Sheets of sleet continue to accumulate. Blizzard winds accost the front door and backyard lot. Snowflakes climb the window sills. White covers a world governed by color. Clearly, Mother Nature understands how to throw shade.
I haven’t left the house in three days. Neither has Mitch, my husband, who, four different times, bundled in blue snowsuit fuzz with white furry-lined sleeves and hat, pushed open the front door and cleared a path to the street, proving to both of us that there is, if we want it, a way out. I sit at a small desk in the living room and scour on a laptop the Internet. Mitch sticks close to my feet, rhythmically flipping through pages of my lady magazines. I wish he’d find a new spot. And a manlier avocation. One hundred days of marriage has brought solidification to what I want in a relationship. And he isn’t it.
“We’re like the nineties AOL,” I say. “Our opinions keep changing while our format remains the same.”
He drops to his lap, Redbook. “In terms of fashion, which season do you think I am?”
“You are winter, sweet cheeks.” He hates this nickname, says it makes him sound childish and fat. Which he is. Which is why I push in and turn the knife.
“Don’t call me that.” He takes to his knees and leans closer to the computer screen. “What are you looking at?”
“For my eyes only.”
“Afraid what I’ll see?”
I prefer Bing to Google and Yahoo. Bing changes daily the home page photograph: high-resolution globe pics with interesting facts. Today belongs to Monte Carlo—aka: the administrative area of the Principality of Monaco—basking in the soft glow of its own electric brightness. Mitch wants to attend the Monaco Grand Prix. Not to inhale engine smoke and rubber tires. But to show off a gold-studded Monaco Fedora and a pair of shiny-white Puma. I also want to go. I’d like to wear fanciful dresses, gamble in lush casinos, and pretend to eat at five-star restaurants. With someone else. Anyone else. Mitch and I have always been out of sync. Even when he first said he loved me, I didn’t say it back. Not right away. But no one had ever professed love before. Which is why I disregarded my reluctance and said it back. A lie. He believed. A lie. I didn’t.
“Isn’t that Monaco?” he asks, typing A in Bing’s search box. My recent search history appears in light grey font.
- alacrity definition
- amc theatres
- addiction severity index
“Hundred bucks if you let me scroll the entire alphabet and see what you’ve been up to.”
“Not a chance.” I minimize the screen. I can’t remember B or C, let alone Y and Z.
“Two hundred dollars cash if you let me.”
“You don’t have that kind of money.”
“Yes, I do.”
“You think you know everything about me, but you don’t.”
“I never said that, but I do know it’s gonna take more like five hundred for me to even consider it.”
“Four hundred and not one cent higher.”
He types B.
- bargaining chips
- bank of america
- bed bugs
- bradley cooper
“See, nothing but a bunch of harmless little B’s.”
“Have you had Botox?”
“That’s a bargaining chip you can’t have.”
“Do you like Bradley Cooper?”
“He’s the opposite of childish and fat.”
“Don’t be mean.” He types C.
- carnival cruise lines
- club penguin
- cvs weekly ad
Shit. “I don’t know.”
“First on the list and you don’t know what it is.” He taps the screen. “Click on it.”
“A click costs an additional fifty bucks.”
“Ten and that’s my final offer.”
“Twenty or no deal.”
“Fine. Now click it.”
CAM4: WATCH LIVE SEX ON CAM.
“Classy,” he says. “What’s club penguin?”
“That one I really don’t know.”
“So you do know what cam4 is?”
I type D.
- don’t go breaking my heart lyrics
- drudge reports
- disney princess fairytale weekend escapes
- daring rescues
- divorce laws and decrees
“Divorce laws and decrees,” he says. “Really?”
“I looked at that site like a month ago.”
“What did I do a month ago that’d make you look that up?”
“It’s not always about you.”
“Why are you looking up daring rescues?”
“Have you looked outside today? If it doesn’t stop snowing soon, you’ll be glad I did.”
“Why can’t you ever answer a question with a simple yes or no?”
“Yes, I looked up divorce decrees and no, I’m not telling you why.”
“You had fun at the Elton John concert, right?” He smiles. Crooked-ass teeth. Rank breath.
“I did.” For our sixth-month dating anniversary, he bought Elton John tickets: stage right, row 204, seats 4 and 5. So close to the stage, I could see in Technicolor Elton’s hair extensions and ten bottles of diet coke he drank during the first set. Leading up to the big night, we illegally downloaded from Spotify Elton’s greatest hits and then made up choreography to “Rocket Man,” “Daniel,” “Benny & The Jets,” and our favorite song, “Don’t go Breaking My Heart.” During the concert, we danced and cheered like drunk teenagers. Everyone called us hilarious. I uploaded ninety-seven pictures to Facebook. 93 likes. 52 comments. 11 shares. Elton didn’t perform “Candle in the Wind.” Which was fine. We hate that song. Too sentimental. Too cliché. Too gay.
