a Magazine for Writers
Read "Long Time Gone" by Jenny L. Collins

By Joan E. Kremer

"God, Jenny, could you at least tell me what you want from me?"  Greg's voice is loud with anger.

Jenny closes her eyes and says it in one quick breath before losing her nerve.  "I want you to leave this house, leave me alone."  Then she whirls away from her husband to face the wall of their living room.  *Finally.  She has told him at last.*

She opens her eyes.  On the wall in front of her, Greg's shadow stretches toward the ceiling.  All the living room lamps are turned up high, and their light projects the sharp relief of him onto the wall-his torso, neck, and head, even the few strands of hair he's let stray.  She clenches her hands to control her trembling.  He is so close behind she can feel his breath stir the hair on her neck.

"Greg, please," she says to the shadow.  "There's nothing else to say."

Contained within his shadow is her own; his darkness swallows hers.  She feels the urge to stretch her arms out, see if they cast a shadow separate from his.  But she is afraid to move.  She saw his eyes just now, how the pupils and irises had breached their common border, their colors fused into a single, dangerous muddy brown.

His response, when it finally comes, isn't what she expects, though she knows he is capable of anything.  He places his hand on her shoulder, the touch soft as a petal, as light as the swift hands of a thief.  He bends his head closer, brings his mouth near her ear.

"Jenny," he says, "I belong here.  You know that."

She squeezes her eyes shut, clenches her fists tighter.  He's right:  This is his house, the one he bought for them.  His sweat primed the walls of the remodeled kitchen, mixed the cement that holds the bricks to the fireplace. It was his strength that hammered the sheetrock in place and his fist that punched holes in it, holes Jenny later repaired as she painted the walls. He praised her painting job, gathered her paint-speckled hands into his and kissed her calloused palms.  He often liked to hold her hands in his, to warm them when they were cold; to soothe them when they were sore from pulling the garden's weeds or from blocking his punches.

Jenny feels the warmth of his kiss even before his lips touch her neck.  Her stomach lurches in fear, her heart longs to kiss him back.  She looks down at the hardwood floor.  They fought over that, too.  She wanted the warmth and softness of carpet.  He wanted polish.  Ever since, she has been deeply grateful he won the argument, for the floor became her advance warning system, telegraphing Greg's approach, signaling his mood through the beat and rhythm of his steps, sometimes giving her time to escape.  Sometimes.
Not this last time.

"Here, with you."  His voice is lower, less menacing.  "You know that."

With a long exhale, she turns away from the wall, still looking down.  She sees his feet in their brown loafers.  The shoes are, as always, scuff-free and shiny; he takes care of his things.  He takes care of her:  a charge account at Bloomingdale's, a Caribbean vacation every winter, a new car every three years (the latest, a Mustang convertible she drives top-down for no reason except to feel the wind on her face and in her hair).

She lifts her head, her gaze tiptoeing up his body until it reaches his face.  She has long wondered how he chose the eye color for his driver's license.  Sometimes his eyes are as green as the forest pines; other times, a mottled mix of browns and yellows.  When he's angry, they turn solid brown, the color of caked mud, impossible to see through-the color they were just minutes ago.  But now, in this moment, his eyes are brilliant green, inlaid with golden flecks that shimmer as if lit by a blaze from deep within.  Tears puddle beneath the irises, wetting his eyelashes, threatening to spill onto his cheeks.

"Yes," she says.  "I know that."  She yearns to put her arms around him.

From the other end of the living room, a man coughs, then walks toward them across the polished floor, his steps echoing like thunder.  Jenny watches the plainclothes cop come to a stop just a foot away.  He clears his throat, rattles the handcuffs in his left hand.  His right hand hovers near the handle of the pistol holstered to his chest.  Jenny turns back to Greg.  A single tear has escaped and slides down his cheek.

The cop grabs Greg's arm.  "Enough." he says.  "You've had your chance."

Greg blinks but doesn't look away.  His eyes ambush her gaze, lure it into his own.

"I love you," he whispers.  "You know that."

She's never seen his green-gold eyes so clear, so luminescent, and she wants to dive into them, drown in their golden-forest light.  She stretches her hand toward his, sees his hand reach for hers.  But a third hand blocks the way.

"No more!" the cop shouts.  He cuffs Greg's hands so fast it seems an illusionist's trick.  A uniformed policeman appears beside him, equipment and badges jangling, the two-way radio on his shoulder crackling.  The uniform grabs Greg's arm and jerks him around.

"OK, loser," he says, "we let you have two minutes to tell your wife you're sorry, and you blew it, just like before.  I hope the judge sticks it to you good this time."

The two policemen pull Greg across the room, each holding an arm.  As they near the door, Greg jerks free of one cop's grip and turns back to Jenny. This time he shouts.

"You know that!"

Jenny looks at his eyes.  Still clear, still shining.  Still drawing her into their bottomless depths.

"Yes," she whispers.  "I know that."

Joan E. Kremer has worked as a professional journalist and business writer for more than 30 years and has numerous nonfiction publication credits. When she turned 50 several years ago, she determined to focus on her first love-creative writing.  Her first published poem appeared in the July 2004 issue of Gin Bender Review.  Her first published short story is scheduled to appear in the Fall 2005 issue of Beginnings.  Joan lives in a small town in western Wisconsin and  currently is writing short stories, poetry, and working on the third draft of a novel. Contact Joan.