He gets home between six and six fifteen every night, driving up in his blue truck with a six pack of domestic beer and a bag of carryout food from somewhere. He parks on the left side of the one-way street, crosses, then goes to his apartment on the second floor on the south end side. She comes home at approximately the same time and parks in whatever slot is closest to their building, though she favors the right hand of the one-way street when possible. She lives in the apartment on the second floor on the north side. She has drapes; he has blinds. After entering their respective apartments, each turns on the light by the door, looks around, then crosses to close their windows. You are surprised by how often the stereotypes hold them together and apart. On your porch, you light another cigarette, willing something more to happen between them. You know that he parks on the left side of the street, because he received three parking tickets for not having an updated city sticker. You discover all of this when he left his car for three days without use. Business trip? You think not. He does not dress like the type who needs a business trip. Khaki pants, a white shirt, and a tie of some color, any color, never matters which color, every day of the week. As he leaves and returns home at the same time every day, this is not a business traveler. No, it was a personal trip. Not on a weekend, so no wedding of college friends that he is obligated to in any way. Besides, all of his friends are probably married by now or at that stage if they are not married, they are spoused in some way, either living with, engaged, or simply settled into their couple hood. He is the last of their group, as there always is in every group, without spouse, without lover, and hence their token single friend. The trip, you suppose, a small vacation to visit the family, as he does not want to sacrifice a weekend or a holiday for the obligation, hence the three parking tickets. Two days of the week she arrives home later. Clearly she takes an exercise class, as her normally dark curly long hair is pulled into a ponytail and she is wearing sweats (pretty sweats, though, black yoga pants and a hooded black pullover, not the real sweats that women wear on nights alone without boyfriends or lovers or husbands, sweats with stretched out waistbands, holes, and coffee stains, and t-shirts or sweatshirts attained from ex-boyfriends, ex-lovers, and ex-husbands). So on those late nights she wears sweats instead of the professional garb she earned the right to wear with her degree from the University of Wisconsin, a sticker displayed proudly in the back window of her red two door Honda civic. She too lives on the second floor, though across the hall from him. At one point, they were attractive to each other. He would wait in his car until she pulled up in hers, then jump quickly and efficiently from his as if he too had just arrived, so that they would meet at the shared front door to the four flat at the same time, then joke and jostle their personal belongings until one of them managed to get the key. Then he would hold the door for her, and you could almost see them in the small entranceway, each getting their mail, each trying not to look too interested or seem too forward, each peeking at the other’s correspondence for some sort of shared interest—a magazine, a coupon, or even a takeout menu—so they had something, anything to say. Then you can see them on the steps, slowly, politely, leading and following the other, he taking in her well formed butt on the stairs, she wallowing in the heavily fragranced smell of fast food she never indulges in. You see their lights go on in their separate apartments. You know all of this because you are quitting smoking, and part of your quitting program is to smoke only outside, which is not really a quit smoking program so much as a make-it-a-pain-in-your-ass-to-smoke program. You did quit actually, for a brief three week period where you thought obsessively about cigarettes all of the time, chewed gum until your jaw ached with pleasure, and planted yourself by the smoker at the office who was in Alcoholics Anonymous and hence allowed to smoke without anyone telling him how bad it was for him or that it was going to kill him or that he was hurting the environment or other people’s health or that it was a filthy stinky habit or that he was weak person to allow himself to be ruled and manipulated by a billion dollar industry since at least he wasn’t a drunk anymore. There’s a hierarchy to addiction, you know, and you actually considered starting heroin in that brief three week period because you knew that if you were a heroin addict, nobody, nobody in the whole goddamned world of your pathetic little universe would say jack shit about an incidental nicotine habit. They would light the cigarette for you, buy you packs on their way past liquor stores and gas stations. Anything to keep you off the smack. Smoke away, your coworkers told him, the same people who bitched about the thermostat every time it was a half degree outside of their range of comfort, the same people who took two hour lunches to work out at the company’s gym, drank only bottled water, and discussed over lunch how many calories were okay to consume. Smoke away, they said, waiving every right to clean air and a friendly environment that the American Lung Association had fought for. And he smoked. You just sat your ass beside him and breathed his air and craved his smell and the taste of him in a way you hadn’t craved anything or anyone ever before, until all you wanted was to kiss him, to feel his nicotine coated tongue in your throat, rub the roof of his mouth with your tongue, and taste the sweet tickle of nicotine on that insatiable itch on the back of your mouth that eighteen packs of Trident had done nothing to fix. And the day you do almost kiss him, just to get to taste, you start smoking again, since you are married now and not prone to kissing strangers any longer, and the only reason you are supposedly quitting again, and smoking on your porch and stalking your neighbors, now, is that you feel like it is the adult thing to do and not out of any acute desire to quit at all.
