One Missed Step

            Lily looked at the angle his neck was twisted and the horrible stillness.

            He was drinking and he fell down the stairs. He was drinking and he fell down the stairs, she repeated. That was all the story was. 


            Henry lit a cigarette.

            “Put that out.”

            “Why?”

            Lily looked at him. Henry held the cigarette between forefinger and thumb, inhaling a secret beneath his hand.

            “There aren’t any animals in it,” he paused, “that I know of.”

            “You can be a real pig.”

            He took a long and deliberate inhalation, then ground out the cigarette, “There.”

            “Am I supposed to be happy?”

            “No.”

            She smiled sweetly, “I’m going to another room.”

            “Okay.”

            “You’re lucky.”

            “Hm?”

            “That I have such patience.”

            “Hm.”

            “Don’t ‘hm’ at me.”

            Lily took up her papers.

            Henry lit another cigarette.

            “I can still smell it,” Lily said from the hallway.

            Henry ground it out, collapsing and crushing its unsmoked body.

            He stood up. His suit hung loose, his shoulders like two clothespins, and the form of a body guessed at beneath. He deliberated, and chose a record from the shelf, the same record he always chose, Op. 28: No. 15 Sostenuto in D-Flat Major, C. 180. The soft buzz of the recording was white noise to the crisp arising notes. He sat down and closed his eyes.

            “Can you turn that racket down?”

            Lily was in the doorway, her hair fixed from the loose bun it was in before. Henry turned the volume down.

            “I’m going out.”

            “Where?”

            Exasperated, she said, “To the office. I forgot something.”

            “Okay.”

            Lily stood there, and they looked at one another from a distance greater than the feet between them. If she was going to say something, or if he was, the moment passed. Lily turned, and her heels clipped down the hallway.

            Henry reached for the volume, and turned it back up. He heard Lily sigh, loudly, from the kitchen. When the front door opened, and closed again, he sat for a moment, then lit a cigarette.

            He sat smoking. When the record finished, he started it again. When his cigarette ran low, he lit another.

            It was four hours and fifty-seven minutes later when the front door opened again. Henry had been watching the clock, and as well, he was nearing the end of his fifth glass of bourbon.

            From their house, the drive to Lily’s office was twenty-three minutes. If the traffic was especially bad, it could be thirty. Five minutes, or generously, ten minutes to get whatever it was she had forgotten, and then drive back to the house. Henry sipped his drink. That left roughly three hours and forty-seven minutes unaccounted for.

            He had begun his first drink, reasonably, as he was waiting: an appetizer. As he began prepping dinner, he began his second. When Lily had not returned yet, and at that point already being much later than she ought to be, he had begun his third. Well past any reasonable time of return, and with dinner fully ready, he began his fourth. He ate alone, barely picked at his food, and threw the rest away, while imagining Lily’s annoyance at the waste. He spent the last hour stewing, and drifting along with his records, and his companionable fifth glass.

            “I’m home,” Lily called from the door. The lightness of tone suggested she had been drinking.

            Henry did not answer, and heard Lily coming through the hallway. She held her heels in hand.

            “There you are,” she said, her glance flickered to his glass and the full ashtray.

            “Yes.”

            She paused, “Well, I’m going to bed.”

            “Wait,” Henry said, getting to his feet. Lily was already going toward the stairs, and Henry swept staggeringly across the room, “Wait, I said.”

            Lily leapt up the stairs, and Henry raced forward and lunged for her arm. He missed, and at the same time she turned and pushed back. His foot missed his intended step, and for a brief moment he was suspended in air. Then there was the loud crash, and the turn as he tumbled over the last steps and hit the ground at the bottom.

            Lily looked at the angle his neck was twisted and the horrible stillness.

            He was drinking and he fell down the stairs. He was drinking and he fell down the stairs, she repeated. That was all the story was.    

END.