She can feel his presence as he stands at the door to her study, but she doesn’t look up. Minutes pass, or perhaps only seconds.

           "I can't find them," he announces as he finally comes in. She stares at her computer. He starts lifting things up from her desk and then dropping them back down, so her neat piles are skewed, off center.

           "Whatever it is, it's not here," she says as she rearranges what he's dropped, putting the charts and diagrams she's so carefully sorted back in order.

            "Well, they might have been here," he says, reaching for another stack that she quickly grabs and holds on to.

            She looks at him then. "What," she says, drawing out the one syllable, "what have you lost now? What is it this time?"

            "My glasses. I had them ten minutes ago. I put them down, and now they've vanished."

           "Why," she says. "Why would they be here? I've been alone for the past two hours. How could they possibly be here?"

          He doesn't answer. He shrugs. Again he picks things up and drops them so the papers fan out before she can reach them. He shrugs again and leaves the room. She stares after him, and carefully rearranges her papers, even the few he has not touched. She returns to her computer, but as she puts her hands on the keyboard they clench into fists, and she stands up abruptly, sending her chair wheeling backwards. Her hands move compulsively, almost fluttering, over her papers, but they are already in order. She leaves the room, her heels slamming into the floor, but she's too late. The car is halfway down the drive.

          She doesn’t know what she would have said anyway. They’ve moved beyond screaming. How, she might have asked him, how had it come to this. She was almost sure they had loved each other once. Why else would they have married? Where had the bitterness and malevolence come from?

          When she turns, a shard of light catches her eye. There on the hall table she sees the glasses reflecting the sun, their tortoiseshell frames the color of his dark sandy hair. Her hair is the same color, something they used to joke about. She picks up the glasses. Once again her hands clench into fists, and she can almost hear the sharp crack of plastic, but she stops. She carefully puts the glasses back on the table. She returns to her study and brings her hands to the keyboard. For a moment she stays like that, fixed. But then she stands up again.

          When she gets downstairs, the sun has moved slightly, so the glasses no longer glitter in the light. She picks them up delicately. She takes measured steps across the room and rising on tiptoe drops the glasses behind the heavy oak bureau that came with the house, the one that cannot be moved.

          Now she can get back to work.



Joyce Lautens O'Brien is a Canadian who used to live in New York and now lives in Connecticut. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Yemassee, Connecticut River Review, Riverbabble, Pure Slush, Quantum Poetry, Halfway Down the Stairs, and Metazen

Losing something like a pair of glasses and wondering if the other person has seen them can be an everyday benign occurrence. But then I started wondering how this would play out in a marriage that was grinding through its final bitter days. She wonders where the malevolence has come from, and then she does something that's even more unforgivable than his disturbance of her papers. They won't be together much longer, I think, but sometimes people stay and gain satisfaction from tormenting each other. Hard to say which it is here.



Copyright 2009