by Joanne Comito

You wake up thinking of water. You open your eyes and squint; the sun is unrelenting, shining in through the front window, hard and bright. Every inch of your body feels pummeled and tender and you wince as you sit up.

You don’t see him at first, but you catch his smell—stale smoke and sweat. Every inch of the filthy room, the hard dirty floor where you slept, is exposed, and you feel overcome by nausea. You touch your cheekbone — it feels warm and raw and you wonder if anything’s broken but it doesn’t matter right now as much as the water. You stand, swaying and dizzy, breathing slowly till your head clears and then you start moving.

As you drink, you imagine yourself stepping into the midday sun, taking the car, just leaving. You see yourself as a normal person, a person who wakes before noon, a person whose body is clear and smooth and painless. There are the keys; it would be easy, you think, and you feel suddenly buoyant with possibility. You see your purse and your pulse quickens, but you stop first and look, to make sure he’s sleeping. Just quickly, you steal a look, and he’s still lying there, heavy and unmoving, near the couch. There’s something funny about the way his body looks, though, and quietly, you move closer.

He’s so still. You lean in, folding over him to listen, to watch his chest. Breathe, Billy, you think, poking at him now with one finger. He just lies there, stiff almost, and then you see it—the gun, just a few feet away. You can imagine its feel, its cool smoothness in your palm and now your heart is beating fast, so fast you can’t think. You try to go back, to make your mind work, but it’s not coming and you start muttering, “Oh Jesus, Oh God, Billy, wake up, please wake up!” You’re trying to turn him over to see where the blood is, to find a bullet hole, but he’s so heavy he falls back with a small thud and you lay your head down on his still chest, begging him to please, please just wake up.

That’s when the hand grabs you and you rear back in shock. It’s him, alive, that face laughing up at you. “Fooled ya, didn’t I?” His breath is foul with last night’s gin and his eyes are small with scorn. For a minute you’re stunned and still but then relief, sweet and fast, shoots through you. Your body slumps down next to his, you feel him breathing, feel his warmth, and you think, of course, he’s warm. Of course.

He grabs your arm, hard. “Say it.”

“I can’t live without you,” you answer. He loosens his grip, laughing again, and you lie there, your eyes closed against the hard light of the sun, knowing that it’s true.