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Day Breaking, Spring Cleaning

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The morning after the best sex of their marriage, she wakes up and knows she is going to leave him. It's just past sunrise, and she's aching and sober; every sensation she's taking in is shockingly clear, from the dull roar of blood in her ears to the sepia-yellow light oozing in through the high attic window. Her husband is asleep in a fetal ball next to her, the edge of the blanket pulled tightly to his chest, and there's just the edge of a snore in his breathing. She knows from long experience that he's out cold. Good.

The bare wood of the attic floor is cool under her feet as she climbs out of bed. Her clothes are on the floor where she left them, and she slips them on, not caring about the wrinkles or the faint smell of gin that clings to them; it's not like she's going out, after all. She barely bothers trying to be quiet as she heads downstairs, where the morning sun casts shimmering, watery refractions through last night's bottles. There's still some gin left, and she's tempted to finish it off before he wakes up, but she needs to keep her mind about her if she's going to figure out a plan.

The couch creaks under her weight as she sits down, and she pulls her purse from underneath the coffee table. She checks the bottom pocket, the one buried under enough detritus to keep him from rifling it, and she's quietly glad to see its contents are still intact -- the $500 in crisp twenties she keeps as emergency cash and the cards keyed to her backup bank accounts. She'll double-check the balances before she leaves, but unless her husband's been much sneakier than usual, there should be more than enough to get her out of the state and onto whatever comes next. (She has no idea what that is, but she'll figure something out.)

Without alcohol in her system, all the reasons she should have done this long ago are coming back -- every argument, every incident, all the fissures in the already-shaky foundations of their marriage. She's always used drinking to smoothe over the rough edges of the world, but never moreso than she does now. The cameraderie of a shared haze lets her ignore the difference between the way they drink: she to blur the edges, make the world friendlier, and he as part of some long plan for self-destruction. She accepted that about him long ago, and really, it doesn't even bother her anymore. He's going to kill himself by degrees regardless of anything she does, probably regardless of whether or not she's even there, and somehow that's all right.

What's not all right is what she felt last night -- the cresting and breaking of some wave, the high that she knows all too well comes right before a last descent. They'd come so close to really hurting each other, going beyond the bruises and carpet burns that had long since become mundane; for just a moment after she'd forced him to the floor the first time, she'd seen real rage flare in his eyes. She'd only seen that rage-light in a few lovers' eyes before, and she knows from experience there are only two ways things can go from there. Either he'll realize just how close to the edge he came and force himself to step back, or he'll give up and give in. Either way, it ends.

She realizes, staring down at the coffee table and the wreckage of their weekend, that she has no idea which way he'll go.

It doesn't matter, though; both paths end badly, and she doesn't want to be there when they do. As intoxicating as her husband's fantasies can be, she's not willing to surrender what tenuous claim to functionality she has, and that means it's time to get out. She'll give herself a few days to make plans, but this time she's got to be serious about it; there's no room for second-guessing or sentimentality. This has to end, and she will end it.

Inevitably, like her sobriety, her plan doesn't last.

The practical arrangements are easy enough. A few calls to her banks tell her what she needs to know -- that the funds are there to get her an adequate car and fund her escape. (She doesn't have the heart to clean her husband out. He'll need everything he has left.) She's still got a few old friends who probably aren't holding grudges, which gives her a few potential destinations. It's as easy as getting the cash, buying the car, and packing a bag.

There's more gin, though, and all of its companions, handled plastic bottles appearing in the kitchen as if smuggled in under cover of night. (For all she knows, they are.) The third day of her planning, she gives in and has a glass, then another, and soon Alcohol's best friend Sentiment arrives. The breaking-point night replays in her head -- the shattering ashtray, the feel of his fragile wrists in her hands, the moment when his rage dissolved into tenderness and he went slack underneath her. With a few drinks in her, it all feels less like the beginning of the end and more like the fulfillment of a promise they barely knew they'd made to each other.

Before she met him, she'd spent years looking for something like that. Every man she met took her for a frail flower, someone who needed wine and roses and oh-so-tentative "making love," or took her desire for violence as a request to be conquered. Only her husband had finally understood her need for rough, raw sensation and been prepared to satisfy it. The sex had been good from the very beginning (why would she have stayed otherwise?), and when she drinks, it's hard to convince herself that it might not stay good a while longer. It doesn't hurt that a few drinks make her focus on just how pretty he can be: his voice, his long-fingered hands, the knack he has for finding the only good thing on the radio within ten seconds of turning it on. With his edges blurred and his sins forgiven, he's beautiful.

The morning she finally sneaks out to buy the car, she drives it home having no idea when she'll leave in it. She decides to tell him it was an impulse purchase, that she found some old birthday money from her father, and she suspects he won't question her much. She can see in him that he's never considered either of them leaving the other. She hopes that'll last.

It's going to be soon, she tells herself. It has to be soon. In the car, driving through the eternal Florida summer that her northern instincts can't entirely process as belonging to February, she sets the end of March as her deadline. That's enough time to ride out the last few good fucks this marriage has in it and leave him before he's too far gone with hate or romance. He's bounced back from worse, and maybe he'll manage a new start too -- wishful thinking, she knows, but comforting. She'd rather live in a world that has him in it.

She parks the car just off the driveway; the lawn's dead already, and she can't bring herself to care about the damages. Gone by spring, she tells herself. Gone by spring and saving both of us.