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The punishing morning air


by Tara Isabel Zambrano

I turn on the faucet to wash my face, the water is icy cold. The heater isn’t working again. It is 4:35 AM and Lisa is asleep: her slim belly heaving with every intake of breath, her arm extended to my side of the bed, her teeth grinding. I make my way towards the side table, grab the flash light and tiptoe towards the attic. Last night when I saw her she still had her makeup on, the smudging kohl under her remarkable blue eyes, the burnt orange colored lipstick on her thin lips, her white shirt tucked in her high-waisted pencil skirt as if her put together appearance made her acceptable. And now, I am seized by the desire to wake her up, and shout, this is your fault. Instead, I pull out the steps, hold the rails and climb slowly, and find the switch for the light. There are cardboard boxes everywhere. Reluctance and old books, music CDs and wedding gifts we never opened.

My best friend, Tom, tells me to move on. You are miserable with her, he says. I nod my head; drink my beer. I tell him, it’d be worse without her. You got to try, man, he keeps telling me. 

Twelve years this December. Three scrapbooks full of sticky notes, letters and B&W pictures. The undisputed shades of gray, Lisa calls them. No kids but a house perched squarely on a low hill and a dog. A circle of comfort around us. Plenty to argue and plenty to make up for. So why another man, I have asked her before and I want to keep asking. Why?

Mad. The thing that rolls in my head, repetitive. My mind running back and forth in some terrible groove. I check the heater, the valves, and the gauge. I switch it to the OFF position, and then back ON. Nothing hums. I decide to call the electrician. Then I step back and stay there thinking of going skiing in the Poconos. Maybe Hawaii for a week, my toes buried in the sand next to the crashing waves listening to the radio tuned to the songs I haven’t heard in a while and searching for a safe place to bury something. A place I’d remember later. 

I am still dreaming of the wet light, the sea pushing against the cliff as I come down the stairs, turn on the coffee machine. As I make breakfast – scrambled eggs with a side of steamed asparagus, her favorite. As I divide The New York Times: Fashion & Style for her, the rest for me. When she comes in the kitchen: her robe tight across her waist, her hair up in a knot, I look away and realize the green in the wallpaper had faded due to years of sunlight. 

Do you want some coffee, she asks.

No, I say and get up from my chair. I feel like hitting her, hitting myself, break this wall of fake politeness.

How long are you going to keep punishing me? She starts crying.

I look up at the ceiling as if I am going to come up with an answer. I don’t know. I don’t have a deadline. There is nothing else for me to do but wait. And I start crying too.

Lisa restrains her sniffling and picks up a plate, serves veggies and eggs and gives it to me, her hands slightly shaking, matching the tremors in my heart. When our eyes meet, she smiles weakly and a bit of sadness recedes from her eyes. 

Tara Isabel Zambrano lives in Texas with her husband and two teenage kids. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Moon City Review, Devil’s Lake, Parcel, Juked and others. She is an Electrical Engineer by profession and likes to read three books at the same time

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