Their coupling did not go well, but it did happen. You know this because they went from orchestrated meetings at the front door with awkward conversation and flirty smiles, from his going out of his way to help her bring in her groceries or her new desk from Target on Saturdays with more flirty smiles and her intentionally dressed down but still adorable Saturday clothes (again with the yoga pants or perhaps a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt or a comfortable sweatshirt, but still showered and shaved, her hair never, ever in a ponytail as most women’s Saturday hair is, and always with a glimpse of her Victoria Secret bra strap or her camisole cleavage), to her waiting in her car until he is inside and she has seen him turn on his light and presumably locked his door to sit and watch TV and eat his takeout dinner. If she arrives first, and he witnesses, he will actually circle the block and return a mere three minutes later. You mourn the loss of their romance for them and for yourself and wonder what went wrong. Perhaps he plays too many video games (he owns both Playstation and Nintendo), and she had envisioned antiquing on Saturdays or wandering city streets packed with kitschy little stores where she could grab his arm and laugh and snuggle. Perhaps she is too well organized, and he resents her need for dinner plans made at least three days in advance. Maybe it was bad timing or bad karma or just plain bad sex. That happens, you know, especially when you are of a certain age and know yourself well enough to know that the thing that attracted you—the one night of sex—was not good enough to even sustain another night. Their drama played out, their romance over, you stop watching.
Your friend Carrie calls. Your husband answers the phone. He sends you the Carrie signal, as Carrie is your guilt friend. Your friend who makes you crazy with her blathering about the men she meets on retreats for her church, men who are married, ministers, or who have already told her to her face they are not interested but she still feels the need to walk you through every excruciating detail of every meal and conversation she shared with these men including what everyone ate and the small talk that starts every conversation, and then asks you, “What do you think?” And all you can think but cannot say is, oh my god get laid and you know you are going to hell. Carrie has been “saving herself” for the right man, which was a fine principle for her when she was young and 25 pounds overweight, but now she is a 38 year old virgin who is one hundred pounds overweight, and desperately wants to be married and having babies, but has not even been kissed since she was seventeen years old. And you do want to tell her what she wants to hear—that she will find someone, that there is someone for everyone, that even though he said that he didn’t want to date her, that it probably is for religious reasons. You want to believe it, that Carrie is sweet and nice, and that the world is not so shallow that just because she is fat no one will ever notice her. But you find her completely and utterly irritating. You have nothing in common with her whatsoever, and you know that you would not even be friends with her but that she cornered you in a Laundromat, found out where you lived, and never went away. Even when you moved seven hundred miles and four states away, Carrie never left. Your husband cannot handle her. He fakes coughing fits and diarrhea so as not to get stuck on the phone with her when you are legitimately not home. Even though you are rarely there when she calls (at the library, the grocery store, or your book group are your husband’s regular lies), she still calls regularly, and is the only one of your long distance friends who has ever spent the time or the money to come and visit you. When he sends you the signal, you nod resignedly, take the phone, light one cigarette then grab the entire pack, and go to the front porch. In the middle of your third cigarette, Carrie starts crying, and you realize that you have not been listening, simply nodding to yourself and making appropriate conciliatory sounds every once in a great while. You retrace the bits of conversation that you can recall—younger sister (29) getting married (including every detail of the wedding, which includes a weekend gathering, a secular ceremony despite the Catholic family’s objections, the chicken or beef entrées, and fourteen different wedding dress descriptions), can’t find a dress that she likes, no date for the wedding, and youngest sister (a mere 22 years old) probably