Through Thin Air

by | Aug 9, 2022 | Fiction, Issue Twenty-Eight

The first time Cade noticed his wife’s waning presence was the day after their sixth anniversary, which he had forgotten, again, despite multiple reminders on his calendar and his phone. He had been really busy at the hospital — there was a multicar crash around noon — and by the time he got a chance to check his phone it was already ten at night, and he had missed the reservation, the kind that had to be made months in advance, the kind that his wife Janine really looked forward to.
Janine was in bed when he arrived home, and when he called her name softly she said nothing, but he knew she was awake because he knew exactly how her body moved when she was deep asleep, and how it moved when she was waking up, and he recognized her shallow breaths when she lay quiet but alert, as she was right at that moment, wishing to be left alone, folding inward, away from him. She lay on her right side, one bare arm exposed to the pale moonlight coming in through the window, and he was struck by the shade, the shade of her shoulder whose outline was so familiar, the shade that had no trace of blood, no resemblance to flesh, and instead reminded Cade of a slab of gray stone, the kind that gets erected to mark a grave in a cemetery.
The following morning, Janine acted as if nothing was wrong, and swiftly accepted his apology for missing dinner like it was just any day and any meal, simply one more late night in the life of a surgeon. She poured them both coffee and nodded patiently as he spoke at great length about that multicar crash that had kept him away, interlaced fingers beneath her chin and a small beatific smile on her lips, and everything seemed like it was perfect, like there was nothing to worry about, except Cade couldn’t help but notice that the entirety of her left arm and shoulder, down to the sternum in the front and, he imagined, down to beneath the shoulder blade in the back, had gotten sallow and gray, not exactly like stone, as he had thought the night before in the moonlight, but as if it had been replaced by thick gray smoke captured within a glass container. He could see the dense clouds eddying through the outline of her body, large movements following her inhales and exhales, small ones after she smiled or raised an eyebrow, but he said nothing about it, because how do you bring up with your wife that her side has become a shadow?
Days passed, and Janine remained as she was that morning after the missed anniversary dinner, so Cade accepted that she would now have a gray arm. She didn’t seem to notice and neither did anyone else, except whenever he tried to touch her on that side, it was as if his fingers moved through wisps of air. Another man might believe he was losing his mind, but not Cade, for he believed his eyes and his common sense, and he knew that whatever this was, it was real, if perhaps for his eyes alone, but since Janine didn’t bring anything up, he wouldn’t either, because other than her gray shoulder, their life was as it had always been, which suited him just fine, and he was never one to question the good things coming his way.
And plenty of good things came Cade’s way. He was aware of them, and deep down he believed he deserved every single one of them. Not only did he believe himself entitled to the life’s best bounty, he liked to imagine himself just and worthy and humble, something that Janine used to roll her eyes at and tease him about, but, if he were honest, he could not remember the last time she had. In any case, he thought he lived, for the most part, like someone to be admired.
Which is why he was proud of himself for keeping it in his pants after he got married. Well, for the most part. He was quite certain no one knew about him and Maia, a nurse from pediatrics. They were both married and they’d been seeing each other since before Janine and before Maia’s husband. They’d always been discreet, and their biweekly trysts were something they always did for themselves, for years now, and he’d convinced himself it was not anything that hurt Janine, it was just like a poker night, or whatever the hell fantasy football was, just a harmless hobby he’d enjoyed forever and had no intention of quitting for his wife.
He came home one day in mid-afternoon, right after his scheduled morning romp with Maia – they liked to do it after they had the night shift, to strip off the fatigue from their bodies and allow the sweat and movement to shake loose the joy of simple laughter, something too easy to bury beneath the weight of their patients’ woes. He expected to come back to an empty home because Janine would be at work. Only he didn’t, and she wasn’t.
Janine sat on their white sofa in the living room, used tissues on the coffee table before her, her legs covered in pajamas, a tank top with thin straps over her torso, the burgundy one he really liked, only her arms and her neck and her face, the ankles and feet peering from her pants, everything had been replaced by smoke, smoke dull and dark and swirling, swirling like a raging storm, swirling like his deepest terrors, like he was too late, like Janine was gone. He reached out to touch her shoulder, and his fingers swiped through thin air.

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