Making Progress

He looked up the driveway at the path he had cleared. Black asphalt peeked through the smearing of white snow that he had spread thinly across approximately a third of the length of the drive, the portion nearest their two-car garage. He twisted at the hips and looked toward the street at the five-to-six inches of freshly fallen snow that still blanketed the rest of the driveway. From where he stood, one couldn’t tell the where the asphalt ended and the grass in the yard began. The snow had created an even playing field of everything it touched. But he was making progress. He slipped the broad edge of the snow shovel down through the snow until he felt the heavy clunk of metal meeting a hard surface. The force of his weight bearing against the shovel let him slide the snow across the drive into a neat pile at one edge of the driveway, and then he turned and repeated the process again, pushing the snow that remained to the opposite side.

The snow had fallen late in the night. In the dark, quiet hours of a new day–that silent passing of one day to the next, near midnight–he hadn’t even noticed the snow falling. His wife hadn’t noticed it either. She was locked behind their bedroom door, refusing to let him in.

“Honey, I’m sorry. What can I do to fix it?” he asked, leaning against the doorframe.

“Nothing. I’m fine.” She was still sobbing, and her words came out in awkward, fragmented pieces.

Ten years ago, at the beginning of their marriage, he would have taken her word for it and left her alone. He knew better now. “I’m not walking away from this door until I figure out what I can do to fix this, Annie.” He heard the bedsprings creak. Footsteps. A small click of the doorknob unlocking, turning. The door opened, and he was face to face with his wife again, her mascara smudged beneath puffy blue eyes, her hair matted on one side.

“I’m just tired, Evan.” He fought his instinct to suggest she wash her face and go to sleep. He knew she would feel better in the morning. But sooner or later, he would be in this place again: locked out of his own bedroom, understanding neither what he had done wrong nor a solution to the problem. Lately, this seemed to happen sooner rather than later. He snapped.

“I’m tired too! I’m tired of trying to make you feel better, only to have it blow up in my face again a day or two later. I’m tired of sleeping on the couch and not in my own damn bed.”

He stared at her blankly. She stared back, angry.

“I’m sorry my feelings are such a burden to you. My happiness. I do everything you ask me to, Evan. Everything. Take care of the girls morning, noon, and night. Homework, laundry, dishes, cooking, shopping, paying bills, scrubbing the damn toilets,” she paused. “Have you everĀ in the time we’ve lived together scrubbed a single toilet?”

He looked up at the ceiling, racking through the memory section of his brain. He couldn’t recall a time at that moment, although he was sure that he had cleaned their toilets before. He figured it best not to answer.

“See, that’s what I mean. You’re gone at work all day, and even when you’re home, you’re not here. You’re preoccupied with your phone or the TV or the goddamn dogs before the girls or I get anything from you. You might as well just leave us and send a paycheck every other week, if that’s all you feel you need to contribute to this family, Evan.”

“So you just want me for my money? Is that what you’re saying? That’s all you want from me?” he asked.

Her eyes narrowed icily into his. He looked away. He knew what she had meant. He couldn’t blame her for feeling that way. He was angry with himself for letting all of the stress of everyday life pile up around him, one tiny snowflake at a time, until it buried him. It had piled so high his wife could no longer see where he stood in his own home. He had to dig his way out.

“I get it,” he said. “I see the problem. I can fix it. Just let me fix it.”

“I don’t know if you can,” she said and shut the bedroom door.

He had slept, tossing from one side to the other on their leather sofa. When he woke early in the morning, the sun was just peeking above the tree line, and it glistened brightly off of the crisp white snow. He stood and walked cautiously to their bedroom. The door was unlocked. He peered into the dark room with the curtains drawn, and saw the silhouette of his wife sprawled across the middle of their bed. He moved quietly to the closet, pulled on his Carhartt coveralls and boots, and went to the garage to find the snow shovel. He pulled on a pair of work gloves and began clearing the driveway.

When the driveway was nearly cleared, his wife appeared at the open garage door. She was in her pajamas and house slippers, and she walked out into the cold morning air toward her husband. He walked toward her and met her halfway down the drive. He kissed her. She kissed him back.

“I’m sorry for what I said. You know I love you, right?” she asked.

“Always,” he said. “I’m almost done here, and then I’ll come inside and make you some breakfast.”

“I’ve already got a breakfast casserole in the oven. There’s fresh coffee ready too.”

“Thank you, babe,” he said.

She looked around the driveway. At the piles of snow on either side and the clear place in the middle. “You’ve made some progress.”

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