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Filling the Silence

A story of confession

By Matt SpazianiPublished 3 years ago 8 min read

The cork escaped from the bottle with a muffled pop.

"Ah." Mark let out a relaxed sigh as the aroma washed over him. He held the bottle under his nose and inhaled deeply. "We definitely saved the best for last."

He poured himself a glass, slowly rotating the bottle to keep the wine from dripping down the side. This was one bottle he didn't want to waste. He gently placed it down on the counter and retrieved his glass, taking a delicate sip.

"Red, dry, and a little bit smoky," he remarked, sitting on the couch. "That is definitely the merlot I was hoping for. I've been looking forward to cracking it open for a while."

He looked straight ahead, staring into the fireplace. It was dark and had been for some time; he struggled to remember the last time the hearth had been filled with flickering light. He liked to tell himself that keeping it shut down was a financial decision, but he knew it was mostly apathy. He had disconnected it at least two years ago when he smelled gas and had never bothered to get it fixed. It was one of those things that just slipped through the cracks.

He turned his head towards his wife, smiling when he met her eyes. "No, no, not just because of the wine." He shifted his gaze to the glass, admiring how light from the nearby lamp seemed to make it glow red. "I know not everyone thought we would make it this far. I mean, your mom—we both know she's never really hid her opinion." He looked back at her, smiling again. "But we knew, hon. We knew."

He paused and sipped his wine before continuing. "And your aunt. She knew. She wouldn't have given this to us if she didn't."

Mark had started talking about this just to end the silence, but it was true. He could admit that he had thought old Aunt Louise was a little insane with her gift: six bottles of wine, one for right after the wedding, and one for each of the first five anniversaries. It was sweet, but when he and Vanessa had gotten married, she had just finished grad school and he was about to change jobs. Their lives were a swirl of chaos, and he could barely keep track of their day-to-day needs, let alone six specific bottles of wine. He was sure they'd go missing at some point. But they hadn't, and years later, they still had one bottle left.

Well...for now, Mark thought.

He glanced at the final bottle, still mostly full. Only once had they completely finished the wine in one night. On their first anniversary, they had rented a lake house for the weekend and took one of the bottles with them—a white wine, Mark knew, but he couldn't remember what kind. They had canoed together, hiked together, opened the wine with dinner, and finished it while lying naked in the bedroom. Mark didn't know what his wife remembered from that trip, but he would never forget that night. Earlier in the evening they had been lounging on the porch after a swim, lazily arguing over what do the next day, when the sun finally dipped behind a mountain on the other side of the lake. Orange light poured across the water and turned her skin to gold, her wet hair into glistening locks. It was perfect, she was perfect, and while he may not have remembered the wine, that sight would be etched into his mind forever.

There wouldn't be any golden hour here tonight. The skies had been cold and cloudy all day, and the mood simply wasn't the same as it had been at the lake four years ago. It was the same reason he knew there would still be wine left in the bottle tomorrow. Or one of the reasons, at least.

"What do you think your favorite was?" he asked, pausing to take a drink. Vanessa didn't say anything, so he continued. "I think for me it was the sauvignon blanc, our second anniversary. We went to see Les Mis in Boston, remember? It was the first time we went out since you..." He paused, swallowed, and reconsidered his words. "...since you had your hair cut short. I didn't want to go to a musical, and you convinced me, and we were pretty tired when we got home, and we almost didn't open it. But then we decided to do it anyway, because..."

Because of tradition, he had planned on saying, but he trailed off, that word sticking in his mind. Tradition. An arbitrary repetition of action that kept you grounded in a changing world. Something that you could continue to hold on to, even when so many other things had slipped away. Tradition, unlike life, was eternal. It continued after you were gone.

Mark peered down at his glass, sighing. Only a third of the wine remained, enough for three or four more sips. He knew it was time.

"Honey...Vanessa, I have to tell you something."

He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees, cradling the glass of wine between his hands. He dreaded this moment, had been filled with anxiety about it for a while, but he needed to say it, and it needed to be now.

"There's...I met someone, Vanessa. Another woman."

