Chapter 31: Ephesians 5:28
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
The artifacts lie strewn about the ottoman in a makeshift collage, freed from their garage crypt to resurrect memories sufficient enough to ensure a debate on their continued existence. Having survived the perusal of one set of eyes, they patiently await the scrutiny of another. From his perch on a worn leather nail-head couch, he gazes out the picture window to see the tree’s naked limbs shivering in the wind, and then he looks at his watch and takes in the wood slowly burning in the red brick fireplace at his left. He exhales impatiently and imagines that his breath is controlling the fire’s gesticulations, its beckoning motions, its waves of disapproval, its leaps of faith, its sparks of ambition. To his right in the foyer, a key turns, the door creaks at length, and a frigid gust disrupts a newspaper that had a place of honor at his right on the couch; it rustles and briefly appears to take wing, before landing on the carpet near his feet.
“Well, look what the wind blew in,” he greets her arrival, gets up to meet her halfway into the living room, squeezes her to him, and kisses her on one of her apple red cheeks, a validation that she answers with an exaggerated shiver, her head pressed into his chest, her arms looped around him.
“What have you got here?” she asks, segueing from the affection and drawing her attention to the ottoman. She begins taking off her ski jacket, mittens, and woolen cap, revealing blue medical scrubs, all of which she hastily throws on the Lazy Boy chair which rests perpendicular to the couch and to her immediate left. “Oh, my God!” she exclaims excitedly. Where did you find these?” She greedily scoops up several pictures and arranges them like a poker hand.
“I’ve been cleaning out the garage and looking for crap to throw away and came upon stuff from our college days. I thought you might want to see them before…”
“Before what?” she feigns anger, big brown eyes peering at him over the hand. “I’ll find a scrapbook or album for these. They’re not going anywhere. Oh, my God! Look at these!”
She picks out and presents him with a group picture, the crease of her smile spreading and expanding so that it pulls in happiness and brings light to her eyes like curtains opening to a beautiful day. “This must have been from one of our floor parties,” she guesses. “Look at how young we were! Look how skinny you were! Look; there’s us, John and Mary, and yuck, do you remember this guy?” She points to a pony-tailed, long-haired man whose face is worn enough to look out-of-place among the young people.
“Yeah, boy did he have us fooled for a while,” he agrees, and then he picks up a laminated yellow card that has the words Press Pass written on it. “Hey, remember this?”
She takes the card from him and laughs as they continue their game of Fish. “How many events did you get into using this card, even after it expired? I always wondered what kind of journalist you might have become.”
“Well, I’ve made a pretty good teacher over the years,” he says as he folds his arms across his plaid shirt and looks away from her, his skeptical forehead furrowing into thick salt and pepper hair.
She does not respond, appearing to be fully engrossed in the other items on the ottoman but keeping him in her peripheral vision until, “Come here, you nerd.” She hugs him to her, pressing her head into his chest and kissing it. “You’ve made a pretty good everything in my life. How about this one?” She returns to the task at-hand, holding a picture of the two of them in a dorm room, both in blue jeans and yellow university t-shirts, arms around each other’s waists, she leaning her body into his and smiling for the camera, he smiling because he has a fistful of her behind in his hand. Yeah, he remembers that one! “Most of these things are at least 30 years old. I can’t believe we’ve made it this far and how fast it’s all gone by. Do you think our girls are as crazy as we were?”
He starts laughing. “I hope they are every bit as crazy as you were because that means that they’ll get what they want out of life.”
As they continue through the assortment of items, one stands out prominently. It is a campus post card featuring a bridge over a small body of water. She holds it so they both can see, and a small tear trickles down her cheek. He wipes it away with his thumb and kisses her where it had been, sitting her on the couch and holding her closely. Laughing and sniffling, she reaches for another item that catches her eye. It is a crystal ball depicting a winter scene with a couple in a horse drawn carriage. She shakes it and says, “They think it might snow this weekend if you can believe that, and it’s only November. I definitely want to keep this on our Christmas shelf this year.” She leans back on him, shakes the crystal a few more times, and watches the frozen scene come to life, the fire’s light finding expression in her misted over eyes.
In the near dusk, the remnants of the sun filter a burnt orange through the picture window and give the room a dream-like presence, airborne particles of late fall dust clinging to the beam, twinkling and flurrying like confetti. Her fingertips graze a heart locket that rests over her sweater and captures and refracts the sun’s rays as if to hypnotize time. Her gray roots in need of a touch up disappear, leaving only her light brown lush hair for his fingers to explore. The tiny crow’s feet and smile creases have never detracted from her prettiness over time but rather have provided deserving frames for her eyes and smile. Nevertheless, for this moment, they too are softened out of existence by the arrival of this strange luminescence that makes her appear as she had when they first met. He grows nostalgic as he feels her hand patting his stomach that has developed some modest prosperity over the years, and they both close their eyes to conjure memories to add life to those left on the ottoman.
There exists a nameless bridge that crosses over to a place of knowledge and love, but only for those whose internal clocks have a setting for forever. The place has no houses, only homes, none of which are for sale. The image is so guarded that it is contained within a crystal ball where chimneys share a smoke with winter, and street lamps fight for space with dusk. Rivers there are framed by the branches of deciduous trees and hibernate beneath thick blankets of ice, and these images live outside picture windows where holiday lights flicker like the fireplace flames that warm the inside.
She sits leaning her back into his chest, and he wraps his arms around her for the type of warmth that doesn’t come from a fireplace. His chin gently rests on her head as he takes in the smell of her hair and enjoys her closeness. The flames crackle around the logs, and outside, billowy clouds dominate the horizon like majestic mountains. The sun reappears just long enough to tip its hat and bow as the snow begins to fall.
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