A Waltz for Two
Illustrated by Michael Ilkiw
A kettle sits close to boiling on the stovetop, steam gathering around the spout ready to stream out. A cat is curled up on the throw rug on top of the used-to-be-white linoleum that needed to be replaced a decade ago. A cupboard door is ajar. Two mugs on the countertop are ready to be filled.
At the table he sits in his chair with the paper folded twice and propped up against the napkin holder as he browses the comics. She sits to his left and looks across the table out the window through the venetian blinds and the dust onto the street.
Two neighbor kids play basketball at the old hoop; red, white, and blue net tattered and giving up hope.
She stares into the middle distance, picking at her fingernail. He scans Peanuts, glances at her, and moves down to Baby Blues. She looks over at him, eyes coming into focus as she takes in the lines on his face.
His mouth turns into a smile. And then a laugh.
She smiles, bringing her fingers to her lips, chewing on a nail. She says.
He looks back at the paper for a second, then back to her. Then back to the paper, slower this time.
She pushes the chair back with a screech, startling him.
He says. She says. He goes back to his paper, his eyes looking through it.
She walks across the small kitchen, stepping over the cat, and lifts the kettle off the burner.
She says, still holding the kettle.
He says, again, this time more forcefully.
She says, beginning to pour the water into the mugs, steam just starting to escape the spout and drifting to the ceiling.
He gets up, and says. She stops short. She places the kettle back onto the burner where it begins to whistle a low tune.
He crosses the kitchen, steps over the cat, and stands close to her. She says, backing away.
He says, loudly. She takes another step back, towards the living room.
He stands in the middle of the kitchen and plunges him finger into the mug. She gasps and he pulls his finger back, shocked.
On the stovetop, the kettle begins to whistle louder.
He takes a step toward her. He says. She moves back, propelled by their magnetism. He says. She says. He says, growing loud and angry. She says, trying to calm him down. Calm him down like one would calm the sun.
He picks up the mug and looks at it, peering into the water.
She says, quietly.
A pause. Two. The kettle screaming.
He throws the mug across the table where it shatters above the table.
The cat jumps up and sprints out of the room. She pushes herself against the wall, trying to become enveloped in it.
He picks up the other mug and the kettle screams and blasts and screeches and he says and she is too shocked to say and he says again.
He puts the mug down and moves to her, slowly, saying.
She moves to the living room, sits on the couch, and looks at him over her shoulder.
He stops in the doorway and says, quieter.
She looks away from him, plays with her hair with her fingers, and says.
The kettle runs out of water and the whistling begins to fade.
He reaches into the kitchen and switches off the burner. He grabs the broom and dustpan and sweeps up the broken porcelain pieces and walks into the living room. He sits next to her and says.
She looks him in the eyes, tears in hers, and says.
He takes her hand away from her hair and holds it in his. He says.
She turns away, and says.
He drops her hand. She collapses into her side of the couch and he stares straight ahead.
The cat meows at the door. He looks over at it. The cat sits in front of the door looking at him. Meows again. He sits, sinking into the couch. The cat meows again, stretching on its back feet to reach up towards the knob. Showing him how it is done.
He smiles. And then laughs. And then laughs harder and harder until he is shaking and crying and cannot breathe. She looks at him laughing and looks at the cat reaching towards the knob and begins laughing with him. They laugh in harmony.
He leans his head on her shoulder. She leans her head on his head. He says. She says. He looks at her, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, and says. She says and kisses him on the cheek.
He gets up and opens the door for the cat. The cat gets up, rubs against his leg once, and walks out the door. He sits back down on the couch and leans into her.
He says. She agrees. They walk to the bedroom, undressing.
They don’t say much of anything.
Later, lying in the afternoon light coming in in slats crossing the bed, she says, quietly.
He gets up and walks to the kitchen, filling the kettle with water and setting it on the stovetop. He clicks the stovetop on and looks out the window at the two kids playing basketball, his cat watching them from a safe distance.
He closes the open cupboard gently, not wanting to make a sound.