…eyes and tired skin hanging from his arms. Even as he napped, his breathing was strained.
May found ten bags of groceries on the counter. Oysters. Cheese. Salmon. Fruit Loops. Chocolate bars. Dip. Sour cream. Whipping cream. There were other things too, but none of them came together to make even one meal that she could think of.
Jerry was happy enough on Friday, occasionally popping into the kitchen to get a snack. She never asked him how he’d managed to drive himself to the grocery store.
By Saturday, he was so far in the longseat that he looked like he’d never pull out of it. May watched his hands curl and uncurl, until his fingernails disappeared inside the fabric. He groaned each time he couldn’t find a program in its appropriate place. He swore at the kids’ shows and laughed at the international news. His breathing got harsher every time a black screen appeared, every time static was the law rather than the rule, every time the channel just wouldn’t change.
“Back to work on Monday, right hon?”
“Yeah,” muttered Jerry.
Saturday night came. “Jerry, why don’t you sleep upstairs with me, you know, after you take a shower? That way you’ll get back into the habit of things.”
“No way!” he cried. “Gotta enjoy the last days. Gotta enjoy them, May.”
That night, May knew he didn’t sleep at all. She could hear the television working well into the night. Infomercials and cheesy horror movies, music videos and foreign sporting events. A few trips to the kitchen, desperate mutterings in strange tongues.
There was a whole pile of empty pop cans on the coffee table in the morning.
May didn’t ask him to go to church. She just went. The people there didn’t bother asking about her husband.
She came home later than usual. May found Jerry clutching the longseat with all his strength. The clicker lay on the flabby upper part of his leg, pointed at the television but not really doing anything. There was a Japanese cartoon on, no subtitles.
“Jerry, are you okay?” asked May.
He didn’t answer. His eyes blinked. His skin was pale.
She knelt next to the longseat and put her hands around one of its arms, cuddling and protecting it like it was a child. The fabric was cold and compressed, and she knew that it would soon become one of those priority items on her list of improvement.
“Jerry, what’s wrong?” She hugged the arm tighter. “Tell me.”
He shook his head.
“You can’t stay here like this. You know you have to go to work tomorrow? How about you just get up now and walk around and get a feel for it again?”
His breathing was terrible. “Didn’t drink any of the soda pop. I poured it down the sink.”
“Jerry. They need you at work.”
He clutched the chair harder.
“Please get up. Just do something. It’ll be easier once you do one little thing, anything. Try.”
But his complexion had so paled that May could only watch. She would have liked to hold him, but couldn’t stand the thought of it.
They stayed like that for hours. Jerry didn’t move a muscle, not even to flip the channel.
May went to bed. The television was the only thing that talked to her as she left the family room.
“I’m bonking the secretary again. What a drag.”
She cried herself to sleep. One last image of him remained to her: cold clammy skin that was slick with sweat, hands pulling ever harder on the ends of the longseat, eyes solidly unfailing in their silent regard.
The morning was difficult. May woke up not knowing what she should expect from Monday this week. She showered and got dressed, breaking a routine that usually saw her have breakfast first.
Jerry always was out of the house before she was. But she hadn’t heard him shower or enter the bedroom.
“But I’m a deep sleeper. He always said that.”
She walked down the stairs and into the family room.
Jerry was on the longseat, and he was not the rigid straining corpse of the night before. His breathing was regular and healthy. There was blood in his skin again, warmth coming from his mouth and nose, life in his limbs.
It was 8:00.
Jerry was half an hour late for work. And he still wore those boxers and that t-shirt, and he hadn’t shaved or showered in days. But he was smiling as he had the first day she’d met him. She’d been dazzled by that smile, by the joy behind it, by the possibilities had it drawn for her as they had become a “them”, and then ended up as this.
The car screamed out of the driveway.
Mrs. Tylenol waved at from next door. May shook her head tightly.
“London Crescent, Rambunkle, Connecticut.”
“Allison Boulevard, Ofsprey, Massachusetts.”
“Falloon Street, Sceptre, Maine.”
That day, May drafted out the streets, the avenues, the boulevards, the crescents, the courts, and the circles of Saraptoa, a city in a State that she had purposefully asked to not be told.
At Weir and Sanders, Mr. McCarthy sat at his desk and pondered the time. It was 9:00, and something was wrong.
Into the phone: “Susie, get me a temp. We’re short a worker.”
“What particular qualifications, Boss?”
Mr. McCarthy sat back in his great grey chair and put his hands behind his head. Outside, the summer was still strong but not as strong as it had been. The bustle of the city was a windbagged aid to his disposition, a free battery of energy that kept him afloat. Nothing came easy, except to him. It was too good to be true.
Jerry woke up, groggy and uncertain. He turned on the television.
“Hell, no one ever writes to me,” he said.
And there he stayed, stuck in his own minefield.