The Embrace

Robin lay in bed next to his wife with his eyes closed, hoping to fall back asleep. It’s Saturday morning, he thought. No reason to get up and face the world now, and if I open my eyes, then I might as well just get up; it’s bad enough I can see the light coming through the parted blinds through my closed eyelids. He listened to her breathing and locked into a vision, a mental image of her sleeping body rising and falling with deep sleeping breaths.

She had been different lately. He tried not to think about that, but the more he pictured her sleeping body with his eyes closed and listened to her breathing and occasionally snoring the lightest of purring sounds, the more he couldn’t shake the image of an embrace between her and her coworker from a week before. Walt. A tall man with tall dark hair and impossibly long legs ending in long feet clad in impossibly shiny black shoes. The embrace – he viewed it while waiting for Kate in his car, waiting to pick her up from her company’s holiday party, his view obscured somewhat by fat, wet flurries that came down mockingly and separated him from his wife – the embrace – him waiting like a fool, biding his time playing with the defrost buttons and humming along with Phil Collins coming in staticky over the factory car speakers – the embrace between Walt and Kate – a little too long and a little too close and Walt was a little too tall and Kate was looking up at him a little too hard and Robin was a little too jealous there in his warm car feeling cold while she in the cold hugged Walt and felt warm.

Robin suspected the worst but said nothing to Kate. Nothing to Walt either. Of course nothing. What would he say? When would he even say it? In truth, Robin had never spoken to Walt except for a nervous “Hello” the time Kate introduced them months ago and they shook hands, Walt’s grip a little too firm and smile a little too big. Walt was a tall guy who made eye contact, and Robin was a short guy who looked at your shoes while you spoke. When he looked at Walt’s too-shiny shoes, he saw an outline of his own face, wide nose looking flatter, blue eyes looking grayer, balding head looking balder. It was his face but dumber looking and amorphous, lacking distinct boundaries, fading at the edges. Robin thought that was how Walt probably saw him: technically there but not notably. There but just barely and in a weird way, and fading.

Robin let his eyes open, and he took her in. Twelve years of marriage and three years of dating before that, and yet she seemed younger than ever. How was it possible? From some angles she looked like a different person. Like right now, with her arms up in front of her face and her nose tilted down, stripes of her face in shadows. The red hair was the same, and the cute up-turned nose, and the high cheek bones. The pieces were the same but they seemed to fit together differently.

He put his arms around her sleeping body to comfort himself. She made a sleepy coo sound that warmed his heart but reminded him of how infrequently he heard that sound anymore. Normally she would sleep far on the other side of the bed, and if he touched her, she would wake up and ask him for space, she couldn’t sleep without her space. He wasn’t sure what made this time different, but he went along with it, holding her sleeping body closer than he had dared to since the early years of their marriage.

Was it him who was different? He began feeling his own skin with his hands and, to his surprise, found it to be smoother than he remembered. The hair on his arms was coarser. He lifted his fingers to his face. They were longer and darker, less like sausages. He touched his penis. It seemed longer, and his grip felt firmer. What in the hell was going on?

He sat up in bed with a jolt.

“Mmm, what is it honey?”

“Nothing, babe,” he heard himself say, but his voice sounded different. It was lower and buzzy in his head. He had never heard his voice so low. His heart was pounding.

“Let’s just go back to sleep,” Kate said. “Or is there something I should help you with with?”

Kate grabbed his crotch over his underwear and started rubbing. Robin couldn’t remember the last time she initiated. His heart was pounding and he had an erection but all that came to mind was the embrace between Kate and Walt, the way their eyes met, the way the fogs of their breath drifted up together, the way her chin looked tilted up at him.

“Are you OK, honey? You look a little … intense.”

Robin tried to look relaxed while his mind raced.

“Yeah, sorry, keep going,” Robin said, not in his voice.

Not in his voice. Not in his, not in his voice. Someone else’s. Someone else’s voice. Not his, but someone else’s and with pangs of dread coursing through him, he thought he knew whose.

Kate sat up and faced him and, with a mischievous smile on her face, the stripes of light playing on her red hair, she leaned forward and quickly pulled down his boxers with both hands.

Robin looked into the mirror on the dresser on his left. He saw Walt looking back at him.

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4 thoughts on “The Embrace

  1. Love this story. Reminded me of Carver’s “Will You Please Be Quiet” at first, but then it hits its most interesting point and wraps up, which was great. Also, the prose was descriptive and clear and un-muddled, with a voice that kept my interest. More like this.

Holla back, girl

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