She sits just to the left of me in the living room of our apartment, her face flashing in sync with the images on the television in front of us. She’s watching the flat screen from her favorite chair, a mid-century modern piece with sleek lines made from American walnut and full grain leather. She’s pulled a plush white blanket up to her waist and her hands are resting in its softness. Behind her, the lights from the city pulse against the rising steam from rooftops.
I’m lying on the couch, on my side, and from my vantage point I can see both my wife and the television. I steal glances at her occasionally, never tiring of the way her profile cuts out a piece of the cityscape I see through the windows behind her. It was one of the first things I noticed about her on the train where I met her—before I approached her, before I proposed. Her profile was still and unchanging against the grey and brown blur of the bungalows passing just outside.
The scene on the television show we’re watching shows the character, a young woman perhaps the same age as my wife, receiving news that her father has died from cancer. The face of the woman on the show crumbles and she melts into the car behind her, sliding down the door until she’s crying into her kneecaps. My heart beats faster and I glance over at my wife. Her expression remains unchanged, but I know she’s thinking about him. Her eyes remain fixed on the television.
The scene moves to the funeral and a small group of mourners stand next to an open hole in the earth. Music begins playing—something raw sung from a voice that pulls air from my chest with gritty notes—and the camera pans from one person crying to another as the casket is lowered into the grave.
I look back at my wife and still she’s unchanged. But I know she’s thinking about him. Has to be. Her father, a bricklayer who built the house she grew up in, taught her to play soccer, pushed her to be fierce and determined and tough, died slowly, methodically, his body ravaged by cancer while he was still in his forties. She’d quit school to be with him. Sat by his bed. Measured his medicine. Bathed him. Told me that the day after he’d died, the nurse packed up all the pills and machines and cords and when she’d left, the stillness had made it seem like he’d never even been there at all.
The show ends and I turn off the television, the only sounds now coming from the humming refrigerator and a car slowing for the speed bump thirteen floors below us. We both stand, and I meet her in the middle of the living room. Wrap my arms around her. She feels small and fragile, warm. She exhales and lays her head against my shoulder. “Are you sad?” I ask. “Yeah,” she says, and I squeeze her tighter and stare out the window at the city, feeling the weight of her pressed against me, the responsibility I feel to fill the void he left, to protect her, growing with each rise and fall of her chest.