Two different couples travel rocky roads in their not so different relationships.
Freedom in the Trap
“I wrote a song for you last night,” said David. He sat next to Rebecca in the lamplight of his bedroom with the shades drawn. Both their mouths were weary from a teenage make out session where time had lost all semblances.
Becca smiled. “Awe,” she said. “That’s so cute.” She went in for another kiss. Their tongues wrestled. When she came up for air she said, “So what do you want to do tonight? We could rent a movie, go out for pizza…you tell me.”
“Sex,” said David.
“That goes without saying. But what else?”
David shrugged and turned his gaze to the guitar leaning in the corner of his bedroom, next to the book shelf and dresser. “It’s not that great of a song. But it helps to put my feelings into some, I don’t know, perspective I guess.”
“Awe,” said Becca.
“It’s a slow song,” he said. “I sing it softly.”
Becca giggled and kissed his cheek. She ran her fingers through his sandy hair.
David stood and crossed the bedroom. He picked up the guitar by its neck and returned to the edge of the bed. Becca watched him with a playful and unwavering smile stuck on her mouth as though adhered with Krazy Glue. He sat down and rested the guitar on his knees. He strummed a G chord and then a C. He alternated between the two as Becca watched. Her smile had faded into indifference.
“So what do you want to do?” she pressed.
David stared at her and continued strumming. “This,” he said, “isn’t the song. But if you want to hear the song I could play it for you. I have it memorized.”
“I’d rather do something. I’m getting kind of bored.”
David stopped strumming very suddenly. He looked down at his guitar, feeling stupid. He got up and crossed the bedroom to put the instrument back where it was. “Let’s go get a video then,” he said.
Becca jumped up and her grin returned. She collected her coat from where she had tossed it on the bed.
“Why did you not want to hear the song?” asked David.
“I do want to hear it!” Becca said.
“I just offered to play it for you and you didn’t want to listen.”
She shrugged. “I did want to listen. I just want to get a movie or something first.” She stood close to him with her arms feebly out, requesting an apologetic hug. David relented and hugged her.
But he still felt stupid.
* * *
Stephanie, next to Joe on their bed and on all fours, stuck her ass up in the air. She hooked her thumb on the waistband of her pants and pink panties and slid them half way down her thigh.
Joe pulled his eyes from the laptop screen on his chest and looked at her ass as it danced in front of him. “C’monnn,” she said. There was a red imprint patch on her skin from where she’d been sitting on the bed.
“If you’re trying to arouse me,” said Joe, “then what you’re doing is producing the opposite effect.” Her ass stopped bouncing and he gently pushed it away with the back of his hand. Steph slumped over and groaned.
“We never fuck anymore,” she said.
Joe looked down at her head lying beside his feet. “I have work to do, Steph. We can…have sex later.”
“You’re mean,” she said.
Joe sighed. “I just find it very…time consuming. When I have work to do it distracts me and I can’t get into the groove.”
“So that’s why you never get hard anymore. I thought you just didn’t like me.” The sarcasm was blinding. Almost as blinding as the truth that Joe found sex boring. It was easier to cream into a wad of tissue paper and be done with it. Not as big a mess, no sweaty sheets, no lost minutes, no looking into Steph’s eyes and seeing that she wasn’t satisfied, no trying to hide his own dissatisfaction.
“That’s not true,” said Joe.
“Whatever.” Steph got off the bed and made for the kitchen.
“Wait,” said Joe. “Come back and lay with me. Please?”
“Fuck off.” She left Joe looking at a slammed door. His eyes drifted down to his wedding band. It felt heavy, and he wondered if it would latch on and bury claws into the flesh and knuckle of his finger if he tried to pry it off. He sighed, moved the laptop in the space Steph once was, and followed her.
Their relationship was a ying and yang trade off, and they had spent four years of marriage perfecting their roles within it. Their functions were opposing pieces joined to make one flawlessly damaged whole. It was Steph’s job to beg and then depart, Joe’s to ignore and then pursue.
* * *
“I had a dream about you last night,” David told Becca on their morning walk to school. She clutched books to her chest and watched her footing in the snow. Zippers on her pink knapsack jingled in time with her footfalls.
“Really?” she said. “What was it about?”
“I can’t remember,” lied David.
“Yes you can. Tell me.”
“No, really,” said David, “I can’t!”
“If you couldn’t remember then why did you bring it up? You knew I’d ask.”
David shrugged. He rubbed at his cold and dripping nose. “I didn’t know you’d care so much.”
