The roads were icy, it didn’t phase James.
Not much phased him these days, he drove from work and back to his empty house day in and day out. No longer could he refer to it as his home, he had no wife, no step daughter, no warm cooked meal to come home to. Even the dogs looked sad these days, James had lost count of how long Becca had been gone. He missed Sadie too and the last visit when his children came up was not quite the same. They were bored on the long days while he worked.
Even with the broken family, those two women brought such light to the dark tunnel he had created. He regretted often moving so far north but the smile on those two… James swiped a piece of dust from his eye before it could irritate him.
After years of watching his wife turmoil over court dates. All the added stress she endured just for him and his ex-girlfriends was immense. Had he never shown her enough love? He bought her everything she ever wanted, he just couldn’t understand. James turned the truck to follow the curve of the road. He wasn’t going fast but the ice told him he wasn’t going with the road either. The heavy truck continued forward and slid into the ditch.
He sat and stared at the vast white of the field ahead of him. The miniature crash was so slow it hardly affected him and he remained staring at the empty landscape as if it were the metaphor of his life now.
The times he had deleted all those nagging texts from his exes, to protect his wife from their nastiness. He never thought she would have realized but he could still recall the arguments of her stating remarks about him hiding facts from her. Why hadn’t she known it was to protect her? To save their marriage.
Another snow flake fell in front of the windshield. It zig zagged then landed in silence before his windshield wiper slammed against it and broke it to nothing. He imagined that was what happened here.
Ethan was a baby, he recalled. Ethan’s mother had been texting him nonstop during a dinner he took Becca out for. He recalled how sad her face appeared when he was responding but she couldn’t understand. He couldn’t tell her, the mask of strength he had put on wasn’t thick enough to hide his annoyance from Ethan’s mother. But the texts wouldn’t stop and he was forced to interrupt his meal with Becca to respond.
I need money James
Why would I give you money? Ethan lives with me full time.
For your son’s shitty ass diapers
I’ll bring some later
You can stop by now
I’m at dinner
With who? Your new whore?
I’ll call you later
No, you’ll bring me money later
Fine, just stop texting me
James recalled the look in Becca’s eyes when he finally stopped responding and looked back up to her but how would he tell her that his ex-girlfriend wouldn’t stop? How would he tell her that his son was his responsibility no matter where he was. He couldn’t, so he swiped left and deleted the whole string of messages. He felt ugly inside lying to her when she asked who was texting him, “work.” He had stated so cold that her face paled white and he tried to rescue the meal.
He couldn’t imagine what he reaction would have been if he told her the truth and after the meal when he went told her he had to drop the forgotten baby bag off at Ethan’s mom’s house, he slipped forty bucks into the side pouch. No harm, no fowl.
James swallowed his fear as he had driven to his exes house that night. He had ignored the steam coming off Becca’s face. She looked so angry, he thought she would leave him then and there. The lies piled up after that to keep her calm and cool. She was so beautiful when she smiled that he never wanted to see her sad. She was such a strong woman that she disagreed with many of the fights he would have over his children.
Her principles were so genuine, they made her glow as an angel but they didn’t stop the subpoenas for court. Not when his exes wanted more money, even when he offered split custody, they still wanted more. Blood from a stone? Isn’t that what it was called, James couldn’t recall.
All he knew was that years of turning himself into a stone to protect himself and his wife, ended with him staring at an empty field and relating it to his own house. He might as well sleep in the truck.
He never understood the depth of how women could think, life was so easy. Sleep, work, eat, sleep. Everything in between was a breeze. Becca paid all the bills no problem, She enjoyed the grocery shopping and cooking. James recalled a time when they would have innocent arguments about who was cooking dinner but he stepped back and let her cook every night now. She loved it.
She cleaned the fridge often, even when James would silently spill a left over container in the back of the fridge. He would tell himself he would clean it later that night and it would glare at him for days. Then miraculously, one day, Becca would find the time to clean the mess for him and not even so much as complain.
