by Patrick Dubuque
I step out of the office into the family room. Years ago, when we had bought the house, these rooms were unfinished: concrete floors, with rough wooden panels mysteriously fastened halfway up the walls. We attacked those rooms with vigor, with all our poverty and time, took the emptiness and made fullness from it. Baseboard, drywall, carpet, furniture, television, plastic toys that sang mechanical songs unbidden.
You are asleep, burrowed into the corner of the couch, half-draped with a pastel-colored fleece blanket, bright even in the dim periwinkle of the frozen television screen. I am tired, I am waiting for the work to be done so that I can do my work. The baby monitor blinks one green dot from beside you: all systems nominal, for now. And still. And still.
I look at you for a moment, your large lidded eyes, lips pulled a little tight. Your hair is probably dirty; you’re always saying that it’s dirty. I can never tell. It’s just your hair, black, waving downward like a disappointed sigh. We are old, but I am too tired to notice our age. We are symbols now.
You hate when I look at you, so I do it carefully. Mostly I look at your back, when you’re cutting cucumbers that I forget to take with me to work, or picking up plastic ponies off the floor, or reading news. Now, I have a little time; you will not wake up. It’s a motionless sleep, a deadweight sleep. I like it when you’re asleep because then I know you’re okay.
I go back into the office to finish the work, crop images and add HTML tags to code, creating without creativity. I don’t know how long it take, just that I am more tired afterward than I was before.
I come back out to the family room with nothing to say, nothing to add to you. I want to wake you, and wait, and wake you again, and tell you that I love you and watch you frown and ask me why. I hate that you always do but I want to anyway. It is our family room. But the couch is empty.