getting engaged. These are traumatic events, but Carrie does not usually cry, is not a crier by nature. You switch to counseling mode, knowing Carrie must and should hate you right now. “What’s wrong, honey? Why are you crying?” You finally listen. “I went to the hospital to visit Lisa. She had a girl. (You have no recollection of any woman named Lisa nor the imminent birth of any baby.) So I went after work, taking the six o’clock bus instead of the 5:30, which meant I had to take the seven, the eight or the nine to get home. But I really wanted to meet the baby, and she was only two days old and I held her and Lisa fell asleep. Lou had gone to the cafeteria to get some sleep. So I just sat there, holding this brand new baby, tiny and perfect, and the room was so quiet, just us, no one else. I just listened to the clock. And I thought, I could take her, you know? And at least have half of what I want. I could just take her. She would be mine. Something would be mine.” She pauses. You say nothing. “But then Lou came back, and he took the baby from me. It was just so quiet. Just the sound of the clock. I didn’t get home until 11 because I missed the 7, the 8, and the 9. I had to take a cab because it was so late.” “Wow,” you say. “Biological clock?” You are all wrong in your humor trajectory. You know it the moment it comes out of your mouth, but it was just sitting there, full of it for you—a hospital room, a new baby that doesn’t belong to her, and a ticking clock. “Am I ugly? Am I a terrible horrible ugly person?” She asks. “No,” you say, believing it. “Then why?” she asks, and starts crying again. “I don’t want to be alone.” There is nothing to say, no way to say that you are alone no matter what, that even though you are married and have found your person, you are still alone. And you know that even if you said that to her, she would not hear you. No, she would not believe you. So you say nothing, because you want to feel kind even for the briefest of moments. You stay on the front porch when you are done. And when your husband comes out, he grabs a cigarette for himself and sits in the chair beside you to smoke it, even though he has essentially quit smoking and only smokes two or three a day, mostly to be with you. And you know for the first time that even though you are married, even though you are together and make plans about houses and puppies and eventually children and moving to new places and make lists of vacations that you want to take to places that are foreign and unattainable, you know that you guys are brand new, and that the places will probably never be seen, the dream house never built, and that you are average in every way. When you tell him this, he says, “I never thought anything different.” “And you’re okay with that?” you ask. “Of course.” “I guess I just always though that we were special or different in some way.” “You don’t think everybody thinks that?” he asks. “I don’t really think about other people,” you say. “I guess I just didn’t think we’d be this un-sexy so soon,” you say, looking at him in his drawstring shorts and white undershirt and smiling, then at your own jeans and tank top—the shirt chosen specifically for its comfort so that you would not have to change into pajamas for bed. “You don’t really have to,” he says, responding the to the easy part. “Just everybody thinks it.” And he says things like this, and you know that he is adult, grown-up, sure of himself and the person he is in a way that you will never be. That he will be a good father, a good parent in a way that you are not able, not equipped to be. That he will never walk by the oven at two o’clock in the morning, or whenever it is that your baby wakes, and think I could. I could put the baby in the oven. (Because new babies are even smaller than turkeys.) You know that he will never shake your baby or even be frustrated to the point of thinking about shaking your baby, because he is calm in that way, and children, nieces and nephews, kids in the park, respond to that calm, curl up on his lap, and lean into his body for hugs. Kids rarely know what it is that they are thinking and feeling, and you know this, because you feel like a kid most of the time, and respond in the same manner to him, reach for him in the night to calm you in a way that you are incapable of being calm, lean into him on the couch to learn how to be still like he is, steady yourself at the sink, doing the dishes, with your pelvis against the counter in the manner you have seen him do in order to mimic, to capture, if even for one minute, that thing that he is.