The thought of the fridge made him slam the heavy F450 into reverse and he pulled out the snow bank no problem. The clean white of the field in front of him suddenly infuriated him when he recalled the white of the fridge at home. The one that Becca used to clean but now was bare empty most days.
The front of the fridge were a black and white bumble bee magnet held the letter his wife had written to him the day she left. Next to it, hung a calendar with black X’s on the days since she were gone.
Days crossed off as if he were a 10-year-old child counting down to Christmas day. With eager anticipation, planning to catch the old man Santa. But James wasn’t sure how he would react to Becca returning. If she returned at all.
Did he want her to return? James wasn’t sure, his thoughts spun as fast as the tires on his work truck. Speeding down the ice roads toward home. House.
All the years that he would come home, happy from a good day at work and she would seemingly attack him. Not psychically, but verbally. Complaining he didn’t touch her, he didn’t love her, he must love someone else. She would go on and on.
Some nights he couldn’t find solace even turning the television up loud enough. He couldn’t help the fact he was tired and not interested in chasing her around the kitchen with a boner he couldn’t muster. Work tired his body. His arms were sore, his legs wanted to lay down, his torso tense and needed a shower.
James felt much older than he looked and he already looked ten or fifteen years older than Becca. He would buy her flowers when she asked for the flowers, buy her jewels when it came to birthdays. He came home each night. He cuddled her each night, why wasn’t that enough?
He stomped harder on the gas pedal, frustration flowed through him into the speed of the truck. The ass end swayed dangerously as the snow piles flew aside and exposed dangerous sheets of ice.
Guys at work said he could file for divorce. She had been gone for more than six months, that was abandonment and he would be granted the divorce. But that phone call he received? He wasn’t sure what to make of it. He didn’t know it was her. He answered the unknown number and she was silent for so long that once she stuttered out a greeting, he thought she may be mocking him.
Anger didn’t even have time to rise before the sadness waved over him and words may have fell out of his mouth faster than he could hang up. He didn’t want to call her nasty names, he loved her. He loves her.
He had considered looking elsewhere. She was always so jealous anyway, all the times she had accused him of cheating. Maybe he should? Would it be cheating now?
A girl at work had shown interest in him, they would drive to jobs together. Conversation flowed effortlessly with her, it was strange. He recalled how he had wished Becca would talk so easily with him yet she seemed to jump straight to accusations or blame of mess in the house. It was never easy.
This girl, she would blab on for hours about shit that didn’t interest him but it kept the death silence away. Talk of movie stars, getting her hair done, what the Kardashian’s are doing. Trivial shit that Becca never bothered with but he did like how the curve of her jacket burst outward. The slit of her cleavage peeked through the top of her coveralls. Breasts that had to be three times the size of Becca’s, no man could help but have his eyes linger. Especially when his truck would hit large pot holes and she would bounce so erotically in the seat next to him.
“Went to see a movie last night, always shitty when you have to go by yourself,” she had remarked.
“Yeah,” James had replied. He was still struggling to avoid an erection, yes it had been nearly ten months since Becca left. Yes, his bed had grown too cold, the house too stale, yes, he was in every legal right to look elsewhere. But guilt still crept in when those breasts took over the show.
“I mean, it’s cheaper at least. But not as cozy.” Her name was Trudy, she was tall, fat and round faced. But breasts like that, made up for any physical downfall. They pushed against her jacket dangerously. He imagined the zipper bursting open and the soft flesh exposing itself in his truck. It would only make sense that he had every right to help her re-position those voluptuous breasts back into her jacket. Taking a quick feel for himself of course before zipping the jacket closed. He had shifted once more in his seat to force the pressure in his coveralls to go away and told his boss the next day he didn’t like Trudy as a helper.
Now, he drove by himself. With no helper.