He paused, gazing into the empty fireplace, hoping for a response. None came.

"Her name is Grace," he pressed on after the silence became unbearable, "and I met her on the job a few weeks ago. We were redoing her lawn, and we've been talking, and…well, it's hard, hon. She's hard to resist." He paused, trying to keep his voice from cracking. "I tried, Vanessa. You have to believe me, I really tried. But she's kind, and smart, and she has this humor about her...I don't know, I can't explain it. But I'm attracted to her."

He lowered his head, staring firmly at the carpet. "I shouldn't be, I know, hon. I just...I don't know how to do this. I've never done anything like this before. I tried, Vanessa, but..." He finally looked up at his wife, meeting her eyes once again. "...but it's been almost three years."

He studied her face, as he had so many times before, trying to read any change in her expression. But there was none. There never would be. His wife stared back out of the picture frame, the joy in her eyes frozen in time. He remembered taking this picture. It was a few weeks before her diagnosis, before their plans had become impossibilities. They had been out to dinner on one of their date nights and decided to walk downtown for a few minutes before heading home, and she had looked so pretty when she leaned over the railing near the river. He had snapped the photo without thinking, without knowing that it would be one of the last photos taken of her before the sickness and medication caused her to waste away. He had just been...happy. It was that simple.

He looked away, almost ashamed to continue. "I promised myself that I wouldn't even think about dating again until we finished these—" He gestured to the bottle next to him. "—but...I didn't expect to meet someone. And I like her, Vanessa. I really do."

He drank from his glass again. There was one, maybe two sips left at the bottom of it. He needed to cut to the chase.

"I know that our anniversary isn't until June, but...well, we made plans tonight," he finally said. "I'm taking her to dinner after this. And I thought it would be okay to have our wine a few months early."

He looked back at the picture. "It's okay, right?"

Vanessa said nothing, of course. He tried to imagine what she would have said, how she would have reacted, and he just couldn't make it work in his mind. He remembered her voice, clear as day, but he had no idea how she would respond here. And why would he? At no point during their time together did they have a conversation like this one. It was uncharted territory.

"I think it's okay," he answered for her. "I just...I love you, Vanessa. I always will. But I think I'm finally ready to move on. To try again. And I just...I need you to know that I'm not forgetting you. I never will."

He stood after these final words, raising his glass towards the photograph. "Here's to five years, hon."

He drank the remaining wine. There was still plenty left in the bottle, but those last sips felt like an ending, a completion. He placed the glass down on the table, turned off the lamp, and walked to the closet to retrieve his jacket before heading out to the garage.

The drive across town was short and uneventful. Mark had turned the radio off upon stepping into the car and let it stay that way the entire ride. He had been afraid of the quiet before, but now it seemed content, peaceful. It cushioned him from the world as he drove.

He reached his destination, killed the engine, and just sat for a moment, observing. The restaurant wasn't packed, but there was enough activity to keep the waitstaff occupied. He watched through the windows, watched the couples talking, the parents trying to control their kids, the groups of friends drinking together at the bar. He let his gaze fall to the left, near the front door, where he thought he could see a figure standing by itself in the entryway. It might have been Grace.

Dread swarmed his mind. He began to panic, a thousand thoughts entering his head, everything from driving back home to getting out and sprinting away. This wasn't just a date, it was his first date in almost three years. What if he said something stupid? Or what if there was something that had changed since he last dated, something that he didn't know? Or what if he thought of Vanessa the entire time and couldn't hold himself together? Maybe he should call it off. It would be easy, he could just text her, tell her something had come up at work, and he had to address it tonight. Yeah, that was the right way to go. He just needed to—

You'll be okay, Mark.

The voice wasn't his own, but it began to center him, calm him down. He took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds. When he exhaled, he could feel some of his fear drifting away into the night. He was still nervous, but now it felt like simple pre-date jitters rather than the tidal wave of anxiety it had been a minute ago.

And he knew why. He recognized that voice.

Clear as day.

He took one more deep breath, exited the car, and walked to the front door.


About the Creator

Matt Spaziani

Robotics engineer by day and writer, musician, and gamer by night.

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