Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chapter One

I couldn't tell you how we got to the restaurant.

We're at a table near the back, and Warren is still looking over the menu.

He takes forever to pick something to eat sometimes.

Maybe this is how married couples feel. Maybe we live in a house on the beach or something like that. I pick up my glass and sip my wine, and then I clear my throat.

“Warren,” I say to him.

He doesn't react, and I look over at my mom. She's busy straightening the silverware on the table in front of her.

“He doesn't listen anymore,” I tell her.

She looks up from the silverware and smiles. “Who doesn't?” She wants to know.

“Warren,” I tell her.

“What?” He says, and I look at him.

We're looking at each other now, but he's looking at me the way someone would look at a car wreck. His eyes are made of glass and I'm not even sure he even really spoke.

“Who are you talking to?” He asks me finally, his voice low.

“What?” I ask, and then I look over to the empty chair beside me where the silverware is still wrapped in the napkin.

“You were talking to yourself,” Warren says, and he goes back to his menu.

In the distance, so far away it barely registers, I hear the first crack. After a second, there's another one, closer but still far away. Then the first sound of glass breaking across the room. I look to the front of the building, against the windows that look out on the snowy street, where glasses have started to pop and explode in the sunlight. The other diners aren't even paying attention.

I can't look away. It's a wave of wine glasses shattering, coming toward us. Warren finally looks up as the cracking and exploding becomes a dull roar of glass, drinks bursting from tables and raining down onto the floor. Then, just as suddenly, it's over. The floor is soaked, and Warren is still looking at me, but his eyes have changed again.

The skin of my hand is burning, and it's wet from my drink. I look down, and there's my hand, red and pulsing and mangled with glass, making a mess of the table cloth.

I guess we're married, I think to myself, staring at it.

I guess this is how it feels.


I open my eyes and I see the edge of Warren's pillow. I sit up and look around, and I'm not sure what I expect to see. Mom, maybe. Broken wine glasses. Certainly not the bedroom.

My eyes go to the windows at the front of the room. The world outside is white and cold. It's snowing today.

“It's snowing,” Warren slurs from his side of the bed.

I clear my throat and run a hand over my hair and I look over at the window again, imagining all the people driving into each other and snow plows backing into houses.

“It's cold up here,” I say to him, and I pull the blankets up to my chin, still sitting. “Did you turn the thermostat down?”

“Yeah,” he says, and he yawns, then says, “Because that makes sense.”

I blink at the cold reality of morning and think about the things I have to do today.

Put the tree up, I think to myself.

A list is forming in my head.

Drag the Christmas stuff out of the basement, put the tree up, go grocery shopping.

I pull the covers off of Warren, and he grabs for them. There's a struggle before he lets go and balls into a fetal position.

“It's too cold,” he says, a bit too loud.

“We have to get the tree out of the basement.”

He sighs and continues to lie on the exposed sheets for a minute, his pajama pants riding up one leg.

“We have to put the tree up today?” he wants to know, irritated.

“Today,” I tell him.

He sighs again. I get out of the bed slowly, the mattress old and squeaking with my moves.

“You have to put the tree up right now? Like, right now?” He wants to know.

“Warren, for god sake,” I say, and I pull a hoodie on over my head. “I'll do it myself.”

I leave him in bed and go down the hall and down the stairs. I'm making a list in my head, and I need something to write it down. I go into the kitchen to the writing pad and start writing.

“Are you still making dinner?” Warren calls from upstairs.

I ignore him and go out of the kitchen through the laundry room and down into the basement to the family room. It always smells a little like weed down here.

I can hear Warren's footsteps on the stairs above my head as I reach the bottom step. I'm almost across the room to the storage room when the door at the top of the basement stairs opens.

“Hey,” Warren calls after me, “Are we getting cookies?”

“Put it on the list, Warren.”


It's only after my third attempt to push the Christmas Tree box up the basement stairs and almost being flattened by it that I see the door open at the top. Warren is wearing actual clothes now, and he comes down the stairs without a word, grabs the closest end of the box and we carry it up the stairs.

“Did you put cookies on the list?” I ask him.


Bread, milk, eggs, butter, cookies, cake mix...

We're almost through the kitchen with the Christmas tree when I say to him, “I may color my hair.”

He laughs as we round the corner into the hallway with the box.

“I might do it, too,” he tells me.

“What color?” I ask him as we drop the box onto the carpet of the living room.

He's breathing heavily now, and he looks out the picture window at the snowy world outside our house. He looks back at me and shrugs.

“We'll figure it out,” I tell him, and then we go back down to the basement to bring up the rest of the Christmas stuff.

“I wonder what Mom will get us this year?” He mumbles as we go into the storage room to grab boxes.

“Get that one over there,” I tell him, pointing to one that I know he can't break if he drops it.

He grabs it and starts out of the room, and I'm right behind him with the front door wreath and a box of shit I should throw away or burn or something.

“When do you think we'll have the family over to our house for Christmas?” he wants to know as we climb the stairs.

When birds poop candy, I think. When cars run on air.

“One of these days, we'll have them over,” I tell him as we reach the laundry room at the top.


“Let's take my car,” I tell him as we're getting our parkas on.

He frowns at me. “It's so old. It takes forever to warm up.”

I sigh and look up at him, both of us tugging our gloves onto our hands.

“You want to drive?” I ask him.

He puts his hands up in front of him. “I just hate that it takes so long.”

“I know you don't want to drive.”

He shrugs and pulls his hat on over his head.

I grab the keys off of the table by the front door. “Fine,” I tell him. “I'll warm it up first.”

“Let's just take my car,” Warren says, putting his boots on.


He smiles up at me, a half-smile, and says, “Because I started it ten minutes ago.”

I shake my head and we cross the kitchen to the back door. “Just say so next time. Shit.”


We aren't in the grocery store five minutes when Warren leaves me to pick my way through the aisles alone, putting items from our list into the cart.

I am not looking forward to going to Christmas with Warren's family. First we go to his Mom's house where they hate me, then we go to his Dad's house where they hate me.

The sea of teenagers and old people and screaming babies that is his extended family is almost enough to make me want to off myself just thinking about it.

Without warning, I hear a crash of items into the cart, no doubt ruining my carefully organized piles.

I turn around and see Warren tossing a jar of grape jelly in the cart. I look down at my ruined work, then I look back up at him.

He smiles at me and I sigh.

“Did you see the lady at the register?” he wants to know.

I look over toward the checkouts, unable to stop myself. “What about her?” I ask.

“Didn't we go to school with her?”

By school, he means college. She was likely in some class I don't remember taking.


When we get to the register, I watch the items going through the scanner, and I see the total reaching the limit of what my debit card can cover.

This is my life. This is us, sinking into debt.

Warren's behind me, trying to disappear. “We can use my card,” he says eventually.

At some point, I put my debit card away and take out my credit card out.

This must be what married life is like.


“I'm sorry about the groceries,” he says.

I don't look at him, but I let go with one hand and hold it out to him. He takes it, and we don't say anything else.


We've got the tree up and decorated, and I've almost got the lights up around the arched doorway to the hall when Warren's phone rings.

He answers it, and I know who it is. I don't even have to ask. I finish grabbing the clear plastic stick-on hooks out of the packaging and I slam them onto the trim around the archway so hard that the plaster above the opening cracks. Mice inside the walls relocate.

“No, that's fine,” Warren is saying from the kitchen, and he's pacing the linoleum floor and rearranging the utensils in the drawers. “I can go get him, that's fine,” he says into the phone.

I sigh and string the remaining lights over the hooks and toss the box of lights off of the chair I stole from the kitchen.

“Yeah, I know,” Warren is saying, more quietly now, rearranging the lists and magnets on the refrigerator.

I go over to the picture window and look out at the snowy front yard and the street lined with car-shaped snow dunes.

Warren comes back into the room. “I'll be back,” he says.

“Just tell her no,” I tell him, not turning to look at him. “Just once.”

“Aaron,” he says. He struggles with his words, and I imagine them jumbling around inside his head. I want to break the window. Finally, he says, “It's just that Wayne needs a ride home from school.”

“Alright,” I say quietly.

He comes up behind me, his parka and hat already on, his gloves shoved in his pockets, and puts his arms around me.

“Your mom hates me,” I tell him, staring out the window still.

He sighs against me. After a long hesitation, he says, “I don't think she does.”

“You remember what she got me last year?”

He lets go then, and I hear him walk out into the hall and grab his keys.

“What am I supposed to say? Are you ever going to stop bringing that up?” He wants to know.

I turn and follow him out into the kitchen. “A one way bus ticket back to my hometown,” I say.

“It was a joke,” he tells me, not turning around as we enter the laundry room. “She didn't mean anything by it.”

“Non-refundable,” I add.

