without a shell

His hands smell like detergent when she wakes in the night and wonders why he would do her laundry in all its lemon-scented lightness when he won’t even do his own, but she lets him trail his finger down her cheek in a state of semi-consciousness with the same quiet, thoughtless touch used to brush silk shirts in passing at secondhand stores or skim the surface of water as legs dangle from the dock: feeling only to feel. Her breath catches in her throat as his finger falls into the dip under her bottom lip and she turns her face away like a wounded animal before she fakes the lethargy of sleepiness in reaching for his hand and examining his fingers for traces of the other woman and trying to remember when she stopped identifying her own smell on his skin.

“William?” she whispers. He turns to her and exhales the light, sweet breath of sleep and she doesn’t cry when she realizes he probably also used her toothpaste. She chokes out, “You can wash her clothes, but you can’t wash her off you.” She bites her lip in anticipation of the accusations of distrust and paranoia and the excuses of loneliness and misunderstandings and the little landmines that settle in as nightmares and hot tears and panic attacks. She curls into herself, wishing she had a shell and remembering their first date at the park when he told her he admired turtles because they mate for life, but he was wrong because the twin aquarium brochures she found tucked in the side pocket of his briefcase said the male always leaves, and what options does that give her?

Some hours later, his hand crawls over her stomach, and when she lifts it in irritation she catches another whiff of the citrus and softness and while she throws up over the side of the bed with the quiet acceptance of a young woman just needing a family and sits on her knees scrubbing and crying and praying he isn’t dreaming of the other woman, he sleeps on.

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