Word count, start of day -- 8,385
I had heard him yell my name often the last few months, but this time the tone was different. Through the music pounding into my ears and the rhythm of the treadmill, I think I heard him call. I stopped the machine and removed the earphones. "What!" I called.
"Telephone for you!" I heard him yell.
I took a few deep breaths and wiped my face with the towel. Then I headed towards the kitchen.
"Annie, it's Brian here. Brian Norton."
"Afternoon." Because of his concern about doing our taxes, Norton had been calling me at home. Me and Dennis. Calling us at home. About our taxes.
"Dennis gave me your charitable contributions total from the checkbook. You know, payments that you made. That list came right from Quicken. That does not include United Way contributions or things like that. I imagine your work has a pretty strong-arm policy on employee participation, maybe Dennis' does, too. Anyway, do you know if you signed up for that, either one of you?"
I wasn't sure and I said so. But I knew if I did, I'd have the receipt. "Let me check. Hold on."
"Put Dennis on."
I thought about not, but relented. They talked football for a few minutes while I dug around the top desk drawer in the office downstairs. I knew the pay stubs were in here somewhere. Under the pads and pencils maybe? Over by the stapler? No. Slide those things to this side and dig. Ahh, here we go.
I grabbed the phone back from Dennis up in the kitchen. "Is he giving you his line of bull about us needing a quarterback?" "Us," of course, referred to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brian laughed. "You need an arm to get the ball to those receivers of yours. Speed does a team no good if it--"
I had to interrupt. My husband had brainwashed him. "If you can't protect you're quarterback, and arm is no good. Irrelevant. You can't go deep when you're flat on your back. You win in the trenches, man. We need good corn-fed Midwestern boys up front. Nebraska linemen, that's what we need."
"I didn't mean to get in the middle of such a delicate argument."
"No problem," I said, my voice still on edge. "This is one of our milder arguments. I fund that tax stuff you wanted."
"Great. Let me have it."
I gave him the information he wanted and asked about his schedule. "I got some time to get started this evening, probably, but the are working us pretty hard."
"You're doing audits and taxes at the firm now?"
"Audits during the week, taxes over the weekend. I just got home a few minutes ago." It was late in the afternoon. A Saturday afternoon. "But I will try to get this to you by the fifteenth of April, don't you worry about that."
"Refund?" I asked.
"Haven't gotten that far, Annie. Do you usually get a refund?"
"We did last year, I think."
"Most people do. I can't promise, obviously, but if things are similar in the past, you may get another refund this year, too."
"Sound great." It did sound great. Dennis made good money and I did all right, too. But we treated ourselves well and certainly treated Erin well. Any extra money always went to a good cause. Dennis wanted to treat our daughter even better than we did, but I feared she would end up spoiled. I know he loved her, loved her very much. But we disagreed about some basic parenting issues. I grew up with a lot less money than Dennis had when we was growing up, and I knew that all the money in the world would not have made my childhood any better. But I felt I was responsible as a parent, and figured we could use a tax refund for good purposes.
"I'll let you know when I get into it."
"Okay. And if you have any other questions, just let us know."
We said our farewells and I disconnected. I checked on Erin in her room and she was still napping. Sweet and still as an angel. Precious. I went back up to the bedroom. Dennis was there, lying flat on his back on the bed, his arm cradled behind his arms. I knew this posture. I skipped past[ him, straight to the treadmill.
"Hey, Annie, you know she's still sleeping." He gestured with his head and raised his eyebrows.
I sighed. "Not now." I slipped the earphones back in place.
"It's never now," Dennis said. It was half complaint, half whine."
I powered the machine up again, and started a brisk walk. "Maybe later, after I shower. Look at me." I was sweating. I could taste the salt on my skin. My hair was sticking to my head. I was not ready for sex. No way. No how.
"I am looking," Dennis said. "That's why I--"
I gave him my palm, then activated the play button on the radio. New rock. FM station. The kind of music Dennis just didn't get. I picked up the pace. From the corner of my eye I saw him get up from the bed and head out of the room.
"Who were you talking to?"
I took a deep breath. "Annie Bainbridge. From the nursing home."
Gwen eyed me. "We went to dinner with them?"
Gwen sneered. "Damn right, mister, only once. She was giving you the eye."
"She was not giving me the eye."
"That little number was hot for you."
"No way." This was crazy.
"She's not going to stay with Gramps forever."
"What? He's not that old. He's forty-two."
"Damn right, mister, that's not old."
This was making no sense. It was making less than no sense. "Come on, we were all having fun."
"Not all of us were," She said with a pout.
"Oh, you seemed to be enjoying yourself."
"What does that mean? Are you some goody-two-shoes, tee-totaling, umm, goody-two-shoes?"
