“Have you ever read the Bible?”
The only clock that we have in the bedroom is on the wall, so I can’t tell what time it is when she finally speaks. I’ve been drifting in and out of sleep for an hour or more, but she’s remained stony on her back, not even leaning in for a kiss or cuddle at any point. I’ve been on my side facing away from her just to get a bit of peace, but now that’s lost.
Holding in a sigh is difficult, but somehow I manage it as I navigate from my left side to my right. She’s still staring up at the ceiling, not even paying me a glance as I grunt and rustle my way to turn to her. Just to try to get her attention somehow, I give the blankets a bit of a yank accidentally-on-purpose, but she just waits for me to stop moving before she pulls them back over her legs, hands smoothing across her waist and then settling back into the same position they’d assumed before.
The only Bible I’ve ever owned was a Picture Bible given to me by a neighbor when I was five or six years old. More than anything I remember the outside, a fake leather that was tan and had a soft, puffy sort of appearance. I liked the way that it had a little give when you poked it, like sitting in a really comfortable chair. At least that was the association I had when I held it back then. A dove with an olive branch in its mouth was emblazoned on the front in a gold stamp. Beyond that, not much remains with me about the thing. There was a creepy picture of John the Baptist where he was sitting innocently at a table as a young woman whispered with an old hag about him. For such a brutal story, you would think that the images could have been much more graphic. It’s not like the details were spared in the words.
“No,” I admit, trying to keep any sort of judgment out of my voice. I don’t want her to think that there’s a reason why I’ve avoided it or that I think any of it to be absurd. “I know some of the stories, but actually sitting down and leafing through it…hasn’t happened yet.”
“Why?” She finally moves to make eye contact, and when she looks at me, her eyes are shining with tears that she refuses to release. Her eyes have always been such a weakness to me, almond-shaped and a dark, smooth brown. In the darkness, it’s impossible to tell where the iris ends and the pupil begins. It’s almost frightening, like she’s looking into my soul and can already tell it’s not something she cares for.
“I don’t know. I guess it’s just never been a priority of mine. There’s always been something else to do, you know? My parents weren’t into religion, so it was never around, growing up. I went immediately from that life to mine with you.”
“It was actually something that Daddy…” She cuts herself off, wrinkling that pretty brow in a way that she has complained she probably shouldn’t at this point in life. When we were kids, it was fine, but now she knows that each worry might be written across her face for the rest of our lives. The symptoms of our anxiety linger far longer than the cause. “My father wanted us to have a good appreciation for religion. He wanted us to know where we came from and that we should always be grateful. To remember the people who were less fortunate.”
“People like me?” The words slip out automatically, and even though I’m not that defensive boy anymore, it seems that he still lives on inside of me after all these years. She looks upset, so I do the best I can to close my eyes and wait for the cloud of frustration to pass from her expression.
“That’s not what I said and you know it. He never looked down on you for being poor. He was just never going to like you because I picked you. He wanted to be the one to decide that he liked a boy and his family. He wanted to control my life, and you were the last thing he expected to slip out from his thumb. He thought that you were a little slow and never would have been able to do much more than fix whatever car he put in front of you. He didn’t think that you would ever be able to—“
“To seduce his daughter right under his nose?” I ask, smiling as I press a kiss to her shoulder. The contact seems to remind her of her train of thought, and she gently nudges me away from her so she can get back to the point.
“Do you believe in God, Dustin?”
“Isn’t it a bit late to be asking this question if it was going to be something important in our marriage?”
“I don’t know.” I know that she wants me to say yes, to give her some reassurance that her sneaking off to church isn’t a bad thing. I know it’s not. It’s what she believes, what she embraces, and it’s where she’s met people who she considers friends. They might hate me, but they’ve been good for her, filling up her days and nights so she hardly complains to me about the hours that I’ve lost in any sort of blur. “I think that ultimately, I don’t like the idea of blaming some big guy in the sky for when things in my life go to shit. I’d rather just man up and try to make the change. If I can’t, then that’s on my shoulders. it’s not something that’s predestined.”
