Recovery and Rehabilitation

Jessica Langan-Peck

We were quiet and efficient, we mostly left the lights off, we stood side by side in front of the refrigerator, in its light, looking at the old cilantro rotting upright in a glass of water, at the cheese in wax paper, at the Tupperware containers. It looked like she hadn’t been home in awhile. I wouldn’t let him eat a pickle from the almost-empty jar on the bottom shelf. There was a half-eaten chocolate bar in the space for the butter and we ate it standing up, biting it with our molars because it was too hard for our front teeth, which were sensitive to the cold. We warmed up, took off our hats and gloves, took off our coats. Miles’s cheeks turned red.

“Looks good in here,” Miles said. He sat down on the couch.

I was nervous, suddenly, hearing all sorts of sounds in the stairwell. “It looks okay. It looks kind of put together for my taste.” The radiators hissed, her clock ticked, a group of loud kids walked by outside. Even on a Sunday, there were girls in high-heeled snow boots all over this neighborhood.

Miles lay down on the couch, his shoes hanging off the end. He clasped his hands over his stomach and closed his eyes. “So, we go to see Charles tomorrow?”

I stood away from him, holding my elbows. I thought about us on the train, sitting next to each other and looking straight ahead, heads back in uncomfortable angles on the worn out seats. Once Miles had asked someone to switch seats on the train, so that we could sit together. We had been going upstate to visit a friend’s parents, and he’d been on a shoot the night before and was exhausted. The woman moved, and he sat down next to me, and I said that was nice, baby, and he said it’s more for me, so that I can lie down and put my head in your lap and get some sleep. He smiled. I hit his upper arm with my knuckles. Long Island in winter was a quiet, snowier place, with small towns that were dark and empty and kept their Christmas decorations up all year, beaches with half-frozen sand. My brother, with his beard, wearing a hat inside because he was too cheap to turn up the heat, a roomful of beehives. Miles’s eyes were still closed.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Wedding stuff. You can go, I’ll give you Chuck’s number.” He nodded like he’d probably do it. He probably would.

And then, while he was lying there with his hands clasped like someone dead or dying, I took off my shoes and my coat and left them in the middle of the living room, and I went to the couch and lay down on top of him. I did it carefully, lined up our legs, kept my movements slow and steady, until we were chest to chest. His eyelids flickered, then opened. Finally, now that I was inches away from his face, I could remember him. First he was very still, and then he put his arms around me, his hands in the middle of my lower back. I can get up, I wanted to say. Or, this isn’t what it seems. We rose, we fell. After awhile, he breathed like he was sleeping, and even though I wasn’t and couldn’t, I matched my breaths with his and found it was a good way to relax. He’d had a long, cold day. He always said your body had to work harder in the cold, to keep itself warm, and that’s why he was so much more tired in the winter.

I closed my eyes, opened them, listened to the buzz of the refrigerator, which I’d been used to when I lived here, but which sounded loud now, tasted the old dry saké in my mouth, thought about recovery and the rehabilitation of Miles and me. In a few days I would be wearing this dark dress like a kind of paper crane and he and I would dance at the wedding, we had always been good dancers, because of the way we gave each other enough space to move.

After an hour, or a few hours, I heard the heavy door close downstairs and then someone coming up, the bump of a rolling suitcase, coming nearer. Miles snored softly. I waited for the steps and the bump to pass, to go up the stairs to another floor, to another door. Whoever it was sounded tired. The steps were slow. They didn’t pass. They stopped, and very soon after there was a key in the lock. The jumpiness I’d felt before was gone. I was draped, I didn’t even move. I didn’t think about what I would say, or what she would say, or what she would see, when she came in the door—the winter clothes in piles, the people breathing together very quietly. I lay there, Miles’s chin in my hair, his chest moving up and into mine, and receding, steadily.

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