Alice leans against the wall, pain sprouting from her elbow where she smacked against the wall. Looking down, she sees a whelp turning black and blue just below her elbow. Maybe it’s just a shadow, she tells herself. Fighting back tears and a curse, she stares back into the living room where Dwayne is already playing some stupid game. How can he do that? Ignore the loud impact and put on that headset that takes him away from her?
Looking at the back of his head, Alice can still see his face in her mind. His not quite even mustache, hazel eyes, grizzled beard…and anger squelching all of his beautiful features into a tight knot which never loosens. She sees the near empty beer bottle on his computer desk and remembers when it was a bottle of soda, before the accident.
She remembers falling in love. Like so many girls, she used her heart instead of her head when Dwayne asked her out. A nerdy boy, his glasses made his eyes look huge as he stuttered through his proposal to take her to a movie. Nancy, her bestie at the time, laughed at him. The two girls would never have so heated a fight than that day, all because of a boy. This boy. Dwayne. Alice accepted his proposal, and delighted in the grin which took up his entire face. Before the movie ended, Alice would kiss this cute, nerdy boy. She enjoyed forcing him to endure an intimate moment in a public, though dark, space. Surprising herself, she found the taste of his lips intoxicating. She wanted to kiss those lips forever; and so Alice and Dwayne became “a thing.”
All this came before the anger. Alice and Dwayne only got three years together before the accident that shattered his left leg and the lower half of his right one. Alice thought she’d lost him when she got the call from the hospital. When she arrived, she got the news that he survived, but might never walk again.
Worse, he’d just gotten a promotion as a head architect, with his own team, a week prior. A week later, his company let him go, saying the decision was regrettable, but necessary.
Dwayne spent a long time in recovery and rehabilitation. When he got to come home, the two of them had to get used to living with each other again. Dwayne’s sodas became beers, and that ugly knot of anger soon settled permanently into his face. Life is supposed to get better after the hospital. It didn’t.
The two of them argue, a lot. Sometimes, things fly. Once, fists. Alice let Dwayne know that if that ever happened again, even once, he’d never see her again. He’d be alone. It’s the meanest thing she’s ever said to him; but she meant it. Since then, he spends his time on the computer, headset on, lost in whatever world lets him escape his personal hell. Alice goes to work, makes dinner, and sleeps. There is no romance. No intimacy. At least, not with each other. He romances his games, and she romances the relationships on her TV shows.
When they do talk, the conversation is short and curt. Like strangers side-stepping on the street, they both move past each other with as little friction as possible. She’s terrified of making a wrong move.
Today, she made the wrong move.
Standing up, light hits her arm and she can see there’s no shadow on her elbow. This bruise is gonna need ice. Looking towards Dwayne, she decides he’s due for an apology. Of sorts. Wincing at the throbbing in her arm, she steps up to his chair and taps him on the shoulder.
“What?” he asks with dismissiveness.
“Slamming into the wall, jerk!”
Dwayne turns away from the screen. It feels like the first time in ages he’s looked at her with anything but disdain.
“Why did you slam into the wall?”
“Does it matter? I want you to get me some ice. Sit with me on the couch. Make it better.”
She puts on her best pout, and thinks just maybe that knot of anger in his face loosens a bit.
“Is that all? Lemme see that.”
Dwayne is careful not to let his wheelchair smack her legs as he turns to face her. Gentle hands cradle her arm as he looks over the damage. A whistle escapes his pursed lips, making his beard wiggle. Gingerly, he kisses her bruise.
“How?” he asks.
“I was trying not to smack your chair on my way to the bathroom, and somehow managed to trip on one of your cords. It’s so stupid, but I couldn’t get my balance back and flew all the way through the doorway into the other wall.”
He laughs. A full, hearty laugh that contains no hint of meanness. Alice giggles back at him, enjoying the various movements of his body and the metallic clicks of his wheelchair complaining. Dwayne puts his arms around her, and she lets him. He’s so warm. So loveable. Her cute nerdy boy is happy, and so is she.
“I tell you what. If I go get stuff to make that feel better, are you willing to help me onto the couch? That’s still really hard on me, even with the metal poles in my legs. We’ll chill there for the night. You can even make me watch one of those silly shows you like.”
“Yes. I can get your bony butt on the couch.”
“What my love?”
“Next time, just ask. You shouldn’t have to fly into walls to get my attention. I’m sorry I let myself get caught up in my stupid crap.”
“I know it’s a process, but I hate feeling we’re avoiding each other. It gets lonely.”
“You shouldn’t ever be lonely.”
“No, I shouldn’t mister. You’d best be remembering that from now on.”
She smiles wider, no longer fighting back her tears. She lets them spill, and leans into Dwayne’s palms to make sure he can catch them.
On Dwayne’s computer screen, red flashes demand his agency. Ignored, his character falls over, dead.