I lift my eyes from my work as a light moves across the living room—the sun glinting off her windshield as she approaches the house. My thoughts are drowned out by the muted crackle of tires slowing their roll against the road. Apprehension turns to dread, turns to defeat, as the garage door opens and the whole house hums. Her car creaks as it wobbles across the dip at the end of the driveway, beginning its ascent with all the grace of a seal climbing a beach.
The hammer bounces in my hand. I tap it four times against the carpet as I consider whether I should set it down to greet my wife at the door. Tap five, tap six. I confirm my grip and return my gaze to my task for the day, the IKEA bookshelf that materialized yesterday afternoon. I sigh just to feel my own breath on my lips. The sound of air moving under my own power calms me. I place another nail on the cardboard backing of the shelf and persist in slowly forcing it into place. Her car door opens, her keys jingle in her hand, the car door shuts. Tap tap, tap tap. Her key scratches at the doorknob until it finds its place. Door clicks, keys jingle some more. Tap tap, tap tap. Breath in, breath out. Heels on hardwood.
She passes by the fake peace lily that dwells in the entryway. Its fabric petals and plastic spadix collected dust and greeted all who crossed our threshold. My wife was so insistent when we bought our house that we needed a peace lily. We purchased flower after flower, did research into their needs, and flower after flower died. Supposedly it is a low maintenance, hardy plant, but we couldn’t keep it alive. She climbs the stairs. I watch her from underneath my hair that is long overdue for a cut, and she does not look at me at all. Her heels announce their journey down the hall, and to the bedroom where they are discarded.
Floorboards creak above me, and I am alone. I glance over the instructions before dedicating my attention once more to my collection of tiny nails.
Ten minutes later, she is coming down the stairs. She’s wearing a short dress and a leather jacket. Her hair bounces against her back, and tacky earrings swing over her shoulders. I find my voice. “How was work?”
She stops, one hand on the banister, to look at her husband huddled on the floor amongst tools and particle board. “Fine,” she answers.
“Where are you going?”
“Out, with Lena.” Her keys clatter impatiently in her hand. “She got her promotion.”
I nod. I don’t want to look at her. “Good for her. I, uh,” I gesture to the bookshelf frame. “I’m working on that thing you got.”
She blinks, as if just noticing. “Ah. Thanks.” She is wearing mascara, which I know she hates. It makes her eyes feel heavy, and sticky, like dragging yourself to the gym for the first time in four years.
There is a pause. Without a good way to tell her that she is free to leave, I wait for her to come to that conclusion on her own. My head drops, and I listen as a different pair of heels find the hardwood, and her hand finds the doorknob. There is a rush of cool air, a hushed slam. Keys. Click. Toyota Corolla unlocking, engine revving to life. The garage door groans and rumbles and seals our garage against the rest of suburbia. The setting sun flashes across her windshield, across our television and our coffee table and our wedding portrait on the wall.
Five nails still need to be set into the back of the shelf before I can stand it up. Tap. Tap tap, tap tap. I have coupons for pizza in the kitchen drawer. I’ll call in an order once I’m done. I place another nail. Tap tap, tap tap.
I hope she has a nice night.