Leaving The Gas On
By Lydia Trethewey
I look at the traffic piled down the highway and then glance at the clock. Ten minutes late. The shivers come up through my veins and a sickly feeling settles in the pit of my stomach. Adrian will be furious. A flutter inside the hollow cavity of my chest, impossible to place, amplifies the skittering nerves. Ten minutes. His eyes will narrow and his voice will brim with hurt.
The door opens as I struggle with the key in the lock.
Tim stands at the threshold, tall and smiling.
‘Hey Jenny,’ he says, pulling me into a hug.
I squeeze my eyes tight against the soft cotton of his chest and repeat to myself that Adrian is gone.
I chop carrots quietly at the kitchen counter. Gently Tim moves me aside to get a pan from the cupboard by my knees.
A lump slides up my throat as words try to gain traction in that deep dark tunnel.
‘I almost came home again today.’
Tim’s face radiates concern and he puts the pan down.
‘But you didn’t?’
I shake my head. His face floods with misguided relief.
‘But I almost did,’ I add, looking sideways at him. ‘I thought I left the gas on again.’
Tim’s eyes hold back an upsurge of sadness and he hugs me tightly.
‘Even if you had, it’s alright. Nothing’s going to happen.’
‘I’m sorry I was late home,’ I mumble into his shirt.
‘I said I’d be home for six.’
Tim shrugs. ‘It’s only twenty past.’
The tension in my chest holds taut, strangling my words and suffocating my relief.
Sitting in the flickering light of the TV I accidentally knock a glass of water off the table. I flinch, scrunching my face against the coming verbal onslaught, tightening into my core. Adrian will accuse me of sabotage. He will throw his eyes to the ceiling and exhale darkly. He will get a mop and thrust it angrily against the broken glass, missing most of it, and then he’ll retreat into a sulk.
But none of this happens. Adrian is some place far away, occupied in a new life. Tim doesn’t mind about the glass and sweeps it up with a dustpan. Still, I find it hard to breath. The old reality of Adrian intrudes on the present.
‘Look at that sunset,’ I say as I wash the dishes.
Through the kitchen window a flood of orange and yellow splashes across the surfaces of plates and bowls.
‘Mmmhmm,’ says Adrian, not looking up from his phone.
‘It’s beautiful,’ says Tim, filling his eyes with clouds and sky.
He breathes in and seems to fill with colour. I smile and feel a passage opening between us.
‘It’s happening more,’ I say as we lie in bed.
Tim looks helpless, and snakes his hand across the sheets to rub my arm.
‘The idea of the past. It’s always there. I know that he’s gone, but somehow I can’t feel it.’
I roll onto my back.
‘I’m at work and suddenly I panic and think the gas is still on. Or that I haven’t locked the front door. And I know that I have, but I can’t make myself believe it. I can’t remember properly. And I forget where I am and what’s going on.’
Tim holds me close and we sink together into the warm silence of night.
The bright green digits on the alarm clock read 23:46. I cross the threshold into wakefulness, groggy and sweating. Bits of my dreams cling to the back of my brain. The sheets press me down, damp and hot.
My chest is tight. An unbearable ache radiates through my jaw, like it’s been filled with molten lead. It traces a path up the back of my skull, threatening to split it open. Invisible shards of glass pierce my bones up and down my torso, my shoulders limp, my body numb. I fling one arm sideways and wake Tim, who rouses blindly into the darkened room. My eyes fall closed.
Tim is standing by the bed, a different bed, made up with crisp white sheets and the smell of chemicals.
‘Jenny?’ he whispers, grabbing my loose hand and clenching it tightly.
‘It was only a very mild attack. Has she been stressed lately?’ a man in white asks.
My shirt feels like it’s made of tissue paper and my head is swimming somewhere around the ceiling.
Adrian is dismissive. He sulks and says I’m not that sick. He complains that nobody ever asks him if he’s stressed.
But he’s not really here.
Tim squeezes my hand and the room shifts back into focus. Something in my chest loosens, breathed out through a sigh. I squeeze back. Tim smiles and wipes an errant tear from his eye.