I hum softly to myself as I place fat ivory candles around the foyer.
Right now the house is still suffused with the deep purple color of late dusk. But soon the sun will set completely, and the only light will come from the candles I set aflame, one by one. They glow softly against the dark wood, each shade bringing out the other. At this time in the evening, with the drapes drawn wide, the cream-colored walls look rich enough to taste; the china sits buttery smooth against the antique lace of the tablecloth.
How different my taste has grown over the years. I close my eyes briefly, remembering our first house in Pawtucket, with the pale-peach walls and the beige Formica table in the hall. I fancied it looking like marble, then.
I lit candles there too. Long tapered ones in deep vibrant autumn colors, forest green and mulberry and dark orange. They had been a wedding gift, though I can no longer remember from whom. Slowly I walked through the first floor, touching match to wick as the setting sun stole whatever light had been seeping through the open curtains.
When his key touched the lock I was ready. A glass of red wine in hand, its deep shades complementing the candles, I tucked my hair demurely behind my ear.
I was so young. I wondered: would my heart always skip a beat when I heard that familiar metal click? The heavy oak door swung open and there he was.
My Ted. Teddy. He even resembled a teddy bear sometimes, with his head of so-thick brown curls that I loved to run my hands through, and a matching patch on his broad chest.
(Sometimes though he was less of a teddy and more of a grizzly bear; those deep brown eyes would get all grim and dark and determined. And he would growl.)
But the man on the doorstep was my Teddy bear, solid and warm as I cast aside the wineglass in a most unladylike manner and threw myself at him.
We’d been married four months—127 days to be exact—and not one of those nights had I let him across the threshold before I leapt on him for a kiss. I just didn’t have that much self-control.
One broad arm wrapped around my waist, lifting me off my feet enough for him to maneuver both of us through the doorway and into the house, never taking his lips off mine.
Finally he set me down; my mouth was swollen from the dizzying kisses. If this was marriage, I didn’t know how I’d managed to wait two decades for it.
He slipped his coat off and reached for the light switch.
My heart skipped a beat and this time not from the promise of my handsome lover.
“Ted!” I put a hand over his. “Don’t…”
He looked quizzically at me.
I gestured into the living room, watching him take in the multitude of flickering candles, the table set for two, the romantic ambience I’d created especially for him.
“What’s this?” He asked, a smile spreading across his face.
“It’s dinner,” I said, almost shyly.
“Wow,” he said, and the way he looked at me made me blush. “All this for me?”
I nodded, and reaching up to run my hands along his shoulders, slip off his coat. I hung it in the hall closet and tucked my arm into his, leading him into the living room.
“Hungry?” I asked him, letting my voice sound a bit suggestive as I tried to sit him down at the table.
“It’s so dark,” he said, sounding a bit confused. “How can you see?”
“It’s romantic,” I informed him. “See the candles?”
“The candles are beautiful,” he said immediately. “And the china.”
Our good wedding china. White, edged with bas-relief ribboning.
(How beautiful I thought it was!)
“Let me just put the light on for a minute,” he said, and before I could stop him – he moved lightening-quick, my Ted, for such a big man – he was flicking the hall switch, once, then a few more times when nothing happened.
“Tor? What’s wrong with the lights?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Why do you think I would know?” I smoothed my skirt with slightly damp fingers.
“Did the bulb blow?” He strode into the kitchen, flipped the switch in there, walked back out looking disturbed. “None of the lights turns on,” he reported. “What’s going on?”
Yes, I knew that. My stomach had sunk at the realization, but I’d struggled to create a distractingly romantic atmosphere. Candles, fine wine…electric lights were a luxury anyway.
“I don’t know!” I repeated. “Why are you asking me?”
“You’ve been here longer than I have,” he said reasonably, frowning. “Did they work when you got home?”
“I don’t remember…”
“You don’t remember?”
“I don’t think they did,” I said slowly. “No, now that I think of it, they didn’t.”