In the three flat directly across the street, a new couple has moved in on the second floor. You know they are new to each other as well as the neighborhood, and that they are not married but living together, for when they moved in there were two of everything and multiple boxes of the same things. Fifteen boxes of kitchen stuff alone—that’s two adult apartments, not one. And none of it still in Crate and Barrel packaging or in the original appliance box, which means no wedding. Two dining tables, one round, one rectangular with four chairs each; two adult beds: one a queen with an antiqued iron head and footboard and the other a double with no head or footboard; two dressers: one an IKEA black and the other either an inheritance or an antique store find; two televisions, a large and a small; two stereos, though one has components and independent speakers, the other a compact system with everything attached; and two couches, one solid navy blue, wide, and long, the other a pale Martha Stewart green with a striped square ruffle at the bottom. The couches are the evidence of the newness of them. Everything else can be accounted for as simply second room material, an office, a guest room, or even a radio or TV to cook by, but two couches says brand new. Especially in the city. Each night you watched her move pictures on the wall, reshelf books, replace lamps, and reorganize the knickknacks on the built-in shelves after they had moved the entertainment center, the TV, or the couch (the green Martha Stewart instead of the blue). The first three weeks are a wonderful time for them and for you—watching them negotiate the new standards of their couple-hood. She is determined to get everything unpacked and decorated, each night changing from her work outfit into a pair of jeans or sweats, pulling her hair into a ponytail, and then painting the trim around the front windows, hanging curtains (sheer ones, thank god) and laying artwork around the room for him to hang when he gets home. He arrives home later than she does, and you watch him come home, gather her close to him, and sometimes tumble to the floor in kissing. It’s lovely really, to see them so happy and know that all of those months of planning and thinking and wondering and dating and getting to know and then wondering some more and questioning whether moving in together was a good idea had paid off in this type of bliss for them. She would run from the back of the house where the kitchen was to get him to reach the wok, the bread maker, or the waffle maker that they kept at the top of the cabinets. He would jump up from his book, his movie, or his TV program just to chase her back there, get the desired small appliance and hold it above her, away from her, just to tease. They buy a new car together, a silver Volkswagen, and you watch them on the street negotiating who gets to drive. On weekends, when they go shopping for a new throw blanket for the couch or a new bed spread or a new salad bowl; or when they go to the movies or a play and come home talking animatedly about the merits of the drama or the characterization; or when they go to Whole Foods and they carry in the economy toilet paper, salsa bins, and mesh bags full of fresh produce; you watch them stand across the car from each other, each with their own set of keys, discussing who gets to drive. He is significantly taller than she, so any decision requires a significant change in mirrors, in seat, and in music in the CD changer. Until finally he drives each time, and she simply waits at the door until he hits the unlock button on their key chain that second time.
