j e s s i c a    a l e x a n d e r

Bring Me Something

 

When Henry goes out I crack the tabs on his beer cans, write boo in the dust on the nightstand. I tried gardening, but the problem with the garden is the problem with me. I spend hours weeding and planting things. Then can't tell the difference between the things I planted and the weeds.


"That a parable?" Henry asked.


You pick a problem and pluck it out. Pills. Scabs. Criminals.



We'd been married two years, then Henry saw me and screamed.


He'd left the faucet running. The mirror fogged. He pulled back the shower curtain and there I was—crouched in the corner, water streaming off my face and running bloody down the drain. So says the husband, Henry. He shouted "Christ" and "Oh, Jesus" and "Oh, Boy." He clutched his head, backed out the room, and left. So I stopped eating peanut brittle. I ate peas, strictly peas, only to learn much later they'd never been vegetables. And to top it all off my appearance did not concern Henry. That I'd appeared at all was unforgivable.



He called me diminished-thing. I lack. He said reflection.


He called me Cyclops, spook, intruder.


I said wife.


He said, "Look, wraith." Pointed at mirrors and windows. "No one there."


I moved and the room broke open—


"The room," he said, is fine. "The nightstand, the mailman, the mirror knows you aren't around. And it's a good thing," he told me.


I wondered if I'd grown homely.


"Grown?" he said, "Diminished."



When he returned, I tried conversation. By then the sun was under the clouds and the birds chirped. He sat on the stoop, the butt of a new rifle resting on his thigh. In this country it is easier to buy guns than whiskey. Henry couldn't even hold it properly.


I stood behind him. I smiled. "Nice rifle."


"Go away," he said, "I've got my own problems."


Once I had a lover.


"Don't watch me through that hacked out eye," he said.


My lover was the shadow of a bird brushing over a lawn I thought, until he raised a slingshot, a rifle, pulled a bowstring back and cracked the birds out of the clouds. Wings rushed to shadows. Shadows stretched bird-wide. Thump.


"That a parable?"


No, it's an alarm clock stroking a dying animal with its song: our conversations. I'm telling him what I remember, which has the sound of a wave on sand, water rushing in the ears, hitting the drum, thump.



"You shot or drowned or something? What?"


"Nothing."


"Did you hear what I said?"


"Yes."


"Seems like you heard something else."



An ingredient in our chemistry always had been missing. Henry said it was me. And not always. Five months this spring. He figured I'd been drowned or shot or something. It was news to me.



How could I know myself, Henry said, when I was forever in the company of somebody else?


So, he left.


And I discovered solitude. I spent my days alone. I stood by the window. I looked across the street, where the mail truck had stopped on the shoulder. I did not know myself any better. I watched the mailman do one of three things: sob, vomit, or sleep.



Poor man is some family's problem. That's what I said when I laid eyes on Henry. The kind that peels off a wreck and walks off whistling. Charming. Henry wakes coughing. Thump. I come. He calls for water. Who is he addressing, surely not—


"You!" He gasps. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"


I spent all year at that window. The husband always gone, the garden overgrown. I watched the mailman on the other side of the road, thinking, "Cross the street, you dope, and bring me something."



My mother said men confuse two things: their houses and their headaches. Henry comes home with a new woman and mistakes me for his migraine. He throws the opened beer cans at me. His new woman screams. Men, my mother said, are bulls in suits and driver's seats, turning in tight aisles. Shelves rattling with china. Dishes shattering behind them. Aches that split the heads' seams. Contents spilt, scalding walls and ceilings.


"Did you hit it?" His new woman shouts. She climbs onto the couch.


The lamp cracks. The wall is spattered. The can froths on the carpet and rolls back to Henry.


"Is it gone?" She asks him. "I can't see. I don't see anything."


"There." Henry points at me. "By the window."



There are two ways I've learned to think of this: I saw my sadness and swerved to hit it. I thought he was my lover. Thick-hipped. Henry, that is. It was at a theatre. Two men on screen were sitting in a car. A man in a fedora said, "Orders are orders." He held a gun to the other man's head. The other man said, "Can't you just pretend I'm dead?"


My lover died in war five years before. So naturally I was surprised to see him coming down the aisle. I'd imagined it different. I thought I'd see him in the street. Say, "Stop the car." Throw the door open. Cause an accident. Maybe die in it.


I only tightened my rectum and clasped hands. Henry sat down. He turned his head. He said, "smile." And I pretended not to hear him.

 

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JESSICA ALEXANDER's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Pank Magazine, and Denver Quarterly.


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