He flicked the switch again, dark brows knitting together. “Torrance…you did pay the electric bill this month, right?”
I swallowed hard. It was a question I had been asking myself, not unexpected at all.
I had paid it. A few days overdue, but it was paid. Still I’d felt slightly faint the last couple hours in the growing darkness of the house, no idea what was keeping the lights from turning on.
I blamed myself, maybe. But it was different for HIM to blame me.
“Of course I paid it.”
He touched the light switch again, drew a breath. “Did you call the electric company?”
“No. It’s not my fault!”
“I didn’t say it was, I just—”
“You think I can’t handle anything! You think I can’t even pay ONE bill on time!”
“Tor, I’m not saying that, calm down,” he put a hand on my arm and I shook it off.
“For your information I can and DO pay bills when they need to be paid!” I snapped.
“I know that,” he pacified. “Although you know there was an overdue notice last month….”
“I can’t believe you’re bringing that up!” Tears of anger filled my eyes. “That was over two months ago!”
“All right, I’m sorry, but Tor, I’m just curious if we need to call an electrician or if—”
“You think I can’t pay anything on time. You probably think I can’t DO anything. Something goes wrong and you think it’s my fault! I know how to run a house! YOU obviously don’t trust me!” I was shouting by the end of my speech.
It was SO unfair.
Who did he think he was? This was my house too and I loved it and I could too take care of it. He had zero faith in me, he’d proven it now!
He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, and I tried not to be distraction by those big, thick-knuckled hands and the so familiar, so soft locks of hair they pushed aside. “Tor, I walk in here and the lights don’t work and you won’t tell me why, all I did was ask whether you’d paid the bill—a perfectly natural question considering your track record!”
“Oh, so it’s my track record now?” I cried, blazing. “You think I can’t do anything! Oh, that’s just wonderful! I don’t know why I bother with you, Ted Anderson, if you think I’m such a big mess!”
“That’s not what I said; calm down, Tor…”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” I raged. I knew this would happen! He thought I couldn’t run a house! Now he would want to move out, find a wife who paid her bills on time and didn’t have to resort to candles to light her home.
He stood there so big and calm and placating, hands out, and it just made me madder.
“I’ll have you know I paid that bill and I resent the implication that I wouldn’t! How dare you accuse me of that?”
I was too far gone to hear him. All the old feelings of insecurity came rushing back. I wasn’t good enough for him. Not responsible enough. He’d be better off with a woman who kept lists…clipped coupons…piled up neatly stacked recipe boxes and paid her bills on time. He was sick of me already!
Before I knew what I was doing I grabbed a dinner plate off the table and hurled it in his general direction.
It shocked me as much as him to see it crash loudly to the floor, splintering in half.
For a moment we just stared at each other.
Then he started toward me.
Reflexively I shrieked and prepared to run.
He was going to kill me!
Good God, how well did I even KNOW this man? We’d only lived together four months!
Spinning on my heel, I bolted from the room, racing toward the stairs.
(Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice shrieked at me: NO, Torrance! Haven’t you seen any horror movies? You never run UP the stairs! Then they trap you up there and there’s no way down!)
I tore up the stairs anyway and swung around the corner into our bedroom, slamming the door shut. Then I leaned against it for good measure.
I could hear Ted following me up the stairs.
I leaned harder on the door.
He reached the bedroom, knocked sharply. “Torrance, let me in!”
“No! Get away!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, a small part of me wondering what the neighbors must be thinking.
Maybe they would come rescue me! I hoped they would, I could DIE up here!
I carried on shrieking as the doorknob turned under my fingers and Ted pushed himself against the door. My weight was no match for his bulk and the door slid slowly, inexorably open; I staggered back a few steps as I was pushed by the opening door.
It couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds but it all seemed to happen in slow motion. I was howling like a banshee and before I knew what had happened Ted had grabbed me, pulled us both over to the bed. His large hand was suddenly whacking across my bottom, which had somehow ended up over his lap.
