In Absentia
A Short Story by K. L. Tabor
Written using the suggestion "Occupation"
Originally featured on 02-23-2010
As part of our series "The Things We Change When We Want To Make That Big Change"

After dinner, after dishes, after evening things that are, are done. Sitting on a couch as a summer night grows dark. A white slip cover with ties at the corner. She’s forty- three and tall with broad shoulders looking out the window. “I’m pretending that the traffic is the ocean,” she says, to him across the room, looking at his shoes.

 

His jeans are on. Blue jeans and Tuesday, with white around the knees. Wednesday pants are different. Forty-five and pants and habit and empty spaces in the room. He sits down and takes up his book. And hearing nothing says to her, “Do you know that we’ve been here nine months, and we don’t know any of our neighbors?” She nods, and he remembers that they used to know Kim, with white blond hair that wore socks on her wrists and would lean out of her apartment window when they walked by and say things about the other neighbors and her boyfriend who was in a band. But then Kim moved back east to be closer to family, and it’s true that they didn’t know anyone anymore. Not that they had even really known Kim. But her boyfriend was a drummer and she hated tomatoes and in lack of anyone else or anything else, that felt like intimate knowledge.

 

It is her turn again.

 

She turns from the window where the ocean still hums, saying to the room, “Sometimes I like to sit on the porch and imagine myself as an old man with an old beard that grows to the floor. I imagine that the beard grows so long that I rock over it with my chair, back and forth, back and forth, and the whiskers play a song on the wood like violin strings bowed softly.”

 

He thumbs the spine of his book and replies, “It’s funny how my fingers know where all the keys are on my keyboard when I type. You know? Have you ever thought that? I like watching them spell out the words I’m saying as I think them in my head. And I think it’s interesting, like how did they decide to make the keyboards the way they are? Is it because they put letters together that naturally group together, or did they test a bunch of people and decide to go with the design that was best, or was it just a random power play? Invention really is power. Have you ever thought about that?” He asks, but doesn’t look. His mind on a keyboard and his wife on a couch. And again it’s her turn.

 

“I don’t like being married.”

 

A small slip.

 

The room is quiet now. The man with brown hands from working outside and his Tuesday pants on says, “What?” Quietly, mumbles, under his breath. And thinks about a Rebecca a long time ago, and wonders what she’s doing now? Growing carrots and raising horses, he thinks, folding the book over in his hands.

 

“I don’t want to be a student anymore,” The woman takes it back and fills the space, looking out the window. Her feet folded under and her head propped on her hand.

 

“Oh, fine,” the man says opening his book back up and running the bookmark along the crease, “fine, you should figure out what you want to do, and do it.”

 

They sit quietly for a while. The woman running her hand over the back of the couch and the man reading his book.

 

“I’m on page 292 of War and Peace,” He says.

 

“There’s something wrong about my face,” she responds looking at her reflection in the window glass, as they fall back into the usual space. “The lines are worrisome—the look is worrisome. I don’t look well. I should spend more time outside. But then I’d need to get a new moisturizer cream, I suppose. Even though I kind of like the lines in the end, because they say something about a person.”

 

“This is a good page to stop on,” the man says, closing his book, without turning a page. And standing up from his chair, kisses his wife on the couch, who lifts her head to the touch and then turns back to the window to listen to the ocean hum. And he turns back to his thoughts and turns them inward and turns them over until they are quiet and softer and saved for tomorrow.

Read More By K. L. Tabor

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Portland Fiction Project

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