He remembered the way she used to smile. The smile that pulled him in from the first moment he saw it. The smile that he kissed at their wedding. The smile she gave him after her first time. He loved it. The way one corner would twitch and turn up before the other corner followed. The way her teeth slowly appeared from behind her naturally rose-colored lips. The way her nose would crinkle for a millisecond before she dipped her head and hid it away under a sheet of white-gold hair. The way she only smiled for him.
It was gone now.
It was his fault. He knew it. He was never there when she needed him.
She never complained. She never failed to have dinner set when he got home, no matter how late, no matter her own day. She never complained about the smell of burning houses that seemed to follow him home even after he rinsed off at the station. She always woke up when his pager went off to see him out the door. She always waited up for him to come home. She always loved him.
He’d come home from work in a foul mood, and there she’d be, in all her perfection, with that smile and dinner. Asking him how his day was, if he needed anything, regardless of the day she had. At first, it warmed him and banished troubles. But after awhile, he started to hate himself for not being able return her love as easily as she gave it. It began to drive him into deeper moods.
Her smiles began to fade. She stopped asking what he needed, how his day was. But dinner was always there, and she would sit silently beside him, keeping her head down as she ate. Occasionally looking at him when she thought he wasn’t watching. The pain and confusion in her eyes broke his heart. She couldn’t understand why he was angry with her. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her everything. That it wasn’t her fault. That he loved her more than himself. That he only wanted to love her like she loved him. But he couldn’t. So instead he picked fights, trying to justify his actions by provoking her into screaming at him.
Any other woman would have left. But she wasn’t any other woman. That’s why he married her. She was faithful to the end no matter how bitter.
Still she never so much as raised her voice. She just quietly replied to all his angry questions and accusations with a soft tremble in her voice. Eventually he would give up and leave her alone. She would leave the room quietly and go to their bedroom. Even with the door closed he could hear her small sobs. They seemed to echo off the walls and in the corners of their one bedroom apartment.
He’d sit in the living room and try to drown out the sound with the television, but the sound haunted him until his pager went off and he was deafened by the screaming of the fire-truck’s siren and the hissing and crackling of a building in flames, or until he was asleep.
Today was no different. She sat beside him at the table, silent. Dinner was delicious, as usual. He’d had a long day, he could tell by her face, she had too. But she pushed it aside for him, like always.
“Is dinner ok?” she asked very softly.
“Fine.” He said, mid mouthful.
She scooped a small bite into her mouth and chewed it for a long time.
“Can I get you anymore tea?” She asked. His glass was only a quarter empty.
Again she chewed a very small bite slowly.
“How was work?” her face never left the plate.
“Fine.” He shoveled a large mouthful of food into his mouth. Slowly she pushed away from the table, her food only half gone. “Aren’t you going to finish that? You’ve barely eaten anything. You hardly eat anything these days.” Inside he cringed at how angry his voice was.
“I-“ she paused and looked away from him. “I’m just not hungry tonight.”
“You weren’t hungry last night either. Or the night before that. Did you decide to be anorexic now or something?” He hated how snide he sounded.
“No!” she said hurridly. “I’m- I just don’t feel hungry these days.” He could hear the defeat in her voice. He turned back to his food, unable to look her in the eye But he couldn’t stop.
“Well go see a doctor or something. You’re acting like a freak these days!” Bile rose in the back of his throat, he’d never called her a name before. He heard the plate drop and a choked sob escape her lips. Those rose lips. He turned angrily to her. “Oh what now?!” He asked, knowing he’d gone too far.
But she surprised him.
“I’m acting like a freak?” She asked, accusation in her eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks. Another sob escaped her mouth. “I’m acting like a freak? What about you?!” Tears streamed freely down her face. “Everything I do anymore is wrong! Wrong when it used to be right!”
He couldn’t think of anything to say. Couldn’t think what to do. She’d never reacted before.
“Every day you come home angry! And I try! I try so hard to make you happy! But instead you’re mean and more angry!” She stepped over the mess her plate made. “All I want is you to talk to me! What the hell do I have to do to get you to talk to me?!”
“I do talk to you!” he said, staggering to his feet.
“No you don’t! You yell at me! Your fight with me! It’s not the same! That’s not talking!” her body was wrenched with another sob.
“I can’t fight with someone who won’t even reply!” He shouted.
“Go ahead! Blame it on me!” She cried, taking another step toward him. “For three years I clean this shitty apartment!” She shoved a chair and tipped it over. “I make your favorite dinners!” His plate skidded off the table and smashed against the wall. “And I don’t complain! I don’t complain when you come home at all hours of the night! I don’t complain about how I worry that one day you won’t come home! All I want is for you to love me again but you won’t! You won’t! Why won’t you love me again?”
“How could you say that?! I’ve always-.“ His pager went off.
Her eyes snapped to where it sat on the corner of the table. He saw the fire fade from her eyes. He saw her shoulder slump. Her mouth fell into a straight line. She bowed her head, defeated. Tears ran. It had to stop. He had to change before he lost her.
The pager beeped incessantly, demanding attention.
“Go ahead.” She mumbled, righting the chair. He watched her fall to her knees and begin picking up the broken pieces of plate.
The pager filled the apartment with its cold mechanical voice.
Her tears dripped off her chin into the mess of what was dinner on the floor.
He looked from the pager to her, back to the pager and picked it up.
She paused, waiting for him to leave the apartment.
He looked from her, to the pager, to the door, and back to her and switched off the pager.
Her shoulders shook. Silently she trembled. Tears poured.
He left the room, resolved. In the kitchen, his eyes fell on an object in the corner. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw her attempt to wipe her eyes dry as he picked up the object. He walked back into the room. He bent and scooped the remaining mess up into the dust pan in hands.
She looked up, surprise in her face, a glimmer of hope mixed with fear in her teary eyes.
He met them, unwavering. “I have always, always loved you.”
The corner of her mouth twitched, and began to turn up.