Lies by Omission

    The nighttime ends in crumpled blankets, black hair pressed against a white pillowcase. The whistle of the wind against branches is gone, only the ticking of the clock breaks up the sound of his breathing. She finds him lying on his back, chest exposed to the cool air of the room. The woman thinks of pressing her cold fingers against his shoulder to watch his capillary refill, to make him jump, make sure he is still alive. She feels guilty about wanting him to stir but wants to feel less alone.
    Climbing back under the sheet she touches him with her cold feet by accident. Do you want to talk about it? He asks with eyes still closed. She rolls half of her body into the comforter and lies on her side, facing him, her head propped up on one pillow. She half grins, but doesn't respond.
    Answer me, he says, placing a warm hand on her cheek. She closes her eyes. Does this make me a bad person? She asks him. You didn't ask me to stay last time. This time, I am asking you not to leave, she says, but still doesn't open her eyes. No it doesn't make you a bad person, he says in a whisper, a kind friend consoling another. You are not a bad person. Now look at me.
    On nights after the woman's treatments, he would tell her stories about his childhood to make her laugh. He told her mostly about the spankings and how they came about, about stealing, fighting, and the way his mother looked more sad about having to discipline him without his father around, than for what he actually did. It wasn't long before she felt like she had spent a lifetime with him. The stories helped fill in the space in time before she met him. The rest of the stories filled in for the times they had been apart. There were many treatments, many sick days, many occasions to fill her in on the years of his life she had missed. She would ask him to tell her everything while resting her head on the seat of the toilet, staring at the towel rack and fresh pink towels that hung. Don't lie to me the woman would say. Tell me all about the time that you and your brother ran away. Tell me more, she would say from her half sleep.
    On an August afternoon, the man arrived in a taxi at the woman's front door. He expected a vibrant, healthy woman to answer. He expected her black hair to be cut just above the shoulder, for her to be wearing a thin, sheer blouse and for her to ambivalently hug him, not wanting to give him the wrong impression about their relationship. After minutes of knocking, he found the door to be unlocked.
    She sat on the back patio in a lawn chair wrapped in a red terrycloth robe, wearing purple socks, a homemade afghan laying across her lap, staring at cement pond in the center of her landscaping. Her head was wrapped in a colorful turban of patterned cotton. She looked up at him and smiled, her teeth yellowed from sickness and chemicals. So, how do I look she asked him, over enthusiastic in her tone. You are as pretty as ever, he said. Tell me, really what you think of me without eyelashes, without eyebrows. I need to know right up front how this appears to you, she said with false strength, vibrato in her tone. I think you look like yourself with cancer, no hair, and I shouldn't have to say more to you, he said.

    Thank you for all you are doing, the woman said to the man from behind the door of the bathroom. I never would have thought that our friendship would lead to you having to take care of me. I always thought I would be the one to take care of you, to repay you. I always wanted to repay you for saving my life. I saved your life? He was surprised to hear those words. Yes, you did, when I was sixteen and you were seventeen. I can imagine that you wouldn't remember. You weren't paying attention to that stuff she said as she trailed off. You had your own plans and life ahead of you she reminded him. I don't remember you being in any danger when you were sixteen, he said through the crack in the bathroom door. Wasn't I? She responded. She pushed her fingers through the crack where the light from the bathroom sliced into the dark hallway. He squatted down on the other side of the door, low enough to thread his fingers into hers and said, oh.
    It had been at least two weeks since he had spoken to anyone except for the woman and had made only phone calls on her behalf. They sat in silence as she tried to take a few bites of mashed potatoes. They met again, she in the bathroom and him on the other side of the bathroom door. The man had grown accustomed to the distinct smell of the chemicals and had taken to only cleaning up after the woman when she was asleep on the floor tiles, a cushion of blankets underneath her. There was no limit to what he could tolerate and she knew this about him. How can you love me like this, she asked him. My love for you is unconditional, he assured her.
    In the living room, the woman lay on her side, her back pressed against the pillows that lined the old scarlet couch she had since she had been in college. Instinctively, the man walked over and took position on the couch in front of her. We fit together she remarked. The woman draped her arm over the man's waist and pressed her face between his shoulder blades. The man could feel his back get warm as she breathed rhythmically. For the first time in months he slept. She slept too.
    When he woke in the early hours of the morning he contemplated leaving the woman on the couch with a blanket, but decided instead to wake her. He didn't want to return to the guest bedroom with the blue walls and blue comforter. The sun was beginning to shine through the sheers hanging in the living room window, contributing to the yellow tones in her skin, reminding him that she wasn't herself quite yet. She sat up on the edge of the couch and asked him to walk her to her room. He walked behind her, his hand in the middle of her back for balance, feeling her spine through her T-shirt. Following the curve in the small of her back, he dropped his hand into the looseness of her jeans, holding on, as if she would slip out from under her own feet. He wrapped his other arm around the front of her, taking tiny steps behind her, making sure not to rush. Once in her bedroom she pulled off her T-shirt and slipped her jeans onto the floor without unbuttoning them. From the opposite side of the bed the man observed her protruding shoulder blades, the way her panties stretched from one hip to the other, and the way she held her breasts with her left forearm, pulling the covers down with her right. The man remembered what her breasts were like when she was sixteen and she could tell that he was remembering when she looked at him from across the bed. A nearly transparent, ruby red scarf hung from the back of her head like a ponytail, a simple substitute for the hair that was taking its time growing back. Once under the covers she patted the other side of the bed twice and gently pulled the covers down for him, as he removed his T-shirt and jeans. They moved to the center of the bed, finding each other in the middle.
    I wish you loved me, the woman said to the man. I do love you, he responded. But how do I know, she asked. Am I not here, he said? But I wish you loved me different, she said. This is the only way I know how to love you, he said, pulling her closer to him, in the middle of the bed. The man was done speaking. He didn't see the conversation going anywhere productive. He rested his lips on the woman's shoulder and remained there. She could hear him breathing, feel the hair from his arms on her skin, could smell the warmth that was unique to him. She licked her cracked lips trying in vain to bring moisture to her dried skin. She worried about her bones. The man, in his unconditional care for the woman did not think about her bones on his flesh as he lifted her over him. He did not think about the dryness of her lips. Look at me he said. The woman trusted the man and remembered him from another time. You are so familiar, she said to him. He nodded. The man looked up at the woman and fixed his eyes on her face. He held her head in his hands, pressed his forehead to hers and kept eye contact, listened to her, careful to be gentle with her healing body. Yes, he asked her. Yes, she replied and nodded. It's nighttime the woman said to the man. Will you stay with me, she asked.

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Karen Trujillo
Do What Now