Dana Schumacker

Story for ROUND 8

A Modicum of Purpose


She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. She’d discovered that breaking her intentions down into smaller, discrete actions sometimes helped to abate, at least briefly, the sly, sweet seduction of lassitude. Setting the book aside, however, had unsteadied her, and the modicum of purpose required to walk from the den into the kitchen left her swaying in the doorway, perplexed as to why she was there.
 
A glass of water…that was it.
 
Barefoot, she crossed the slate tile, skirting the shards of a bowl she’d dropped earlier. Plucking a mug out of the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, she glanced into it briefly before lifting the lever on the faucet. The lukewarm water, faintly flavored with two-day-old coffee, turned her stomach. After the first swallow, she poured the rest down the drain.
 
Standing in the dim kitchen, staring out the window, she was surprised to find it dark outside. Distantly she thought about dinner, but the myriad of small actions required to prepare a meal tangled in her mind, confounding her. Besides, she wasn’t hungry, hadn’t been hungry in weeks.
 
Memory lanced through her, curling her forward, inward, until her brow rested against the granite countertop.
 
She needed to get back to reading the book.
 
Focusing on the book tamped down the pain enough that she could stand upright again. Looking over her shoulder, she saw it waiting for her on the coffee table. Following fleeing thoughts about the chapter she’d just reread, she turned back towards the den.
 
The bright wash of headlights, reflected in stainless steel appliances, startled her. Jerry was home. She glanced down, noting a stain on the lapel of her bathrobe. Nervously, she wound and unwound the ends of her belt around her wrists as she waited for her husband’s judgments to walk through the door.
 
He sat in his car for a long time before climbing out and trudging up the steps. As the door swung open, he took in her dingy robe, her hollow cheeks. The lack of expectation in his eyes made her throat tighten. After twenty-three years, a disapproving stranger stood on the threshold, and the erosion of love, the loss of it, merged with the other, deeper loss, threatening to pull her under. She soothed herself by imagining the whisper of turning pages.
 
Her eyes shifted towards the den. His eyes followed, settling on the book.
 
“Anne, this has to stop!” he said angrily, striding across the kitchen.
 
Heedless now of the shattered bowl, she left bloody footprints as she chased after him. Gripping the book in his fist, he held it up, out of her reach. The black letters of the title stood out in stark relief against the red cover, Reflections on Violence by Georges Sorel. She clutched at his arm, her movements jerky and broken.
 
“There is nothing in here!” he screamed at her.
 
“His note said the book was the reason...for what he did…all those people. I just need to understand!” she sobbed.
 
In anguished fury, he began rending the pages, tearing the book to pieces. She fell to her knees, grasping at the tattered fragments of words.
 
Finally, his anger spent, he knelt beside her. Gutted by the guilt of his own secret grief, the terrible loneliness of it, he reached out hesitantly and with tentative fingers, touched her hair.
 
“There is nothing to understand,” he said, his voice a gentle, fractured whisper. “He was just a monster.”
 
“He was our son,” she answered.