My wife is making smoothies in the NutriBullet.
“I need you to give me a list of groceries you want,” she says.
I start listing the things we usually eat for dinner. My wife hasn’t been eating—something’s going on—so she shakes her head and sighs and tells me to forget it. I stand up slowly and ominously, and I say, “Next time don’t ask me.” I start to add something else about the amount of money she spent on groceries the last time she went to the store, no doubt some petty, childish expression of fiscal responsibility that I will regret.
She says: “Well, I’ve been cooking every day for the past three months, and I make these smoothies every morning, so I must buy something useful.” A pause when I want it stopped. “You know I’m on a diet. You know I can’t eat that stuff.”
“You have to control everything lately,” I say.
It’s all I can manage. It’s a long pause. So long that you might not know the meaning of “control everything,” as though I spoke the words into oblivion and am observing their effect in another dimension, because in this dimension, they mean nothing.
My wife’s face twitches on the brink of something, of crying. “OK,” she says. “Whatever.” She runs upstairs, and I hear her start crying, her breath shaky and shallow.
I put in my earbuds and turn the volume up to the max and start listening to Fleetwood Mac. I think about a woman from work, and this image leaps into my mind:
We’re dancing in a club somewhere, the woman and I. It might be Cuba, or somewhere tropical. Her body is hard in all the right places and we’re sweating. She laughs and stumbles—because she’s a sitcom character. Our passion knows no midnight, and by the time we finish our dance my shirt is unbuttoned and her spaghetti straps have fallen. We look at each other and we laugh because we’re both answered for. And then we dress each other. She buttons my shirt. I fix her spaghetti straps. I have to become him so hard that I’m suddenly all gone, because that one doesn’t believe I exist, even in his very imagination. It’s just him and the woman from work. Now I’m either dead or dreaming and I can’t tell you which. But I’m tired of dreaming.
My wife comes back downstairs. She’s crying. She gives me a hug and then says she’s sorry and waits for my apology. When it doesn’t come, she looks at me. Steadily, I begin to understand. I begin to understand that I am just one of many terrible lives I have lived. I sometimes believe so, imagining myself dancing somewhere tropical, at my dining room table, writing stories in the rain.
Joe Halstead is the author of West Virginia, a novel available from Unnamed Press.