When he’s trying to puzzle something out, rolling it over and over in his mind like a glass marble, he goes in the back yard to split wood. I watch him from the kitchen window, praying he comes in before nightfall.
I used to worry about those unreachable places inside him. Stories left untold. Words left unsaid. The scar on his brow. The ruddy-cheeked father he’d met just once. The baby we never got to meet. I’d ask too many questions, and he’d go dark, a candle whispered out.
I put on his favorite dress that ties behind the neck. I roast a whole chicken with red potatoes and baby carrots. I bake a vanilla cake and spread it thick with buttercream frosting. The way to his heart is not through his stomach, I know, but he always compliments my cooking. And my shoulders in this dress.
“Tell me something you’ve never told anyone,” I say, after we’ve both finished our cake.
I put my hand on his knee and lean closer. I can smell his aftershave.
“If I’ve never told anyone, that’s how I want to keep it.”
He scrapes his chair back from the table. I put my hand out for his plate. As I brush the remaining crumbs into the trash can, I hear the door close behind me.
Our first kiss had been tender and moonlit. We could tell this to our future children. But we couldn’t tell them the next part: how in the back seat of his hatchback in the parking lot of a barbecue joint, I climbed into his lap. How we embraced each other’s naked, sweat-sticky torsos, panting like animals, his hands tangled in my hair. How he whispered, “Marry me,” in my ear. How I kissed him hard in response, my whole body saying yes.
When he’s done stacking, he covers the pile in a blue tarp and ties it down with heavy twine. He pulls down his hood, takes off his gloves, reaches into his pocket for a cigarette. Sits down on a stump, flicks the lighter, and inhales. Exhales smoke to the still, white sky. This is how he cries.
I step back from the window, put on the kettle, and spoon a glob of clover honey into his enamelware mug. I loop the teabag string around the handle, listening to the water bubble faster and faster.
He comes in just as the spout starts its mournful whistle. He hangs his coat on the chair, while I pour the water and stir. I put the steaming cup on the table. He wraps his arms around me, resting his forehead against my still-taut belly. I run my fingers through his hair that’s grown lighter and softer with the passing years. He lifts me onto the tabletop. He slowly unties the knot from the back of my neck and his work-warm, calloused hands tell me everything.
Amanda Miska lives and writes in Northern Virginia. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her stories have been featured in or are forthcoming from Black Heart Magazine, Whiskey Paper, Buffalo Almanack, jmww, CHEAP POP, and Cartagena.