Deleted from an early draft of The Flame Alphabet.
In bed that night we came as close as we ever had to discussing what we’d heard from Rabbi Burke. Claire was quiet, directing her energy on getting me to speak first. I waited her out. The illness had gifted me with unrivalled patience. Being patient was just a matter of not caring, and not caring could possibly be connected to something medical. Symptoms so broad and diffuse encouraged the justification of any behavior. Anything Claire wanted to say to me she could say without an invitation or outright courtship. I wasn’t going to beg to hear more of our sorrow. Or maybe I was, but not so easily.
I leaned over to flip out the light and the darkness felt exquisite on my face. This was perhaps the most unrivalled moment in all of family life, the switching off of the bedroom lamp. All obligation ceases. Hiding, if one so desires, becomes suddenly possible for the first time all day.
The chief virtue of darkness is that people tend to leave you alone. You can finally go unnoticed.
Beside me Claire huffed, and I rolled over, assumed the pose.
“You’re just going to go to sleep?” she finally said.
“No, of course not,” I said.
I wanted to sound kind, but apparently I did not want it badly enough, so I spelled it out for her, whispering from my side of the bed.
“First I’m going to wait here for you to dump your misery on me, which will no doubt place some kind of blame at my feet, and then I’m going to have trouble falling asleep because I feel a little more like shit than I did before this conversation started.”
She took the upper hand. “Don’t blame me for how you feel.”
“Ok. Thanks for the guidance. Any more advice from Pooh Corner?”
“Yeah, actually,” Claire said. “Don’t be the asshole who’s already decided on this,” Claire said.
“Ok. Thanks for the warning. Consider me hugely undecided. For all time and forever.”