Alan opens his eyes to the floral print of the comforter covering his head, reminding him of childhood and bunk-bed tents. His breath, hot and sour, fills the small space. He tugs the covers from his face. The sudden cold will stay all day. She is gone. Fear slithers around his ribs and constricts his breath. She’s only at work, he reminds himself. The Voice says, she’s working while you lie here. Alan presses his hand against the tightness in his chest and rolls out of bed. He plants his feet on the floor. They’re prickly as blood returns. He slows his breathing, stands and walks to the dresser where she set out his pill bottles like little orange secrets. He picks up a full bottle of Klonopin and shakes it. Untouched Prozac rests by the Lithium he has ignored for over a month. His sudden anger at her surprises him. He opens his underwear drawer and sweeps the bottles in with his arm. With evidence of his frailty out of sight, his temper melts into sorrow.
Alan shuffles to the window and parts the blinds. He is surrounded. The nearby ocean has kicked up a fog like Dust Bowl topsoil. At the edge of his vision, he wonders if he’s seeing Susan’s long blonde hair as she walks away into the fog. He blinks the sleep out of his eyes and stares again; nothing is there. The lovely hills and valleys that curve like her body are flattened by impenetrable white. The restful bench under the large oak across the field is hidden behind swirling mists.
In the kitchen he opens the fridge, stares, and swipes a Diet Coke. Breakfast. The Aspartame, one more thing to worry over.
Falling on the couch, he knows he should look for a job, but the Voice tells him, what’s the point? It’s been a year, it reminds him. Something will come up, Alan answers without conviction. Susan works overtime every day and comes home and takes care of him. She has since the breakdown last Christmas. She soothes his guilt. She holds his face in her hands and says don’t worry about anything but getting well. But the Voice wonders what she’s really thinking. The Voice is cruel about the men who came before. They had taken her around the world, to Paris, Africa, Cabo. They had fucked her in exotic places. They had money. They could take care of her. What can you do, the Voice asks with a sneer. Alan buries his head in his hands. He paces around the house, trying to escape the Voice. He runs back to the dark bedroom, slams the door and freezes, listens. Light the color of a tarnished coin waits patiently at the window. He spots himself in the mirror above her vanity. Gray stubble too heavy for his drooping face. Puffed, purple crescents under his eyes like a boxer the day after a fight. He hasn’t showered since Tuesday. What will the Voice say? He slumps in the corner behind the bed. His eyes dart around the ceiling looking for composure.
Alan comes to with an apneaic gag. He’s not sure how long he’s been asleep. He tries to get up but the pain in his back, knees and ribs is too much. He sags back to the floor. He grabs the bed and the nightstand and forces himself through the talons of pain. A framed photograph of Susan and him teeters on the nightstand. He reaches to steady it, but too late. It falls face down.
He lurches down the hall to the kitchen. A note from her on the table asks him to put the garbage cans out. His exhaustion borders on dread. But the fear of disappointing her overcomes his fatigue. He retrieves his favorite sweatshirt from the living room floor and musters the energy to go outside. He trips over a basket in the shadows of the laundry room and is startled by a rhythmic clicking from the back yard. Eventually he opens the door enough to see the clothes line rattling against the house. Relieved, he stumbles blindly into the fog. Finding the garbage cans he tries to wheel them out of the garage. He stumbles and drops the larger can, spilling rancid garbage across the concrete. He looks around to see if anyone is watching, even though he knows no one is there. Except for the Voice. Alan does his best to ignore the laughter and scrapes up most of the trash and wipes his hands in the wet grass.
Towing the cans behind him down the wandering lane he descends beneath the fog. The Voice is gone. The smell of wild grass and pine trees draws the anxiety from his chest like poison. Wild turkeys along his path watch his progress. A playful calico teases him and then slips like smoke through a blackberry patch. At the busy highway he wrestles the cans into place.
As he climbs back to the house, his wind defeats him. Out of breath, he recalls when he could take this hill at a dead sprint. He tries to run, but only lasts a few strides. The Voice returns to taunt him. You’re a piece of shit. What does she see in you? You’re out of your league. She said I’m the love of her life, Alan responds. The fog starts to wrap around him like gauze. The turkeys have gone. The calico, oblivious, is hunting mice in the neighbor’s hayfield.
He arrives at the front porch in the mist and reaches with his toe to find the steps. The Voice laughs and says, Watch out, that first step’s a bitch. Alan, knocking droplets of fog from his hair, opens the front door and hopes to find refuge. The Voice follows. He can’t remember when the Voice wasn’t with him. He loathes it, but in a nauseating way he is drawn to it. The Voice is persuasive. It makes sense. Soon the ocean will roll the fog back into its bosom. He hopes, as he has so many times before, that it will take the Voice with it and drown it deep in its gray waters.
I’m not going anywhere, the Voice whispers. There is no hope. Alan enters the bedroom and draws a heart in the heavy layer of dust on Susan’s vanity. He sits on the bed and prays for silence.
He walks to his dresser, opens the top drawer, and stares down at the orange bottles. He hears the Voice coming from every room of the house. He picks up a bottle and unscrews the cap.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental.