Saturday, May 26, 2012
THIS GAME REQUIRES TWO PLAYERS
Many thanks to Sara at Orion headless - http://orionheadless.com/this-
by MaryAnne Kolton
He drove too fast, weaving in and out of traffic. He flashed his brights again and again when a car ahead of him wouldn’t move over. Dark veins, like worms pulsing blue-red, stood out on the side of his head.
She watched the speedometer climb steadily toward ninety. Slow down! she screamed silently. “Could you just slow down?” she said. The muscles in his jaw tensed. He hit the steering wheel with the flat of his hand, jerked into the right lane and slowed to the minimum speed limit.
He travelled a great deal on business. She lulled herself to sleep when he was gone, with half-dreams that the police had come to the door to tell her he was dead. Killed in a car accident, shot through the heart by a stray bullet in a drive by or the only fatality in a plane crash. She tried to summon the emotion she would feel when they told her. The best she could come up with was relief.
They almost always tried to wedge reluctant friends into the ever-expanding void that had become their marriage - using them to buffer the anger always arcing in that void. Smoldering, electric anger: hate on hold.
This trip to the
was an anomaly. They would be alone for
a week. Starting out with a ten hour car
trip on a day so hot that the air-conditioning felt like a warm tropic
breeze. The perfect incubator for the many
unresolved issues between them.
By the time they got to the house in South Wellfleet on the Cape, a gunmetal grey darkness obscured any view of the
Atlantic. Sheets of driving rain flailed at her skin as
they unloaded the car. Soaking wet and
exhausted, they shared a quick, silent meal.
She let herself think about the times they’d sat at this table for an
hour or two, after dinner, drinking port and saying silly, loving things to
Where were those people? She wondered. It was as if they’d fallen into some great, black hole. Eaten alive by years of marriage, children and not bothering to adjust to the changes in each other. Lack of communication. Clichéd, but true. The two who had taken their places were far too sad too be silly and much too bitter to be loving.
That night, like every night, they slept clutching opposite sides of the bed, separated by a wide, perilous expanse of sheets and blankets – a bleak marital desert neither one of them dared to cross. Sex was out of the question - too easy to wound and be wounded that way.
In the morning the rain continued to pound the dunes around them. He was sitting at the table when she came out of the bedroom. He appeared to be reading a book of poems. He said nothing. The tension in the room grabbed her and willed her to confront him. Eyes closed, she rested her head against the splintered edge of the open shelf in the kitchen.
“I’m not sure I want to stay here.”
She had not meant to say those words out loud, had she? Yet, there they were suspended in the humid air between them. He looked up from his book puzzled, his eyes narrowing.
“What does that mean? Are you saying you want to go home?”
“I’m not sure. . .” The thought came to her that she was way past wanting to work this out.
“Well, when you decide, why don’t you let me know,” he mocked her. “We’ve played this game for years now. You have no idea what you want, and yet you expect me know instinctively, to guess.” He stared at a page of verse as he spoke. Tiny sweat bubbles formed on his upper lip and his hands trembled.
“If I had even some vague notion of what it is you do want, what you do expect from me, maybe things might be different.”
“Liar!” she shouted at him. “I’ve tried a hundred times to tell you what’s wrong.”
He turned in the chair so he faced her. “Right,” his voice was iced with sarcasm, “Now we come to the part where you tell me that this,” he flings his long arms wide open, “this is all my fault.”
Painful spasms cramped her stomach. She was angry now. She could say anything.
“Okay. I do know what I want!” She said, coming quite close to the edge of the hole where the people they used to be fell in.
“Well good,” he smirked. “At least now we’re getting somewhere.” She hated him for real then.
“I want. . .not to live with you any more,” she hissed, moving around the back of his chair.
He stood up and slapped the book on the table. When he threw the wooden chair across the room, it hit the pine wall hard leaving a deep gouge before it broke apart. He started toward the bedroom.
“Wait a minute. Don’t you dare walk away. I want to explain.” Too far, she’d pushed him too far this time.
He turned from the bedroom doorway and came at her. “No! No explaining!
Enraged, he grabbed her wrist, twisting her arm behind her back and pushed her into the kitchen where he pinned her against the edge of the counter. The metal edge of the Formica cut a welt into her midsection. Way too far.
“Listen,” she said, forcing her voice to soften, “maybe we just need some time apart. To sort things out.”
He pressed up against her back. “I’m not sorting anything out!”
He spun her around. He opened his mouth and bared his teeth, a menacing growl starting deep in his throat. Hands grabbing her upper arms now, he pulled her to him, closer. Strong fingers tightened and bruised - her face so close to his she could smell the anger on his breath. Horrified, she thought for a second he meant to bite her. She pushed at him, kicked, tried to free herself.
“Get away from me! I hate you! Let me go!” She spat into his face.
He shook her once, a hard, abrupt movement that snapped her head and neck. He released her and staggered backward. His long body crumpled, folded inward. His glazed eyes stared up at her. His mouth open, his eyes focused on her face, he stuttered and gasped - tried to say the words she would never allow him say.
Frightened and confused by pity, she moved toward him. “Let’s sit down. I’ll listen,” she cried. He shook his head. “Too late,” he whispered. “Too late.” He backed away from her, and lunged out the door into the rain. She vomited into the kitchen sink. Let him go. That’s what she really wanted – wasn’t it?
Through the window over the sink she watched the rain and wind plaster his shorts and tee shirt against his back and upper legs. He shook as he stumbled through wet sand toward the car he had parked at the back of the cottage. He grappled with the car door, realized it was locked and banged his head against the doorframe. He started up the hill toward the road.
She fought to open the window over the sink, swollen shut by days of rain. She pounded on it and called his name. She pounded again, harder, too hard. Her fist smashed through glass. Shocked, she yanked her hand back through the ragged hole. Pointed shards shredded her hand and wrist. Blood seeped everywhere as she crawled up on the counter and forced her mouth against the serrated edges of the opening she’d created.
Sobs raked her throat and small slivers of glass chewed at her face. She screamed his name.
He was getting away.
MaryAnne Kolton’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous literary publications including the Lost Children Charity Anthology, The Toucan Magazine, Lost In Thought Literary Magazine, Anatomy, Her Circle, and Connotation Press among others. Her story “A Perfect Family House” was shortlisted for The 2011 Glass Woman Prize. Author Interviews have appeared most recently in Her Circle, The Literarian/City Center and January Magazine. MaryAnne’s public email is firstname.lastname@example.org. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.