Some days were harder than others.
She woke at first light, sometimes to find he’d already been awake long enough to set fire to the towels in the bathroom, and instead of alerting her, he dropped them in the tub and turned on the shower, then went to burn eggs in the kitchen, or try to walk out on the landing, and leave — to where, she would never know.
If he was still sleeping, though, she slipped from the bed and used the toilet, washed up and brushed her teeth, then immediately started in on breakfast, trying to make a dent in any mess left over from the night before.
He never used to make a sound on waking, but lately he couldn’t see to help it, crying out against the nightmares, fighting himself free of sleep.
She used to listen to music while she worked, but after one morning she didn’t hear him wake, and he turned the cardboard box-turned-nightstand into a pile of ash, she works in silence, no longer singing or talking to herself.
Once he’s up, she feeds him; he used to feed himself, but now he stares at the food in quiet confusion.
They are patient with one another in a way they never were, before.
She remembers when she fed him grapes from her teeth, sitting in his lap, his breath warm and sweet on her tongue, the way they laughed when one fell between them.
When she catches a look of gratitude (is it, really? Can she be sure) on his face, she wonders if he remembers, too.
When she catches a look of resentment, she knows he is angry for everything that is lost to them both.
Most often, though, his expression is half-blank, not glassy-eyed but unfocused in a fashion that had terrified them both until it simply became the new normal.
A day is spent in casual silence; she talks to him, but he never talks back — instead, he reads. Sometimes he shares an article, tapping on it and thrusting it under her nose regardless of her activity at the time.
It’s the way with every bit of media he ingests. Newspapers, books, magazines, a wealth of input.
The newspapers were at first a bone of contention. They are carefully marked in precise strokes that no longer make up a written language that anyone understands.
She spent months trying to decipher them, arguing with linguists and cryptologists that there had to be some method to the madness, some way of figuring out what it was he meant to say.
She worries about the newspapers, but he never seems to destroy them.
Or the kitten. It loves the way it can curl up on him at any point in time, and feel beloved.
Sometimes he naps in mid afternoon, dozing on the couch, and she catches herself staring out the window, lost in memories.
Dinner is usually nice; music and food. He always liked to eat, and these days, it is no different. He burns it all away in that fever heat of his, always too thin, always too hot. Once, when the radio was doing a weird 20s promo for a movie, he got up and pulled her from her chair to dance with him, holding her cheek to his chest. He cradled her and they danced, sweeping around the small space with a non-chalance that at once soothed and ravaged her heart.
She had to work to not cry, at that one.
Once, she dozed off while he was eating, and she woke to find that he had finished, and bussed his dishes without breaking anything or putting them in the fridge (which had seemed like a hilarious prank at the time, until the food ended up in the cupboards, spoiled during the hottest days of the year), and was sitting near her, watchful, as though waiting. His almost focused eyes lingered on her, and she realized the too-blue of them had long since been lost.
There was no way not to cry at that one.
Night times are the hardest; he sometimes fights her on the routine, not wanting a shower, not wanting the toothbrush. So far, gently handing him the wash cloth or toothbrush for the third time after he’s thrown it at her is working.
When all else fails, he will hold the kitten, and pet its soft back, never once looking at it, but seeming calmer, at least.
When all is said and done, stripping down to boxers is comfortable, a known necessity. Just part of the routine. He crawls into the bed, exhausted, and lays himself out, to be tucked in, and kissed good night. Once she’s gotten him settled, a white noise machine fills their room with gentle sound, while she goes back out to the living room to clean up, pour herself three fingers of scotch, and stare, long and hard, at a picture of the three of them, from not that long ago, all smiling and laughing.
Her reflection in the glass of the frame has no lines around the eyes, and there is not yet gray at her parti-colored temples; sometimes she thinks ‘I am too young for this,’ and sometimes she thinks ‘this is not how it was supposed to be’ and sometimes she thinks nothing at all, but only if she tries very, very hard.
She kisses the other woman in the picture and whispers things like “He had a good day today. We missed you.” Or “Today was hard. I wanted to hate you, but I can’t.”
Or even “Maybe tomorrow will be better.”
When she finally crawls into bed, she no longer curls to his warmth; the last time she laid herself against him, he gently but firmly pushed her away, staring at her almost blankly. She knew he was trying to tell her something, but this, like so many other conversations, relied on too many words that had been, and now always would be, unspoken.