ONE QUESTION • by Gay Degani

Hank asks me questions I shouldn’t have to answer. Like when I get up to pee at two o’clock in the morning. He says, “Where you going?”

So he’s a light sleeper and worried that Jack the Ripper might be breaking in through the kitchen window, but does he really think I’m going to face down a scarf-toting maniac alone? Just once I’d like to pad into the bathroom without uttering the words, “I gotta pee.”

Every morning when I get up, Hank asks, “You gonna make coffee?”

I’ve been grinding beans, rinsing the pot, clicking that little “on” button for thirty years. That’s 10,950 days of setting two mugs side by side on a folded piece of paper towel and dumping in honey or the pink stuff or the blue stuff or the yellow. Why does he need to be reassured on a daily basis that his “Go Anaheim Angels” mug will be steaming with Italian Roast?

Every night during the  ten o’clock news, he asks, “You ready to go to bed yet?” I say, “Yep,” but don’t add: Just like last night and the night before, and the night before that. For thirty years.

I’m going to amend that. Sometimes, especially when Josh and Amy were growing up, the nightly routine didn’t happen with the same A-B-C precision I count on now. Sometimes Amy would trundle downstairs before the news started and snuggle between us on the couch because some “vapor” floated into her room, and I’d drop off because it’d been a busy day, and Hank would drop off, and Amy watched whatever came on at eleven. We didn’t have cable then so I wasn’t worried about her stumbling on the Playboy channel.

Before the kids left home, we careened through most days, too busy and too tired and too young to pay much attention to words and tone. And back then, Hank didn’t have time to ask questions.

In those days, he would hide in the downstairs bathroom while I switched off lights and locked doors, and when I’d sweep by, he’d jump out and grab me. I’d laugh and try to “pants” him as he ran upstairs. He might slip into the closet while I crept after him, Comanche-like. Then his hand would flick across my breast, and I’d sigh into his neck.

Tonight Hank flips off the T.V. and asks, “Ready to go up yet?”

I nod and head to the front of the house to check the door.

By the time I crawl into bed, face washed, teeth brushed, pee peed, Hank has the covers tucked under his chin. I can see him because every night during a commercial, I sneak upstairs, turn on my reading light, arrange my pillows.

As soon as I settle in, Hank opens one eye and mumbles, “Do you have to read?”

“Every night.”

Then I feel a warm and familiar leg against mine.

He asks, “Wanna?”

I turn out the light and roll into him.

Gay Degani  began her writing adventure with a second place short story in the Atlantic Monthly High School contest. She is the author of “Leaving Slackerland” the first Nikki Hyland, Slacker Detective story, published in the recent Sisters-in-Crime Los Angeles anthology, Landmarked for Murder, “Hawaiian Hairdo” published in THEMA Literary Journal this fall, and a second Nikki Hyland story “Oh Hell” coming out December 2007 in the anthology, Little Sisters, Volume 1. She is currently working on a stand-alone mystery novel.

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