The water sloshed over the side of the sink for the umpteenth time in the last ten minutes, and Winly bit back a curse as the hot, grimy wave dampened the front of her shirt. She never failed to splash just a bit too much when she was washing out the deeper glasses; Pinako had once joked that Winly went about doing the dishes with as much excess fervor as she did everything else.
But that was years ago, Winly reminded herself, rinsing the final glass and upending it on the towel next to the sink. Back when I was young and still angry about everything. So, what’s my excuse now?
Sighing, she wrung out the dishrag and poured a bit of coffee into one of the mugs she’d just set to dry. Sitting down at the table, she slumped over, her elbows splayed on the dull wooden surface, and carded a hand through her long hair.
Split ends? she wondered. When did that happen? Of course, I haven’t had it cut since last summer, when... Winly bit her lip. Come to think of it...when did everything find time to happen, when fifteen years ago is so close to yesterday?
Winly sipped her coffee and winced. She always made it too something. Too strong, too weak, too hot...this time it was like colored water; she must’ve forgotten to toss out the old grounds and put in new ones. She had never gotten the hang of making the stuff right, even after she’d begun to drink it on a daily basis. Alphonse had gently taken over that particular domestic duty -- along with a lot of others, through the years -- and she’d never had to perfect her technique. He’d always been there.
Until now. Six months later, and she was still stumbling through the house like a stranger, startled to occasionally find bits of herself hidden in closet shoeboxes and under couch cushions with the loose change. She could make beds (though she rarely bothered), cook dinner (plain noodles and some kind of sauce -- foolproof), and do her laundry (when it got stiff enough to walk to the washer on its own); she could keep things running -- but home had dissolved into a collection of random objects swirling in a messy orbit around her, and Winly wasn’t sure she was quite together enough to be the focus of anything, anymore. Least of all her own life!
They’d both been doing the dishes, that humid July night. She was drying the dinner glasses when he chastised her for leaving long, messy towel-streaks on them, and everything had gone to hell. She glared and snapped back; he took it the wrong way; they’d ended by shouting at each other over every stupid little thing they’d done in the past twelve years. It wasn’t until two in the morning, when she’d been on her knees on the tile, picking up glass shards, that Winly realized that it wasn’t the dishes.
It wasn’t the damned streaky glasses at all, nor was it her tools lying all over, or his staying too late in his laboratory. It wasn’t that nobody remembered to cut the grass anymore, or that they’d never really gotten around to having kids. It was life, plain and painfully simple. You could air-dry the dishes, make an effort to eat dinner together, and get one of the lanky neighborhood boys to mow the lawn, but you couldn’t make life disappear like that. Winly cried for a while, letting the tears draw out the pain until she was numb.
That night, she threw out her old dreams with the broken glass, and when Alphonse came home in the early morning, she told him.
Winly pushed her coffee away and rested her chin on her folded arms. We both knew, then. Maybe I’ve always been better at admitting these things, but I could see it in his eyes. He’d known for a while.
It hadn’t taken him long to leave. Even after they’d married, he’d never gotten out of the habits he’d picked up in his youth. Minus her, his life fit into two suitcases and the steamer trunk he’d bought on their honeymoon, and it was easier than ever to get a train out of Resembool, since the war. One month was all it took -- and he was in Central City while she knelt, dazed by the speed of it all, picking up the same damned pieces, over and over again.
Suddenly, Winly just wanted to curl up in bed, pull the blankets over her head, and sleep until everyone in the world forgot who she was, and she could have a fresh chance at this life thing. She stood up, grabbed the half-full mug, and dumped it into the sink. Flicking off the lights, she slid across the floor in her socks like a skier.
Ow! A mean little sliver of pain shot through her foot, and when she turned it over to look at it, a spot of blood was seeping through the grayish bottom of her sock. She poked at it and grimaced. Glass? How’s there still glass in here? I thought I got it all... Irritated, she tugged off the sock, pulled the tiny, glittering shard out of the cut, and limped toward the bedroom.
She was halfway there, leaning against the living room chair rail trim for support, when the phone rang. Cursing, she hobbled over and picked it up.
“Hello?” This had better be important, she thought.
“Is Winly there?” The voice was masculine and vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it.
“This is she. Look, I’m kind of busy right now; so, if you don’t mind, I’d like to just call you back later, okay?” Winly looked down, annoyed that her foot was bleeding enough to stain the carpet.
“Well...um. That might be kind of hard, actually. I’m sort of calling from the train station...”
Shit! The last thing I need right now is a visitor! “Are you a friend of Alphonse’s?” She hazarded a guess. “He doesn’t live here, anymore. Moved to Central City last summer, so you might want to try catching the next train.”