Expiration Date

by Karen Gsteiger

Normally I lounge around with Jeff in bed on Sunday mornings. I'll turn to my right and see him next to me, face down and disheveled. He'll have kicked the blanket off of one of his legs, and he'll be snoring in fits. I'll nuzzle the nape of his neck with my nose and drink in the smell of him with a happy sigh. He won't have showered in a day (or maybe two if it's a long weekend), but I don't mind his scent. I am not, however, fond of his particular brand of morning breath, so I'll avoid the general mouth area. I'll start kissing up and down his back; he'll groan, still asleep, and I know that he'd rather be left to sleep, but I can't help it...his broad back and shoulders are tanned in the summer and perfectly smooth. I know that I really should let him sleep, but sometimes I feel as though when I annoy him in little ways, it's the only time that he realizes that I'm still here. His earlobes are in constant peril from my lightly pinching fingers or flickering tongue. That will usually wake him up...either that or the alarm, buzzing for the third time.

On Sundays, Jeff sets the alarm for 10 a.m. even though he has nowhere special to go. I think he feels guilty waking up at 11 or noon. "Snoozing the whole day away," he would remark with a rueful smile, and I used to always remind him that that wasn't always a bad thing. Hell, once upon a time, long, long ago, I would relish spending a whole day under the covers, and I would beg him to lie with me. He'd chuckle and chasten me for being a "lazy lazy," and get up to go make coffee and eggs and bacon. He'd always ask me if I wanted eggs, and he knew I never did. I would get olfactory hallucinations when I was sick, and if I was nauseated, I would smell phantom eggs in the air. I therefore had no desire to eat them at other times.

I usually lie in bed and watch Jeff get up. He'll pick through a pile of clothes on the floor and find his bathrobe. He'll leave the room, and I'll hear the rattling of the coffee grinder. I'll hear the front door open, knowing that he is grabbing the paper and that we'll spend the rest of the morning working on the crossword, til Jeff gives up. While we're working on the crossword, he'll turn the TV to ESPN, which I find distracting and annoying, but Jeff is one of those people who always has to have a TV on.

Sundays are my favorite days because they're the days when I get to spend the most time with him. But it's been screwed up lately because for the third week in a row, she's been there.

So now I just hang out in the living room because call me crazy but I don't like to see her kissing and nuzzling and pinching and worse. So I wait in the living room for him to come out because even though he's with her now, he still doesn't really sleep in.

I'm not an especially jealous person, given the circumstances, but sometimes I wish that I could just leave. It's still nice when she's not around, but when she's here, I don't feel particularly wanted or missed.

Sometimes I'll be lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling or watching TV, and The Baron will jump up right next to me, and he'll look right at me, and I'll wonder if there's something there--sympathy or understanding. I think so because I'll reach out to pet him, and he'll arch his back and raise his little butt. It feels a little less lonely that way.

I see Jeff emerge from the bedroom naked (most distressing!), and I hope that she'll give me a couple of minutes alone with him, but she follows him out, also naked and giggling. Oy.

She playfully grabs his ass, and they start kissing, and I'm worried that it's going to escalate, right there in front of me, but her face falls a bit, and she says, "I want to be with you forever, you know."

"Me too," he replies, automatically.

"I don't ever want us to be apart."

"Well," Jeff sighs, "sometimes things happen..."

"Does it freak you out when I say things like that?"

"Nah...it's okay. I love you. I want to be with you forever too..."

More kissing and general sappiness and full frontal nudity ensues.

I wonder if he remembers that he had originally promised eternity to me. Being somewhat more knowledgeable about such imponderable issues these days, I can tell you that time goes by pretty slowly, and there's really not a whole lot to do (at least as far as I've figured out so far), and having grown up as an only child, I'm not really good at sharing.

Sometimes I think that I'm not always here. Sometimes I'm here for days on end, silently spending all my time with Jeff, following him around the house, watching him cook, sitting next to him on the couch, my arms wrapped around him, watching whatever football game happens to be on, lying awake next to him in bed.

