In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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The first time he takes a shower after coming home, he looks himself over: Ten fingers. Ten toes. No scars beyond the ones he collected in childhood. The first day or two with his wife is awkward, each of them watching to see how the other may have changed during his deployment. Her hair is longer. Otherwise she seems the same. He doesn’t feel that different either.
It wasn’t so bad over there, most days. Most days the shooting was in another part of the city. Sure, he saw some bodies. His unit arrived at a car-bomb site soon after the explosion. While he helped to put out the fires, no one shot at him or even so much as yelled insults. Not so bad. Now he is home, safe and whole.
His wife puts lotion on her hands before bed. When she kisses him, the vanilla scent of the lotion is familiar. As she sleeps, he lies on the far edge of the bed, comforted by the sound of her breathing. There’s a whiff of something unpleasant about the lotion, though. Maybe it’s not the lotion. Maybe something crawled under the house and died while he was away. Yes. He can hear the flies buzzing down in the crawl space. Millions of them. Another household task to attend to. He should make a list.
In the morning, after his wife leaves for work, he notices faint water stains on the ceiling in every room. The roof needs patching. What if the beams are rotting? The kitchen smells musty. He wants his favorite coffee mug, but he doesn’t dare open the kitchen cabinets and confront the swarms of ants and termites. That night, when he can’t sleep, he moves to the mildewed couch, which his wife insists smells just fine. In the desert he longed for rain and humidity. He’d forgotten how easily everything rots here.
The next morning, the first day he’s due back at work, his wife tries to get him up from the couch. It’s no use. He won’t move. He’s fine. But look at what he has come home to. No amount of work or money is going to be enough to fix this house.
Bruce Holland Rogers