That lazy shuffle, slow scuffed Chuck Taylor slide across exposed tile: amplified in the bare kitchen. Gleaming white, clean. Clinical. A neat break, with steady precision. Glossed nails tap rapid four-beat staccatos. One-two-three-four. This countertop used to be sticky with grimy, greasy, grainy remains of some forgotten meal. And now…and now. Well, just look at it.
“Vlad and the guys will be here in fifteen.” First words spoken in nearly three hours: they skitter restlessly throughout the air, the stillness confused. One-two-three-four. No physical contact, but the mere proximity billows into Claudette, wave after wave of breaths and warmth and expansion and resignation. Astel shifts and Claudette nearly capsizes. Isn’t the backyard lovely? They had a small vegetable garden—digging up the carrots was her favorite: the damp, and the dirt. The pursuit and tasty reward. He watches her. Curly hair wisping and whispering into her neck; it’s finally starting to grow back.
What happened? What happened? It’s pointless, these identical winding roads. Directionless, contradictory, exhausting. Eventually, you stop. It has to stop at some point: this was it. One-two-three-four. “You can have Bilbo.” Claudette. She thinks, it’s only a fish. She thinks, it was only ever a fish. She repeats the offer when he questions her, and silence. He’s really fat, and quite spunky. He was a gift from the lady who used to live upstairs, you know, the one with the glass eye and spaghetti smell?
“Well, I…I…” Claudette waits. A squirrel scampers down the big tree, the one with the root she tripped over last year. Birthday party, patron-addled bloodstream. The scar smarts, remembering. “I don’t know what to say.”
Astel supposed saying nothing at all would be more indicative of this fact, but the pervasive blankness, the space—7 minutes—was encroaching, yawning over him and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the kitchen this white. One-two-three-four. Quiet for quiet’s sake had never been his forte. He watched her, he watched the slightly wrinkled gray t-shirt cling to the slither of her petite frame, the shrug of hips. In college he remarked that the mole on her neck was shaped like a peach. She had laughed and asked why a peach and not a—well, never mind…5 minutes. Claudette. Just look at this.
“Mmm,” noncommittally. One-two-three-four. She’d bought brand new sharpies specifically to label all of the boxes, even his. First time emerging from a sharpie adventure without matching piggy tattoos. A ragged army of traditions, inane habits expired and commemorated in dust and skin and photos. That’s enough, probably. She turns, finally. Onetwothreefour. Onetwothreefour. Should they hug? Compress what they could, what was left? Or was it already…? Atonal doorbell—oh—and they both start. Of course. They’re both finished.