What Makes Us Fine
Racheline Maltese

"I would like to be able to have an uninterrupted conversation in private with my wife somewhere other than a hotel bathroom," I bellow.

Dana makes a tired, breathy noise that's nearly a laugh.

I sigh. "Sorry."

"Don't, I agree," she says, placid as ever.

"You have a wife?" I joke, calming myself by recalling all the refuges of this particular trip - a clouded medicine chest mirror in London, floor tiles speckled with ancient black paint in Paris, the moldy blue tinge of Florentine grout. I find it the only way to track days in this blur of a poorly planned vacation sandwiched between her award, a conference and my impending book tour of dubious wisdom.

"Let me shower, and then we'll have a day. Just us, no mobiles," she says, kissing me on the forehead before strolling into the bathroom.

I adore her, consider following her, but the phone rings, and I grit my teeth. "If that's your assistant -"

"I'll kill her myself," Dana calls from the shower, water clearly cheering her.

I love her, and I laugh, but it's friends of dubious origin from the France trip. I'm glad there's a border between us now; I even tell them as much.

"What was that?" she asks, voice muffled by her toothbrush as her free hand struggles with the last of the suds in her artificially blonde tresses.

"Just Jack. They're thinking of coming over. Can't get away 'til the weekend though."

She spits. "We're gone Thursday."

"My thoughts exactly," I say examining the deepening wrinkles around my eyes in the mirror. "How did I age twenty years all at once?" I ask, distracted by my own poking and prodding.

"'It's what happens to men," she says, rinsing her hair out properly now.

There's a playground next door, and a father yelling at his son in pitch-perfect deep growl. The language is different, but the name more or less the same, and so I just nod to Dana, distracted with the knowledge that cruelty is often what makes us fine.

She shuts off the shower, squeezes the excess water from her hair and then steps onto the cold tile grimacing as her feet find traces of sand from yesterdays beach trip. She wraps a damp arm around my waist and kisses my shoulder; it's as high as she can reach.

"Love you," she says.

I'm about to reply. But the phone rings, and we freeze, lock startled eyes in the mirror and start laughing, at first just breathy as if in secret, but then giggles that turn to peels, seemingly echoing off the steamy tiles.

"I got the last one," I say and shove her away gently.

First published: May 2005
comments to the writer: Knob'sWriter@iceflow.com