There’s a woman in the bathroom of the Gap, in the front section of the rest area on a couch, breastfeeding a baby, presumably a new baby—it’s sucking and breathing and snorting and hiccupping all at once, the way brand new babies do before they figure out the biology of their lives, before they figure out how to relax, just relax and let the one thing happen, breathing and feeding at once. And you stop, stare, and hold your breath until the baby breathes, hiccups, snorts or sucks again, to make sure that it’s okay. The mother is crying. Her face is splotchy and broken by her tears. She is trying to hold her baby, wipe her tears off of her face and her baby all at once, trying to keep her tears off that baby mashed to her breast. You nod at the woman and pass by her, into the bathroom part of the bathroom, away from the couch with the baby and the woman holding it. When you come out, the woman is still there, still crying, still holding the child, and you stop. “Are you okay?” you ask. “Is there anything I can do?” You envision getting a cup of water for her, or gathering a roll of toilet paper for her, something soothing and simple, something to take care of this woman and this moment. “I’m fine,” she says. “Everything is fine.” “Are you sure? I could get you some water or some toilet paper,” you say. “Could you? Just for awhile?” the mother asks, and piles the baby into your arms. Then leaves. You hold the baby for a bit, just staring at it, looking at it and into it—the way you can with the brand new and the very old. You juggle it around, laying him on your shoulder for a bit, then in your lap, then back to your shoulder, then cradle it against you, feeling its small body mold and re-form in every position, craft itself to you, around you or onto you. You finally lay it in your lap, and slip your fingers into the edge of the shirt to peek into the diaper. It is a boy. He fusses a bit. “It’s okay,” you say. “Mommy will be back soon.” You repeat this as you walk in circles in the bathroom. You sing to him, the song your father sang to you as a child, “Bye baby bunting, daddy’s gone a hunting, to catch a little rabbit skin, to wrap his baby ____ in.” You do not know the baby’s name, though, cannot fill it into the song, fit it in the way you are supposed to. You start another, the one with the baby in a cradle in a tree top, but that one too requires a name. After a while, you do not know how long, the baby starts fussing. You sit on the floor with him and hum a bit, hold him to your chest so he can feel your chest moving and vibrating. You stick your finger in his mouth to soothe him. Your watch says 4:30, but that does not tell duration, as you had not checked the watch when you got the baby, so there is still no way to know how long, exactly how long, you have been with this child and the mother without. How long constitutes abandonment? What is the line between a break and desertion? “We’ll give her another fifteen, then we’ll do something. Now that we know we’ve had some time together. Does she do this often? What’s your name?” you ask him. You see a baby bag and look through it. There are diapers and spare clothes, tiny clothes, impossibly small, and yet you know now, from holding this boy, from feeling his body, that even though they are so small that they will bag and gap on him when you change him. “What’s your name, little one?” “Well, baby, what do you say we take a little walk?” You sling the bag over your shoulder, place him on your shoulder, cradle him the way you have seen other mothers do it, then walk through the door and back into the store. You walk through the accessories area and then through clearance. You check your watch and realize it’s been an hour since the mother left you with this baby, and you start to feel like the worst mother in the world for letting her leave him. Don’t worry you whisper and then you realize—you could leave him, just leave him, and no one would know. You could just lay him in the middle of a Clearance rack, and some girl looking for a size 2 peasant blouse (the absurdity!) would find him, squawk, then do the right thing. “You are not mine,” you whisper, and the baby starts to cry. You go through lingerie. Pubescent girls choosing nighties and cotton camisoles with matching equally adorable cotton pants to wear while they masturbate alone with stolen romance novels in their parents’ houses in the beds their parents bought them give you the look you have given countless other women with babies who cry in public spaces—that look that says, fuck off and can’t you even get your kid to be quiet for fifteen minutes? The baby wails. It’s an impatient look, the look of the young and the un-childed, the look that demonstrates how important good cotton semi-sexy everyday wear cotton underwear is to single women, and why new mothers, alone and uncertain and disdained and trapped in their houses, put their babies in freezers after getting that look at the Gap. “This is a cigarette moment,” you whisper as you go through the revolving door to the outside world. “Don’t worry, baby. She’ll be