“Boy don’t you know you can’t escape me,” K— sang as she drove home from work. Singing along with Mariah Carey put her in a good mood after a tougher day at work. “And we’ll linger on, sime-tane-eous the feelin’ is strong….”
Teacher grade one is always hard, some days are just tougher than others. Today, a Tuesday, felt more like a Friday. Each time she passed another teacher in the hallway, they’d look at each other and one of them would ask, “Is it only Tuesday?” It put a short-lived smile on both of their faces.
K— and R— lived in a small town about an hour away from a sizeable city. It was the only way they could afford to live on land they owned in a four-bedroom bungalow with an oversized detached two-car garage. Initially, K— found teaching in the small town difficult. There were only two elementary schools but she was lucky enough to apply the year a few teachers retired. She’d run into her students at the grocery store or when she was browsing the stalls at the Saturday market. In the city, she could leave work at school.
R— needed more space than living in the city could offer. The garage turned into his metal shop, where he put his fine arts degree to good use by making sculptures. Some of them he sold at the Saturday market when he had enough to justify the cost of a table. Most of his pieces sold through his website and the rest went through a few galleries.
The last year had been tough on both of them. A stillbirth was followed by a late-term miscarriage. They hadn’t been trying for a family but they weren’t trying to prevent one either. K— and R— tried to let life come as it may.
R—’s mother had died of cancer soon after his twenty-fifth birthday. K—’s father had been diagnosed with it just a few months ago. The presence of death weighed on them.
Their laissez-faire approach to living was being stifled by a mortgage, bills, and the weight that life piles on as you leave early adulthood and start a life for yourself.
But Mariah Carey could always lighten K—’s mood. She kept the Daydream CD in the centre console of her car for those days when she needed a little pick me up. Today was just one of those days. Her seven-minute drive home from work was just long enough for two songs. It was always the same two songs on days like today: “Fantasy” and “Always Be My Baby”.
R— liked music, too. He still used an old Pioneer mini stereo system that he bought with money he earned from his first job washing cars. He kept two cassettes in the tape decks and listened to them from time to time: Tupac’s All Eyez On Me double cassette album. There was a CD wallet on top of the stereo, filled with twenty-year-old CDs from when house music was popular. While he worked, he played three CDs loudly and endlessly on repeat for a few days before switching them out for something different. His work was loud, too.
K— hated how R— would spend hours on end in his workshop. He was always asleep when she woke up and left for work, and he was always awake when she went to bed at night. The light from the garage could be seen from the window on the side until midnight on most days. After he was finished working for the day, R— would move to the living room in the house, turn on a reading lamp next to the armchair, and drink a few beers while writing in his journal. The arms of the chair were wide and flat enough for R— to rest his notebook on. It was his routine, and K— knew it wasn’t something he was going to change.
After the stillbirth, R— managed okay. He was strong for K— for the first month but started to need more time to himself after that. He went with K— to all of her doctor’s appointments and made sure she ate. He stayed up with her at night while she was crying. He laid in bed next to her, saying nothing, just holding her while she experienced her sadness. She rarely asked him how he was doing and he didn’t want her to. He wanted to make sure that she was okay.
He tried to get her out to the market on the weekends. He would bring home flowers when he went grocery shopping. He overcooked bland meals that they could both only stomach a few bites of, not for the taste but because it wasn’t easy to eat when they felt empty inside.
It took about a month before either of them could smile. R— was first, K— followed a few days later. He stuck Twizzlers up his nose while they sat on the couch watching a documentary about the Mauritania Railway in the Sahara. When he turned to look at her, he sneezed but the Twizzlers stayed stuck in his nostrils. She smiled at something she would have laughed at before. Then, she pulled the covers up to her neck and curled up into R—’s chest with his arm wrapped around her. They held hands underneath the blanket.
When K— went to bed, R— would usually go to his garage for a couple of hours. His nights were getting later and he started drinking in his workshop. It was too late to work, so he’d just sit on his stool, set his stereo at a low volume, and write in his journal with it resting on a workbench. He wrote with a carpenter’s pencil, which he enjoyed sharpening with a pocket knife.
K— started seeing less of R— after a while. He was still affectionate sometimes but was growing more thoughtless. He would go to the grocery store that was farther away, brought flowers home every so often, and ordered in when K— didn’t cook. The lawn he was once proud of was now overgrown and spotted with dandelions. A tube light in his workshop had been out for a couple of months.
K— pulled into their driveway and parked in front of the garage. She honked to let R— know that she was home. He had stopped banging on the door to reply. The workshop had been quiet for months, but she knew he was in because the light still shone through the window on the side. K— went into the house, turned on the kettle, took off her work clothes and put on sweat pants, and then she made herself a cup of tea. While it was steeping, she looked through the shelves of the fridge and tried to think of something to cook for dinner. There were a few vegetables that were a few days old so she decided to go out and get a rotisserie chicken to accompany them. When she got back, the sun had set. She honked twice. There was no reply.
K— walked up to the garage door and tried to lift it. She forgot to turn the handle but she kept trying to lift it open. After a few attempts, her hand slipped a bit and the handle turned slightly. She turned the handle and lifted the door. K— had to push the door with both hands up over her head to open it all the way. As she did, she saw the stool lying sideways on the garage floor first. Only a few feet above the stool were R—’s feet. K— fell to her knees. She covered her face. She screamed with tears falling from her eyes and saliva pouring out of her mouth.
Through her tears, K— could see something green stuck to the side of R—’s shoe. It stood out from the flat colours of his workshop. She lifted herself up and walked toward it. Everything was blurry but she was able to find the lime green post-it note and peel it off. She wiped her eyes with her arm. Written on the note, in R—’s handwriting, she saw a small square box with the word “rope” in lowercase letters to the right of it.
He hadn’t checked it off.