A sad smile flickers across her face, and I know what she isn’t saying. It doesn’t matter if her hand reaches out to squeeze mine because I know that I’ve let her down horribly. Drinking makes it easier to face the idea of disappointing her, but then that just leads to further disappointment. It’s not really a downward spiral so much as holding the same formation day after day, the weeks slipping away from us as we whisper against the darkness, trying to find each other across the hours. “And what about the good things?” she asks.
“I’m selfish enough to want to take the credit for them.”
She laughs, quietly and briefly, but it’s a laugh. It makes me want to cry to know that I can’t remember the last time she’s graced me with that small sign that she’s actually invested in the moment. That’s all my fault, of course. I don’t need a god to take responsibility for that or to inform me that I deserve some special breed of damnation for my past and my present. She doesn’t say anything, so I press on. “What does that make you then? If I’m agnostic. Are you Catholic? Protestant?”
“We were brought up Baptist, but I don’t reckon that I’m much of anything. I just want to be a good Christian, as silly as that sounds. Read the Bible and try to figure it all out for myself.”
“Well, it’s a pretty old book. I’m sure people have some ideas about it.”
She hits me gently, but I can tell that there’s a bit of sincerity behind the gesture. Her feelings are hurt because I don’t share her enthusiasm. In fact, there’s not a whole lot that we actually have in common anymore. When we were teenagers, we both had raging hormones and a sense of the world outside that we were missing out on because we hadn’t been able to break free from the shackles of her father. Now here we are, a married couple, and I can’t think of a single shared hobby we have. I’m not sure she’s even had a drink since our wedding.
“What’s ignited your interest in all of this anyway?” I ask.
It’s not the question she wants to answer, and I can tell by the way that she rolls so that she’s no longer facing me. The motion is seamless, an exhale seeming to take her away from me like she’s caught in a vacuum and can’t control what’s happening to her body. She wants to isolate herself, but I just press my front to her back, an arm draping over her midsection and my chin hooking over her shoulder. I know her, I know when she doesn’t want me to touch her, but sometimes her interests and mine just happen to clash and a decision has to be made. “What’s wrong?” I press.
“I just want to go to sleep now, that’s all.”
“Well, you’re the one who started this conversation. If you want to talk about it, let’s talk about it.”
“I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about anything right now. It’s really late, and you have work in the morning.”
“Fuck work. It’s about me, isn’t it?”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you.” I’ve never heard her use this bitter tone before, and it actually startles me. Surely she must have picked it up from one of the church ladies. They’re together so much anymore, from doing laundry together to perfecting sewing or baking things that I can’t eat because they’re for this potluck or that fundraiser.
I pretend to be surprised that she’s defensive, laughing but not slinking away from her. To give her that distance would only be to allow her to think that she’s won this battle. I don’t even know what we’re fighting about, just that we’re at odds with one another and it’s still an unknown hour and we’re still in the same bed. “I wouldn’t like it to be any certain way. It’s just that when you ignore me and shut down after you were the one who brought the subject up, then yes, I’m going to think it’s because you have an answer that I don’t want to hear.”
I can hear her eyes pressed shut firmly. I know I shouldn’t be able to, it seems like a complete possibility, but maybe it’s just because I’ve been with her so long that I know how to read her as well as she knows me. “Do you ever pray?” she asks at last.
“I think that everyone prays sometimes, whether they mean to or not. When we want something badly enough or get desperate enough, we’ll try just about anything to get it. I prayed for you.”
“Let’s go to sleep now. You have to work soon, and they’ll want you to be freshly rested. I don’t want you going in and telling everyone stories about your silly wife keeping you up all night asking you pointless questions you didn’t want to answer.” She speaks lightly, but I can’t tell if she’s actually teasing or if she feels sorry for herself.
“I love you,” I say, but she’s already pretending that she’s asleep.