Times Gone By

His eating was driving her insane. Juliet lowered her head and scowled at her TV dinner. Meal times were nearly unbearable now, to hear the sound of her husband munch and slurp, his grunt as he leaned back in his chair to pick the greens from his teeth. There was a little smudge of salad dressing in the corner of his mouth. When did her husband become so abhorrent?

As Juliet stared at the smudge on his mouth, a cold fury spread throughout her body like the ache of a vaccine injection. Her eyes narrowed at Romeo, who was now wiping his mouth, oblivious to the resentment sharpening in her gaze. She found herself grinding her teeth, and with a sudden intake of breath, she stood and wordlessly retired to her room.

Juliet sat on their bed, studying the little cracks in the wall. The light was fading outside, and in the darkness, the past came to whisk her away.

This was common now. A sudden outrage would swell in her, about something as silly as Romeo eating, for Saint Francis' sake, and she'd remove herself, taking deep breaths that usually ended in silent sobs that wracked her now old, squishy, wrinkled body.

She used to think her unhappiness was eclectic, but after many evenings in the dark and quiet, she realized that there was really just one taproot of her irritation, and this loathing wasn't hate, but hurt. She traced the jagged line in the wall they hadn't bothered to paint over, remembering those awful rows they had in the kitchen, years ago. She remembered running to the bedroom, crying with an uncomfortable mixture of guilt and disappointment that curdled into anger as time went by. She would curl up in their bed and wonder where Romeo had gone.

He's not the charming, dashing young man with that twinkle in his eye anymore. He used to snake his arm around her shoulders when they woke up, and he'd whisper florid declarations of love in her hair, tickling her neck with talk of saints and celestial bodies. Juliet almost giggled in spite of herself at the memory. Now, he just snores and turns over, Juliet practically falling off the edge of the bed to be as far from him and his boorishness as possible.

They had been so in love when they got out of Verona. That night was one of auspicious timing, for she had awoken from her slumber in the tomb just as Romeo was holding the flask up to his lips. The newspapers told a different story. Apparently, they had died, and in nearly every version was that little anachronism, where she woke up after Romeo drank the poison and died. There was one rumor that the two were in collusion and ran off in the opposite direction of Mantua to become bandits. Benvolio must have inherited Mercutio's talent with stories.

Juliet heard a stirring in the living room. Romeo would be heading to bed any minute, so she slipped into the backyard. The night air was cathartic, and she sought its calming, cleansing powers on many lonely, bitter twilight excursions. The moon peeked through gauzy clouds, its glowing eye reminding Juliet of that night on the balcony. She let her mind wander through that evening, all the decorous apparel and glistening hams on the banquet table.

As her memory wound on, she reflected all the things she had sacrificed to be with Romeo. They left everything just to have each other, but the honeymoon, quite literally, was soon over, and homesickness lodged itself between them. Sure, they had great, passionate years, but she found he wasn't everything she thought he was, and definitely not enough to satisfy her life entirely. But what can you do in this rural town, when anyone who loved you was back at a home you could never return to? She winced at the image of her father. The last she ever saw of him was him storming out of the room, after censuring her about her aversion to wedding Paris. Oh, god, Nurse! Juliet sighed, stepping around her garden. She missed her amicable, chatty nurse so much. Nurse would understand. But she was long gone now.

Juliet raised her head to the inky sky. Almost 30 years ago, she received a letter from old Balthasar saying Nurse had died in her sleep. Juliet couldn't look at Romeo for days. That was around the time Romeo began to spend long hours in his study. He had taken up cartography in their new life together, and the more Juliet withdrew from him, the more days he seemed to spend cooped up in there, waving her away when she popped her head in. If he wasn't doing who knows what in there, he was out traveling. You do a lot of long weeks traveling when you're a mapmaker, but that probably wasn't the only thing he had going out of town. More than once, when he returned, she found a long strand of red hair somewhere on his clothes. It didn't bother her as much as it used to.

At that time, she and Romeo knew they blamed each other for having to leave everyone behind. Maybe, Juliet pondered, she should have followed Nurse's advice and married Paris, so she could spend the rest of her days among family and friends. She huffed, and turned the thought away. There weren't a lot of heart-wrenching what-ifs anymore. She had resigned to the stars.