This was the right angle.
He had always seen her in angles. It was something he had noticed about her from the beginning. Sometimes she looked like Rita Hayworth, black eyes and a smile that filled the room. The way her hair always seemed perfect, but just unkempt enough to be real.
But when he moved his head, she would change. He could see the deep lines in her skin, the blue and green forest of her veins. She was still beautiful, but a wholly different person.
He looked down at his hand, and curled it into a fist. His knuckles popped louder than he ever remembered. The smile fell away.
His hand seemed suddenly horrifying. Those same wrinkles, the brown spot that had recently appeared, spreading over what seemed like increasingly translucent skin. It always felt like a dream when these moments came and went, as though he had fallen asleep and woken up old.
All of his memories seemed lost in a haze, irretrievable and pointless.
“Nevermind,” he whispered.
“What was that?” She turned to him, and her eyes burrowed into his. That was the way she had. She should have looked silly, yellow gloves up to her elbows, dirty overalls hanging from her now thin frame, little rainbow bubbles disappearing in the sunlight pouring through the kitchen window behind the sink.
This was the right angle.
“I said, I love you Lilly,” and in that moment, he did, fiercely.
“That’s not what you said!” she said with her Hayworth smile.
“It is,” he replied, and rustled the lines out of his newspaper. He wanted to laugh, to show her how good his mood was, how much he meant what he said.
– – –
He clicked the light off, and closed his book. He had always enjoyed the moment when the room went dark, when the shadows pulling at the corners were set free to fill the walls. He pulled the quilt up to his chin even though it wasn’t cold, enjoying the weight of it.
He was going over the last chapter he read, wondering what he would have done in Eisenhower’s shoes.
He remembered his parents staring for hours at the television in the living room, at the somber faces and exploding shells. His dad crying over dinner, something he had never seen before, and his mother, with her long dress, low voice, and gray hair comforting him. He thought of that often; how they listened to the soft, languid sounds of jazz on the radio, how his mother and father would sometimes dance with smiles and laughter that echoed up to his bedroom. But it changed, turned somber, and even after ‘53, it was never the same.
He was nearing sleep, remembering the twirl of his mother’s dress against the Christmas lights, when Lillian spoke softly in the dark.
“When was the last time you talked to Ben?”
He forced himself awake. It had been a long time since they had talked in bed. In the early years, this is when they had talked the most, excitedly buzzed on whiskey and a haze of cigarette smoke, discussing the world and art until the sun and birdsong cracked through the window.
“I think it was…Saturday. Yeah, Saturday,” he said hesitantly.
He struggled to remember. They had spoken briefly while he had been on the porch, watching swans fly through the branches of the budding oak trees that lined their property. He hadn’t really listened, and felt bad when he hung up.
“He used to call more,” she said. “I wonder why he doesn’t call as much?”
“He’s busy. You know how it is. We were too busy to call our parents. Circle of life.”
He knew her every gesture, what her body did when she moved against the sheets. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t touching her, but he knew she was nodding.
“It’s because we’re old and boring,” she said.
“Speak for yourself,” he replied, and smiled when she chuckled. It was a good sound, one of his favorites.