When he came back, he was no longer my sweet Lenny. It was subtle, at least at first. His walk was more rigid. He talked out of the left side of his mouth. He moved a little slower.
The biggest change, I didn’t recognize it until a few weeks passed. Usually I sleep well. Nine hours. Don’t even stir the sheets. But I had a cup of coffee late with Martha, and I woke after just an hour. Lenny was staring at me. Propped up on his elbow. Grinding the inside of his cheek.
What are you doing? I asked. I tried to sound casual.
He said nothing. He kept looking at me. When I laughed and said I needed a glass of water, slid out of the bed and turned in the doorway, he just stared at the place I had been laying. He didn’t even blink.
Those three years without him had been hell. I got along just fine. I paid the bills and kept the house and even went to Bible study on Wednesdays. But I grieved him until even the tips of each hair on my head hurt. The missing person fliers stayed up. People kept politely inquiring. And when he came back I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him and told him I had meatloaf on the stove. But I didn’t take the fliers down. Maybe a piece of me knew I had half of him at best.
When Lenny and I first met it was love. January 15th, some years ago, at the community picnic. New in town, he was a fidgety one. Kept wringing a baseball cap in his hands. I told him which potato salad to avoid, which pie to eat. He was so grateful he walked me around the park with one hand resting between my shoulder blades, the pressure of his touch real faint, though I could feel the heat from his palm through my thin dress.
He never said where he had gone. Or how he got back. And after a while I quit asking. But it got harder to sleep knowing he might be staring at me. Dreams started where planets opened and swallowed us, and the rest of the dream was just screaming and pitch black.
I started spending nights on the couch. Fibbed, said my neck was messed up. He nodded, didn’t offer a solution or sympathy. This would be the moment most marriages would start to crumble. That place you trace to in therapy. Here, you say. Where I lied, and he just took it. Truth was our moment was further back. There was no lie. Just his changed stride. His hair combed a different way. And those three years.
Last night, from my makeshift bed, I heard a low whine, a click, click, click. Then two voices. Lenny’s and a female’s. Talking low and fast. Click, click, click. A better woman would have gotten the butcher knife, slammed open the door. But I waited.
A harsh glow seeped out of the bedroom. It spilled and bent around the outer walls as if fog. Their voices echoed like birds caught in a net. I moved towards the door, then halted. They weren’t speaking out loud, just in my head. I couldn’t translate.
I grabbed my purse from the kitchen table, slipped out and drove to the open land just beyond Walden. I wandered into the dark beanfields and looked up and said Take me. I said it so much it became a kind of chant. Take me. Take me. Knees in the soil. Hands raised, fingers spread. My wedding ring with no moonbeam to catch its shine. When you love a man as much I love Lenny, you’ll follow him anywhere. I would learn his new language. I would try on his new stride. I flashed the little light from my keyring into the open mouth of night. It swallowed it. It did not give it back.
Lauren Davis is the author of Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press). She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and her poetry, essays, stories, and fairy tales can be found in publications such as Prairie Schooner, Automata Review, Empty Mirror, and Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. Davis teaches at The Writers’ Workshoppe in Port Townsend, WA, and she works as an editor at The Tishman Review.