right back.” You juggle the baby, the baby bag, your own bag, and your urgent need for a cigarette as you dig furtively through the deep pockets of your coat for cigarettes and a book of matches. You used to love the deep pockets of this coat, the fact that they could hold so much and leave treasures from year to year, now you curse them. You juggle some more as you try to free two hands to strike the match and cup it and light the cigarette. You get one puff before baby loses his mind into that full out shaking baby scream that only brand new babies are capable of. People on the street are looking at you, condemning you not only for smoking with a brand new baby but also for being outside with him without all of the baby bundle stuff you are supposed to have in the middle of winter. You know that any one of them could have taken this baby, stolen him away, left him with proper authorities in a place with fluorescent lights and other criminals—a place where they would make a name for him that had nothing to do with him, and when they found his real mother, a woman so desperate for help that she left her baby in a bathroom with a stranger, they would put her on some kind of mommy probation and make her life even worse. You take one last puff, then two more, blowing the smoke as far from the baby as possible, put out the cigarette, then go back inside. You sit in the bathroom and wait. “Your mom has half an hour, little one, then, well, who knows?” When the mother comes back forty minutes after the last time you checked your watch, she gathers him to her, and he mashes himself to her. “Thank you,” she says. “You have no idea what you’ve done for me.” “You’re welcome,” you whisper and leave, almost running through lingerie and knocking over a display of cargo pants. You don’t want to know. You don’t want the chance to take him away from her or report her or that maybe-missing baby. And you really don’t even want to consider where she’s been or why she’s so alone that she left him with you. You don’t want to wonder if what you’ve done is right or wrong or even think for a moment about how close you were to deserting him. You just want to leave, smoke a cigarette, go home, and tell your husband what you have suspected since you married—that you are not an adult at all.
Something has gone wrong between the couple across the street. You know this. You are smoking more just to watch them fall apart. There’s now a purple bean bag chair in the middle of the well-planned, color coordinated living room. It sits in front of the television with the man in it, the chair folding around him, the beans nesting themselves to his thighs for maximum comfort. He plays videos all of the time, where once they sat on the couch and snuggled to bad movies, now he plays, you can see the brawl of color on the screen, even make out explosions, and his arms pumping when he fails at whatever it is he is playing. She is rarely in the room with him, though she stalks into the room occasionally to get his opinion on something or other, invariably waits with her hands on her hips, and then turns away. She is in sweat pants every night now, and has cut her hair into a professional bob that fails to make it into a ponytail, so she opts for an old red head band that she wears every night. One night, you are able to see her struggle up the front stairs with a large basket of laundry. At the second floor, you see her struggle to get her key, hit her knuckles on the railing, and then knock on the door. You look into the apartment and know that he is there, watching television on the floor in his purple bean bag. You watch her knock, see him look then ignore, and you will him to get up, go to her, will him to know that whatever is wrong can be fixed if only he gets out of that chair, opens his door and does the laundry for her. You see her enter the room moments later with the huge basket, dump it on him, then walk to the other end of the house. And every night at exactly eleven o’clock, as you smoke your last cigarette, she enters that living room alone, stares briefly at the wall then switches off the last lamp in the living room and goes to bed.
Your husband quit smoking. Just stopped one day, walked into your living room, grabbed a cigarette from your pack, announced that it was his last, and went to smoke. You ran after him with a cigarette of your own, saying, “Let me go with you. If this is the end, for real, I want to be there.” And so you stood side by side on the porch for the last time, and smoked those two cigarettes in silence. He has not smoked since. It’s been ten days, and you know, though you are sure he does not, that it has been exactly ten days and he has not smoked, craved, twitched, fidgeted, or done anything at all that exhibits the struggle of quitting. In fact, as you sit with him at a bar watching a bad band from Colorado with a lead singer who is clearly a girlfriend of one of the members of the band, who does no actual singing, rather dances and sways and twirls her arms in complicated poorly lit configurations, then murmurs monotone lines from