Randolph nods to the nurse, and she warns me, “Little pinch coming.”
He asks, “Do you have your cell phone with you?”
“I don’t know where it is.”
He grabs the clipboard. “Give me your wife’s name again. And phone number. We’ll try to reach her for you.”
I spell Daniela’s name and rattle off her cell number and our home number as my blood rushes into a plastic vial.
“You’re going to scan my head?” I ask. “See what’s going on?”
They give me a private room on the eighth floor.
I tidy up my face in the bathroom, kick off my shoes, and climb into bed.
Sleep tugs, but the scientist in my brain won’t power down.
I can’t stop thinking.
Formulating hypotheses and dismantling them.
Struggling to wrap logic around everything that’s happened.
In this moment, I have no way of knowing what’s real and what isn’t. I can’t even be sure that I was ever married.
I raise my left hand and study my ring finger.
The ring is gone, but the proof of its existence lingers as a faint indentation around the base of my finger. It was there. It left a mark. That means someone took it.
I touch the indentation, acknowledging both the horror and the comfort of what it represents—the last vestige of my reality.
What will happen when this last physical trace of my marriage is gone?
When there’s no anchor?
As the skies above Chicago inch toward dawn—a hopeless, cloud-ridden purple—I lose myself to sleep.
Daniela’s hands are deep in the warm, soapy water when she hears the front door slam shut. She stops scrubbing the saucepan she’s been attacking for the last half minute and looks up from the sink, glancing back over her shoulder as footsteps approach.
Jason appears in the archway between the kitchen and the dining room, grinning—as her mother would say—like a fool.
Turning her attention back to the dishes, Daniela says, “There’s a plate for you in the fridge.”
In the steamed reflection of the window above the sink, she watches her husband set the canvas grocery bag on the island and move toward her.
His arms slide around her waist.
She says, half jokingly, “If you think a couple pints of ice cream are going to get you out of this, I don’t know what to tell you.”
He presses up against her and whispers in her ear, his breath fiery with the remnants of whatever whisky he’s been drinking, “Life’s short. Don’t be mad. It’s a waste of time.”
“How did forty-five minutes turn into almost three hours?”
“The same way one drink turns into two, which turns into three, and on it goes. I feel terrible.”
His lips on the back of her neck put a delicate shiver down her spine.
She says, “You’re not getting out of this.”
Now he kisses the side of her neck. It’s been a while since he touched her like this.
His hands glide into the water.
He interlaces their fingers.
“You should eat something,” she says. “I’ll warm up your plate.”
She tries to step past him on her way to the fridge, but he blocks her path.
Facing him now, she stares up into his eyes, and maybe it’s because they’ve both been drinking, but there’s an intensity in the air between them, as if every molecule has been charged.
He says, “My God, I’ve missed you.”
“Exactly how much did you drink to—?”
He kisses her out of nowhere, backing her up against the cabinets, the counter digging into her back as he runs his hands over her hips and pulls her shirt out of her jeans, his hands on her skin now, as hot as an oven range.
She pushes him back toward the island.
Now she studies him in the low light of the kitchen, trying to figure out this energy he’s swaggered back into their home with.
“Something happened while you were out,” she says.
“Nothing happened, other than I lost track of time.”
“So you didn’t chat up some young thing at Ryan’s party who made you feel twenty-five again? And now you’re back here with a hard-on, pretending—”
He laughs. Beautifully.
“What?” she says.
“That’s what you think is going on here?” He takes a step toward her. “When I left the bar, my mind was elsewhere. I wasn’t thinking. I stepped out into traffic and this cab nearly splattered me all over the pavement. Scared the hell out of me. I don’t know how to explain it, but ever since that moment—in the grocery store, walking home, standing here in our kitchen—I have felt so alive. Like I see my life with force and clarity for once. All the things I have to be grateful for. You. Charlie.”
She feels her anger toward him beginning to melt.
He says, “It’s like we get so set in our ways, so entrenched in those grooves, we stop seeing our loved ones for who they are. But tonight, right now, I see you again, like the first time we met, when the sound of your voice and your smell was this new country. I’m rambling now.”
Daniela goes to him and cups his face in her hands and kisses him.
Then she takes his hand and leads him upstairs.
The hallway is dark, and she can’t think of the last time her husband did something to make her heart pound like this.
At Charlie’s room, she stops for a moment and leans her ear against the closed door, logs the muffled noise of music blaring through headphones.
“All clear,” she whispers.
They move down the creaky hallway as softly as they can.
In their bedroom, Daniela locks the door and opens the top drawer of her dresser, searching for a candle to light, but Jason has no time for it.
He pulls her over to the bed and drags her down onto the mattress, and then he’s on top of her, kissing her, his hands moving under her clothes, roaming her body.
She feels wetness on her cheek, her lips.
Holding his face between her hands, she asks, “Why are you crying?”
“I felt like I’d lost you.”
“You have me, Jason,” she says. “I’m right here, baby. You have me.”