* * *
Steven’s knuckles turned white as he clenched his fist around rigid plastic. He breathed deep gulps of air and held the phone at arms length. His throat felt like sand paper, and the yelling had turned his voice to gravel. Fighting back tears that demanded release, he returned the plastic connection to her back to his ear.
Ragged breaths on the other end of the line matched his labored breathing. “Well?” Lindsay demanded, the ice in her voice did nothing to counter his boiling wrath. “Is there anything else you want to scream at me?”
The phone malformed in his grip as he fought back another yelling fit that would prove Lindsay correct. He gulped several more breaths and mentally counted to ten before answering her. “No, Lindsay, I have no more to scream at you.”
The line was silent for a heartbeat, and Lindsay replied in an even voice. “Good, because it’s not my fault.” There was another intense silence followed by the same even voice. “You have no right to scream at me.”
Steven felt his head swim, and a flush encroach the back of his neck and ears. “No right?” He forced his rage into a single release of air through his lips. “I’ve done nothing wrong!”
“What haven’t you done wrong,” Lindsay screamed on her end. The extreme change in volume caused the plastic grill to rattle, and the line went dead.
Steven stared at the orange display, slowly breathing in and out. He relaxed his grip on the phone and tossed it on the counter beside the cradle.
Why is this happening to me? He thought and scowled at the world.
He couldn’t understand what possible justification Lindsay could have arguing with him. Not that she needed a reason lately; she and he seemed to argue endlessly. Steven doubted he would ever decipher the hows and whys of Lindsay’s anger. It was an endless parade of one-sided arguments and declarations that he did everything wrong.
Steven’s cell phone rattled on the counter. He flipped the device over and stared at the caller ID. He sighed as the brilliant rectangle showed a happily smiling Lindsay pursing her lips and cramming one of Steven’s baseball hats over her frizzy blonde hair.
His finger hovered over the red ignore icon, but he knew ignoring her would be futile. They had established a pattern: She would call back after their shouting match and apologize for her rude behavior. It was always the same verbiage: rude behavior.
Steven clenched his jaw and pressed the green accept icon. Her declarations were what he expected.
After Lindsay’s opening volley, she meekly asked, “Can we see each other tomorrow?”
So many times, Steven clamped down on the urge to reject her. He was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to deny her. “Tomorrow,” he said and ended the call. He tilted his neck first to the left and then to the right; each satisfying crack seemed to center him.
* * *
Lindsay perched on a hideous used sofa. They purchased the three-cushion monstrosity together after scouring community garage sale sites on the internet. Her fingers traced the green, white and red herringbone pattern. She appeared to be entirely engrossed with the tactile sensation the raised woven thread provided. Or, it could have been that she felt shame, and refused to meet Steven’s somber gaze.
Steven leaned against the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. His eyes bored holes into the top of her head. The same blonde hair from his caller ID hung loose and disheveled. The tips of her curled hair where almost white, and the long length shifted to a dark dirty blonde as it erupted from her scalp. That was how he saw her: an eruption.
The pendulum of emotions Lindsay wore on her shoulders was explosive rapture one moment, and the darkest despair the next. He rode the crushing wave like a surfer would: he just tried to keep his head above water.
Why did I even agree to see her today? Steven thought. He would’ve liked it if this had perhaps been his first musings of that nature, but, alas, this was just the story that was Steven and Lindsay. He could feel tension roll down his shoulders and settle between his shoulder blades. His fuming was nothing new either. Arguing was all they seemed to know how to do any more. Steven was tired of the constant rollercoaster.
“Steven…” Lindsay began when she excised whatever demons the worn sofa absolved her of with her steady stroke.
Steven’s eyes softened, if only for a moment, and his intense stare returned.
Lindsay winced at his unresolved anger. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, her eyes sinking back to the sofa.
“Yeah,” Steven scoffed, “I know what you’re going to say.” He shook his head, and continued. “You’re going to apologize for yourself. You’ll tell me how wrong you are.” He paused, closed his eyes, and let out a shallow breath. “But,” his eyes snapped open, and locked on Lindsay’s in rapt attention, “tomorrow, maybe even tonight, we’ll argue again. And again. And again. “It’ll be over the stupidest thing. All we do any more is argue.”
Lindsay met his angry gaze. “There’s this voice…” she began.
Steven closed his eyes. “A voice?” he responded, his heart pounding in his chest.
“Yes,” she said in a low murmur. “I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. It tells me,” she waved her hand at the ceiling, “things,” she concluded.
Steven stood mute, and Lindsay continued. “I try to ignore it, but it just gets louder.” She pressed her index finger across her pale skin between her nose and lips. “And louder,” she declared, leaned back, and her shoulders sagged as if an invisible weight forced her to the back of the sofa.
“Voices make you do it?” He shook his head and sighed. “Lindsay, that sounds crazy…” His voice trailed off as she narrowed her eyes and clenched her fists pressed into her lap.
“But,” he said quickly, raising an index finger, “I care about you. We can work together to overcome anything.”
The corners of Lindsay’s lips quirked slightly. “I need to use the bathroom,” she announced, and shuffled to the door between the living room and bed room. Steven planted his elbows on the counter when he heard the door latch, and cradled his head in his hands. He wished things were like when they first met. Back then they both seemed to care deeply for each other.