bad 80s cereal commercials (Lucky Charms!) into a microphone, you blow smoke deliberately in his face and realize you might hate him a little bit for leaving you in the world of smokers alone, for growing up without you, for being too lazy to even be properly addicted. “I’m going to head home,” he says, leaning across the small table, his hand around your wrist, lancing your hand and its cigarette to the table. “You coming or staying?” “Staying,” you say. “Don’t you want to see the end?” “No. Not one bit,” he says, shaking his head and grimacing. “This is one of the worst things we’ve ever seen.” “Oh, yeah. It’s a train wreck. But don’t you want to see if that girl ever actually sings?” He leans in and you think that maybe he is going to kiss you, even though he has not kissed you for the last ten days until you’ve brushed your teeth, consumed a bottle of Diet Coke, a can of beer, or a glass of lemonade to mask the taste of your smoking. You close your eyes. “I just got to get out of here. The smoke, you know?” He turns to leave. You start to call his name, to put out your cigarette, to ask him if he is ok, if maybe this whole thing has been harder for him than you’d thought, but he cannot or will not hear you, and you watch him leave, his shoulders straight in the black leather jacket he’d worn the night you first met him. You call his name again, but he is gone. You sit alone at your table and you smoke the way you used to smoke, so that you do not have to talk to anyone, and you order a glass of wine because it seems like something a woman alone in a bar would order. The key to being alone is to stare at everyone a bit too long, a bit too desperately, and to keep looking even when you should not. To break eye contact is to invite conversation. You stare at the three single men at the next table as they scout the young and the single ladies in their own furtive groups, at the sound boy for the band who does nothing but stare at the singer of the band and you feel for him and his unrequited longing, and at the three or so awkward new couples learning the rhythm of each other’s bodies at the bar. When you see him looking at you, you notice first that he is old and not really handsome. You stare. You do not look away. You like that he is wearing a cardigan sweater in a sea of leather jackets and skinny tee shirts that hug thin chests, that he wears his glasses on a string that hangs from his neck, and that his hair is thin and stringy and completely un-styled. You like that he is an adult. He smiles, and you look away. “I’m George,” he says, by your table suddenly, and you get up to leave, but he stops you with his hand on your wrist, and you lean up and kiss him, deeply, tenderly, with tongues and gentle contact. “It’s been a long time since I kissed a girl who tastes like cigarettes,” he says, smiling and running his hand on your jaw. “Just give me a minute,” you say. “I have to go to the bathroom.” You run home, wanting him. You want. You want. You want. You go inside and find your husband, standing at the sink, washing dishes, his pelvis against the porcelain, his arms and hands full of soap, his calm obvious in the arrangement of clean plates lined up neatly in the rack, the silverware separated with spoons face down in order to drain the water from the shallow dents. You lean in to kiss him. “You’ll taste like nicotine,” he says. “You used to like that about me,” you say. “Well,” he shrugs, as if shrugging is an answer. “I’m not ready for us to be married people,” you say. “We are married people,” he says. “But I mean married married. You know, like 401ks and savings accounts and property taxes and income brackets, we- only- talk- to –other- people- when- we- are- with- each- other- at –cocktail- parties- married -people. I don’t want to be like married people who don’t get off their ass when the other person gets home. Or who don’t really kiss with tongues at least once a day. Or who say I love you first thing in the morning and last thing at night, as if the words are only bookends. I mean, I don’t want to have to wear matching underwear or anything, and I love you and all, but I don’t want to be that kind of married.” “Matching underwear?” “Matching underwear. Single people have to wear matching underwear in case they meet someone,” you explain. “I’m saying, I don’t want to wear matching underwear or meet someone to impress with it. But I don’t want to be done. I don’t want to be un-sexy so soon.” You turn him to you and kiss him, push his back against the counter and tongue fuck him roughly, ramming your teeth and tongues together, try to suck the calm out of him, take some for you. He pulls away, lays his hands on your shoulders, you feel the water spread through the thin material. He is quiet. You listen to the running water, the clink of silverware lapping at the bottom of the sink, and the sound of bubbles disappearing from your husband’s arms.
-- Karen Dwyer’s recent fiction has appeared in Arts & Letters, Other Voices, and The Southeast Review, and her nonfiction has appeared in Brainchild and Gettysburg Review.