I was too stunned to react as his hand whacked down, again and again. To my surprise I stopped yelling, felt the rage drain out of me, and then it was over almost as quickly as it had begun.
I found myself sitting across from him on the bed, far more shocked than hurt, eyes wide as I tried to figure out what had just happened.
Then the words came pouring out. I was sorry for throwing the plate at him. But I was sensitive about how I kept the house, he knew that. I did pay the bills on time, or closer to on time that I had in the past. He was sorry for being insensitive about my improvements. He never doubted my ability to run a home smoothly—no, beautifully. Why hadn’t I called the electrician? I was worried it was my fault. That was all right; we would call the electrician first thing in the morning.
The talk spilled out. He trusted me, he hadn’t meant to doubt me. I trusted him, didn’t I? I did.
Then we just stared at each other, as if daring each other to mention IT.
“You are an overbearing caveman,” I informed him finally, my voice a bit shaky, heart still beating quickly from the struggle at the door.
“And you are an unreasonable banshee,” he retorted, his breath still a little unsteady from the exertion.
And then I laughed.
And then he laughed.
We stared at each other across the bed.
I don’t remember who lunged at the other first.
We tore at restrictive garments like starving men at a packet of rations, gasping for breath, adrenaline still coursing through our veins. He covered my neck with biting kisses, making me cry out as I ripped at the buttons of his shirt. We were shipwrecked sailors, washed up on some frightening shore, desperate to commemorate our survival with the most life-affirming act we knew. His fingers tangled in my hair and I gasped as he thrust against me. I was dizzy, I was swirling, I had never felt anything like this. I glowed from head to foot, every inch of me tingled with anticipation, muscles trembling with exertion.
Barely thirty minutes later, exhausted, sated, I dozed naked in the pitch dark of the bedroom, Ted’s breathing comfortingly heavy and steady next to me.
I thought he was asleep.
“You know something, Tor,” he mused then as if it had just occurred to him. “That was our good wedding china.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll only throw the fiesta ware at you from now on.”
In the blackness of the bedroom I couldn’t see his hand rise and fall, but that didn’t stop me from feeling it land across my bottom.
A familiar sounds startles me out of my memory.
It is his key turning in the lock. A soft metallic click, similar to the sound the door to the fuse box made not an hour before. I wait, one hand curled around a glass of blush wine, the other clenched at my side, for him to open the door.
My heart skips a beat.
The door swings wide and there he is. I let my gaze slide over him. His bear-brown curls are threaded through a bit now with silver, and the lines around his eyes—worry lines and laugh lines, both courtesy of me, he likes to say—just make him look more handsome and distinguished.
I catch his tie with one hand and pull him over the threshold into the house, standing on tiptoe to reach his mouth. His kiss starts out cool from the night air; it warms up quickly as I deepen the contact, exploring his mouth with mine. I have been kissing this mouth for two decades now but that doesn’t make the explorations any less enticing. I catch his lower lip gently between my teeth, nibble softly, release it.
“That’s quite a welcome,” he says appreciatively, eyes still half-closed as I pull away. The candles flicker in the dim hallway and I watch his expression change slightly, turn knowing, as he takes in the décor. “And quite an ambience,” he adds, his voice growing heavy in that way that still sends the heat coursing right through my body.
I reach for him again and he tips me backward deliciously. “Where are the kids?” he growls, brushing early evening stubble across my neck, making me shiver.
“Grandma’s,” I answer slyly.
He grins, starts to unbutton his coat and reaches automatically for the light switch; when nothing happens he flicks it again a few times.
“Tor?” he asks; the candles reflect, flickering, in his dark-chocolate eyes. “What’s wrong with the lights?”
I slip my hands inside his open coat and give him my sweetest smile, the one he says still looks exactly the way it did on our wedding day.
“I have absolutely no idea.”