I wake up and her face is right up against mine, not touching but real close. I had that dream again, she says. The one with your mama.
I roll away and squint in the dark for the time. 4:12.
Yeah? I say. She wants more, but my head is thick. Can you tell me later? When the sun’s up?
She flops back down on the bed. She’s holding her body real still, her muscles tensed. She’s ready for a fight. I don’t have the heat for it.
Baby, I say, I gotta sleep. If I don’t sleep it’s gonna be hell at work.
Fine, she whispers.
It’s not fine, but I’m happy to take her at her word.
She hasn’t been right since her daddy died. They weren’t even close. In fact, she hated him. But his dying did a number on her. Messed with her head.
I come home from work and I’m beat. Where all day I’ve been climbing stairs, climbing scaffolds, climbing ladders. And talking all the time. Keeping the guys sorted out, stopping the rooks from chopping their king studs too short, from punching holes in drywall with their sloppy hammering, from cutting off their fucking fingers or shooting nails into their feet. Always moving, always watching, always talking.
I walk in the apartment and she’s sitting there at the table, a stack of books open in front of her, the whole place dark except for the one hanging light over the kitchen table, and right away she starts in asking me questions.
Do you think I should have stood up to him? She doesn’t even look up. Just starts in.
Who? I ask. I set my lunch box on the counter, then my keys and my wallet. I pull off my jacket and hang it on the hook next to the door.
Daddy, she says.
I don’t know, Callie. What are all these books?
Library. Look. It says maybe I have PTSD. She pulls a book out of the pile and a whole bunch of them topple. She ignores them, starts flipping through the one in her hand, finds the page she wants, plunks it on the table and spins it around where I can see it.
See, she says, jabbing at the book with an angry finger. Victims of psychological abuse can suffer PTSD just like the ones with physical stuff.
PTSD like Iraq vets?
Yeah. Same thing.
I’m thinking I just want a shower and some dinner. Maybe a beer. I’m not much of a drinker, but a couple of beers after work gets the dust out of my throat. Anyway, I try to be a good boyfriend. I go to the sink, splash some water on my face and take my time drying off, sit down at the table, unlace my boots.
Nothing that happened is your fault, Callie.
She points to another one of the books in her stack. This woman says we have to own our responsibility. She says maybe I’m complicit.
I don’t know what complicit means, I say. But I think she’s got her head up her ass. Sometimes things just happen to us, and we don’t have any part in it. Earthquakes. Lightning. Cougar attacks. I’m trying to get a laugh out of her or a smile. From where I sit, I don’t see anything in the kitchen that suggests there’s any dinner in the oven or even anything planned, and I’d like to move things that direction.
This is important, Jesse. You’re not validating my feelings.
I am. I know it’s important. I just think that maybe you’re spending too much time in those books trying to find problems…
See! That’s what I mean. You’re dismissing my feelings.
I am not. I’m just trying to help you see that this isn’t on you. I’m watching her face, gauging whether she’s going to blow, but the whole time I can’t stop thinking how gorgeous she is when she’s worked up like this. I hate myself for thinking it. I know it’s sexist or something. But she is. More alive, like there’s a fire inside her.
I start lacing my boots back up. You want burgers? I say. I’ll go get us some food.
Fine. She’s reading again. I’ve disappeared from her awareness.
I go back to the counter and slip my wallet and keys into my pockets. On the way to the door I lean over and kiss the top of her head. She doesn’t say anything, doesn’t look up from the book. I get my coat and go on out, leaving her sitting in that cone of light, head bent low to her book.