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art by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

Die for You

Alex Gorman lives in sunny San Diego with his wife and two children. In addition to crafting dozens of spoken word pieces based on prompts from his five year old, he has had work published in Penumbra, Big Pulp, and the Triangulation Anthology. He is presently working on a novel.

Joseph blinked open his eyes and groaned, stretching his arms out wide and running his hand over the rumbled sheets. He turned his head. His wife was gone, leaving only the impression where her body had lain the night before, a shadow of her curves in the old mattress.
In the other room, a pan rattled against the stovetop, followed by the muffled bang of a cupboard being closed. At least Talia still made an effort to quiet the noise. There was a time when she never rose before Joseph, when she would linger in bed until he was awake and welcome him into her arms. There was a time they would kiss and share their joy and their sleepy bodies with one another.
Now, Talia just told him, "No." Whenever Joseph came near her, whenever he touched her or even smiled at her with intent, "No."
They had all been changed by the attacks, by the loss, but most people had found a way to move on. Talia seemed to be trapped, somewhere deep inside of herself, afraid to feel anything at all. She had watched so many people die, her family, friends. And she had run, just like they had all run. Just like Joseph had run, the panic thick in his veins, when the shooting started. He had been standing beside Talia, looking up at strange shapes in the sky. They had been like children's blocks, shifting from blue to red to black, rimmed with a yellow light. And then he had run from the fire, and he'd had no idea where Talia was, or where he was going.
Joseph knew Talia was afraid of having children, of bringing them into this world. That must have been part of the reason she pulled away whenever he reached out. But it wasn't why she answered all his questions with single words, or just a grunt.
The smell of onions frying drew Joseph up from his bed. He slipped on his work clothes and glanced at himself in the mirror, making a token effort to straighten the mop of hair on top of his head. Then he sighed and stepped into the kitchen.
"Good morning, my love," he said, filling his voice with as much energy and affection as he could force himself to endure.
"Mm-hmm," Talia responded, not looking up from the wood burning stove, her voice barely louder than the sizzle of the onions and potato in the skillet.
Joseph looked out the window. The sky was blue and clear, but for a few wisps of cloud. "It's going to be a beautiful day, don't you think?"
Talia said nothing, made no move to indicate that she'd even heard him. The cheerfulness drained out of Joseph and he nodded, then sat down at the beat-up folding table in their kitchen. A few minutes later, Talia put a plate in front of him and sat down in the chair opposite.
They ate in silence, Talia staring at her meal, chewing each mouthful slowly, deliberately, as if willing the food down. Joseph ate more quickly, sneaking glances at his wife, wishing they had some salt.
She caught him looking at her and her flat expression became a glare. Her chewing ceased, the corners of her mouth turned downward.
Joseph threw his hands up in exasperation. "What do you want from me? Why can't you just be happy for once? You know that I would die for..."
It was an old expression, one he'd used hundreds of times when they were courting, when they were first married. Talia had always smiled when he said it. She'd lean into his arms, and he'd feel strong and protective.
Now she knew that it wasn't true. That was another thing stolen away from them when fire started raining down from the sky. Joseph put down his fork and pushed away from the table, leaving his potatoes only half-finished.
"I'll see you tonight, my love," he said, stopping at the doorway to glance back at her. Talia had returned to her chewing. She didn't look up.
Joseph nodded, then stepped out the door, closing it gently behind him before walking along the well-worn dirt path toward the work yards, the ships hanging in the sky overhead like a silent warning.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Author Comments

The seed of this story formed from a half-remembered fragment of an overheard conversation about the long term emotional struggles of refugees. "Die for You" sprang to life shortly thereafter.

- Alex Gorman
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