Seam

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Their wedding quilt is white with red thread framing squares that form a pattern of interlocking circles. Some squares are vibrant, some pale, some sleek, some soft. They are pieces of their lives before marriage. Her grandmother’s dishtowel. His mother’s apron. Her father’s tie. His uncle’s bandana. Her Girl Scout uniform. His soccer jersey. She made it the month before their wedding, almost seven years ago.

The white is still fresh and bright, the colored squares unchanged. It’s something they fold at the foot of the bed or drape across the rocking chair at Christmastime. A showpiece, not for everyday use.

She runs her finger along the edge of one circle, feels the hills and valleys of each stitch. Her husband, beside her in the bed, heaves a deep sigh. He’s still asleep, but barely. He’s in that space between. She’s more receptive in that space. To dreams, to ideas, to long-forgotten song lyrics. Just the other day, as she was waking up from a nap, a tune drifted through her mind, and suddenly she was back in college, in a grungy coffee shop, ignoring the cover band she’d come to see, staring instead at the scruffy young guy in front of her. The first time she saw him, she’d wanted to put her arms around him. Hold onto him. Not let go.

Her husband sighs again. She scoots over and drapes her arm over his torso. She takes a deep breath, then slowly relaxes into the curve of his back. A smile stretches her lips as his warmth floods through her. She hesitates, then rests her chin against his shoulder. This. This is what she loves—the way their forms fit so neatly. The firmness of his buttocks against her thighs. The curve of his back against her breasts. The feel of his chest against the palm of her hand. The way his shoulder makes the perfect pillow. She is in heaven. She stretches her toes, touches them to the backs of his heels, snuggles closer and inhales the earthy scent of his neck. She gently trails a finger down his sternum, then—

He jerks awake. He pulls himself out of her grasp, swings his legs over the side of the bed, stands up.

“Wait,” she says, pressing her hand to the quickly cooling sheet that still holds the shape of his body. “Couldn’t we, for just a few minutes… cuddle?”

He stretches and shrugs in a way that might mean he didn’t hear her. Then he kisses her on the forehead and goes into the bathroom. In a few minutes she hears the shower running.

She sits up, her fingers finding the tiny red hills and valleys of stitches. She reaches into the drawer of her nightstand and rummages around until her finger finds the pointy end of the seam ripper. She slides the sharp tip beneath the stitching around a patch of cloth from the dress she wore on their first date, and pulls. The rip is a satisfying sound.

That night, after dinner, they watch TV together. She sits in the center of the couch, he beside her. She tucks her feet up underneath her body and leans over, letting her cheek fall on his shoulder, her body rest against him. He pulls his arm up—to put it around her? to curl her more tightly against his chest?—then uses it to push himself off the couch. She has to catch herself from falling over while he nudges the thermostat lower, then sits in the recliner across the room.

She goes to the bedroom, gets the quilt, huddles into a corner of the couch and spreads it across her knees. At a commercial break, when he gets up to go to the bathroom, she pulls her tool from her pocket. Rip. Rip. Rip. How easily the thread comes undone.

She sleeps alone in the same bed where he slumbers. She sits alone on the same couch where he lounges. She lives alone in the same house where he moves, breathes, radiates heat that dissipates, wasted. She longs for contact—skin on skin, the warmth of two bodies connected. He needs space. He likes it cold. His touch never lingers.

This is not what marriage is. This is not a joining of two lives. During the day, she yanks at the sutures of the quilt. Rip. Rip. Rip. A piece of her favorite skirt clings to a square of his jeans. She nudges them, and they separate.

That night, she makes him a special dinner.

“What are we celebrating?” he asks.

“Us.” She smiles at him.

He downs his champagne in a few gulps, is nodding off before dessert is served. She puts him to bed, sips her coffee as she watches his limbs become heavy, his breath deep. She slides into the bed and tucks her body around his. He doesn’t flinch. The tools are in her pocket, but she allows herself this moment, enjoying the warmth and the closeness. She wraps her arms tighter around him and smiles. This feels so good, but she knows it won’t last. She knows things will go back to normal tomorrow unless she does something.

True commitment means a bond, the joining of two lives. It shouldn’t be ripped apart so easily.

Her hand reaches for her pocket.

***

A tug pulls her awake.

“What the—? What’s going on?” His voice is hoarse.

She opens her eyes. His face is so close. It must be time to get up, she thinks.

Another tug. Harder.

“Oh god! What have you done?”

She looks down at the red stitches threading out of the skin along her ribs and into his and back again. It’s tender, a little sore, but strong. The seam will hold.

She drapes her arm around him, leans her head onto his shoulder.

“Good morning, my love,” she says. “What should we do today?”

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