Friday, November 27, 2009


The other day, I was looking at this, and I was going through some of my books, and I found this, an anthology called Homewrecker to which I was asked to contribute several years ago, and which includes a story I wrote, "Belonging Impossible, Longing All There Is," which I believe I wrote in late 2004. In any case, I thought I would republish it here.


The relationship between the husband and the wife was in a bad state. The husband had cheated on the wife. Now, there were a great many walls between them. Something had to be done. One day, the wife woke up, and when the husband went to work, she went to the store around the corner. There, she bought herself a sledgehammer. She took the sledgehammer home, wrapped in a sheet of brown paper, and with it knocked down all the interior walls of the apartment in which they lived. That night, the husband returned home. He was surprised to find the mess the wife had made of their life. There was dust everywhere--in her hair, in his gin and tonic, in their underwear drawer. Over dinner, the husband asked the wife what she had done. The wife shrugged her shoulders and smiled at the husband as if to ask what else could she have done? At this, the husband realized he was sorry. From that point onward, the husband decided he would be true to her. Afterward, things were better. The husband and the wife could see each other when they were at home in their apartment; it was hard to hide anything from one another when everything could be seen. Eventually, the wife returned the sledgehammer to the store, explaining to the young man working behind the counter why she didn't need it anymore. For his part, the young man was helpful and obliging, as if he understood what the wife was saying, even though the young man was soft in a way that reminded the wife of the husband years ago. Later, the wife found herself in the storage room of the store, her rear end situated atop an unvarnished wooden workbench, where, it appeared, she was having sex with the young man from behind the counter. After that, the wife went home. In a way, she felt better, as if somehow things had swung back into balance, but she also felt worse, as if what had swung back into balance had at the same time lost its moorings altogether. She considered this as she made dinner. The husband was sitting in his armchair at the other end of the apartment with no walls. He appeared to be reading, but he was watching her from over the top of the newspaper that he was pretending to read. There was something different about her, he knew, and while he suspected it was unfamiliar to her, it was familiar to him. The wife looked over her shoulder at the husband, across the great expanse of space between them, and she recognized that she did not know what this situation was or what to do about it. The wife turned away from the husband. She went into the bathroom, the last room with walls. The husband came to the door and told the wife to come out, but she did not; she did not even reply. Instead, the wife sat on the lowered toilet seat lid, her chin on her palm, thinking about how while it had seemed on the outside that things had gotten better, she had come to find that on the inside, things were not better at all. The husband stood on the other side of the door, listening to whatever it was the wife was doing. The wife picked up a small dictionary sitting on the tank of the toilet, and she began reading out loud from it, making her way through the As. When she arrived at the word "adultery," she paused. She could hear the husband breathing on the other side of the door. Here was the entry and the meaning of the word. She read it loudly, as if she was trying to make some kind of a point. On the page, she could see, there was an illustration of an adulterer, a companion for the words that described it. She looked at the drawing, and she realized it was a portrait of herself; although, when she closed her eyes and opened them again, the drawing looked like her husband. It was hard to tell. On the other side of the door, the husband was frightened; the words the wife had spoken made him anxious, but the silence that had followed was unbearable. He asked the wife why she wouldn't come out so they could talk about this like adults. The wife heard what the husband was saying, but she didn't want to do that. There was nothing adult about any of this, especially when she had been in the storage room with her legs spread wide amidst all that white plumbing, feeling like she was fourteen again. The husband could hear the desperation in his voice as his words bounced off the bathroom door and back at him. It was impossible, he feared, to reach her. The wife stood in front of the bathroom mirror. She balanced the dictionary on her head like a beauty queen and pirouetted once, sticking her tongue out at the bathroom door. On the other side of the door, the husband fell to his knees, and through the keyhole demanded to know what she was doing. The wife got on her knees at the door. She could see the eye of the husband peering in at her through the keyhole. With one hand snaking up the wall, she turned the bathroom light on and off, watching the husband's pupil contract and dilate as she did so. She had a powerful effect on him, located at such a deep level that even he could not control it. In the past, this knowledge had kept her company, but she felt sad and lonely with it in the bathroom. The wife went to the bathtub and turned on both faucets, creating a racket that drowned out the husband. As the tub filled, the wife focused all her energies on ignoring the small person inside herself who wanted to turn the doorknob and let the husband into this interior of hers. She had to do something; she knew this. So, the wife took off her clothes, unlocked the door, ran across the bathroom, and leaped into the tub, submerging herself under the surface of the water. In one hand, she held a tampon insertion device, devoid of its tampon, above the water level. Through it, the wife breathed like the deep sea snorkeler she knew she could become if she dumped all this and moved to Australia, or Fiji, or some place like that. There the wife lay, staring at the ceiling. The husband's face entered the frame of her vision. The husband was talking to the wife, but she couldn't understand what he was saying because the only thing she could hear was the vast nothingness of water pressing in upon her, making her feel safe, which was all she had ever really wanted in life. If it was water that would be there for her in this, then water would be it. The wife watched the husband's mouth say the letter I, then M, then S, then O, then R, then another R, then a Y. She was angry, self-sunk in this sea of hers, because Y was it, wasn't it? Why the husband had done this. Why she had done this. Why they had come to this, her with a tampon insertion device in her mouth and him apologizing to her over a toilet. She could stay like this for the rest of her life, coming out only to de-prune and loll about on the bathroom rug, but it was possible that one night, gazing out the window and staring at the moon, thinking about the boy at the store, she might see the boy below her in the halo of the streetlamp, walking home with a young girl tucked under his arm, and the only thing she would be able to do would be to toss a roll of toilet paper out the window at him. Here, at least, the husband was sorry. The wife moved the tube to her eye so she could see the husband better through her periscope. It looked like he was crying, there was something falling from his eyes, but the wife couldn't tell if it was tears or not, since she was in the water. She had to know. She sat up in the tub, and she threw the tampon insertion device across the room. The husband stood limp before her. The only thing the husband knew was that he didn't know what he knew anymore or what to do about it. The wife waited. Slowly, the husband peeled off his clothes, and he climbed into the tub, sitting in the water across from the wife, so the two of them faced one another. There they were, this husband and this wife, two piles of skin stretched over taut muscles hung on fragile bones. He had done something terrible, put himself out for sale on a fluorescent-lit supermarket aisle like a package of chicken parts, all pink flesh and yellow skin, and some woman had come along, eyed his price tag, checked his expiration date, and thrown him into her basket. He had gone home with her, laying himself upon her plate, sacrificing himself to this cannibal of their marriage, making a totemic feast of their life. Still, the husband and the wife knew there was something here between them, something more dim than bags of meat and bone. They had slipped out of one body, into the arms of others, and, within these four walls, discovered they only had each other. They were intertwined like legs under a table, on loan between God and the grave, two books checked out from the library with a debt to be repaid. Belonging impossible, longing all there is, he was the man of her days, she was the apple of his eyes, and it was in each other's company that they hoped they would one day die.