The initial coolness was like the peace of death. Before, she had felt and tallied Brian's every thoughtless act or wounding word. Now, real and perceived grievances all beaded up and rolled off of her like rain down a marble monument. It was so liberating to put the pain behind her, to move to a state in their marriage in which she could hide herself away and play the role of wife. They still did all the same things. They got up, danced around each other in the bathroom, went to work, had dinner together, had sex. The sex was better than before, actually, because now there was a corner of her mind where she could watch herself and improve her performance and adjust her mental game when necessary.
But even death is not static. Repose becomes decay. She had thought that she was preserving the marriage by closing herself off. One day she realized that Brian had ceased to expect anything from her. He had become other to her, and now she was other to him. They were two people in a house, partners in management, marking the time with manners. She had died to him, but she had not counted on him dying to her. It was frightening to realize that she was interchangeable.
One day at the office she stopped by Sofia's cubicle to drop off a report. A faded inspirational poster was tacked up to the divider, a backlit image of a stalk of wheat with the caption, "Unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit."
"What does that mean?" she asked Sofia.
"I don't know? It was my dad's, it used to hang in his office. I think it's that... the wheat can't grow unless it's transformed? The grain by itself doesn't change, but when it's planted and starts to grow, it bursts open and warps out of shape and is destroyed, and in the process it becomes something bigger and better, something it never could have become on its own. It has to die to go on living."
Sofia shrugged. "Most living feels like dying anyway."
"But it doesn't really die," she said. "How can it grow into a plant unless it's alive?"
"I guess the grain of wheat part of it dies."
"That's pretty lousy for the grain," she said, unreasonably annoyed on behalf of an anonymous seed.
"It's not like it was going to last forever on its own. Get planted or get eaten."
"And those are the only two options?"
"Or decay in storage," said Sofia, turning back to her computer.
On her way home she picked up Chinese food from a place Brian liked. At home she pulled out dishes and candles and plated everything up just like she'd read about in an article about reviving the spark in your marriage. Brian called her as she was throwing away the containers.
"I'm going to be late, babe," he said. "The project is running late, and you know how it is. Don't wait for me to eat. I'm just going to grab a sandwich somewhere up here."
It was like him to spring this on her. Several cool replies simmered within her, and she considered which one would be most effective.
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground...
"Okay," she said. "What if I come up there and eat with you?"
"You want to come all the way up here?" he said. "I'm only going to have about ten minutes."
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies...
"I don't mind. I'd like to."
"Um, okay. Sure, if you want."
"Thanks." She swallowed. "I love you."
There was silence on the line for a moment. She closed her eyes and waited.
"Yeah, you too," he said shortly. "See you."
She picked up the plates and started scraping them in the trash, wondering at the strange bitter pang of the first blade of wheat piercing through the confines of the dead husk.