This story was first published a year ago on my former fiction site (can’t believe it’s been a whole year!). Thanks to the superb critique I received then the story has been slightly rewritten. I hope you enjoy Carl’s Pain, rated PG-13, according to my standards.
Carl’s Pain, by Deanna Schrayer
Carl shuffled into the kitchen and hung his cap up, closing the screen door softly behind him.
“Any luck?” Amy asked.
Her husband looked at the cracked linoleum floor, raked his hand through his hair, and shook his head. But he didn’t look up at her.
“Oh honey,” she walked towards him with her arms held out as if to hug him. But he pushed past her, crossing the small kitchen in two single bounds. Amy jerked when Carl slammed his fist into the doorframe as he passed into the living room, her own fist automatically scrambling to cover her mouth.
For a minute it was silent, even his footsteps had halted. Then she heard glass breaking and she closed her eyes. She knew he’d knocked over the vase of daisies she’d set on the coffee table earlier. Yet, she didn’t move from her rigid position. A single tear slid down her cheek. When she heard the stairs creak she bent over the sink, turned the spigot on full blast and splashed her face with cold water. It didn’t wash away the pain, it only mingled with the tears.
Amy watched the neighbor boy and his dog rolling down the hill behind their house. All summer she’d watched this same scene in this same spot. Unlike most kids she knew this boy played with his pet for hours every day and it warmed her heart to know there were still caring children in the world. Once, he’d stopped in the middle of throwing the worn Frisbee and looked up at her, as if keenly aware of her staring at him. An electrifying jolt shot through her abdomen and she was surprised to discover this was the life she longed for – to have a child all hers to love. She’d never taken to children before. But with Carl not working she knew they couldn’t afford it and so she’d kept the longing to herself.
A loud bang startled Amy and she bowed her head and took a deep breath, knowing Carl had slammed the bedroom door. When she looked back up the neighbor boy had gone. Amy didn’t see his dog either. A woodpecker pounded, pounded, pounded away at the crumbling post of the back porch.
The wind had picked up and was blowing shadows through the kitchen windows as the sun sank lower in the sky. It was going to rain. Amy felt chilled and hugged her arms around her shoulders as she tiptoed to the landing of the stairs. She ascended so softly none of the familiar creaks reached the arches of her feet.
At the top of the stairs Amy shook as if a ghost had just flown through her body, but when she pushed the bedroom door open the sight before her caused her trembling to stop altogether. She expected Carl would be getting ready to go down town for his regular Friday night beer with his friends.
But he wasn’t at the closet. The water wasn’t running in the bathroom. Carl was not getting ready to leave at all. In fact, he was doing nothing. Nothing but lying there on the bed, face down, his arms spread out on either side of his head.
The window was open and splashes of rain began to darken the fluttering ivory curtains. Amy walked over and closed the window, as quietly as she could. She felt that if she made the slightest noise it would break some spell cast over them both, she was afraid it would shred what little fringe was left between them.
She couldn’t see Carl’s face from here; it was turned towards the wall. She realized her breathing was ragged and so she stood at the window a moment longer, forcing herself to breathe through her nose, to calm her nerves before going any further.
Amy walked towards the bed, towards her husband’s inert figure, using all her will to keep her pulse normal. When her thighs touched the bare mattress Carl turned over, grabbed Amy’s arm, and pulled her down on the bed. Easily, expertly, he pinned her with his knees and held her arms above her head. Amy’s heart pounded so hard she was sure it would leap out of her chest and hover there in the inch between their bodies.
Carl stared into his wife’s pale hazel eyes with an expression she’d never seen before. His breath came in ragged spurts, and then stopped as if he’d quit breathing. He took a gulp of air and released it into her face. She didn’t smell any whiskey. And she could always smell it.
“Carl?” she whispered, not sure what she expected to happen. But what did happen shocked her for she’d never seen him act this way. Her husband’s exhausted body fell upon hers, nearly crushing her petite form. But she was grateful for the weight. She felt his pain wash over her body before she felt his tears on her shoulder.
Amy took his cheek in her hand and gently wiped the tears away; she took hold of his thick black curls with her other hand and pulled his face down to hers, and she kissed him. She kissed him softly, yet strongly, showing him that she could handle the pain, if only he would release it all to her she would share his burden.
Finally, after their faces were soaked and they’d stopped shaking, she spoke. She stroked his hair as she said, “Honey, it’s going to be okay, we’re all right. I’m here.”
“You’re…here…” Carl said it wonderingly, as if he couldn’t believe she’d still be here for him, the man who’d punished her, who’d pushed her away all these months, simply because he couldn’t seem to find a job.
“I’m here,” she said again, and she smiled.
Carl held nothing back now as he allowed the despair to come forth, to pour from his gut, and drench his love, the love he knew was strong enough to handle the wrenching pain he’d held in for so very long. He lay beside his wife and he held her, tighter and tighter. He kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her eyelids. And he murmured into her mouth, “Thank you.”
This story was inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s poignant song, This Depression.
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