He turns at the door. “I've already talked to her about it,” he says, and we stare at each other for a few minutes.

“Iced coffee,” I tell him. “Get it on your way back.”

“It's 20 degrees out,” he tells me.

I cross my arms in front of me. “A one way bus ticket,” I tell him again, and he turns and goes out the back door, slamming it.


I'm halfway through decorating the rest of the living room, some awful Christmas movie mumbling at me from the TV when I hear my phone vibrate, and I look down at it on the floor below me. I've got a text from Warren.

I swear to god, I know what it says without reading it, but I look anyway.

Mom wants me to stay for dinner.

I toss my phone onto the couch and I go into the kitchen, where the casserole I've made is cooling on the counter. The house is still filled with the smells of cooking.

I look over at the pink siding of the house next door, but it's dark now. I can't see anything but my own face in the glass of the window.

I pick up the casserole in the glass pan and I put it into the fridge. Then I go over to the sink and I wash the dishes I created earlier.

That woman, I think to myself. That evil fucking woman.

I picture the whole kitchen on fire behind me, the napkins black and curling into dust, the wallpaper peeling up toward the ceiling in burning agony, tears in my eyes.


I could have run away by now. I could have been anywhere else. I could have been somebody.

I'm in the downstairs bathroom, the toilet full of vomit, and I feel another wave of sick coming. I heave into the bowl again, but this time it's not vomit. I'm puking tinsel and Christmas lights, and they're splashing into the toilet, and suddenly the room goes dark and quiet except for the sound of garland and ornament hooks cutting up my insides.


I'm on the porch when he gets home, the snow soaking through the back of my pants. The sun is starting to come up.

His boots make holes in the snow as he comes around the house from where he parked. I pull my phone out of my pocket, my lungs frozen, and I look at the screen.

“It's six in the morning,” I tell him, putting my phone back in my pocket.

He stops in front of the porch steps.

“I fell asleep,” he says, and the world is silent around us except for the distant sirens and buses of the neighborhood around us.

I laugh a little, and I gesture toward him. “You didn't even get my iced coffee.”

He smiles, and I stand up, the backs of my legs frozen, and I walk back into the house.

“Aaron,” I hear Warren saying behind me as I fling my parka on the floor of the hall. I heave my boots into the living room, knocking things over and getting everything wet. “Aaron, for god sake,” he calls to me as I start up the stairs.

“Six in the fucking morning,” I yell over the banister at the top of the stairs, then I walk to the end of the hallway slam and the bathroom door behind me.


I'm in the shower. I bet I've been here for at least twenty minutes. My ass and legs have thawed and stopped burning, and I've been thinking of burning the house down when he goes to work tomorrow, but I doubt that will happen. I'll probably be a good boyfriend and make dinner and keep my mouth shut.

This life that I lead is nonsense.


When I start toward the bedroom in my pajamas, I can hear Warren putting things right in the living room downstairs.


He comes to bed and it wakes me up. He puts his arms around me, and I let him.

“Your mom is a bitch,” I tell him quietly.

He sighs, but he doesn't let go.

After a while, he says to me, “What do you suppose is on TV?”

“Infomercials and terrible Christmas movies.”

He laughs.


We're downstairs now on the pull out bed, and some clay reindeer is screeching Christmas songs at ugly children.

“I'm sorry,” he says to me, and I don't respond at first.

Then, I say, “Let's not talk about it.”

Outside, it's still snowing. I think about going out there and lying down and never moving again. Face down, breathing water and snow, my hair sticking to itself.

The ice would eat my veins, my skin burning until I don't feel anything.

I don't think I'd mind that. Feeling nothing, I mean.

They might find me in a thousand years, frozen in an ice bank in a parka and gloves. I might be something, then. I might be famous in museums and classrooms.

Warren moves a little on the pull out bed, and I realize just how awful this bed is to try to sleep on.

“I love you,” he says to me.

I'm able to mostly tune out the screeching reindeer and Santa bumbling across the screen, and in my head I'm cutting my heart out and putting it in the fridge with the casserole, aluminum foil dripping red, a dark pool forming on the floor.

“I love you, too,” I say finally.

This is what it's like to be married. The Christmas lights blinking on and off cast a red and green glow across the wall behind the TV, and I close my eyes.

I take a deep breath, and I smell Warren and the faint smell of the casserole I made, and I hear the sirens of the city far away beyond the walls and the windows and the doors of the house on Bernard Street.

Maybe it's not so bad.

Maybe I should just stop thinking.

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