Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: 24 Hours (01/27/11)
TITLE: What I'd Like to Tape to Mark's Forehead
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In my bones, it feels like he's been there forever, yet it's only been ten years.
When I met Mark, he was a grocery store manager with smallish, deep-set eyes. He looked mean. So mean, that I'd been dubious about applying for a job. When he told me I was hired, I almost said no.
Six months later, I was somewhat shocked to find myself in love with a man whose countenance made babies cry.
He'd worn me down.
Each time he carried groceries for Tory, the morbidly obese woman with diabetes; each conversation with Albert, the town "nut" who spent his days outside the store with a portable karaoke machine; each night he stayed late so one of us college kids could go home early to cram for a mid-term—with every act of kindness, his face softened in my eyes.
So when I applied to become his wife, and he offered me the position, I didn't hesitate.
Tulle replaces the feather-like clouds in my dream. Yards of ethereal fabric twirl like cotton candy encasing a stick. I want to escape, but I'm not ready for the reality of vacation alone with Mark in a secluded cabin on a remote mountain range.
"You awake?" he asks, caressing my cheek.
Instead of answering, I fake-stretch. The sheets feel starched, luxurious—very un-home like, but if I don't slip out now, it'll get awkward.
"Hey, where are you going?"
"To make some coffee. Did we get everything out of the car last night?"
"Yeah, but I'd rather have you than breakfast right now."
"Ha-ha," I say, but it's not funny. The pressure, no matter how he packages it, is ever-present. Does it faze him that we have hyper toddler-twins, and a seven-year-old with pyrotechnic tendencies? Work-related stress, financial stress, extended family stress—nothing dissuades him.
And how do you tell the nicest man in the world that you don't want him? You don't. It wouldn't matter how I assured him that it wasn't him; he'd be hurt. So I shift and dodge until I finally cave—and guilt becomes his benefactor.
The coffee's brewing when he struts into the kitchen, boxer shorts, no shirt. I jam a plate into each of his hands.
"Oh, come on, Landon," he says. "No kids, no neighbors, no worries. Can't you relax?"
"Not really." I jerk the coffee carafe from its stand.
"But it's your wifely duty." It takes him a moment to notice my disgust. "What's wrong?"
I can't go so far as to tell him that for the first time in a decade, his eyes look beady to me. But that's all I hold back. "Did I ever tell you how my dad wrote scripture verses in large print on long strips of paper that he taped to my mother's vanity mirror?—So she'd be reminded of exactly what her duty was."
He shakes his head.
I gesture to his shoes in the entryway. "Even your inserts get a break, Mark. It's not a wifely duty. Quit pressing me!" The carafe in my hand makes bold contact with the counter, shatters.
We don't exchange another word.
Hours tick by, the quiet amplified in the remote setting. We've never engaged in the silent treatment before, and I'm fascinated with it—how two people can share a single bedroom, bathroom and kitchen in a mute, contact-less dance.
As the day continues, a strange companionship develops—he's there, but sometimes I actually forget, feel an isolated peace. That peace brings God to mind in a way I haven't felt in ages. By the time we go to bed, my anger has completely dissipated. We lay side by side, not touching. After an hour, I bid him goodnight. "You, too," he says.
I wake up early—a shaft of light having found its way in the break between the curtain halves. Mark's already up—I can smell coffee brewing. I wonder what he's brewing it in.
He doesn't hear me sneak up behind him. I turn his body to face me, am relieved to see the man I love.
"I'm sorry," he tells me.
"Me, too," I say.
Ah, the benefits of twenty-four hours of decompression—now that's something I'd like to tape to Mark's forehead.
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