Brent drones on behind me. I should be listening, but I can’t. His complaints sit stale on the back of my tongue, threatening to choke me. He rustles through yet another stack of bills. He curses. His chair squeaks and I imagine the blood rushing to his face as he leans to lift the fallen paper from the peeling linoleum floor.
But I don’t turn. I don’t think I can bear the sight of him.
Instead, I stand at the counter. I stare at the Daddy Long Legs fighting to scale the side of the sink. It slips each time, back toward the drain. And again it climbs, spindly stick legs so delicate I could snap them with the pressure of one finger. The tiny monster gets a foothold on a Spaghettio stuck and dried to the stainless steel basin.
Go on then. The droning continues behind me. Pain flares through my shoulders and only then do I realize I’ve hunched them up — either to block Brent’s incessant grumbling or to somehow aid Daddy in his epic quest to escape the sink.
The Spaghettio is not enough.
Daddy flips back toward the drain. As I watch him flail, my fingers begin to itch. I have a few dabs of gray left, I might be able to mix up a little brown; I want to paint him as he is there, on his back, legs like antennae tasting the air.
Brent’s bark makes me turn. “Hmm?”
“Are you even listening?”
Something twists inside me, or grates. His glacial blue eyes inspire such conflicting emotions. They used to glitter when he teased me about my obsession with every shade of green. Now there’s a dead flat sheen, a haze that crept so slowly into his eyes, my life.
“Damn it, Yvonne!” A flush spreads up the sides of his neck, stippled dots that cluster into clouds and slowly possess his cheeks. Highlight the sharpness of his features — a sharpness I didn’t see six years ago when our relationship began.
At last, I find my voice. “I want to go back to college.”
His fingers curl up into fists, clenching the electric bill. “We’ve talked about this before. We just can’t affor — ”
I spin to the refrigerator. Rip the door open and wave to the armada of 6-packs crowding what little actual food remains. “We afford this, Brent. But anytime I want to buy new brushes, or a canvas — one goddamn canvas, well that’s just too much.”
He doesn’t respond immediately. Those lips that I used to love kissing flap open and closed like some fish skulking at the bottom of its tank.
Now my fists are clenched. I keep the door open, let the glaring yellow light of the fridge illuminate my stand, my Spaghettio. “What? No excuse? I’m getting awful sick of being the only one giving up anything.”
He stands. Approaches. So much heat in his face, but his voice purrs out with all the charm he thinks he has — he doesn’t realize he lost it long ago. When he gave up on us, when he settled down into himself and let the hardships and the financial problems bury him.
There’s an ache in my chest. It’s been there for months, and I kept trying to ignore it but I can’t anymore. When he reaches out, I wriggle away and withdraw to the sink once again.
Daddy’s still plugging along, charging the silver slope with a pluck that inspires me.
“Honey — ”
“Please, just sit down and let’s talk about this.”
“No. I don’t want to talk about this again.” Tears sting my eyes, blur my vision. Tears for what he used to be and what he is now. Tears for my weakness and how I let it get this bad. I shouldn’t have let him take my dreams away. I shouldn’t have let go so easily. There’s a bitterness in my mouth, like someone stuck a penny under my tongue and held my mouth shut for ages until that flavor just became a part of me. A part I accepted.
“I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to sit. I want out.”
His eyes widen slightly — surprise, a little pain — but he keeps coming at me. Those greedy fingers extending towards my skin, those lips dropping promises and kindness that will vanish the moment he thinks he’s safe again, those eyes all pleading and gentle, while that color keeps on sweeping over his face. It lets me know what he’s really thinking.
He touches my skin. He wraps me in a hug and it feels safe and warm. Easy. Easy like sitting in the bottom of the drain and just waiting for the end.
But I can’t do that anymore. I let him hold me while my mind flies through our past. He is eating me alive. Slowly. He has taken me into himself and is dissolving me. I am losing myself, bits and pieces chewed away by the acid of his words, by the slow march of time and the promise of “someday”.
I pry myself from his arms. Let my fingers brush his reddened cheeks for the last time. I don’t need the Spaghettio, I can get out of this mess on my own.
“Goodbye,” I mutter, ignoring the droning of his protests.
Reaching into the sink, I scoop Daddy into my cupped hands. He’s the only thing I take with me.
Alexis A. Hunter specializes in short stories and flash fiction. She enjoys dabbling in every genre available, but most often lingers in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. Her stories have been published in a variety of magazines, appearing recently in Kasma SF, Spark: A Creative Anthology, Alliteration Ink’s Sidekicks! anthology, and more. To learn more about Alexis visit www.idreamagain.wordpress.com.