He is outside all day while I cut fruit. He hoses off the lawn furniture we are bringing along, bits of browned leaf scum and caked black dirt litter the ground near his feet as I scrub the apple skins clean.
“It was my idea,” I say, speaking towards the apples I am now cutting. There is no one else to talk to. The apples look good—the little red lines near the core means they will be sweet.
Next it is the pears, looking ripe, looking like the body of the woman I saw him with in the mall two months ago, arms draped all of each other. I look again. It also resembles that organ, one of those digestive ones, the one the color of bile.
“We should go to Greg’s party,” I said two weeks ago during dinner, eyeing the knife in his hands—he held it flat as he looked up at me.
“Greg’s party?” he repeated, as if suspicious. He expected I would give it up.
“It’ll be outside, with tiki torches and a barbeque. All your work friends will be there.” He looked out at our own grill, covered, as it had been for weeks.
“I could bring some chicken and maybe a couple steaks,” he said, nodding repeatedly, “some chairs too…he doesn’t have shit for furniture.”
She would be there because he was stupid, because he wouldn’t want to offend her. I sensed this in the way he hesitated right before he kissed her cheek, on the bench along the skating rink in the mall while I watched from the Macy’s entranceway. I pretended to look at perfume displays, but I saw their every move. She crossed her leg towards him and then his hand was there, in the crook of her knee, pulling her closer. I wanted to run out, tackle them both to the ground, claw my way to their organs, but I stopped, full weight on my front foot, and reconsidered. Surely there was a better way, I thought to myself, as a spray of Chanel no.5 passed under my nose.
I slide the knife through the mango and it slips into the bowl, atop the apples and pears. I see him crack open a beer, chug some down and catch the dribble with the backside of his hand. Now he sprays off the cooler, putting his thumb over the end of the hose to get the grime along the edges.
My mother told me he was the wrong man to marry, that I would regret giving in to his proposal. She didn’t trust his eyes, she whispered to me the night we celebrated our engagement, her pearl drop necklace dipping into the candle flame a bit as she leaned towards me. I told her she was interfering, that she was being cruel. She backed off, but never stopped watching him, as if he were a thief wandering about in her world.
The other woman’s name is Maggie. He said it on the phone when I had walked in the living room; the carpet was thick and he didn’t hear my footsteps as I approached him. When he turned to see me the fear in his eyes turned quickly to anger.
“Why are you sneaking up on me like that?” he asked, and backed away.
Four years. Four years of married bliss and then the coolness set in. It was as if he were programmed to shut off; it comforted me to think this way, that he was a machine. What was it? I asked myself at night, looking down the line of his body through my peripheral vision.
The kiwis are perfect: sweet, but not mushy. Everything needs to perfect to ensure he will eat it. I picked up an extra bucket of cool-whip at Fred Meyer, just to make sure we wouldn’t run out. He loves cool-whip. I used to make him sundaes the nights we stayed at home, watching movies and limbs all intertwined on the couch; I would put the cool-whip at the bottom of the bowl and wait for him to get to it, listen for the spoon to slow and drag around the edges. After he turned off on me there were no more sundaes, no more nights at home.
The fruit salad is finished. I will add the bananas at the last minute to keep them from browning. He doesn’t like them brown. I open the cool-whip and find it untouched, the crests of whitish foam smooth as waves. I look outside—he is pulling up weeds around the patio, the fat around his hips rolling back and forth as he bends.
The cabinet squeaks as I open it and fish out the red bottle, I look outside again, finding him in the same posture. I hook my finger in the bottle and drag out some of the paste, knock it into the tub. The stuff smells terrible, but he won’t need much. He’s terribly allergic—his throat swells up with contact. I blend it in well and do the same with the second tub. I smile as I push the lids back on. I catch his eye as he goes for more beer. He sees my smile and returns it, though his is plastered on fake. A shot runs through my body as I imagine him curling up on the ground, the other woman, Maggie, paralyzed with fear.
I’ve told no one. I knew that day in the mall that this was not going to be something I would discuss with my friends, no tears and puffy eyes, no moments of forgiveness. Perhaps it’s pride, or fear, but when out to dinner with friends a month ago I found myself asking,
“Is anyone else allergic to crustaceans or can I get the crab Rangoon?” and smiling when everyone shook his or her head. They would be at the party, because he was predictable. It was always the same people. I met him through one of these people, Kathleen, his college friend, the one who never grew tired hearing stories of the old days, re-telling the private jokes that only a few could appreciate. The others—my friends—I knew their allergies: dust mites, pet dander, walnuts, a lactose intolerance here and there, but nothing fatal.
“Are you ready?” he calls to me from downstairs, jiggling the car keys in his hand. I check the paper bag to make sure I have everything I need. When we arrive the backyard is full of the people I expected; they mutter greetings in turn.
When I excuse myself to the bathroom I make sure to remove the Benadryl from the cabinets, ensure that the spare EpiPen is in fact missing from my bag. He comes in behind me as I am doing this and I stand up slowly, mumbling something about tampons. As I slip past him he pushes his chest out so that we touch. When I look back his eyes are low and look black in the shadow of the doorway. There’s something in them now, some bulky emotion like pity or guilt, but I turn away. It’s too late for that now.
The woman shows up, dressed in a pale blue knee length dress. It matches her eyes, the ones that keep looking over at me cautiously, like she is sizing me up. He introduces us, though I know we will never truly meet. My words feel as if they are glazed with hatred as they come out, but she responds casually enough, and only in her handshake can I sense her trepidation, her desire to be away from me.
Our friends complement the steaks; he revels in it, says that he has an eye for the good cuts. He’s had a few beers and he puts his arm around the woman’s waist. She leans in for a moment and then pulls away, checking to see if I noticed.
I ask, “Who’s ready for dessert?” and my friend Marsha from the Friends of the Library club offers to help me. I load her up with a platter of store bought peanut butter cookies and the first bowl of fruit. I take the second bowl and the two containers of cool-whip. I get extra large spoons from the drawer and follow Marsha, who is whistling along with the Rolling Stones song that is playing from the living room speakers, placed up against the open windows facing the patio. We set the desserts down and I open the cool-whip, plunging the spoon deep into the tub, giving it a discreet sniff before walking away. It smells funny all right, but not from a distance, and not enough to place it as shrimp. I grab a cookie and people begin to line up, grabbing new plates from the end of the table. I watch as he spoons fruit onto his plate, smiling at the quality of it, the fresh banana, and then the cool-whip; I can see the excitement pulse along his face as he runs the spoon along the container and plops it atop his fruit. I almost cringe as he goes back for seconds. He is dipping his finger in it as he walks away.
I sit very still, because I know I must time this right. His back is to me as I go into the house; no one notices that I leave. I go into the bathroom and close the door behind me. The smell of steak has wafted in though the windows, and the music is loud as I sit on the closed toilet. I hear excited voices, my name being called, but I stay put. I anchor my feet on the floor, pushing hard into my heels. The screen door is opening and someone is running into the house, probably the woman—Maggie. I wait to hear the knock. I wait, almost impatiently, because I know it is already too late.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED