The Itch

It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. Sometimes I felt thirsty, but no matter how much I drank I could never quench the thirst. At other times, I needed to walk around the house and stretch my legs, but no matter how long I paced I still felt restless. It was as if my mind was trying to find a way to scratch that itch.

My mind was doing it now. I was in the shower scrubbing with the soap. It was the third shower I had taken that day and the eighth in the last two days. And yet I still felt the cling of dirt on my skin, the grime between my fingers and toes, and the grease soaking my hair.

I stopped scrubbing, but I still felt dirty, my skin was red and sore. I reached for the shampoo and that is when I felt it. It was a sharp jab at the back of my skull. Painful, but not overbearing. I reached back for the pain with my hand and it receded to an uncomfortable buzz. When I brought my hand back in front of me, the palm was red. But I couldn’t tell if it was stained with blood or just rubbed raw from the soap.

Was it strange that I couldn’t tell the difference? If there were blood on my hand, I should see it pooled in my palm mixing with the spray of water coming from the showerhead. I tried to concentrate, but the pain sharpened. When I let go of my fixation and let my mind wander, the pain eased back into a mild discomfort.

I reached my hand back to my skull and patted around trying to locate the source of the pain. My hair felt funny, but I couldn’t quite tell where the pain originated. The pain became sharp while I searched, but I ignored it.

I forgot myself after a bit and went back to scrubbing with the soap. I felt dirty. But I still felt the pain in the back of my head and occasionally would raise my hand to check the back of my skull.

I don’t know how many times I scrubbed before I felt it, but I suddenly had the strangest feeling someone was just outside the shower stall. I heard a squeaking noise and the back of my skull throbbed with a new wave of pain. I lifted my hand to the throbbing and turned my head, the water pouring from the showerhead obscuring my vision, but I could tell the murky shower door was open. A figured hovered there and I felt a mixture of shock and fear wring through my body. I blinked my eyes to clear them of the water, but the figure vanished leaving me shivering in the cool breeze intruding upon my warm shower.

I turned off the water and peered out of the shower. The bathroom door was closed and the room was empty. I reached for a towel and began to dry off thinking it was just my imagination. Only, I didn’t remember ever opening the shower door. I remember it closed, the shower warm with steam from the hot water. And I remember it open when I turned my head. I trembled, felt light-headed and displaced. Why couldn’t I remember?

It was dark outside. Not pitch quite yet, just the darkest shade of gray that pillages the light after the sun has disappeared over the horizon. It was quiet out, as it often is just after the sunsets.

It was more than just quiet, really. It was silent. I was unused to it being so silent, even at this time of night. Usually, I could hear the buzz of an overhead plane heading to the airport or the distant honk of cars from the nearby highway. Not this night. The silence was as if time was caught between two moments and not yet ready for the passage.

I poured myself a second glass of water from the tap and gulped half of it down in one swallow. I’d never been much for bottled water. Why someone would buy plastic bottles of something pumped into their house was beyond me, but the water coming from the tap this night contained a hint of bitterness. It almost tasted stale, as if water could even be stale.

I took another sip and pondered driving to the store to pick up some sodas. I preferred a soda anyway — there was something about the bubbling carbonation that had long ago become an addiction. The convenience store was a three-minute drive from the house. The drive might even do me some good. I wasn’t depressed, not exactly, but I did feel down. No, even that wasn’t a good explanation. I felt… nothing. No real feeling at all.

Yes, a drive would do me some good. I finished my water and patted my pockets for my keys. I had a vision of putting them down somewhere, but I couldn’t remember exactly where. I went to the small alcove by the front door and checked the table normally used for mail when I was too lazy to sift through it. I didn’t find the keys, but I did notice the stack of mail was over a week old. From the looks of it, there were a couple of bills in the pile. I made a mental note to go through the stack later.

I checked the den, the living room, the dining room table. I searched my bedroom chest-of-drawers and even went to the kitchen and checked the refrigerator, though why exactly I thought they might be there I don’t know. I always did seem to look in the frig for lost items and couldn’t recall a single time I ever found anything there.

They must be somewhere.

