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Nucleus

Laurence Klavan

He waited for a break in their conversation so he might re-enter the room, but the talk never subsided long enough for it not to be awkward. He noticed that Yolanda began to cry a few more times, usually just as he was about to step through the swinging doors, like a gunslinger into a hostile saloon. He heard glasses being set down more often and more shakily on the table and then he, too, took another snootful from an aging bottle he found in the fridge. At last, he only peeked in long enough to give a little I’m-going-to-bed wave.

He saw that Sheila’s eyes were red as well, as if she had been actively commiserating with Yolanda or even sharing her own sorrows, though which ones Amos didn’t know. Used tissues were scattered across the table like bits of rubble from a building’s collapse.

“Oh, are you going to bed?” Sheila asked, fuzzily, even though he thought his wave had been more than clear.

“Yes,” he said, almost inaudibly.

His wife weaved from her seat and hugged him, held him particularly close and long, whispering that Yolanda would be staying in Randa’s room, for it wasn’t decent to make her drive anywhere in this weather (it was pouring, he realized, he could hear it tapping on the air conditioner, like that crazy drummer with the bad toupee he used to see in old news footage “playing” the sidewalk near Grand Central Station).

Then Yolanda rose and hugged him, too, more formally, and her wet face made his own face wet, as if she were smearing him with her sunscreen, protecting him like a parent. It felt nice. Or did it? He was so loaded he didn’t know. His mind was offering up ideas on its own, like the stewardess who lands the plane after the pilot passes out in that old movie; or, no, he knew, like his thoughts were being extracted as someone’s DNA was by a cotton swab.

*  *  *
Hours later Amos was awakened in his bed by silence. The rain had stopped performing, and the absence of its consistent sound had pulled him by the collar from unconsciousness. Even though it was a long time before the morning, he was already hungover; it had been years since he’d drunk so much, and his head felt like an enormous red blister balanced upon his neck.

There was pain at the end of his legs as well. As Amos sat up, he saw that someone was sitting on his feet. Sheila was at the bed’s edge, faced away and looking out the door, as if listening to the whisper of light from the little night bulb in the hall bathroom. Feeling him move, she turned and her face—though still pink from all her weeping—was mostly white. She wore only a t-shirt and underpants, no bra, he noticed.

“Is something,” he tried to say through what felt like moss, dust, and twigs in his mouth, “wrong?”

“We were only touching each other,” she said, her voice clogged by wine and tears, “mostly touching, anyway. I don’t know how I feel about it. It didn’t feel bad, not physically. But that’s not the point. I didn’t want to be only one-third of her, that’s all. Of Randa.”

Amos fell slowly back, as if knocked down by a cartoon boxer. The throb on his feet subsided as Sheila slid into bed beside him, or so he thought. Had she even been there in the first place and said what she’d said? He couldn’t tell. Yet he didn’t put his arm across her, as he usually did.

*  *  *

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