Dulling Time

by Matt Rickard

He dabbed his finger in holy water and signed the cross in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It really didn�t remind him of his baptism. He didn�t really remember his baptism at all.

Rain violently kissed his cheeks as he left the church.  It was freezing rain.  His pale skin turned a shade of pink that was fit for the end of Lent.  But everything else was gray on the Saturday before Advent.  Streetlights hung from nothing.  Cars drove on the sky.  Birds flew south in the sidewalk.  Without looking up, he pushed the cold metal button in hopes of getting a light.  It was already green.  He walked home purposelessly.  

The icy boulevard proved exceedingly challenging; he slipped and stumbled to his apartment building.  Habitually up the steps, routinely through the revolving door, familiarly up the elevator.  Then left, then left again, and finally through his door.  He unbuttoned his trench coat and tossed it on the couch.  He also removed his cap and loosened his tie.  He returned his brother�s phone call�something he�d been meaning to do for days.  He laid down on the sofa and searched fruitlessly for the remote control.  Tired from morning mass, he quickly gave up and supinely gazed out his fourth story window.  On the sill was a picture of a young man and woman, dressed formally, with pearly white smiles draping their faces.  Dark gray skies and turned-off lights made the room as dark as pitch.  He dozed off quietly.  


He awoke slowly, late in the afternoon, to find the room exactly as he last remembered it.  He removed his tie and unbuttoned his shirt.  He hadn�t even bothered to take off his shoes since arriving home.  They were wet.  And so was the floor.    

He walked over to the window to see if it had rained, and the rod-iron chairs on the balcony were coated with icicles.  The transparent daggers hung from the rusty metal like stalactite in a cave.  They suddenly appeared irrationally threatening, and so he quickly dodged their image, looking down at his wedding picture on the sill.    


The phone rang.  It was his wife.  

�I�m going to come home before dinner instead of meeting you at the restaurant,� she informed him.  

�Okay,� he responded automatically.  

�I�ll see you in about an hour and a half.  Okay?  Will you confirm our reservations?  I don�t want to have another forty-five minute wait only to sit at the bar.�  

�Sure.  See you later.�  

�Love you too.�  

He clicked the dial-tone button on the phone but could not remember the restaurant�s number.  On the refrigerator he saw a post-it note with dates and times and places and numbers.  None of them meant anything to him.  He opened it and made himself something to eat.  


His wife looked disheveled walking in the door.  Her hair was a mess.  She had bags strewn over both shoulders.  She tossed her keys on the table and her eyes fell upon her husband, parked on the balcony.  Through the sliding glass door, she saw him sitting in the dark, his breath fogging up the air and disappearing in the city sky.  He had a candle lit.  He was eating a sandwich.  She picked up her keys and left as soon as she had arrived.  Not again, she thought to herself.  She went to a bar down the block.  She called her friend, Gail, to tell the next chapter in her tragic novel.  She cried and drank and cried some more.  The bartender cut her off long before last call.  She had had enough, he decided.  And she walked back to the apartment, stumbling on the sidewalk from the ice earlier that day.  


He awoke in a familiar position�on the couch�early in the morning.  Sunlight crept through the half-closed blinds and peeled his eyelids apart.  Consciousness flooded his mind.  He cracked the door to his bedroom, and he saw his wife sleeping in her business clothes, curled in a ball on his side of the bed.  Her arm rested where his shoulder should�ve been.  Her hair would�ve tickled his ear.  If only he had been in bed with her.  

He grabbed his keys and left quickly, hoping to return before she awoke.  First he visited the florist.  Then he bought breakfast and coffee.  He estimated his entire trip took twenty minutes, thirty minutes at the most, as he walked back towards his apartment.  He went through the revolving door, then up the elevator, then made two left turns, and fumbled for his keys in his pocket.  He couldn�t find them.  Thankfully, he forgot to lock the door.  

As expected, his wife was still asleep.  The flowers pinned a note he quickly jotted to the nightstand.  He wanted to stay with her, but he couldn�t think of a single word to say when she lifted her head off the pillow.  He couldn�t remember why he woke up on the couch.  He couldn�t remember what he had or hadn�t done.    

He left the room quietly and closed the door, hoping she wouldn�t wake while he was in the apartment.  Staring at him from across the room were his wife�s blue eyes, concealed by wisps of auburn bangs.  His hand clutched her shoulder, and she reveled in his embrace.  She was happy to be in his arms.  And his wife�from the sill�looked with condemnation upon the shadow of her husband that covetously stared back at the happy couple.  From the picture, the younger, tanner version of himself begged him to go wake his wife.  He begged him to give her a kiss.  He begged him to talk to her.  But the man stood motionlessly until he heard sheets rustle behind the door.  


He genuflected before entering his pew.  After sitting through the first two readings, he stood and sang �alleluia� for the presentation of the Gospel.  He prayed for God to be in his thoughts, in his words, and in his heart.  He recited the creed.  He asked the Lord to hear his prayers.  He prayed that his sacrifice be acceptable God.  He acknowledged that he wasn�t worthy to receive the Lord.  But, at the Lord�s command, he would do so.  And he did.  He came back to his pew and kneeled.  He thought about the body and blood of Jesus, inside of his own body, washing him clean.  He was renewed with a simple act of faith.  His soul was pure once more.  He was whole.  


He didn�t return to his apartment the rest of the day.  He rode the subway from end to end.  He had a few drinks at a bar in the north part of town.  While there, he watched whatever football game happened to be on the big screen.  After sitting at the bar for a while, he ordered a cheeseburger.  He figured he had been at the bar for two or three hours.  So he left.  He went back to his parish.  He went into the empty chapel.  He sat in the dark so that he couldn�t discern the Advent purple from the church�s normal scheme.  In the quiet loneliness, he rested his head on his hands and his hands on the pew in front of him.  He searched for words to plea to God.  He found nothing.  So he took the rosary from his pocket and said fifty-three Hail Mary�s.  It was the best he could do.  


He walked in his apartment door late.  Out of habit, he undressed and slowly opened the door to his room.  The light from the living room leaked into the bedroom and illuminated the quiet face of a woman in his bed.  He blankly stared.  He went back into the living room and looked at the picture on the sill.  The same woman was with him in the photograph.  He returned to his bedroom and stared at the woman again.  She wasn�t as happy as she was in the picture.  She had bags under her eyes.  She wore more makeup to cover the wrinkles on her forehead, and she hadn�t taken the time to wash it off.  She had fake fingernails.  Probably to cover the bitten ones beneath them.  A half-glass of brandy obscured his view of the alarm clock.  He thought it said it was 3-something, but salty tears made it even harder to see.  He promised himself he would talk to her in the morning, but he knew he wouldn�t.  Even if he remembered to speak to her, he knew he wouldn�t remember her name.   

BIO: Matt is currently failing out of Washington University in St. Louis. He is also interested in geology.