by Paul Germano

The clock ticks like a time bomb. Madeline Windsor, fortysomething and willowy, is sprawled out flat, her left arm dangling over the side of the bed. She burrows her lean lined face into the pillow and shuts her pale green eyes withoutthe desired results. Her husband; his sweaty body, thick, muscularandathletic; sleeps next to her. He shifts restless and relentless; but remains asleep. Madeline envies him for that. Count sheep, she tells herself, but gives up on the seventh fluffy sheep floating over the rustic fence in her sleepless thoughts. An important overnight business trip weighs heavy on her mind and unfinished business here at home adds to her anxiety. Just a gut feeling, nothing more. And nothing less.

On the blue chair, her overnight bag, packed and ready to roll; her outfit for the Greyhound ride neatly laid out; plus a clipboard with her major talking points, jotted down and well-rehearsed, for her meeting with the firm’s muckety- mucks down in Philadelphia.

On the floor, in a heap, her husband’s crumpled-up khakis, ketchup-stained golf shirt, knock-around penny loafers and dirty tan socks; tossed off in a chaotic frenzy right before the lights went out, his blue eyes tightly closed; his sweating solid mass, asleep five minutes after he hit the sheets.

On the dresser, next to a framed photograph of her sweet Italian grandmother recently deceased, a porcelain vase of white and purple lilacs freshly picked from the trees in the backyard. Her husband pitched a fit at bedtime: “Smells too damn girlie in here.” But she stood her ground. The fragrant lilacs remain in place, a small but important victory.

“Fall asleep, just fall asleep,” she tells herself. Her husband isn’t helping, not one iota. The bed bounces lightly from his sporadic movements while he sleeps, a fully-loaded smile stretches across his ruddy face. “Tomorrow my wife’s away,” he mumbles in his sleep, “call me then.”

Madeline stretches her neck, her eyes blinking rapidly; she props herself up, forces herself to get a good look at her husband’s betraying smile. She wants to be surprised, but his words merely confirm what she already knows. She kisses his forehead, then slowly touches her lean fingers to her own soft lips to stop herself from speaking too loudly. “I’m done with you,” she says in a barely audible whisper, brushing a fast hand under her chin to emphasize her words. “Tomorrow, I’ll be down in Philly; oh, I’ll be gone alright. Tomorrow, I’ll be gone for good.” Sadly content with her decision, she settles into her pillow, her back to her husband, closes her eyes and drifts softly into a sweet sleep.