I halved the distance between us. "Keep you voice down. Natalie is in the living room."
She stage whispered. "She's watching TV. She wont hear us."
I just shook my head. "How much have you had to drink today? What is it?" I checked my watch. "Five o'clock?"
"It's the weekend," she said defensively. Too defensively.
"You didn't answer the question," I pointed out. Calmly, I thought.
"None of your business, we're not going out tonight. I;mb not driving or anything. It's the weekend."
"You pointed that out already," I answered.
"I've had one drink, if you must know." She sounded oddly proud of this fact.
"I'm going to join Natalie for some quality time in front of the TV. What are we planning for dinner?"
"Oh, I'll throw something together, don't worry about that."
I moved that way, but she called my back. Her voice contained a tinge of anger. "What?"
"Why did she call? The little red fox."
"I'm doing her taxes. You remember, I told you this."
She turned from me. "Oh, I remember, don't you worry." She turned towards the pots and pans drawer. I could have swore I heard her mutter something. Something like, "Doing her taxes. Yeah, right. He's just doing her taxes."
I shook my head and left the kitchen.
"I want a divorce."
There. I'd said it.
Dennis and I were lying quiet on top of the bed, flat on our backs, lights on. Erin was asleep and we were on the bed. Complete silence. Some of the most uncomfortable moments of my life. Too much tension. I had to say it.
"Dennis," I repeated. "I want a divorce."
"I heard you," he said softly.
We were still staring at the ceiling. Neither of us moved.
"What is it? What did I do wrong?"
"I'm not cheating," I put in quickly. His first wife had cheated on him and left him that man. I wanted him to know I wasn't' doing that.
He was silent. "II didn't think you had." Of course, he didn't think Vera had, either, until she told him. "What can I do?"
"I don't know." It was true. There was nothing I could tell him to do. For all I could tell, there was nothing he had done, could do, or would do. "There's just not a connection, I just feel." I hesitated. "I just don't feel."
"You won't let me make a connection," he replied.
I don't know what I'd expected his reaction to be. I hadn't thought that far ahead. But I expected him to be madder. I did this when Erin was asleep so he could explode. Rant and rave. Throw stuff like he does when he's mad at me. "I'm not trying to shut you out."
"But you are. What can I do to fix this? I want this to work. I want us to be married. I want us to be a couple. I want us to have sex."
I shook my head. How like a man. "you can't just do something and fix this. There's nothing to fix. That's the problem. There's nothing. It's me. I'm the problem. Try to fix me."
"You're not a problem," he said. After a pause, he added quietly, "You're perfect."
I know he meant it in the nicest way possible. Still, I sat up and shot back at him, "I'm not perfect. nobody's perfect."
"But I love you. You're perfect to me."
I shook my head. "Don't you see the pressure you put on me saying that? What if I don't want look good one day? Don't want to do my hair? I can't let you see me without makeup. I don't want you to see me naked. I can't help but disappoint you." I began to weep.
"You'll never disappoint me." Again, he was trying to be nice.
"I'm disappointing you right now."
He leaned in to hold me. I let him, but I remained solid and stiff myself.
"Look," I said into his arms, "I'm frustrated. I know we've only been married a few years, but I've changed so much since then. Since Erin's come along. Since I got this new job."
He pulled back. I knew he was still a little sensitive about me going back to work. It's not how his mom raised him, and he turned out just fine. Of course, his mom is fifty years older than me. "I'm keeping my job," I told him.
"Did you start your job because you were already feeling like this? Thinking about this?"
He had me. I nodded. I should have lied.
"Damn it, Annie!" Now he was yelling. "You took that job so you could see if you earn a living on your own!"
"That's not true."
"It's what you said!"
"It's not what I said. I said I knew we were having troubles for a long time, maybe since Erin was born, I don't know. I feel distant from you."
"You keep distant from me." He was still angry, but not as loud now.
"Let's talk about it tomorrow."
"That's it? That's all we can talk about tonight?"
"Isn't that enough for one night?"
"Are you staying?'
"For a while, I'm staying. I just wanted you to know what I'm thinking, how I'm feeling."
He nodded. "Let's try to make this work. Tell me what I can do."
That was the point. I didn't want to have to tell him what to do, that wasn't the point of a relationship. "I don't know."
"Let's sleep on it, talk in the morning, just don't leave."
"I can't promise that."
He nodded. "A year. Give it a year."
I thought about it. "I can't sleep here with you."
"I'll stay. We'll work on it. A year is a long time, but maybe." I stood and grabbed my pillow. "I sleeping on the couch."
"No, don't, I will." He was trying to be gracious.
"That's crazy. I'm the one who wants out. I'm the one who's moving out of the bed."
He sat there and watched me leave.
I did not sleep well that night.