He guards a lack of routine. The unknown will never break your heart.
Still, she always asks him to put the pups away and to lock up the house. Which he does. Faithfully. Waiting for the same question, obedient to the same ritual every night that he’s a guest in her home (his home, their home, she says, if only he’d just settle down, if only he’d commit).
Three kenneled dogs are crunching biscuits behind his back as he closes the pet room door. A fourth dog, a male German shepherd, follows at his heels as he makes the evening rounds, closing the garage, locking the doors, securing any unfastened windows. The beautiful queen stomping around upstairs is now safe from any goblins of the night as she prepares herself for bed, washing her face, brushing her teeth, flossing, sometimes applying oil to long golden hair. Her routine is to complete her routine while he turns out the lights. She’ll be waiting for him, either naked as Eve in the Garden or cozy in her pajamas.
Tonight he switches things up a bit, fearing what he’s feeling. Opening the refrigerator, he rejects her chilled white wine for his London Dry Gin and carries the open bottle to the front window blind for a peek outside. And there it is: a large blue FOR SALE sign. He takes a drink.
She wants and needs a new start, she says. If anyone understands such a notion, he does. But he’s looking back over his shoulder, pondering the silent downstairs. Where her shoes (somehow tragically sad) are abandoned in the far corner, where their coffee cups hang empty and waiting above the stove, where her favorite television blanket (speckled with wine) lay wadded on the couch, where the glowing embers of a fire pit are cooling in the backyard (prophetic), and other signs of her sweet life (their sweet life) on pause for a few hours of much-needed sleep before tomorrow.
Tomorrow when strangers will come. House showings every half hour beginning at noon. Strangers lusting over her house or judging it. It’s hard not to take it personal when someone peeks up your woman’s dress or runs a finger along her private banisters checking for dust.
He’ll be on the road again soon. This fresh thought stabs him with pain because after he goes, he’ll never enter these doors again. A bittersweet chapter will have closed. Apparently the end of their story.
Because she has asked him to walk her out of this house but not into the next one.
One more swig before putting the ugly green bottle away. He could light his breath with a match.
There are two birds in a cage. The female is yellow and the male is blue. Both are sleeping. For the first time in his life, he hears it: the barely audible respirations of two love birds. Like newborns, they are. Heavenly. Peaceful.
The cage is situated directly beneath the painting of a rainy gray Paris mounted on the wall. A man and a woman sharing the shelter of a red umbrella, intimately close, facing the Eiffel Tower.
One day that will be us, she used to say.
Finally he climbs the stairs to her. She’s been waiting for him (in her pajamas), wondering what took him so long.
He brushes his teeth but there’s no need for mouthwash. The gin has killed every germ in his mouth and burned another layer from his esophagus. He strips down to his skin and slips into bed. She wraps comfortably around him. A familiar routine to a man of no routine.
She whispers hot breath into his ear. I have never really loved another man until you, she confesses, squeezing him tight. I love you and I hate you, both, she says.
Much too soon, she’s breathing softer than the birds and dreaming different dreams.