When she isn’t sick, he doesn’t fear death / as much as the life to come and all the nights they’d sit in silence, / half-a-couch-cushion-away, as she scrolls hundreds of shows and movies / that would make her forget. They never do / feel any less close to memory because their story, the man realizes, / doesn’t need imagination to live. It is written in their bones, / their stares-to-nowhere, his sighs as she asks him, Please, can you stay with me / until I fall asleep? which never comes / soon enough for the man, waiting as he does for that first snore, / that one last turn from her left-side to her right, she now facing / the window and the lamppost and the moon and stars so far beyond them / that he mistakes what’s human-made for real light. But at least she’s not / facing him anymore. She is not breathing on or near him, / she is not whispering the sounds of her body in his ear, she is / silent, or at least he cannot hear, or he can / ignore what noise bubbles up from within her now.
For all his life, he has known silence / as peace, as reward for a day done well / or lived through. The quiet after everyone else has gone / to sleep fills him like it never has her. He lays next to her and wanders / his way through another ten minutes, fifteen. He plans / the boy’s lunch, the following day’s teaching, how he will pretend / to be asleep if she wakes and asks him for water, a blanket, / a reassurance she won’t have to do this again. He plans for silence / and remembers his mother, how when she had to live / with her grown-sister and did anything wrong, / the woman-who-should-have-known-better would stop talking to her. A few days / would become a week or more, this treatment a punishment / she couldn’t bear.
But the man? The man could do a week standing on his head. / The man has never needed to talk. In college, he’d go that long / or longer without saying more than what he’d like from the dining hall— / Hamburger, please or Pepperoni pizza, please or, if he was chatty, / I’ll have the chicken, thank you— / and he survived well enough, he supposes.
This explains a lot about the man, though / this is not something he’s ever told the woman. / She knows what he is and what he will never be, / but it doesn’t mean the silence between them / isn’t his way of punishing her, whether he means to or not. / That as he slips from their bed, avoiding each creaky board, / it doesn’t mean the click of latch against strike plate / doesn’t make her stir, grateful for a moment that he has broken / the silence only to know he is on the other side of the door / and disappearing farther and farther away.
Michael Levan has work in recent or forthcoming issues of Heavy Feather Review, Lost Balloon, Hippocampus Magazine, Laurel Review, and The Rupture. He is an Associate Professor of English and lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife, Molly, and children, Atticus, Dahlia, and Odette.