But that morning I didn’t pay him any attention. Not until the refrigerator door sucked open—a giant jaw that flooded the dim kitchen
with light—and snapped back with bottles clanking against each other.
A magnet slid off, and the school calendar fluttered to the floor. I sat
up straight and watched his reflection in the darkened window in front
of me. His movements, everything, suddenly felt hard and extra loud.
Abrasive. Chair legs scraped against the oak floor, his combat boots
thunked to the floor, and he grunted as he sat.
A cold draft seeped behind me. It was from the broken mudroom
door. I rose from my chair to slide his heavy farm boots in front of it.
During his last deployment, it had stopped latching properly, and the
official doorstop became whichever pair of boots he wasn’t wearing.
“Are you okay?” I remember asking him.
“Fine,” he said, crouched over, tucking one camouflaged pant leg into
the high upper of his combat boot. He zipped the laces through the top
holes as he pulled and tucked with callous, mindless efficiency.
I stood by the door and waited.
“You know,” I said, “if you’re not ready to go back to work today, then
you’re not ready.” It had only been a week since his ear surgery. The boys
at the AASF could certainly make do without him one more day. “Fuck
’em,” I said with a shrug.
He switched feet and tucked and zipped and pulled. As he reached
down, the fabric of his uniform buckled in starchy folds under his armpits and along his ribs. “No,” he said and sat up, slouching against the
back of the chair. “I’m ready.” Bright white cotton balls protruded from
his ear, still catching some drainage, and I wondered if he was lying to
“Just stay home one more day,” I said.
He stood, zipped his fleece coat to cut the early-morning chill, and
slung his lunch over his shoulder. He picked up his coffee mug and
paused and looked into my eyes.
I stole a glance at the clock. He was way ahead of normal. He never
ran this much ahead of schedule. But his eyes never broke from their
path, and I turned back to meet them again.
“What,” I whispered. It was a statement and a question.
He fiddled with the knob to the broken door.
I had to leave the house that morning too. But before I left, I heard the
mudroom door open again. I turned in expectation, thinking he had