I poured myself another glass of water and tried to think. It sure was quiet out. I took a long swallow of water and stared out the kitchen window. The tree in the backyard stood guard, its long branches fanning out to cover the yard in a protective ceiling of leaves. Usually, there was a soft wind that would rustle through those leaves late at night, but the air was very still tonight. I stared and wondered what I had been looking for. I knew I had been searching for something. I took another drink of water, but it tasted flat, slightly bitter.

Perhaps if I heated up some tea? I thought I remembered seeing a tea bag in the back of the pantry.

“Jerry, what are you doing here?” I hadn’t seen my cousin Jerry in a long time. A very long time.

“I just came to visit.”

“It’s good to see you.” I couldn’t remember exactly when the last time I’d seen him, but I knew there was a good reason it had been so long.

“It’s good to see you, too.” Jerry smiled.

He had a contagious smile and soon I was smiling and patting him on the back. “How is your mom?”

“She’s good, I think. I haven’t talked to her in quite a while.”

“And your dad?” Jerry’s dad, my uncle, was a round man that always paid more attention to us kids than the other adults. He was everyone’s favorite uncle.

“He’s good too. I think.”

“Gosh, it’s good to see you.”

Jerry’s smile got wider.

“When was the last time?” I asked. I thought about it and suddenly remembered. “It was in the summer right after we graduated high school. I had that bright red mustang, remember? And you were just back from basic training. You were due to leave the next day so we took that mustang out and…”

“What is it?” he asked, concerned. I didn’t reply immediately. “I remember that day,” he said. “We went down to the lake and walked around. We saw those two pretty girls and followed them around for half an hour, but neither of us could get up the nerve to talk to them.”

I nodded.

“What is it?” he asked again.

“Its just that,” I looked at him straight in the eyes. “You died. In the war. You weren’t over there more than a month before you got caught in that ambush.”

“I did? No, I don’t remember that. I remember being over there. But I don’t remember that.”

I couldn’t be talking to Jerry. He was dead. “Am I dreaming?”

“No,” he replied. “I think I am.”

A hunger. Not a sharp pain, but a low rumble. I looked in the pantry, but I couldn’t find any chips. I frowned and checked behind the soup cans. If I didn’t have chips, maybe I had crackers. Crackers and mustard would do in a pinch. Nope. No crackers.

I briefly thought of going to the store and checked my pockets for keys. I had a vague memory of searching the house earlier. I sighed. I’d just wait for Andrea to get home. She always had a knack for finding my keys when I misplaced them. She should be home soon. I couldn’t remember where she had gone, but she had taken the baby with her and it was already dark out. Yes, she should be home soon.

She was crying. I always hated it when she cried. If there was a hell it was within the echo of her teardrops sounding within my heart. I put my arm around her and simply held her until the crying ceased.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

She didn’t immediately answer. Instead, she stared blankly at the floor as if lost within some thought of her own. When she did speak it was a whisper. “I miss you,” she said. “I miss you so much.”

“I miss you too,” I said. We spent each night together, but it seemed different now that the baby had come. Andrea had been depressed since the baby, very depressed. There were some days she didn’t get out of bed at all. “We’ll spend some time together this weekend,” I said. “We’ll drop Thomas off with mother and take some time for just the two of us.”

When was the weekend? I tried to think of what day it was but for some reason, I didn’t know.

Andrea stood up and walked to the dresser. She stood there for a moment staring at the picture of us for our honeymoon cruise to Cancun. Andrea was smiling in a way that made the whole picture glow, and I smiled in response, remembering that day.

She dropped the hammer she was holding and it thumped against the carpet. I hadn’t noticed the hammer before and thought it odd she had been holding one. There seemed to be something stuck to the head. I was about to pick it up when she turned to me.

Or rather, she turned toward me. I don’t think she saw me at all. There was a lost look in her eyes and that is when I noticed the gun in her other hand. My heart stopped in that instant. I wanted to ask her what she was doing with the gun, but for some reason, I couldn’t. Tears were streaming down her face when she raised the gun up to her temple. “I miss you,” his lips mouthed.

“I miss you too.”

I couldn’t seem to get clean no matter how much I scrubbed. There was a throbbing pain in the back of my head. I reached back and patted my skull. It was on odd pain, seeming sharp at first then fading to a steady dull pulse. I looked down at my hand. Was that blood?