Then I'll get sleepy, and I'll curl up right there on the kitchen floor and fall asleep. When I wake up again, I'll look at the calendar on the wall, with the days neatly X'ed out, and realize that days and sometimes weeks have passed.

It used to be that I'd only be out for a day or two. Now my sleeping time lasts longer and longer. I don't know why that is--if it's normal or if it's something that I'm doing unconsciously. Maybe it has something to do with her being around all the time. I'm starting to get worried about the sleeping. It's not unpleasant or painful. It's just very dark, and I never remember anything from it. I suspect that I do not dream. It's a lot like not existing at all, the notion of which I think would make anyone feel uncomfortable.

There seem to be a lot of unwritten rules. Or maybe I just don't know how things work. I can't do a thing with objects. I can sit on a chair or lie on a bed or stand on a floor, and I can feel textures, but I can't turn on the TV or open a book or close a cabinet or lift a pencil or even slide an old penny around. I can't walk through walls or closed windows or locked doors. I can't read people's minds or see into the future. Most frustratingly, I can't leave the house. Not even if the sun is shining and the front door is wide open. I've tried, many, many times, just to take a walk, and believe me, now that three's a crowd, it's a trick that I desperately want to learn. I walk to the threshold, tentatively extend a toe towards the first gray step, then next thing I know, I'm lying on the kitchen floor again. Back door, front door, side door by the basement, the guest bedroom window--I always wind up right back in the kitchen before I have so much as touched the black iron railing or the smooth, warm concrete. Once I counted how many attempts I made in a single day: 109.

I miss eating things. I think that's the only sense I've lost. Fresh pineapple and dried apricots and sticky white rice and Jeff's fried chicken and homemade birthday cake with chocolate frosting. Whenever Jeff cooks, I can smell it though, and it makes me feel like I'm home. Once Jeff left half of a candy bar on the coffee table; was he leaving the other half for me? But I couldn't pick it up to eat it. I lowered myself to the table to try to bite into it like an animal, but it didn't work. It's a good thing that I don't get hungry anymore.

Some of my old friends will stop by sometimes. It doesn't happen all that often because it seems to make everyone feel uncomfortable, myself included. I'm so happy to see them, but it's weird to hear about all their plans and everything they're doing that does not involve me. They mention the people that they're marrying and the children that they're having. Sometimes they'll even have the babies in tow, and it's nice to see who has Michelle's eyes and Frank's ears and Jen's frizzy hair, and I'm glad that everyone seems to be growing and progressing and accomplishing important things at work and contributing to society and paying their taxes and gaining weight and losing hair. The only unfortunate thing is that my friends were never really close to Jeff, so I'm not hearing the good gossip. I only get the Christmas card versions of "We're both really happy, the kids are doing well, etc." They never ever ever talk about me. Sometimes it looks like they'll remember something about me, and they'll be on the verge of saying something about it, but Lucy will walk into the room, and they change the subject. Meanwhile, I'll play peekaboo with their babies, and they'll smile and sometimes gurgle, so I like to think that they see me. I've got a friend, Lindsey, who has a three-year-old, and she's as oblivious as all the adults, so I think they grow out of it.

I talk at my friends when they're here. "Hey, I miss you...it's been so long. What's going on? Did Sara ever quit her shitty job? Why is Nori still dating Ben? I'd never keep a cheater. Give me all the details about Nina and Kevin's wedding...is it all as hideous and trashy as I'm imagining? Please don't go yet. All right then, suit yourselves. I love you. Remember me once in a while. Don't be strangers now, ya hear?"

Sometimes when it really gets to me, I lie back down in the kitchen and wait to fall asleep. I see Jeff's and Lucy's feet pass back and forth in front of my eyes as they wander in and out of the kitchen. The hours pass, and they eventually go to bed, turning off the lights on me.