A Running List of Questions I Plan to Ask the Never-Married Girl Who Routinely Puts Down Married Sex and Who, Coincidentally, is Fucking My Husband Do you know cute your arrogance is? Why is it, exactly, you imagine his body is, only with you, something snatched from an ee cummings poem? Do you think you make it quite a new thing? Have you heard the expression that steel against steel is sharpened? Which part of me did you think you saw rust on? Where do you think he learned practiced perfected everything you so enjoy? How big is your alone? Do you set a place for it at the table or is it a lapdog, hiding in your purse, and growling at sweet smelling strangers? What were your parents like? Did you ever hear them in the night? Did you think they were arguing? All of those tricks of his – where do you think he learned them? Did you think you weren’t one of them? How do you define marriage? Do you think yours is the only acceptable definition? Did you think I would hate you? Do you hate me? Or is that pity I see in your smile? What do you see in mine? What do you think we, old and married, whisper about in the dark? Where do you think I was when he was with you?
The Paper Trail
In the driveway, both the soft squeaking toys and the jagged pieces of gravel press into each other. / In the kitchen, the dishes, dirty and chipped, are piled in the sink. / In the dining room, the table might as well be imaginary, under all the crayons, pencils, and papers. /In the hallway, the family stares out from twenty-three neatly framed pictures./ In the bathroom, the shower could be cleaner, instead it is a favorite lover’s kiss: familiar and wet / In the bedroom, hoses connect each of the woman’s breasts to the hungry mouths of the pump.
The machine makes a trade with her: this fatty milk for the white noise of its pump/ the amnesia of soft, unidentifiable sounds. She is lost in mediation; is everything one thing or the other?/ Is she a woman or is she a mother? Is he her husband or lover? Suddenly, or not suddenly at all, her cheek is wet./ The machine is either on and sucking her dry or off; it is off. She washes the durable plastic in the sink,/ stares out the window, at the childless neighbors’ house, into their uncluttered living room and pictures/ herself alone. No dust, no laundry, no sticky surfaces, no refrigerator decorated with construction paper.
It would be a clean life. Lawyers are so adept at cleaning things using only dictation and well served papers./ But she does not fool herself anymore; she knows that clean is its own kind of boring. She knows the whish pump pump/ whish pump pump whish of her leaking heart, a machine she’s seen in gray and white pictures,/ is not a wanderer. She is lighthouse and anchor. She is choosing other/ adventures. Like errands: Nurse the baby. Pay the water bill. Find a new fixture for the sink./ Buy lettuce for tonight’s salad. Figure out why, after every shower, the hardwood floor is just a little wet.
Get a spare key to the front door cut. Ask the GYN in a hushed embarrassed voice: Why can’t I get wet? / There is so much for her to do. She’s learning origami in her spare time. Folding and refolding the papers/ into swans, so many swans. She sets them free; even with all the dishes, there is room for them in the sink./ It’s time for her to nurse the baby. Soon, she’ll pick the kids up from school, rush home, and pump./ Looking down at it, she compares this one to the others/ and notices, not for the first time, how all of them look cuter in pictures.
From the vantage point of her bed, child attached to her like a barnacle, she can see the large framed picture:/ her wedding. Her dress, white. Her hair, up. Her ring, one half carat. Her palms, wet./ To the left: a picture of her husband, sitting on the edge of a bed, his head in his hand. Out of all the others,/ this one is her favorite. This one she would rush back into a burning house for. It is more than light-sensitive paper/ and several shades of gray. This is a small square piece of then, when his voice alone made her adrenaline pump./ She would like to think about that time, but, when? Now is a ship that will not sink.
There are swans and stars and cranes sailing into yesterday’s macaroni and cheese in the sink./ So many open mouths surround her, they want food hugs attention a new toy now and they’ll trade a picture/ freshly drawn in class today. This tornado is its own kind of peace, constructed from broken fuel pumps/ and dry macaroni crushed underfoot and the familiar body she’s promised herself to and diapers – dirty and wet. / The cranes could unfold themselves, give up their delicate bodies, and become, once more, papers./ Then she could not tell one creased corpse from the other.
The water creeps up through the porous paper bodies and they sink. Everything is one thing then another./ One day, her hand on the gas pump, she thinks of how flammable the air around her is, realizes how paper/ thin her skin will be at ninety, and knows that eventually her own crying child will leave her empty breast aching for its wet.
I Have Counted Sixteen and a Half Dead Deer on My Ride Home From Work
My mother, who lives, unmistakably in the suburbs, calls to tell me that there are deer in her backyard. That the deer sprinted across the street, through the neighbors’ poorly manicured lawn, and out of sight. It’s deer mating season, she tells me. I should be careful.
My mother is full of useful facts tonight. If you can’t avoid hitting the deer, she says, if it becomes inevitable, brake as much as you can right up until you are about to hit it. Then let go of the brake. If I do this, my car will run over the deer instead of the deer going over the hood, which we both know means through the windshield.
My mother watches the news too much and is always trying to save me. They’re in heat; I don’t think they even see the road or the cars or anything. They’ll kill you, y’know? And themselves, too. I don’t ask where she heard the tidbit about the braking. I don’t tell her that I doubt I’ll remember it in a crisis.
My mother, who has been burying my father for twenty-one years, does not trust me. I am alive and that could change at any moment. Forgetting her advice would be unforgivable. She does not trust the deer, either. Or the brakes. Or arteries. Or police officers. Or seats belts. Or EMT workers. You never know, she says. I do not tell her that I am on my cell phone, that she is my accomplice in this clearly distracting and illegal activity.
My mother has been talking to me for five minutes about something dangerous and how to avoid it. I cannot hear her; I, having made the turn into my driveway, am composed entirely of my sense of sight: my husband’s car sits there staring at me.
I am off the phone. I am in the house. I don’t remember how I got here, though; I imagine I walked up the long driveway and opened the backdoor. I am smiling at him. I am hugging him. I am smelling him. I do not trust myself. I do not trust him. I do not know how to brake. I am afraid of my mother’s shovel: when the time comes, I will bury him forever.