From Our Own Separate Sides
My back aches when I lean down to untie my shoes and my big, clumsy fingers have trouble opening the tight knot.
“God, I feel old,” I groan when I finally get the shoes off and sit up.
“C’mon, I’m older than you are,” he laughs from the other side of the bed. I shake my head and stand up to remove the rental suit. The jacket is moist in the back. It had been very hot in the church.
“A year older,” I point out.
We turn our backs to each other as we undress, but I can see his reflection from the mirror. He’s gotten skinnier, but otherwise looks the same as he did last winter at Annie’s daughter’s funeral. Maybe some more grey hairs at the temples. On him it just looks dignified.
I turn away from the mirror and get my nightclothes from the suitcase. He’s already brushing his teeth in the tiny bathroom by the time I’m ready.
“Gotta love a good wedding,” he says from the door, toothpaste dripping to his chin.
“I can’t believe how quickly Stephanie grew up. It was nice of her to invite us, wasn’t it?”
“Did she get you to dance? She said she would. She said she remembers dancing with you when she was a little girl. That whole standing on your shoes type of a thing.”
“My left knee’s been acting up.”
“It was nice of her to invite us,” he repeats before going back to spit out the toothpaste. “I think she genuinely missed us. What with Mickey all gone and all, I guess.”
I take my turn in the bathroom and am glad to get the aftertaste of alcohol from my mouth. Not being much of a drinker, the many wedding toasts had gone to my head quicker than it should for a man of my size.
I return to the bedroom.
“Still can’t believe they had nothing else available,” I say, looking at the double-bed.
“It’s a small hotel.”
“It’s not a problem.”
“Who gets the blanket?”
“There might be extra sheets in the closet.”
I check and bring back a sheet. He pulls the blanket to one side of the bed and I throw the sheet over the other side. We stare at the bed for a moment and for someone reason we both laugh.
“C’mon, then,” he says. I set my glasses on the nightstand and lay down while he goes to turn off the light. I pull the thin sheet over me and know that I’m going to be cold tonight. I feel the mattress dip as he settles in on the other side of the bed and gets under the blanket.
I’m reminded of summer days of way back when. The two of us and Mickey, all three sharing the same bed at my mother’s after a day of make-believe adventures. Mickey had been the smallest and would sleep in the middle while him and I slept on the sides.
“It’s like when we were kids,” he says in the darkness.
“That’s what I thought.”
I turn to my side and pull the sheet tighter around me. Then I return to lie on my back. Soon I get the urge to move around again, but feel too self-conscious to do it.
“I can’t believe little Stephanie is married now. Can you? Time goes so fast.”
“Remember that time we babysat her for a whole weekend? Mickey and Sally would call about every hour to make sure she was ok.”
“Did you ever want kids?”
I don’t really want to answer that question and he seems to understand it.
“I did,” he says then, folding his fingers over his stomach. “Just never got around to do it, I guess.”
I turn to my side for a better look at him. My eyes have grown used to the dark by now and I can see him staring up at the ceiling. I like looking at his profile. His nose is long and pointy and his chin weirdly sharp. I could draw that profile in my sleep.
“You’ve got the dogs,” I offer. He’s quiet for a second and I want the ground to swallow me up, but then he bursts out laughing. The laughter turns soon into a coughing fit and I go fetch water.
“You were always more of a cat person, weren’t you?” he says when he gets the coughs under control.
“Have I said that?”
“I don’t know. I feel like you have. Maybe I just imagined it.”
We fall silent. I listen to his raspy breathing. There’s also distant music from somewhere in the hotel. Maybe the bar downstairs. I expect Stephanie’s friends to still be there. Some of her younger relatives as well. It can’t be past 11 yet.
“Hey,” I hear him say.
“Are you cold?”
There’s rustling and suddenly half of the blanket is thrown over me. He moves a little closer so that we both fit under. We lie on our sides, facing each other. I search his eyes for something. For what, I’m not sure. I guess I’m starting to get quite sleepy.
“Good night, then,” he says quietly and I realise that I’d said that last part out loud.
Something possesses me and I reach out my hand to touch his cheek. He closes his eyes and I move my fingers to his forehead. There are some wrinkles there and I smooth my hand over them. Then I trace the crow’s feet at the corners of his closed eyes.
I pull my hand back and his eyes flutter open for a moment before closing again. I want to suddenly tell him that he was right earlier about me being a cat person, but I can see he’s just about to fall asleep.
In a few minutes, he’s snoring softly and I fall asleep to the sound.