Sunday afternoon in the apartment. The neighbor, a thirteen-year-old girl, clunks through a classic--by the sounds of it, her finger work clumsy on the piano, the music halting as if she were fumbling toward a rapture that won't come.
From outside the bathroom door I can hear the water drum against the tub and then go silent. I tap my fingers on the door and ask if I can come in. The tiny room is muggy with steam, the mirror fogged over. My wife stands there in the bathtub with the shower curtain pulled aside and a towel modestly wrapped around her body. She gathers the length of her hair in her hands and wrings.
I have come, as it seems I so often do, because our lives are harder than we expected, and I know that to go on she needs some small gesture of reassurance, a kind of proof of love I could once give her accidentally. But the truth is that I am tired of delivering these proofs, like a Hercules forever cleaning out the stables.
Of course I say nothing. I approach her, put my arms around her. I can feel her warmth, the moisture from her body seeping through my shirt. We listen to the neighbor's sometime success and sway slightly as if we were dancing. When she looks like she might cry, I'm heartbroken. Despite the years I'm still very much in love with her, and I know that in her heart she can sense this. Yet I know, too, she can sense that I have long ago lost my admiration for love.
All the same we stand like that until the mirror clears.