“I don’t really care. I just want to know. Was it a good dream or a bad dream?”
“I think it was somewhere in between good and bad.” He looked at her from the corner of his eye. “Mostly bad.”
“Mostly bad? Why?”
“Well, I don’t think we were boyfriend and girlfriend in it.”
“You were just mad.”
“I wasn’t mad.”
“You were so. You were mad that I never asked you to play that song for me.”
“The song you wrote. You know what song I mean.”
David said, “The song I wrote was really about the same thing, now that I think about it.”
“What same thing?”
They had reached the school. Buses were parked along the curb and other kids in puffy winter coats were streaming out and speckling the steps up to the front doors like prisoners kicked out of jail into directionless lives.
“About us not being together. That was what the song was about. That’s why I wanted you to hear it. But you wouldn’t listen.”
“I just thought I would be embarrassed,” said Becca.
“I want to be a musician when I get out of school. Everyone else thinks I have talent. You carefully avoid talking about it like, all the time. And it makes me think you don’t support me.”
“I told you I think you’re good.”
“It’s not convincing. You said yourself you’d be embarrassed to hear one of my songs. Anyway, I’m cold. And we’ll be late for class if we stand here arguing." David took a few paces to the steps and turned. "The song was a break up song and if you’d bothered to listen you would understand how I feel. See you at lunch.” David left Becca outside in the cold. The school bell rang and the prisoners rushed back into jail as if while in the trap they had come to fear freedom.
Reluctantly and with a heavy heart, Becca followed.
* * *
Joe had made a one o’clock reservation for two at Hamachi Sushi House. At one thirty, he sat in front of a half empty glass of ice water with a cucumber hanging on the rim and an empty chair across from him. Occasionally his waitress would drift by and smile. He would return the expression knowingly, as if to say without words, Yes. Yes, I’m still alone.
When Steph plopped herself down in the chair she said, “Sorry I’m so late!”
“No need to explain.” Joe slid a menu toward her. “But now I have to get back to work soon. So…”
“Oh, right. I forgot about that.”
Joe nodded. “Yep, some of us have schedules to keep.” He forced a smile. Becca mirrored his expression. They grinned at each other joylessly. “Do you know what you’re getting?”
“That was a fast decision. For you.”
The waitress appeared and took their orders. Steph got a glass of house wine with her water and Joe crinkled his brow at her. She offered no explanation.
“So,” she said, “here’s another fast decision for you. I’m going to England this summer.”
“Really?” Joe’s crinkled brow got even more crinkled. “Why? For how long? What, alone?”
“Alone if I have to. I know you won’t come.”
“I’ve got work.”
“Well, there you go.” The wine arrived and she gulped at it without grace. Joe watched her distastefully and then motioned for her to continue. “It’ll be a little trip just to put my life into perspective. Get myself out of this routine I’m in.”
“You’re not in any kind of routine. You’re unemployed. Which actually begs the next question…where do you get the funds for your sudden excursion?”
“I have money saved up from when I was working.”
“You do not.”
“Yes, I do. I keep it in my own bank account that you didn’t know about until right now.”
“What on earth do you need your own account for?”
“If you take to gambling or join a religious cult and give them all your money, then I’ll have a safety net to fall back on. That’s why. It’s smart.”
“You think I like to gamble and knock at the door of Scientology headquarters every spare chance I find?”
“Can’t you just be excited for me?”
Joe shook his head in disappointment. “It’s not about an exciting trip. It’s all to spite me.”
Becca didn’t say anything. She had been about to deny it, but then realized she didn’t have the energy to veil the truth. When the sushi arrived they ate in silence, balancing pickled ginger and spreading wasabi with chopstick points.
When Joe paid for the bill and Becca gulped back the last of her wine, they left the restaurant. “Walk me to work?” said Joe.
They walked a block or two. “That place,” said Joe, “really has second rate sushi. Momoya has better. Doesn’t it?”
“I like it,” she said defensively.
“It’s all right I guess. The wine probably clouded your judgment.”
At Joe’s office they kissed and parted.
Becca bought hiking boots, maps, travel guides, and an expensive backpack. She filled the house with lists of places to visit and items to pick up. She printed out budgets and compared them to her bank balance and bit her lip and called friends to initiate interest in joining her and pretended to be surprised when they said they couldn’t or wouldn’t.
On the night she had marked on the calendar, “Leave 4 England!!!!!”, she went to bug Joe who was working on his laptop in bed. Being out there all alone was scarier than any sense of routine she might have had.
She never took the trip and Joe pretended to not even notice.