He went to the police after Becca left the note. Immediately. That same night, he didn’t sleep. He sat at the station for so many hours he left straight from there and went to work in the morning. The police had told him he couldn’t file a missing persons report, it stated right there in the letter she would return in a year.
One of them had chuckled, “what’d you do to make her run off?”
“Musta been a younger guy,” another one laughed and James left with his head hung. They had looked him up and down as if he were a woman beater. He wanted to scream at them he had never even raised his voice to her but he thought better of that. He was taller than both those cops and they wouldn’t smile to keen on him yelling.
They wouldn’t take for a towering tree of a man with a wife that ran away to yell at them. Bald, two day scruff and a driver’s license that looked like a mug shot.
He stayed away from the bars, pushed his co-workers away further. He wasn’t ready to be single. It had been flung on him.
Finally, the highway hidden beneath the layers of ice shifted into the pavement that surrounded the small town he had built a life in. A few more minute drive and he pulled into the double wide driveway.
The truck he had bought for his wife sat in the driveway. In the exact same position. He had day-dreamt the truck would be gone, moved or otherwise disturbed in some way to show Becca had been there. That her presence was still lingering around the house.
He struggled to make the payments on both the house and the truck by himself. Becca may not have been bringing home a tonne of money but her union job certainly put his income over the threshold of just enough.
James had contacted the bank to increase the line of credit and learnt of the cash already pulled by Becca. It put a financial strain on his sudden learning curve of paying bills.
The first month had been interesting, he had to admit he felt some level of relief. There was no nagging, no fighting, no crying, no guilt about being too tired for sex. He could come home and lay on the couch, order pizza at 7 pm and watch whatever he wanted. He would walk the dogs, chop wood, go fishing on the weekends and even had a few guys’ nights out at Original Joe’s. Grocery shopping was even a lost art. He never realized he would enjoy it but he could purchase everything he wanted and never had to wait for a meal to cook. Frozen TV dinners, bagged salads, butter chicken in a jar!
It was after the first month it went down hill, he had started gaining weight from the junk food. The bills came faster in the mail, piled faster than his money earned. The laundry piled up and the a layer of dust covered everything including himself.
A strong craving for sweet cooked vegetables and pastas had begun some months ago. James tried his hand at cooking as Becca had once, packet cheese sauce to cover the skill required but it just didn’t amount to the same. Restaurants didn’t get it either. There was no denying, he missed his wife. He missed the gentle comfort of her presence, he wished he could know why she left.
It felt a dull ache, as if the love he had for her left him slowly too. He couldn’t quite come to terms with his solitude. This year of punishment his wife had instilled on him.
He turned the truck ignition off and already he could see Thor’s enormous head in the window. A Catahoula Leopard Dog, with a weight doubled what the normal size should be. He was a hefty 150lbs and when standing his paws landed perfectly on James’ shoulders. His head brown and white as a hound and back blue mural spotted, James could tell by the push of his body that the boxer was next to him. Wagging her tail as he opened his truck door.
The dogs went from the window to the side gate barking and waging tails. The one love he still had, the companionship he could trust to not leave him.
Opening the door, Thor jumped on him. Heavy hand-sized paws on either shoulder and his large head stared James in the face. James had to push Thor down just to remove his boots before he got toppled but that’s when he saw the white fluff.
“What’s this?” He picked up the silky ball, it felt as though it had come from the inside of a teddy bear. Curious, since Sadie’s bedroom had been closed since she left and the only teddy’s Becca owned were high on a shelf. A Valentine’s day gift, a Christmas gift and a birthday gift; Steiff Teddy Bears had to be ordered online a month early. He had gotten the idea one year from his mother commenting about the ‘most expensive teddy’.
Becca loved cute things and it worked perfectly. Now, it was James’ fall back when he had nothing else planned. At over $300 each with cross stitched noses and beady black eyes, Becca had swooned over them, and yet she hadn’t taken a single one. In fact, the only thing that James could tell she took was her purse and her laptop. He regretted never asking what the book was about, he knew she plotted the main character over herself. He never wanted to hear about her past, he only knew who she was today.
