The reign of silence in the house had become absurd, laughingly inconvenient. A phone call could trigger a round of hostile mime, a visitor to the door forced a schizophrenic travesty of polite conversation with the guest, hampered by an absolute refusal to acknowledge the existence of the other spouse in the room.
She and he went about their days, an invisible line painted through the center of the house. If he went in the kitchen, she settled into the dining room. If she commandeered the living room,
he set up camp in the den.
he set up camp in the den.
So many years earlier they had stood hand in hand before this house and told each other it was perfect. And the house itself had conspired that day to engineer this belief.
The innocent smiles of white pansies had propelled them down the front walk. The purple lilac by the front door, in spite of a dusting of snow the day before, had somehow been covered in clumps of flowers hanging as heavy as grapes. Tossed by the breeze, the fountain of forsythia in the side yard had waved its blooms to them in a multi-directional spray of yellow.
Summers became increasingly hot but they told each other they had no need of air-conditioning here by the woods. Autumns brought stranger and stranger weather, out-of-season hurricanes, early snowfalls. One September a tornado decided to ignore the flats of West Texas and the plains of Kansas to shave a ten-mile swath of country a half-mile away.
Mid-winter they often left the mail - if it even was there - in the box for the next day rather than swim through the snow rising between them and the mailbox.
The power failed more frequently and instead of creating indoor adventures of lighted candles and picnics by the fire, it drove them to separate chairs, reading by lanterns, swathed in afghans.
The longer they stayed in the house the more distant they became. The differences and disputes were now too many to tally. Neither would relinquish his hold on the house.
So they lived side by side, lines of demarcation repeatedly cast down, taken up and repositioned as the fog of unspoken words hung heavy against the ceiling of each room.
One Thursday he went to the garage to vacuum out his car.
Passing by the dining room, she glanced in to see a large lacquered box in the center of the old pedestal table. Upon gently opening it, her nose filled with the scent of chocolate, rich and dark and beckoning. She slapped the lid down and went on to the kitchen.
He finished his task and went back into the house. That evening the box was still untouched.
For three days she brooded over the chocolate, the empty gesture.
For three days he walked past the dining room.
The stillness in the house continued unbroken, save for footsteps, a page turning, a tea kettle shrieking.
Enraged one day at the absence of any other conciliatory sign, she took matters into her own hands. She went to the dining room and opened the box roughly, so angry that she pricked her finger on its latch.
That night after he saw that she was dozing in the living room, he went to the dining room and pulled the box to him. Carefully opening it, he saw that the contents were untouched.
Frustrated that his effort had passed without result, he took several of the chocolates, eating them as he stormed from the room.
They were found, a week later, she in the living room, he in the den, separated once more by the house. Yet death had united them, she from the poisoned latch he had prepared, he from the chocolates she had tainted.