The Habit of Intimacy Part 3
by Becky Schwartz
Frank sighed heavily as traffic picked up again. He shook himself from reverie and followed the flow of the still slow-moving traffic in front of him. He looked at the road signs and felt, at first, relieved and then indifferent when he discovered that his exit was only three miles away. He inched forward and saw, up ahead, the whirling lights of an ambulance and the glare of streetlights moving slowly, in and out of his peripheral vision. He knew he'd pass the scene of the accident. He knew he'd see, even if for only a moment, the evidence of someone else's brief mistake or fatal error. As Frank approached the spinning red and blue lights he saw the sparkle of shattered glass in the street and the hot, black lines of a sudden skid. There were orange cones blocking the two right lanes and Frank let a few cars pass in front of him. He saw, out of the passenger window, a red Civic, overturned and smashed into a wall. Three policeman stood in hushed discussion, each holding his own small blue booklet. The ambulance driver was reaching out for the door of the ambulance and two paramedics hoisted a backboard with a body on it into the back doors of the ambulance. The body was covered by a white sheet and the paramedics were solemn and deliberate in their movements.

Traffic picked up as the cars began to pass the scene. Frank pushed on the gas pedal with his neck still slightly craned. He saw the paramedics close the ambulance doors and in his rear view mirror he saw a tow-truck barreling down the shoulder of the road. Frank felt hollow and empty. He imagined that other drivers understood with frightening clarity, their own mortality. He imagined them shivering with the knowledge that they, too, could crash into the side of a wall and be carried off in a body bag by two strangers who had carried off so many others before. And he imagined them hurrying home to their loved ones and firmly embracing them, teary eyed. But Frank didn't long to rush home to his wife and face his own impermanence with relieved concern for the impermanence of another. He felt, simply, nothing more than a strong, heavy, hatred for automobiles and for the ham and the wife that had forced him into one. He did not want to see his exit as it came into view, but he turned automatically onto the ramp and drove on toward his house. He saw the dimly lit school parking lot and the flag that blew in the night breeze, clattering against the pole as it waved. He turned down past the neon lights of the strip mall and a few roads later he was in his development. "Sunnyview Townhomes", the sign read.

He drove slowly over three speedbumps, passed a man walking a large black dog and hoped the man wouldn't wave at him. The man kept walking with his head down and Frank stared through the windshield and turned off his wipers. The storm had stopped and the night was left with a damp covering of silence. Frank pulled into his driveway and turned off the car. The keys hung in the ignition and Frank took off his seatbelt. He could see into the bedroom window and he raised his tired eyes to see if Kelly was awake. The television blinked blue in the window and Frank wondered if Kelly was watching it or if she had fallen asleep without turning it off again.

Kelly sat up in bed with her eyes fixed on the television screen; she hadn't heard the sound of his car. The frilly white curtains in the window were drawn and the light from the streetlamps melded with the glow of the television screen to make little spots of light which covered the blue of her eyes. She remembered when Frank had told her she looked like a ghost when she watched TV at night. Her eyes were such a dim shade of bluish-white that they looked hollow and colorless with the glare covering them. She imagined that his eyes, then, would look just the same staring ahead at the road, the streetlights passing through them.

Her small thumb mechanically pressed the buttons on the remote control, changing the channels, barely recognizing what was passing in front of her. Each nail on each one of her hands was painted a light yellow and every other nail (so as not to overdo it) had a tiny floral pattern on it. She admired the way the beautiful hands looked holding the remote and pushed aside the recollection that these nails were glued to sad, thin, chewed nails. She admired her husband similarly, being most affectionate when she felt he looked most attractive. A down pillow was folded in half and propped behind her head. She fluffed it with care; listening carefully for the sound of the door unlocking and she pictured his flight up the stairs over and over again in her mind.

When his key finally turned in the lock her brown hair had fallen over the pillow case and the remote had slipped to the floor. She heard the refrigerator open and close and then the sound of Frank climbing the stairs, watchful to touch each one with his whole foot. The creaking echoed through the house and Frank gnashed his teeth togther and gasped very quietly. As he approached the door, he heard the hum of the television and hoped Kelly was asleep, he didn't want to have to explain what took him so long or describe the ham and what it cost. Kelly heard the sound of the doorknob twist open and she heard Frank exhale heavily as he slowly swung the door and then closed it behind him. She kept her eyes closed and turned her back to him groaning groggily as he climbed into bed beside her. They both fell silently asleep, inches away from each other, and dreading the morning which they knew would be cold and still with cloudy after-rain air and soaked with the smell of Thanksgiving ham.
Posted by: Becky Schwartz

Prose (December 12th, 2005)