He knew not to bring it up. She'd just give him that look. The one where she tilted her head and directed her glance sideways at him. Then she'd say he was being ridiculous. And she'd use the tone that said "I've been so hopelessly patient but now you've finally pushed me too far, so just stop it." She wouldn't see the irony of using that tone every time. But mostly she just wouldn't believe enough to care, or care enough to believe. .
This was something. He just wasn't sure what. His body shouldn't work like this. Once could have been a fluke. But not twice. And if he couldn't talk to his wife about it, then who could he talk to?
Still soaked in sweat, he headed to the bedroom. He found her in a state of partial dress: hose and skirt on and make-up complete, but wearing only a bra. She was working from both ends toward the middle. Anyone who dressed so randomly would never understand. But he went ahead anyway.
"Beth, something's wrong."
That was all it took for the look. Or at least the mirror image of it. She was in front of the vanity and he behind her. Each saw only the reflection of the other.
"And what is it today?"
"It's not just today. It was Wednesday, too."
"What was today and Wednesday?"
"I'm sweating asymmetrically."
She slowly swung around to look at him. His shirt was almost completely covered in sweat and a large oval stained the front of his shorts. "You look pretty regular to me. Sweaty everywhere."
He looked down at his clothes. "That's because it spreads through the cloth. But check the floor under the stair machine. You'll see a big puddle on the left and almost nothing on the right. Come on, I'll show you."
The stair machine was in the second bedroom. The one they'd converted into an exercise room.
She stood up. But instead of going to see the evidence, she went over to the bed and picked up her blouse.
"You can at least come look at the floor before you dismiss me." After a slight pause he added, "Again."
"To see what? Puddles of your sweat. Why would I want to see that?"
"So you can see I'm telling the truth. It's not normal. I've always had the same amount drip down on both sides. But suddenly, it's almost all on the left."
"I believe you. Okay, George. I believe your sweat is -- what did you call it -- asymmetrical. Just like I believe that your one eye adjusts to the dark faster than the other and that your left foot points out while the right goes straight ahead. I believe you. I just don't care." She headed out of the bedroom. He followed.
"You can patronize me but you can't ignore facts," he said. His voice was louder now, his words chasing her.
She stopped in the kitchen and turned to face him. "I will not have this conversation. You won't let me laugh, and I can't take it seriously."
"God, don't you see. It's right in front of your eyes. It's what's wrong with us. Because of me."
"George, I have to go to work."
"It's why you aren't attracted to me. Why we don't have any kids. Do you know what makes people attractive? Symmetry. Left and right sides matching. Studies prove it. But my left and right are at war. It's why you had to look elsewhere."
This last, he knew, was unfair. Yet another violation of a promise he couldn't keep. But it worked.
She stopped and turned. "Fine, George. I'll go look at your sweat." She headed back past him. He followed slowly, losing ground. She was already at the stair machine, looking at the floor, when he got to the door.
"You're right. It's wetter on the left. Can I go now?"
"Go. Sure. What else would you want to do?"
"I suppose if I was totally nuts, I'd want to stay here and discuss your sweat. But I'm not nuts, George. And you didn't used to be, either." She tried to leave the room, but he was in the doorway. She would have to brush by him, and couldn't do that without her clothes rubbing against his sweat-soaked shirt. He made no effort to move.
"I know I'm onto something, Beth. But you've never taken me seriously. You used to think I had these cute idiosyncrasies. Now you think I'm delusional. It's just two sides of the same coin. It never occurred to you I might be right."
"Well, it took you all of a minute to go from everything being your fault to laying it all on me. Why don't you go take a shower. I'm sure the water will hit you nice and evenly. Then dry both sides and get dressed. I'm going to work." She didn't wait for him to move; just pushed past. A streak of his sweat stained the right sleeve of her blouse.
George stood in the bedroom doorway, listening to her footsteps moving away, hearing the front door open and shut. Without thinking, he took his wedding band off, as he did hundreds of times before. It was a habit: slide the ring on and off, alternating left and right ring fingers. He began to slide it up the right finger but it stuck on the knuckle, forcing him out of his reverie. He looked down, slid the ring easily onto his left hand and then tried again on the right. The ring still stuck at the knuckle. He bolted down the stairs to the front door, getting outside just as the car was backing out of the drive. "Beth, stop, there's something else."
About the author:
David Johnson has no history as a writer, having taken to the task as his advancing middle-age threatened to overtake his fundamental immaturity. This is the first piece of his fiction that anyone has deemed worthy of publication, for which he gives his heartfelt thanks to the editors.