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While You Are Away

by Tara Laskowski

After you've left town for a few days, I commit the first of my indiscretions—sleeping on your side of the bed. It is very soft and your pillows are thicker, colder and squishy and smell like Pantene.


I put the hand-wash-only glasses in the dishwasher and leave the cap off the toothpaste. I piss with the door open. Turn all of the ceramic bunnies in their curio cabinet so they face each other and draw a mustache on the collectible Christmas Barbie doll. Buy Hamburger Helper and eat it for breakfast, out of the pan, over the sink.


The dog sneaks out more often than usual and spends his days in the backwoods hunting squirrels. I go to the movies alone and cry at the sad parts.


Around Day 5 I start to get angry. What if I had too much tequila last night, lit a candle and fell asleep, nearly burning down the place? What if there are attractive, sensible, tidy men at the convention that lure you away, make you forget us, and I don't even know where the bank account statements are?


And do you realize all the things I could do while you are gone? I could hire seventeen whores, have sex with them in each room of our house, and clean up all traces before you get home. I could sweep up all those ugly rabbits and pawn them off, make sure they are fully submerged in the world of Collectors before you even step foot off the plane. The dog and I could run off and leave no trace. So much trust you put in us, and look at what we've become—two men, forgetting to turn the heat down at night, left to our own devices.


The night before you are to return, I take my midnight stroll at 1 a.m. to smoke (because I'm still too chickenshit to smoke in the house, you'll be happy to know). On the way home I check all the neighbors' car doors, just for kicks. I'm not in it to steal things, just to catch a glimpse into someone else's crumbs.


I find one only five cars in, a tiny Honda, no bigger than a thumbnail. The inside smells like cold plastic. There is a half-eaten toaster strudel on the front seat and the glove compartment is filled with cassette tapes. I scribble a note, "Please Come Back to Me," which is a note to you, but I figure maybe this person can use it, too.


At the house, the dog comes running up, barking, nipping at my sleeve. He smells of dirt and blood. He wants in, too. The house is warm but also cold, there is a loneliness rattling in the corners of those ceilings. He settles beneath the phone, circle circle circle, and I pull up the chair next to him. We haven't taken out the trash or washed the sheets. The novel you are reading is still on the nightstand, but your bookmark is on the floor. Lumps of hamburger are crusting over in the pan. A homeless guy might be stealing our newspaper every morning and I'm not sure how that hole got in the cabinet door next to the sink.


But we wait for that squeak of the screen door you wanted oiled. We wait, ready, wagging, our hearts pounding. Oh, you're gonna be mad. You're gonna be so mad!

Author's Note

Earlier this year my husband led a study abroad group to Ireland, leaving me and our son for 18 days. It was by far the longest we've ever been apart since we met, and I wrote this piece during that time. (Mostly, incidentally, writing it in my head while sleeping on his side of the bed.) I was trying to capture that odd feeling of finding yourself suddenly missing someone who is, essentially, half of your soul, and also the process of slowly discovering yourself as "you alone" as opposed to "you with spouse." My husband is by far the neater half of our couple, and I found myself both liberated by the fact that I could leave a trail of clothes on the floor for a few days if I wanted to, and also desperately missing that routine, those "rules" and habits that we naturally work inside of when he is there. I tried to capture some of that here. I don't know if I totally succeeded, but it comforted me to write about it, especially on those days where the Skype connection sucked.

Tara Laskowski holds a full-time job, edits the journal SmokeLong Quarterly, writes fiction, chases around a 14-month-old, tries to stay in touch beyond liking people's statuses on Facebook, maintains scrapbooks, has a closet full of yarn, is trying desperately to finish The Grapes of Wrath even though she finds it horribly depressing, and loves cats. She is the author of Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons (Matter Press 2012).

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