The words have scarcely left my mouth before I understand their magnitude. I instantly regret these words; in my head I am reaching into the stale, late-afternoon air between us and retrieving them a million times over before they reach her ears. But it’s no use. She is sitting across the kitchen table from me. Her arms have been folded since we first started arguing and she’s been sitting in the chair sideways, ready to depart the table at any moment. She’s been disenchanted with this conversation from the get-go, but now I’ve really done it.
As the blow hits, she closes her eyes, purses her lips, shakes her head, swallows. Her arms fold farther into her and she lowers her gaze to the bowl of Chex Mix on the table between us, fixating on it. Oh boy. Here comes the
I start to say “That’s not what I meant,” but naturally the words fail me when I need them most. Her expression is one that deems words impossible. Or maybe I remain silent because I know these words are utterly useless: sandcastles pitted against a tsunami. She is hurt profoundly by my words, and so no combination of them will fix her.
Still, I know I should say something, but instead I place my chin in my palm and turn and look out the window, leaving her, her Chex Mix, and her silence alone. The setting sun has coated everything in a golden fondue. It is precisely that time of day when you wonder where the day went and think about all of the things you told yourself you would do, but didn’t. It is that in-between time after all the midday activities but before the evening ones, where everything you do or think about feels kind of pointless. Perhaps momentarily, or subconsciously, you think about your sunset, and ponder what happens after the lights go out. This time of day is beautiful and sad all at once. This is the time of day where you remember the things that happen to you. Of all the times during the day, this is when I decide to irrevocably screw up.
Upon the window I look through, the light has illuminated the smudges of Dog nose and Dog paw. And under the swing set in the sandbox, there is old Dog himself, lethargically chewing on a stick. I envy his position right now, and his inability to talk, for that matter.
I turn back to her. The sunlight has found its way between us, trapping the dust particles suspended in that stale, late- afternoon air. There are about a billion of them floating around, overexposed, defying gravity. If I were to try and play connect-the-dots with them, it’d take me a solid year, probably. The bowl of Chex Mix looks embarrassed because she’s been staring at it for so long. I don’t think she’s blinked once.
I try again to vocalize my regret. I want to tell her “That’s not what I meant.” I want to tell her I spoke without thinking, that I didn’t think she would take it the way she did. But of course she’s taken it this way. How could I be so stupid? The scars on her left cheek glow from the sun, juxtaposed even more egregiously than usual upon her otherwise unblemished face. The scars glow with such white-hot intensity that I can see them being etched in real-time onto her face with a broken beer bottle. I can see her clutching her crimson cheek and running for the door, only to be yanked back by a drunken hand and heavy fist. I can see her curled up, crying on the carpet. For a moment I am there, standing in the corner of the living room.
Watching him abuse her, again…
The left side of her face drives the magnitude of my blunder home like a stake to the heart. The right side is a shadow.
Finally, she stands up and leaves the room. I still don’t know what to say. The bowl of Chex Mix I’m sure has turned stale.