by Chella Courington
“Do you ever worry about death?” Adele asked.
Tom made a noise, a grunt mixed with a sigh, and continued reading.
As someone aroused from an unexpected nap, he looked at Adele. Confusion and anger competed with each other.
“What?” he asked.
“Do you worry about death?”
“No. It seems pointless,” Tom said. “I focus on tomorrow.”
Nearly fifty, she was seven years older than he. They had been married almost fifteen years.
“Have I always been this way?” she asked.
“Which way?” he asked. “Want part of a beer?”
Tom’s usual response to her unease. He knew Adele loved to split everything. Halving was a communal ritual. If we share our food, that’s the beginning: we’ll share our love, our interests, our life. With each year together, she grew more dependent. Saying they were Plato’s soul mates destined to find their other on earth though it took Tom and Adele longer to search through the mingling parts. And there he was in his jeans and white Oxford shirt, sleeves rolled up, hair reminding her of a Romantic poet. Thick, curly and shoulder length.
Neither imagined his losing it, but like the rest of their lives, attrition became inevitable and one November day she noticed a bald spot on his crown. It appeared without warning when she leaned over him in bed. A monk’s tonsure. A circle the diameter of her thumb touching her index finger. Half of an obscene gesture. She felt the skin, surprised at its smoothness.
“Tom, your hair is gone,” as if the utterance was the cause, the curse.
The clock went askew. Its hour hand flying from two to seven to twelve and around again and again. They could hear the clicking, the warning, the sign that life would be different now. Minutes turned into hours so quickly that months obscured days then years. The tell-tell promise they would not be here forever. Like their parents and their parents before them, Tom and Adele joined the fold edging closer to the cliff. If Tom and Adele were lucky, they would be stopped by a stand of bamboo, giving them the time and space to take it all in, their life their love their loss, and would slow down so they could enjoy each moment, each day without being trapped in what might happen. That night, however, was not one of those moments. They were not safe from encroaching sorrow.
Chella Courington is a writer and teacher. She’s the author of three flash fiction chapbooks along with three chapbooks of poetry. Her stories and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong, The Los Angeles Review, Nano Fiction, and The Collagist. Her novella, The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow, is forthcoming (Pink.Girl.Ink.Press). Born and raised in the Appalachian South, she now lives in Santa Barbara, CA, with another writer and two cats.