Beth yelped as she banged her left shin into
something. She twisted in the
narrow hall and peered over the edge of the box she was carrying to see
she'd come up against--a box labeled "BOOKS" in red ink, the
overwritten again and again. How hard was it for him to remember
She kicked it lightly, turned sideways and baby-stepped her way past
out the front door.
"Would you please not leave your stuff around for me to trip over?"
Jim hopped down from the bed of his pick-up. "Sorry. Just
coming back to
get it; had to make room."
Beth dropped her box into the trunk of her car, then hissed and rubbed
her shin. "You could have left it outside, out of the way."
"And you could have waited a minute." He retrieved his
box and shoved it in
the back of the truck with the already mountainous jumble of bags and
bulging cardboard. He grunted and pushed, trying to make everything
She rolled her eyes. As she went back inside she said, over her
shoulder, "It's going to leave a bruise."
Beth wiped sweat from her cheek and combed her fingers through her
damp hair. She looked around the bare living room, ticking off
items in her
head to make sure she'd remembered everything, and realized that neither
them had claimed the faded curtains. His mother had bought them
moved into the house and Beth didn't have the heart to hurt her feelings
leaving them unused. They were burnt orange with yellow flecks,
matched nothing they owned and, Beth thought, made the already plain
even worse. Now she'd rather stick pins between her toes than put
anything remotely orange in her new, stylish, hunter-green and maroon
She heard the tailgate slam. A few moments later Jim came back
in and brushed past. "I guess the curtains are it." He
looked back at her, but
when she made no move he said, "No point in leaving them here."
Beth watched him take them down, watched the muscles in his arms as he
stretched, thought about how they used to feel under her hands, and how
sometimes, when he wasn't doing anything in particular, they'd flex
and tighten against his shirt sleeves--had his girlfriend ever noticed
the way she had? She remembered how they'd fought--who gets what, what
should they sell, how much child support, which days were best for
visitation. And she thought about the crayon drawing she'd hung
on the refrigerator only the month before: a rainbow-hued man,
woman and child holding skinny hands under a lopsided lemon yellow sun. It
was signed, under the purple grass, in uneven letters: "to
momy and dady love brad."
She'd been devastated for days wondering how exactly they would divide
treasures like that.
She watched Jim fold the curtains, surprised at how gently and carefully
he packed them. She knew he didn't like them either, but they were
a gift from
his mother and he probably needed curtains for his new place.
new place. Not hers, the color-coordinated apartment, decorated
the way she always imagined she would do it if she'd had the chance. What
would his place be? Would there be color, or just white walls and some
second-hand furniture, faded gray with age? She pictured a cold,
monochromatic bleakness framed with ugly orange and yellow curtains and
the deepest sadness she'd felt since this whole mess began prompted her
her mouth and speak. Even after all the shouts, the packing, the lines
down the middle, the ultimatums, she thought she might be able to do
at his mussed hair, his hip cocked under a cardboard box of old
she couldn't let this be all there was, but before she could speak he
opened his mouth and they both said "I" and stopped, waiting
for the other to finish.
No one moved or spoke. She wanted to cry, pound her fists, for the
they'd lost, then his lips parted--her breath stopped--he paused,
his jaw shut, nodded, and walked slowly past her.
Beth snorted the breath she'd been holding, wanting to speak but now,
inexplicably, unable to go that far. She again considered curtains,
color schemes, checking accounts, double-beds. The sound of the
door opening snapped her back to the present.
Without turning to look back at her, Jim broke the thick silence. "I'm
sorry about your leg, Beth."
A deep breath.
"I want those," she said.