She adjusts the knot hugging her stomach and straightens the sleeves of her robe. Pausing for a moment to watch as his reflection patiently shaves in the mirror, she asks:
"Does that hurt?"
"Does what hurt?"
He glances at the magazine leaning precariously over the edge of the toilet tank. She started collecting them when they moved here, some kind of reflex. He bets that, were he to give the tank a quick kick, the magazine would soon be floating in the tepid water underneath.
The flange on the toilet had somehow broken at one point, she wasn't sure exactly what happened. Something needed replacing somewhere so he went to hardware store and came back with a small package in a plastic Canadian Tire bag. She checked in on him once in a while and brought him some iced tea after a few hours had passed without any significant progress. It was very important that nothing be said during such a procedure.
When it was done with, several hours later, she hugged him gently and whispered something into his ear. They are both known to say "I love you" at just the right time without getting too upset or elated. It's a reminder, although what needs to be remembered is often forgotten and all that's left are the words.
Last night he brought her take-out: pasta from that place on the corner, her favourite. He insisted that she forget about work for an evening and join him in front of the tv. They ate in silence and watched a few talk-shows before going to bed. The meatball he dropped on his pyjamas left a dimpled orange blot, a dull reminder of the minimal effort he had put into cleaning up.
As she brushed her teeth the next morning, she thought of her next bowling night. Her cheeks flushed for a moment before fading back to their normal, blurred selves. She spits and a small trickle of red stains the foam sinking into the drain. At times, when they eat a lot of take-out, she brushes a little too hard.
In the background, the phone rings. The calls from their children are courtesy calls; everyone is very much aware of this. Still, even though each call serves mainly to loosen the leash of guilt, everyone involved makes sure to speak optimistically about the future. This future exists only in the obscure kingdom of the spoken, as they all know, yet steadily they march on, quizzing each other about the latest vacation or haircut.
After every call they both retire to their respective hideaways within the house and consider what the lives of these children might turn out to be. After a while, the strands of possibility tend to braid into one life, a familiar life, a lot of smiles and words with meanings that begin to dissolve into entities. "Keep in touch" and "I miss you" start to shift from the realm of want to that of need.
A week earlier, returning from a business trip, he brought her some take-out. It was from one of her favourite restaurants. He was sure that she hadn't noticed him hurrying to the shower. There hadn't been enough time to wash off the scent of it at the hotel.
She can always smell it, even after he showers. There's something animal about it, something primal, appealing. She wonders whether she's brought it all on herself, but the feeling always passes before the day is over.
A few nights later she joined her bowling team downtown and stayed late, as usual. She snuck out early the next morning and brought home coffee and gourmet bagels from the local bakery. She is running out of places to buy breakfast.
He washes his razor under the running water, tapping it on the side of the sink to get all the little drops off. There is a small cut under his left nostril. He is leaking.