Sweet Mary

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Content warning: This story contains references to violence that some people may find triggering. 

A man sits down to Valentine's dinner with his wife, but things take a turn when painful truths are uncovered, resulting in him having to embrace the agony of reality for the sake of a new perspective on life as a whole.

This story was contributed by Paul 'PK' Kingston

Sitting across from her, I watch as the flickering candlelight dances upon the contours of Mary's hair. It's the same hairstyle that she's worn for upwards of five years but the soft glow seems to give it new life, as though tonight is the first time I've seen it.

Sipping from my glass of Argentinian Malbec, I softly inhale through my nose to take in the myriad of aromas. I naturally close my eyes as the bouquet of the wine intermingles with the faint smell of fresh-cut wild flowers that I've prominently displayed in the crystal vase we received for our wedding.

As I gently place my glass back on the table, I can't help but notice the look of sadness in her eyes as she stares at her plate, unmoving. The stillness of her body as she sits with her hands gently folded in her lap would almost suggest that the polished silverware on either side of her plate had not even been presented as an option.

Every part of me wants to lighten the mood, cut through the silent tension with some sort of quip, but in the moment I feel myself filling with the very same anguish I see displayed upon Mary's face.

I mirror her position, gently folding my hands in my own lap, hoping that the shift in position will somehow help me find the words to properly express myself. However, before I am able to find my thoughts, she speaks in a cautious, hushed tone, "Robert, I... I'm sorry."

I take a moment to choke back the tears that inherently rush to the surface in response to the sound of her voice, trying to play off a falsified tone of levity in the process, "Ten years of marriage, and I think that's the first time you've apologized before I have."

She says nothing in response, looking at me as though I were one of her students speaking out of turn. It works. What can I say? She always was great at her job.

Only once I've fallen silent, dipping my head shamefully for the outburst, does she continue, "I'm sorry for everything you've gone through. This was never the life I wanted for you... either of us, for that matter."

I can't help but scoff in the moment, immediately recognizing that I'm still behaving like an obstinate teen in the second row of her English class.

Leaning slightly towards me, Mary's eyes soften from a look of sadness to one of loving concern. As she gathers her thoughts, she briefly glances towards the flowers, before turning her attention back to me, "You deserve better than this."

I desperately mine for levity once more, playfully gesturing around the room, "Look, I know it's not perfect, but I think I did a pretty good job with the place."

Whether it's out of annoyance or willful indulgence, Mary scans the room with a look of mild approval before landing on the bookshelf and holding a perplexed gaze, "You moved our photo."

My heart swells with sadness once more, as I quietly mumble, "It's... in the drawer."

Looking up from my momentary sulking, I see her eyes are back on me, softly welling with tears. Whether they're from pain or pity, the last thing I want is to ruin this night by making her cry.

Despite my best intentions though, something makes me feel inherently compelled to explain myself, "It just... it hurt too much to see it. I couldn't do it anymore."

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