James Painter looks to the sky with closed eyes. Even with grey clouds extending horizon to horizon, he senses muted brightness. He begins to breathe in long, exaggerated breaths, trying to steady his nerves. A slight breeze tickles his skin and blows his wispy, grey hair. He smells freshly cut grass. After ten seconds, he widens his stance and extends his arms from his sides, palms turned Skyward. A thin smile pulls at his lips. He hasn’t done this in thirty years. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
“What the hell are you doing?”
James laughs. It starts in his shoulders, then bubbling from his mouth. He keeps his head Skyward and his eyes closed, but he laughs loud and long.
Shelly fails to see the humor. Her husband of forty-two years is standing in the middle of their miniscule front yard, looking at the sky, arms spread wide, in broad daylight. She wouldn’t mind so much if he was actually wearing clothes.
James’s laughter finally begins to abate. Shelly watches a few seconds more, noticing how various parts of her husband’s body are shaking in disturbing ways. Even more troublesome, James knows this and doesn’t care.
“Remember how we used to do this, Shell?”
“Vaguely,” she whispers, crossing her arms in front of her, looking up and down the street. She glances back to James. He’s still chuckling.
“No one’s watching, Shell. No one cares. Remember why we used to do this?”
Holding out her sweater, Shelly takes another step towards James. He senses this and barks, “NO!”
She shrinks back, true fear beginning to creep down her spine. Grimacing, James knows what she’s thinking. “I’m not losing it, Shell. We’re alone. I can do this if I want. Why don’t you join me?”
Looking over her shoulder again, she realizes he’s right. Not a soul in sight. Shelly smiles and takes a deep breath. “I think one of us should stay proper. Besides, who would bail us out if we’re both picked up for indecent exposure? And believe me, sweetie, this is indecent.”
Smiling, James opens his eyes and lowers his head. He resists stretching out the crick in his neck, and instead looks his wife fervently in the eye. “Do you know how long it’s been since you’ve used humor to tease me, instead of just venom?”
Shelly opens her mouth to speak, then falters. James takes two long strides and stops just short of Shelly’s feet. His legs buckle slightly, but he recovers. He reaches out, placing both hands on Shelly’s shoulders, his pale blue eyes focusing on her hazel ones.
“We used to rely on our humor, faith and hope just to get us through each day. Remember that? For a long time that was all we had. Four kids, multiple jobs and barely enough food between us. But, we were happier then. Why is that? Do you know?”
Shelly looks down. With a wry smile she answers, “You’re still naked, James.”
He smirks. “True. Why aren’t you? Remember how we used to do this? Remember what we called it?”
Shelly covers her mouth to hide a growing smile. “Skyward. But, I don’t remember the naked part.”
“Oh, yes you do. It was your idea.”
Shelly runs a hand through her snow white hair. “That was then. We were young and stupid. And all of our body parts faced west instead of south.”
A smile pulls at James’s mouth. “That’s my point, honey. The kids are grown and happy. We see them twice a year. We’re retired. We’ve done our duty. Why aren’t we happy? Why aren’t we free anymore?”
James tilts his head. “Then why doesn’t it feel that way?”
Not waiting for an answer, he returns and resumes Skyward. Tilting his head back, he calls to his wife, “Remember, Shell? That December night, the kids asleep; you and I were so stressed. Do we buy the kids Christmas presents, or pay the heating bill?”
She’s there beside him, looking Skyward. “You stopped what you were saying and dashed outside. You just stared at our house. You looked at me and said we were blessed. ‘We have a home’, you said. ‘The kids are healthy and happy’. Then you looked up and said, ‘Thank you’.”
James smiles and looks at his naked wife. “Then you said nothing should come between us and God again.”
Nodding and wiping tears, Shelly looks down and chuckles. “At least one of us can still point west.”
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