Marisa B. Crane
“I wanna fuck the sadness out of you,” Celeste said one night over dinner. They had microwaved two TV dinners but sat at the kitchen table, pouring the contents out onto their plates and setting the table, convinced that if they didn’t eat them in front of the TV then they weren’t TV dinners.
“What is the socially-acceptable trajectory for love?” Malachi asked, arranging his peas in a circle on his mashed potatoes. There were eclipsing half-moons under his eyes.
“Whatever you want it to be,” she sighed.
She tucked her hair behind her ears and stuffed a large piece of unidentifiable meat into her mouth. She considered bringing up the time that Malachi had bronchitis for six months straight and regularly had to take coughing breaks mid-coitus. He hadn’t been able to keep his hands off of her back then, even when he was crippled by fatigue and the fear that excessive mucus and rib pain was his new normal. Now she was lucky if he acknowledged that she had a hole he could penetrate.
This was just one of the many ways in which she had died over the years.
Celeste watched him play with his food. He was unaware of her eyes on him. It reminded her of when she used to stalk him at the coffee shop where he worked long before they actually met. She’d order a latte even though she was lactose intolerant and spend the entire day alternating between studying his every movement and speed-walking to the bathroom. Guts bubbling, she’d sit in the corner booth, the one with the tear in the seat, and peer at him over her laptop.
There had been a group of elderly men that hung out there every day. One man wore a tweed cap most of the time and nodded knowingly whenever anyone spoke. Another loved to talk about taking his Dalmatian on hikes with him while his coffee grew cold. Each man had a newspaper in front of him. Sometimes they discussed the news, sometimes they just fiddled with the papers while discussing the banality of living.
The group of men were there the day that Celeste finally traversed the coffee shop to ask Malachi, who was wearing large, noise-cancelling headphones and bopping his head back and forth, what his favorite band was. It was the old men, in fact, who had injected Celeste with the courage to do so.
“We should eat at Big Front Door today, Henry.”
“You mean Big Fucking Deal,” the man in the tweed cap had grumbled.
The table had laughed, then he joined, and the unity had been beautiful. Celeste had overheard the conversation and smiled to herself, then decided in that moment that if Malachi rejected her advances or turned out to be a selfish prick, that it wouldn’t make any difference.
Now, sitting at an unsteady table in their dim, dismal kitchen, Celeste looked at her vacant husband and thought Big Fucking Deal and it was not beautiful.
“I think I’m going to stop wearing a bra and let my boobs fly,” she said, getting up to clear her dishes. She walked by him and stacked his nearly-full plate on top of hers and he didn’t protest.
“I don’t know. Anywhere,” she said. “Here.” She wiggled her breasts inches from his face.
He cleared his throat and stood up from the table, wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans, knowing the titanic consequences of his silence. He walked over to the refrigerator and stood in front of it as one did when searching for something the appliance didn’t contain (which could have been anything since its only contents were two six packs of beer and a stick of butter). He was overcome with that feeling again. The one that he was chasing his own tail inside of a whale’s belly. Soggy and matted. What was once incendiary was now the sputtering, spitting bastard child of fire.
Malachi pulled out one of the six packs and shut the door. He heard Celeste in the bathroom. The faucet was running but it didn’t sound like her hands were under the water. He sat down on the faded green couch, the only piece of furniture in the living room, and opened a beer, staring at the dark screen of the television set on the floor.
He finished his beer quickly, burped, then immediately opened another one. The water continued to run, uninterrupted.
The telephone rang in the kitchen and he let the answering machine pick it up.
“Malachi, if I have to come all the way to the mountains to kill you, I’m going to be so mad.”
The corners of his mouth twitched. He looked out the window at the salt-shaken mountaintops.
“You never call your mother. I need you to do something about the damn hoarders next door. They have at least 14 cats, from what I’ve counted, anyway, and sometimes their treasured trash flies out the windows when they open them for some fresh air. Which I think they need more of. They never come out of the damn apartment!”
Malachi sipped his beer then began to bite at the skin around his fingernails.
“I swear, Malachi, I think the woman next door hoards the peels from maxi pads. Not like you’d know, but you peel them off to reveal the sticky part you put in your underwear. No one keeps those. They’re garbage. I wouldn’t be surprised if she kept used pads too. You must come do something about the neighbors. Come use some of that charm and convince them to chuck everything. Anyway, call your mother. I’ve got feelings too, you know.”
