Before and After

Her silhouette bounces past the stained oak door, and a stunning figure in an olive-green dress slips in. Brown waves cascade down her shoulders; she tucks a loose strand behind her left ear as she hangs a set of jingling keys onto brass hooks. Next to mine. One foot off, then the next. Two bare feet prance toward me in the kitchen, and next I feel a wet smooch against the bristles of my cheek.

I place a hand on the small of her black, gliding it across the satin dress. Her waist, the same waist as three years ago, still as small and soft as the first time we touched. I remember standing under the glaring neon lights of a taco truck on a Wednesday night, after we had accidentally bumped into each other at the local “Unplugged” session hosted by our neighborhood’s bar. Our stomachs did the talking first, so we sauntered out the front door in the midst of a terrible karaoke rendezvous of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” by a drunk middle-aged man. We laughed about it on our way out, but I was sure, so sure that she could sense the imminent imploding anxiety inside of me. Finally, I grew the balls to approach the elusive girl of my dreams, and tonight, on a Wednesday night outside a dingy bar, we were buying tacos together. Too enwrapped in her explanation of why live bands will always trump electronic sets, she did not notice when the vendor called her forth to place her order. I gently pressed her forward, chuckling at her overflowing passion for such a passive topic. As soon as my hand touched the small of her back, a thousand electric currents sped down my spine. She smiled, and allowed my hand to linger for longer than was necessary.

But today, she whisks away, tossing her handbag onto the weathered rug of our bedroom. She grumbles about the terrible day she’s had and how much she hates her job. I plop down in front of the living room T.V and try really hard to listen, but it’s a speech I’ve heard many times before and somewhere around two minutes in, I start to tune her out and the evening news in. A stabbing just one city over last night. A burglary just a few streets down a few hours ago. I wonder if our parked car has been broken into again but shrug the thought away. Two years have passed in this home; a place that’s somehow dragged on. I kick my feet onto the coffee table—an antique cherry oak bought from a street vendor. My toe brushes over a deep one-inch gash from when she tried to jam it through our narrow front door, breaking its hinge and leaving us door-less on our first night.

We had dragged a bookstand over the frame and pushed an old washer behind it, in case any intruders came up with the bright idea of robbing their new neighbors. That night, our first night in our temporary apartment, we tightly embraced for hours on the living room couch, staring at the bookshelf as if someone would pop out from behind it any second.

She comes out of our bedroom, her makeup only half-off. Oh no, something’s wrong. What was she talking about again? Her eyes, once warm, now dart back and forth angrily. Her hands flail frantically in the air. No, I didn’t hear you. Because you complain about the same thing over and over again. What do mean I don’t care? Of course, I care. You can’t expect me to—

She slams the bedroom door in my face. Sleeping on the couch tonight, but alone, unlike our first night here. When did our relationship come to this? When did we switch from loving to just tolerating each other? Is this worth the effort?

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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