Fiction · 10/19/2016

The Barren Trophy Wife Makes Tea

He says she destroys everything.

He doesn’t mean this as mordantly as she takes it, but that doesn’t matter, his words sink to her marrow. What he means is that she is not careful with the charging cords of electronics, nor the book that he lent her that she took everywhere for six months, nor the exotic rug, older than her and delicate, that she can’t help but tread on the wrong way. He says her feet make ugly currents in the shag.

She has never had an orgasm, not even a fake one.

Any time he’s about to be perfectly frank, she knows, this fact becomes a physical thing between them, like poison spores, the airborne trash of a wrong organism.

They have just come back from a party at his ex-wife’s house.

He wants to be frank with her now, but must go to the bathroom first; it’s an emergency.

“It was those damned stuffed peppers,” he opines, because frankly, he never has emergencies, has always been regular.

He takes the stairs three at a time despite his back because he knows she’s listening.

+

She’s about to take off her coat but stills mid-shrug, remembering the hard quiet of the car ride home. These days she’s terrified she’ll jump out as it moves, that she’ll roll and roll until she’s forest floor. So she makes him engage the child lock and sits on her hands. In a dream, she crawled along the aisle of a 727 until the pilot announced their initial descent, her cue to open the emergency door.

She places a sachet of his favorite tea in a mug bearing the logo of his foreign car. The tea doesn’t agree with him, some allergy, but he hasn’t made the connection between drinking it and his stomach upset.

When did she become the type of person who finds comfort in poisoning the man she’s sworn to? She knows that like everything else in this glacial suburb, it happened too slowly to notice, then too quickly to stop.

She re-wraps her expensive scarf, a courting gift from him, and wonders if “glacial” will cease to mean slow before too long.

She worries that all the old definitions are dying, soon to be reborn as monsters.

He doesn’t worry about any of that. He likes to straighten the furrow in her brow. She has only just recognized this as an act of contempt.

She re-buttons her coat and puts water in the teapot and opens the flame.

She creeps up the stairs, careful not to step on the spots that moan, stands outside the bathroom door.

A complication of his ongoing repair of the door means that, temporarily, it can be locked from the outside.

She locks him in.

She does it as she says, “I am not locking this door,” out loud.

He doesn’t hear because he is saying:

“If you didn’t want to go to the party, you didn’t have to go. But don’t get drunk and tell Elaine our business.”

“Our business” is that he has failed to impregnate her. Or she has failed to become pregnant. She imagines him with his pants around his ankles, marshaling his arguments before he tells her what’s what, checking how his stocks closed on his cell phone. She creeps down the stairs and sets out on a walk.

+

The night air feels good on her skin and what if she just kept walking with only as much as fits in the black sequined clutch she took to the party: gum, wallet, phone, tampons, Ativan, the business card secreted into her palm by the guy who kept refilling her wine before Elaine cornered her.

The card smells of earthy cologne. It is a dare. The man thinks she is easy.

She toys with the idea of being predictable. After all, he trailed his finger along the faint river of her lifeline, in public, her husband in the next room. That ought to earn him something. When was the last time she got close?

+

She considers calling her mother, but their conversations these days mostly consist of, “Isn’t this what you wanted?” and

“Yes, but what the hell did I know?” and

“Do you think it’s as simple as that? No joy, so no baby?”

She has grown recklessly frank with her mother about pleasure and its substitutes, her body and its uses.

“When did this body get here, anyway? I don’t remember having one when I was younger.”

+

She is blocks away from the house when she imagines she can hear the teapot whistle. He would certainly hear it from his perch on the toilet. She imagines he’s still dressing her down even now, and the whistle has shrilled up between his words, in the pauses. She can fairly see him struggle with what to do next.

He hates the whistle of that pot, its urgent birdsong, though at first it was the teapot’s selling point. He’d been excited about its bullshit new “whistling technology.”

When he bought the pot, a fancy Japanese brand, and she chipped its paint a week later, he’d said, “Say what you will about Elaine, but she knew how to handle fine things. This is what you do. You use things hard. You lack a feminine touch.” She imagines her feminine touch grazing the vein-like ridge on the underside of the man from the party’s cock.

She dials the numbers. Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep. She sits on a stone bench by a manmade lake with her legs spread. She waits till he says hello, sighs into the phone, and says, “Give me a reason to stay on the line,” hoping that this will be the time it finally happens.

+++

Maria Pinto’s work has appeared in Word Riot, The Butter, Pinball, and Menacing Hedge, among others. She was an Ivan Gold Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston, in the city where she reads for FLAPPERHOUSE, walks dogs, and does karaoke. Her debut novel is in search of a home.