He took his finger and ran it over the desk top. Dust was collected. On the bookshelf someone had drawn a heart with an arrow through it in the dust. Placing the initials J and M on top of it.
There was saw dust on the hardwood floor. Piles of it. There was a table saw over in the corner and a sledgehammer up against the dull white wall. Sheets of drywall were off to the side by the windows. This project was taking too long.
It was in the spring of last year when he started. Knocking out walls, tearing apart bathrooms, remodeling the kitchen. All because she wanted this done. She wanted this old house to be cured of it’s disease. Brought back to life. Modernized.
She told him whatever it takes. Just fix it. Make it liveable. He always thought it was. He liked the old woodwork of the house. He liked it’s creaks when he walked on the floors. Liked the wooden flush boxes above the toilets. He would often hide his bottles behind them. She knew they were there. Never said anything about it till she left. Then she let everything spill. His drinking, womanizing, gambling, God knows what else. She said he wasn’t fit to be a husband. He agreed.
All this time they were playing house. No kids, just two dogs. The wife would take them for walks in the evening to get away from him. She would go on trips throughout the year without him. Always saying she needed time alone. That’s when his affairs started. She’d leave town and he’d hit the bars in search of blondes, brunettes, red heads, white women, black women, it didn’t matter. He was not choosey. Anything to get him through the night.
She used to call him from the road. Check in. See how he was doing. After a while those calls stopped. Or, she’d call in the middle of the night and hang up.
Alone, she would lie there in her hotel bed talking to the television. Having conversations with Tom Snyder, or, Larry King. She kept the sound down and mumbled to herself.
Do you love me, Larry? she’d ask. Do you still find me attractive Mr. King? The middle-aged wife would talk till she fell asleep. Saying goodnight to her television lovers had become a ritual. It was the only thing in life she looked forward to. Her misery was always on her sleeve.
So, at the age of forty-five she left him and the house that was falling apart. Headed for the West Coast. She wound up in Oregon. Lived in cheap hotel rooms. Continued her affairs with Tom and Larry. Some said she’d gone crazy. Others said she’d had enough.
And he never finished fixing the old house. He sold it. Took a loss. Wandered around aimlessly from town to town till he got to Oregon. Wound up in the same small town she was in. Their paths never crossed. She never enetered his mind. And he was just a ghost from the past.