She presses her hands around his, wrapping him in gauze, as if shes taping up a fighter. How am I doing, doctor?
She forces out a smile. Shes an internist by training, but she did a second residency, in infectious disease. He has come to the wrong specialist. Youre lucky you dont need stitches.
Do I need them?
I think I staunched the flow.
She guides him upstairs and into their old bedroom. She has him in their bathroom beneath the flickering lights, and David is saying, We need to replace that bulb. And the mirror, he adds. It has a crack in it. Hairline fracture.
But shes focused only on the task at hand, urging him to remain still. She takes off the bandage, which is shot through with blood, and wraps his hand again.
Youre as good as new, she wants to say, but her breath catches on the words. Theyre out of the bathroom, and now David, in his white gym socks, is sitting on their old bed; tentatively, she settles herself beside him. One of his socks has a hole in it, and his big toe pokes out, white as a marshmallow nub. Through the window, she can see the tennis court still dotted with balls, lumpy as dough in the moonlight. Clean up, clean up. The girls will be coming soon, and they might want to play. How are you feeling?
Im all right.
Time to hit the hay.
She nods. At home in the city, theyve been sleeping in separate bedrooms, but this is the first time theyve been back here, up in Lenox, alone together. It seems that David has claimed their old bedroom. Squatters rights. Though she, in fairness, is a squatter, too. Shes also, she understands, the bad guy here. Davids suitcase is on the floor at his feet; a shoe tree spills out of it, and a can of shaving cream.
Good night, she says.
He gives her a quick nod.
She turns softly on her heels and heads down the hall. When she comes back a few minutes later, David is already asleep. There he is, her husband, and she feels a momentary heartbreak, knowing shes not supposed to be looking at him, that somehow shes not entitled. But she continues to stand there, tears falling down her face. Shes back in their house in Larchmont, back in other houses and apartments, remembering hallways, portals, a domed ceiling high above the family dinner table, bedrooms whose configurations she can only dimly recall outside of which she used to stand at night quietly watching her children sleepand later, listening to David breathe softly beside her, and she, a stealthy presence among the reposed, careful not to disturb the sleep of a loved one.
Excerpted from The World Without You by Joshua Henkin. Copyright © 2012 by Joshua Henkin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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