She hung up the phone and the answering machine began to beep.
Celeste studied the stream of blood seeping from the insides of her thighs with an odd detachment, as if she had not been the one to cut herself open. The blade dangled from her hand. It was impersonal to her, to use a tool. She wished she had the ability to slice her skin open with her own fingernails, but she’d bitten them all off. Transference of nervous energy. She grabbed a towel from under the sink, as she always did, and began to clean herself up. Once the bleeding appeared to stop, she pulled her jeans up and lifted the top of the toilet tank, putting the knife back in its place. She washed her hands then turned the water off.
In the living room she found Malachi working on his third beer and studying a wine stain on the carpet. He was tracing it with his big toe.
“Looks kind of like Ted Bundy,” he said without affect.
“If you say so.”
“What did she want?”
“I guess what everyone wants,” he shrugged.
“I doubt she called for sex.”
He’d never seen her eyes look deader.
She sat down on the couch next to him and opened one of the beers. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Malachi looked out the window at the cabin up on the hill. There was a light on and he thought that if he tried hard enough, he could pretend that the house was a lighthouse like the one he used to climb as a kid when the sky was gray and unconcerned with impressing anybody. He had always liked to go to the beach on what everyone else considered to be the bad beach days. The brisk and windy days. On those days, he would pretend to be a knight in medieval times, galloping back and forth on the sand without having to worry about adults complaining of sand getting in their eyes or drinks.
“Do you want to go sit outside like the old days?” She asked, puncturing the silence.
He grabbed the other six pack out of the fridge and met her out on the porch.
There were two, dusty rocking chairs. He thought they looked lonely even though they had each other. Celeste pulled her sweatshirt sleeve over her hand and wiped the dust off each chair. They sat down and watched the cabin with the single light on. They couldn’t see any movement and couldn’t discern whether it was a bedroom, a den, or the kitchen, but there was a light and that was what mattered.
“They could be anyone, you know.” Malachi opened another beer and handed his wife one.
“Yeah, like a prostitute.”
“Or serial killer.”
“When I was a kid,” she began, sipping her beer. “I used to tell my mom that I wanted to save all the prostitutes and strippers in the world. She told me that they didn’t want to be saved. I cut all my hair off the next day.”
“My mom sent to me to therapy in second grade because once when we were in Macy’s I told her it must be lonely to be a couch that everyone tries out but no one buys.”
He drank his beer down as if it were holy water.
“She used to try to barter with my therapist. Offered her my sister’s scooter once.”
He frowned and turned to look at his wife. Her hair was concealing part of her face. She bit the inside of her cheeks as if she were chewing on her thoughts.
Celeste felt something wet on the inside of her thighs and looked down. There was a dark spot growing on her jeans where one of her cuts was. Big Fucking Deal. She crossed her legs and held the beer in her crotch. She knew he wouldn’t notice even if she’d sat with her legs spread wide like the lone lesbian at her small-town high school had.
He didn’t know how long she was going to sit there and pretend she wasn’t bleeding from her groin. He opened another beer and watched her squirm. The knowledge that he was at least partially responsible for her agony weighed on him.
Why hadn’t anyone told him that loving someone was a terrifying responsibility? It was much less about the love itself and more about what happens after the love settles in and the smoke clears. Why hadn’t anyone told him? He felt cheated.
“The cabin light is still on.”
“I know. I like it.”
She took a long and slow drink. He thought she looked beautiful even though she frightened him. Maybe because she did.
“Do you think we are the light in the window for someone else?”
“I think so, Celeste. I think so.”
That night in bed she saw purple bugs buzzing throughout the room. She made her husband repeatedly get up and turn the light back on so he could catch them all, but once light flooded the room, the bugs would disappear.
They did this all night. Lights on, lights off.
Her skin felt like an icicle each time he crawled back into bed. He held her in the moments between denial and clarity.
Marisa Crane is a creative writer and web editor living in San Diego, CA. Her work has been featured in Apeiron Review, The Radvocate, Blue Bonnet Review, and more. She loves typewriters, wiener dogs, and obsessing over things until everyone around her begins to hate them.