, his pain, his despair- doesn’t mean I liked what he was doing while his wife lay dying.
    I loved the use of vacant blue eyes and faded blue car to express what was lacking for him in this affair. I thought the choice of contrasting the two women only through their eyes and what they called him was clever, speaking volumes more than was on the page. And isn’t that the essence of good flash fiction? Well done Lynn, excellent story.

  • Rose Gardener

    Forgot to mention how much I liked the title. In Her Eyes. Could be referring to what he sees in the three pairs of female eyes- vacant blue, judgmental brown or intelligent green. Could equally refer to how he sees himself and judges himself as seen through his wife’s eyes. Clever.

  • I agree with Rose. Excellent writing concerning a very human topic.

  • Joanne

    Very good writing. Agree with Rose about the parallel meanings of “her eyes” working very well.

  • Carl

    I only skimmed the story, as it was obviously not going to be my cup of schnapps, but the comments sure had me by the throat.

  • Excellent work, full of complexity and honesty. My only qualm would be that I would rather have Rob’s guilt shown to me more subtly in the story, rather than him overtly tell me about it, but this is just a personal preference. The story certainly works quite well as presented.

  • If this were a perfect world, there would be no failings and so no stories like this with its exquisitely painful authenticity. Rob’s shame is palpable & for me that’s enough to redeem him.

  • Mariev Finnegan

    Who is Humbert Humbert? I agree with Sarah Crysl Akhtar, but that is what makes this story so great. That a woman could get into a man’s egotistical mind. I don’t see any redemption, but justification from a shallow and human individual. Brilliant!

  • Naomi McCracken

    What amazes me is the way Lynn “gets into a man’s head”,
    She can make one believe Rob truly loves is wife, that he is actually ashamed of his weakness. She portrays the young woman as a simple, stupid, desperate and lonely person that you can almost feel sorry for her.

  • Carl

    All right, I came back to read more comments; this time I paid more attention to the story itself, and I’m going to side with Sarah. Besides being a cad, Bobby/Rob is a bald-faced liar. If his remorse were genuine, would he keep going back time after time to his blue-eyed floozy? I simply can’t stand the guy. And I wonder what enticements this gray-haired old guy would have to offer to catch the Sweet Young Thing in the first place. I can only think it involved money, but I’m going to let it go at this point.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    One more, so the Spanish Inquisition can find me: Yes–flawed human nature is the driving engine of literature. What makes it moving, thrilling, meaningful to read about is, as Anne Sexton wrote, “that awful rowing towards God.” The person is both tragic, and hero, when he sees himself and struggles against his nature, struggles towards change, and fails, perhaps valiantly, against the interior darkness.

    This guy is just a static loser. He’s even complaining because his wife’s mother can’t just get over it already and accept the imminent death of her child. HE’S ready, already–Ginny only provides him brief moments of recognition and satisfaction.

    He doesn’t have the guts to fight against any sort of darkness. So for me, there’s nothing meaningful here.

  • JenM

    I’m sorry but I don’t really care what happens to any of these characters.

  • Tina Wayland

    This is a story about real people–real love–and the things we do to ease the pain. We are all flawed and we all make horrific mistakes. It is in writing about them, and reading about them, that we discover ourselves. This story shines with the truth of our lives.

    As someone once said, the mark of a great story is when people argue over the plot. So… there you go. 🙂

  • Trillian

    @22, no one’s debating your right to that opinion andyour (subsequent) arguments are succinct and professional. The first one struck me as overly aggressive, is all.

    As for the protag having an epiphany or the author TELLING us he’s lacking something…isn’t that what the entirety of the story is? The whole story is him wrestling with his inability to see beyond his own needs. Why do we need a last line? And I think having a protag who is more selfish than self-revelatory is a lot more common. It’s a human experience, to run away from responsibility when shit gets too real. It’s not admirable, but it happens.

    “In any case it’s all about the story–not the person who wrote it or the readers who respond to it.”

    There IS no story until a reader reads it and has a response. Until that happens, it’s black marks on a paper.

    @13 Ah, good one.

  • DIane Holiday

    Fantastic writing. Wonderful use of physical movements to express feelings without “telling.” It brings up a lot of emotions and I agree with the person who said that if it causes people to argue over it, then it hit hard. Look forward to reading other works from this author.

  • My favorite characters in literature are flawed. It’s essential to have it so. It doesn’t feel to me that the author is condoning his bad behavior but rather presenting a situation and how it plays out. We don’t know what happens next and that things are left at this point gives me something to think about.

    As for the right to express one’s opinion I do believe that people should say what they think, and I think the writer shouldn’t take it personally. And though, it’s always better to be civil about these things, criticism doesn’t always seem civil, whether that was the intention or not. That’s kind of how conversations go, especially on line.

    Bottom line, it’s just an opinion and we as writers don’t need to please everyone. We don’t want to please every one as someone up there said. It it raises emotion, then that’s all to the good.

  • I agree with Rose, Gay, and others. Great writing! And a compelling story about the countless facets of grief.

    One of the things I love about flash fiction is the opportunity to visit much darker characters because the window into their lives is only open for a few minutes.

  • Carl

    Back for one last check of the comments.

    My suggestion would have been to reconstruct the story to have Rob suffering guilt over a one-night stand, rather than an ongoing affair. I can believe in a man’s remorse over picking up an alcohol-impaired woman in a bar; I cannot believe it if he intends to continue the misbehavior (and why would he want to continue, considering how contemptible he thinks the young lady is?). And what’s in it for the young lady herself? Again, if they hooked up while under the influence, then I can believe it. For her to pursue the geezer over the long term seems unlikely without some other incentive.

  • Excellent characterisation. A very evocative story.

  • I don’t know how I’d be if I was healthy and experiencing the usual physical drives of adulthood while my partner was wasting away through a serious illness. I sincerely hope I never have to find out. But the main character here is believable, flaws and all, and his need for temporary escape is something I can fully understand.

    A good, assured story.

  • Incredibly powerful. Five stars from me. I think the fact that no one in this story could hate Rob more than he hates himself makes him understandable and believable.

  • ??? ????

  • Ryan

    You’ve made my night. What a great thing it is to create a thing that changes a person. You are a writer…everything else be damned. Follow your passion.

  • S Conroy

    Clearly a lot of talent in the writing. I think a weakness in the story is that I feel we are expected to sympathise with the flawed protagonist and I can’t. It’s not so much his disloyalty to his wife, since in his own way he is very loyal to her; it’s more his utter contempt towards the 25-year-old he is sleeping with. As someone else said this might be understandable if it were a one-night-stand, a moment of crisis, but it isn’t and he knows exactly what he is doing.