Jack ceased drumming his fingers on the living-room doorjamb and ran them through his thin, graying hair. He cleared his throat.
Mary, sitting on the sagging, doily-covered couch, continued to ignore his presence. The constant clicking of her knitting needles felt like cockroaches skittering through his brain.
Though fear held him back, anger forced him into the room. His hands found their way to his hips as he stood in front of her. "So… is this the way it's going to be?"
She didn't look up. The needles continued smoothly in their dance. He might have changed his mind if he saw her drop a stitch. "Mary. I can't live like this anymore. What do you want from me?"
His comment at least caused the needles to cease clicking.
Stony eyes peered over her half-glasses. "Whatever." Her eyes lowered and the clicking began again.
Fury outweighed his trepidation, forcing the words from his mouth. "Then I'm leaving."
She put down her knitting and removed her glasses, letting them dangle from the cord around her neck and stroked the sleeping cat at her side. It stretched languidly under her hand for a moment, then resumed its peaceful nap. "Whatever you want," she said.
His hands clenched into fists and he loomed over her. "What I want is for you to quit being a bitch!"
Her eyes jerked up to his. "Just as soon as you stop being a bastard!" She jammed on her glasses and continued to stare. Fire didn't fill her eyes, only frost.
Blood throbbed in his head and his fingernails dug into his palms. "You…" His teeth crushed the rest of the sentence in his mouth and he stomped from the room. The resumed clicking lent a staccato overtone to his footsteps.
Mary immersed her hands in the warm, soothing dishwater. Bubbles overflowed the avocado sink, making sudsy icicles down the cabinet. Jack's question floated through her mind. What do you want? She continued to scrub a plate long after it was clean. The question had a one word answer. New. She wanted everything new. New car, new house, new man — new life.
The war had changed Jack, and even if it hadn't she knew she didn't want him anymore. Promises she had made to herself unfurled in her mind like an endless road. She would try everything. Do everything.
Then maybe her life would be hers, not someone else's.
Jack broke his stare from the flowered wallpaper and rose from the bed. He was just procrastinating.
It was time.
He stopped himself from smoothing the knitted bedcover and walked to the closet. Reaching into the back, he withdrew the suitcase he had, in more rational moments, squirreled away. New alarm clock, new toothbrush, new underwear, new jeans. New everything for his new start.
He hated new.
Mary stood in the living room, flipping through the thick yellow phonebook. She looked up as a suitcase emerged from the hallway, followed by Jack.
"I'm outta here," he said.
She stared at his face. The hard, deeply-carved unchanging lines never let her know what he was feeling. That was certainly nothing new. She nodded and went back to the phonebook. She would get takeout from that new Vietnamese restaurant tonight. The one he never let her order from.
Jack stormed past her, flung the door wide open and left.
She walked to the door and looked out. Jack stood on the sidewalk, looked up the street, then down. He didn't seem to know where to go.
She shut the door firmly.