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March 24 , 2009

Cast a Dark Shadow


“Do you realize how long it’s been?” Dallas spoke, trying to keep her voice as unemotional as possible. Bart hated scenes. Dallas knew she should back off, drop the subject, and leave Bart alone. It was the only safe way to deal with him lately. Tonight was a final, desperate effort on her part. It was their wedding anniversary. If anything was left between them, she should be able to reach it on what was supposed to be a day of celebration. Early returns weren’t promising. Let’s face it, Dallas thought. Your carefully constructed web of pretense is fraying, and fraying fast, with a whole lot of help from your husband. Why can’t you admit it’s over and just take your losses and get out? Because I hate to give up and throw twenty years down the rabbit hole. At least without giving it one last shot. Bart didn’t answer Dallas, didn’t even acknowledge the question. He was staring past her, at a spot somewhere over and slightly to the right of her head. His moods had gotten increasingly dark and difficult lately, his patience with her nonexistent. As Dallas watched him lift the glass he held and drain its contents, she thought, He’s drinking way too much. Dallas looked away, feeling totally defeated. As she did, she heard Bart rattle the ice cubes in his glass. That was her cue to get him a refill. Let him get his own damned refill, she decided, with a rare burst of irritation and rebellion. He has feet. Tonight, as soon as she’d given him his anniversary gift, she knew she’d made a mistake. His face closed up, his jaw tensed, and he acted like she’d handed him a bomb he expected would go off at any minute. The gift still sat, unopened, on the table. At first, Dallas hoped it was because he forgot about the anniversary and didn’t have anything for her. But it was more than that. There was something different about Bart tonight, something Dallas couldn’t identify, something that intensified the uneasy feelings she’d had for the last six months. More and more, she felt like she was living with a stranger. “Doesn’t twenty years of marriage mean a thing to you, Bart?” Dallas asked. At last, Bart decided to acknowledge her presence. He let his gaze drop to her slender ankles and work its way up to her face. His hazel eyes were cold, and his mouth was set in a thin line. “I fail to see twenty years of marriage as an excuse for you to run around dressed like a cheap tramp, Dallas,” he said. “I’m not dressed like a tramp.” Dallas wore a white lace teddy she bought especially for the occasion. It was about as successful as the fancy dinner she cooked and Bart barely touched. Another mistake, obviously, she decided. My whole life seems to be a mistake lately. She sighed. “I wanted you to make love to me. That’s all. Nothing else works. I thought this was worth a try.” Bart’s silence and the unyielding intensity of his gaze made Dallas look away again. She stared past him, out the sliding glass patio doors, where a crescent moon floated on the horizon. It washed the night with pale light and made it look as cold and empty as Dallas felt. “I will make love to you when I want to,” Bart finally said. “Do you understand? And if I never want to again, that part of your life will be over. Whether you like it or not.” Dallas swallowed hard, bit her lip, and fought back the tears of resignation and defeat that gathered on her lower lids. If there was anything her husband hated worse than emotional scenes, it was tears. “You are no different from any other tramp in the world, are you, Dallas? Always willing to get some poor slob to do what you want him to do. Then, when he does, you turn on him. You all turn on him.” Bart’s words, and the vehemence behind them, dried Dallas’s tears up before they had a chance to spill over. What in God’s name is he talking about now? Dallas wondered. Not for the first time in her dealings with Bart lately had she tried to label uneasiness that crossed the line and became somet
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