“But the past makes you who you are today.” Becca would point.
“No, today makes who you are.” James would reply, remembering seeing that commented on some meme. She never wanted to talk politics with him, why would he want to talk philosophical topics with her? Besides, if that’s how she felt than his ex-girlfriends made him what he is today? No. No way he would entertain that idea.
Is that why she left him? Did she need to run back to something from her past? Thor whined and backed away from James as he held the white fluff, “did you chew something?” He walked through the reading room his wife had set up. An in-wall book shelf full of colorful books and photos.
It was the pivotal point of the house. The hallway to his right was full of bedrooms but empty of people. The living room on the opposite side of the living room held his onyl friend these days, the TV. Even if Becca sat next to him reading or writing, her presence was at least there.
James stalked through the reading room, Thor backed out. His tail between his legs, guilty. The living room seemed intact, the two la-Z-y Boy chairs appeared okay but the stream of white fluff made James growl as he walked toward his marital bedroom. No, his lonely bedroom.
The Steiff bears were located on a high shelf, his eyes snapped in their direction immediately above the king size bed. Their dark mysterious eyes glared at him, angry that he ran their owner away but otherwise they were in perfect condition. Their stiff arms bent outward as if awaiting a hug. His eyes dropped from the shelf to the bed spread. The beautiful quilted afghan made of moose head and tree squares, was torn to shreds. It had been their wedding gift. Not one purchased from relatives that didn’t know what they liked, not one bought from a registry but picked out and ordered a year in advance by Becca herself.
Ripped to shreds, the fluff covered over the top of the head board. The ceiling fan still running sent pieces in every direction. Floating as if tattered pieces of his marriage, mocking him. James walked in a trance to the edge of the bed. The blanket was destroyed. There would be no saving it.
Looking around the room, there were other things they had purchased from the wedding money. Clay antique pots, ceramic eagles, bird cages for flowers and an Oldsmobile printed on a mirror. The picture had brown paper on the back, obviously protecting the back of the mirror but James and Becca had watched enough Antique Roadshow to chance cutting the paper open in search of money or land deeds.
There hadn’t been anything behind the paper and the picture was still good. But it was the ruined afghan that choked James up. He sat in the middle of the mess. The stitching ripped further as his weight pushed down on it. He put his head in his hands and let go.
He had prevented this time from coming for so long but the destruction of the blanket Becca had bought for them, for their wedding day. It ruined, ruined him. The sadness, hurt and devastation he had been bottling up spilled out. He sobbed and cried as the teddies watched on.
“Not me,” her voice came into his mind. “It’s not me that’s doing this. I love you unconditionally. I cook, clean and show interest in your hobbies. All to be sure we have time together. I treat you as a friend, lover, equal. A shoulder to cry on and a besty to tell secrets too. But you don’t feel the same. You don’t treat me like that. I am the convenience in your life. The consistency that ensures your laundry is folded. That’s all I am to you. It’s not me, that is ripping this marriage apart. It’s not me that has caused this.” Becca’s rant was so fresh in his mind. The tears that fell as she spoke and James was sure he held a blank face for her. He didn’t understand, her words were a different language. She spoke so poetically with her emotions. Saying that it was his fault she was hurt, his fault she was crying, his fault.
“But it was you,” James heard his voice say now to the empty house.
But it was you. It was you over thinking and over analyzing. It was you digging in to where there was nothing. It was you asking questions of what’s wrong when there was nothing to uncover. Nothing to query, nothing to wonder.
Nothing to question but you did anyways. Poking and prodding, questioning every movement. It might have been me, but it could have been you. It was you that started the seed of question in our relationship. It was you that doubted and dabbled over nothing in the end. It was you.