Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SNOOZE (07/20/17)
TITLE: Where Knots are Loosened
By Jan Ackerson
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She has started to feel that the lump above her esophagus isn’t just metaphorical; it’s sometimes actually hard to swallow, and she’s taken to liquid meals, hoping that the knot will loosen with warm and potent encouragement. Sometimes it does loosen, and she comes close to pushing out the words. They’re good words, after all, words that Dan will want to hear. And Julie wants to say them—but she can’t strain past the knot.
He apologized immediately after it happened. His self-loathing and grief were real; Julie never doubted it. So was his repentance. And after a few days in which Dan continued to do penance by painting the garage and repairing the leak in the bathroom sink while Julie watched in stunned numbness, she began to soften toward him again.
He didn’t touch her—he wouldn’t, she knew, until she was ready—but after a week or so she brushed his shoulder with her fingertips when she walked past him, reading in his easy chair. His sudden, shy smile at that touch was heartbreaking.
And they spoke, of course. Have a good day. Please pass the salt. Did you see that news story about the alligator?
Now he sits again in his accustomed place, and as Julie walks past, she instructs her hand to rise, to prepare to ruffle his hair, a motion once requiring no thought at all. His hair is too long—Julie usually cuts it, but the intimacy of a haircut has been too difficult for her to even contemplate for weeks. But just as she’s about to tuck an errant curl behind his ear, she hears a hrk and realizes that Dan has dozed off. She stands behind him, her hand still poised in the air, and whispers, I forgive you.
The knot of words loosens, and Julie feels something resembling tenderness resting just behind her ribs.
She watches now whenever Dan picks up his paperback book or turns on the television, knowing after all their years together that those actions are certain to end with a nap. When the book falls to his lap or his chin drops open, Julie counts to one hundred, then opens her mouth, curious to see which words will escape the knot.
I believe you.
I trust you.
I’m sorry, too.
And often, a repeating of the most important words: I forgive you.
If he doesn’t stir after she whispers into the air between them, she might reach out and touch his knee or his wrist, hoping that he’ll stay in his snooze, prepared to jerk her hand back if he opens his eyes.
Finally, finally, she finds him one day with his head tilted to the side, his mouth making little popping sounds and a curl resting sweetly on his high forehead. She bends close, breathes on the curl, and whispers with her lips nearly touching his ear: Dan. I love you.
His eyelids flicker, and Julie stands up quickly and steps back, but he settles in again, not waking until a good fifteen minutes later. When he opens his eyes, Julie is playing a game on her laptop. “Nice nap?” she says.
Later that day, Julie’s standing at the kitchen sink, slicing the tops off a quart of strawberries for shortcake. She hears his footsteps and realizes that he’s standing in the doorway, watching her. She wants—she wants—to turn around, to go to him. She keeps working on the strawberries.
His footsteps draw nearer, and she feels him rest his forehead on her hair. She freezes, knife in hand, waiting.
“Julie,” he says.
His hands grasp her arms and hold them snug to her sides, then he sighs behind her and rests his chin lightly on her shoulder. He turns his head and speaks quietly into the sweep of her jaw. “I’m a light napper, my love,” he says. “Haven’t really slept soundly in that chair for, oh, for quite some time.”
She stands quite still for a moment, thinking, then drops the little knife and leans back into Dan’s chest. He still holds her arms, and there is silence between them, but it is the silence of the settling of two spirits back into the space where knots are loosened and where grace slides freely from heart to heart.
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