The cold slips up the leg of my pants, teasing my ankle and calf, making me shiver. I pass a man with his hands in the pockets of his threadbare coat, his chapped lips clenched tightly, his cheeks rosy and wind burnt. He’s staring at the side of a building with black glass that looks like ice. The little girl next to me stares at him, her puffy pink jacket pocked with mud. She waves into the glass and for a minute the three of us are trapped on the side of the building before the man laughs and walks in the opposite direction and our reflections shatter. The little girl’s mother is talking on her cell phone, one hand extended backward, fingers waiving impatiently for the girl to move quicker. The little girl smiles at me, her pigtails bouncing as she jogs to catch up to her mother. For some reason, it reminds me of your hair, the way it curls at your neck whenever you sweat. It’s misting and drops of water cling to the front of my jacket like spiderwebs. The city is swamped with the smell of exhaust and grease and musk of the water. I love it here – the noise, the motion, even the cold, but right now, all I want is to be in our apartment, your hands across my shoulders, kneading the muscles underneath.
A woman with her hands full of shopping bags bumps into me and something scrapes against my thigh as the streetlights flash in the rain. The traffic is thick -- everyone ignoring the lights, rushing to get home before the rain turns to snow or ice. I weave through lines of stalled cars, their hoods warm, their horns so loud I jump even though I should be used to it by now. By the time I get to our block, my hands feel numb, the gloves I remembered to bring to work still sitting on my desk next to my computer. I can see the faint outlines of age spots around my knuckles, the skin looser than I remember, chapped and dry. We’ve lived here for four years, but my skin hasn’t adapted to the way the cold air sucks up any moisture. You’re always buying me special lotions and creams, but I don’t like the way they sit on top of my skin, leaving my hands shining and so slippery I can’t open a door or grab my phone or even close the container. My rough hands drive you crazy. You complain whenever I touch your cheek or your bare stomach. You can’t understand why my skin refuses to cooperate.
The smell of garlic greets me at our door, the smack of the heater, the voice of Joni Mitchell crooning from the wireless speakers you bought me as a Christmas gift. I can hear you singing off key from the kitchen and when I call a greeting you sing louder so that I can find you. There’s water boiling, a tray of chopped up vegetables on the counter, garlic and onions sweating in a pan on the stove. I kiss the back of your neck as you stir the onions. I can see your lopsided smile as you turn towards me, I’ve always loved the way one side curls up higher than the other. “You need to shave,” you tell me, running your hand across the stubble that has popped up along my chin. I’m surprised how grey it looks in places and point it out to you which makes you laugh. I usually do the cooking, but lately, I’ve been working late, and you don’t like to eat after seven. You complain that it gives you nightmares. When we were first married, we fit dinner in whenever we could, but that was fifteen years ago and habits change.
Your sister is coming to visit in a week with her daughter and I can tell you’re anxious. You’ve taken the week off work and researched the best places to eat and visit, made a list of all the places she wanted to visit again. Our niece is eight and every time she visits, you go out of your way to entertain her. We used to talk about having kids, but the timing was always off, and as the years went on, it stopped coming up. I assumed it was because we had both changed our minds, but sometimes I wonder if I was wrong. It took me a long time to learn how to be a husband instead of just a roommate. You were patient and kind, but I know you must have been disappointed in me, maybe lonely at times. You continue singing and cooking while I pour myself a glass of Maker’s and you a glass of red wine which you thank me for with a kiss on my cheek before I leave you with Joni.
I take my drink with me to the bedroom and change into a pair of basketball shorts I’ve had since we were in our twenties. The edges are frayed and there’s a hole in the right leg, but they’re the most comfortable pair I own, and I refuse to get rid of them no matter how many new pairs you buy me. Afterward, I set the table and we eat with the candles lit and the lights dimmed. It’s become part of our routine and it never fails to remind me of our first date., the way you looked at me over your plate of pasta and told me you would never get married. I took you home, and you kissed me and pressed your hips against mine before disappearing behind your apartment door. I called you the next day and we spent every weekend together for the next six months. We were married at the courthouse and called our friends afterward to go out and celebrate that night. When you told your parents, your mother cried and told you that you were making a mistake. I knew then why you hadn’t wanted to get married. When we finish eating, you lean over to blow out the candles and the flame throws your face in shadows and for a minute we are twenty again and this time I’m the one who kisses you first.