“I couldn’t if I tried.” He sings off-key: worst voice ever. “Honey, if I get restless.”
“Right from the start, I gave you my heart.”
“I said, don’t.” I type E.
“We’re coming back to Disney fairytale princess weekend escapes, just so you know.”
“That was so last weekend.”
“Cross your heart?”
I type E. “Hope to die.”
- edgerton realty
- energy drinks
- evocation prayers
- exercise balls
“You planning on taking a trip?”
“I’m just price checking.”
“To go where?”
“To go everywhere.”
“My best friend, price check, who else?”
“We can’t put the house on the market this year. It needs too much work.”
“I. was. merely. price. checking.”
“Energy drinks are packed full of sugar. You’re gonna have a heart attack if you don’t stop drinking them.”
“It’s my energy, and my heart.”
“Prayers.” He scoffs. “Since when did you start to pray?”
“Like energy, my spiritualty’s my business.”
“Saying goddamn it doesn’t count as religion.”
“How about fuck off?”
He stands and rocks back and forth. I wish he’d leave. Do us both a favor. Instead, he takes to his knees and types F.
- flying trapeze
- fun house mirrors
- freedom trails
“How come I can’t see your Facebook page anymore?” He sits.
“How should I know?”
“Did you block me?”
“Lord, Mitch. Grow up.”
“Go plow the driveway.”
“You did, didn’t you?”
“You’re always up in my face. I’ve lost all sense of privacy.”
“I’d never blocked you.” He types G. “From anything.”
- golds gym
- generational life cycle services
- google earth
- great lakes getaways
“You’re the one who didn’t accept my friend request for like a month,” I say.
“Because you never let me use the computer.”
“Actually it was more like three months.”
“Do I even matter to you anymore?”
“Fine. I’ll unblock you if it’ll make you happy.”
“Don’t bother. I’ve gotten used to it.” He types H.
- hollywood’s hottest men
- hunks who haul junk
- huffington post
“Hollywood’s hottest men? Does my body turn you off that much?”
“I don’t go to that site to compare you with other men.”
“Neither of us will ever look like Hollywood.”
“Not with that attitude, you won’t.”
He sucks in his stomach. “It’s just a few extra pounds.”
“Ten’s a few. You’re packing like a large suitcase.”
“Whatever, Buddha belly.”
“Don’t call me that.”
I close my eyes and exhale all of Mitch’s, and my, flaws. My therapist, Sandi, talks a lot about revisualization, the ability to flip a negative image into a positive one. As a young girl, I took great pleasure in sneaking into the county fair, the only place I could laugh, skip, eat, and live in peace. At home, mother restricted food as a way of disciplining my genetic chunkiness. She forbade Easter egg hunts, summer-candy parades, and trick or treat on Halloween. I’m glad she’s dead, fucking anorexic.
“You okay,” he asks, touching the top of my hand with rough, bucolic skin.
“I’m fine.” I open my eyes.
He scans my body. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so thin.” He sounds concerned. And sexually aroused.
“I’m not that thin.”
“You wanna fool around?”
“No. I. Do. Not.”
He sighs and types I.
- interruption intuition
- imagination revisualization
- illinois lottery
“You want a grilled cheese sandwich with some tomato soup?” he asks.
“I’m gonna pig out once I win the Illinois lottery.”
“If you won, would you still give me half?” He rests his head on my shoulder. On our fourth date, after he invited me back to his apartment for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, his favorite winter snack, and after we had sex a first time, he asked what I’d do if I ever won the lottery. I told him I’d give him half, and use the other half to go to Monaco and then buy a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup shop.
“As long as you still agree to not give any to your mother.” His mother, Clarice, hates us, but for very different reasons. With me, it’s because I refuse to visit her trailer park or answer the door when she visits ours. With him, it’s because he doesn’t force me to visit her trailer park or answer the door when she visits ours.
“We should go visit her sometime.”
“Feel free to go whenever you want.”
He types J.
- j-jill credit card
- joni mitchell
- job interview questions
“Isn’t Jack Eberlien your boss?”
“He’s also a brilliant songwriter.”
“Wealthy and musical. How fortunate.”
“He’s a pretty snazzy dresser, too.”
“Have you written any songs with him?”
“We’ve strummed a few licks now and again, but no, not really.”
“Sounds contagious.” He picks up the Redbook and covers his face, trying and failing to hide the hurt on his face. “I hope he’s a nice guy.”
Jack Eberlien, the VP of Marketing at Techsitex, my and his employer, sits to the left of my dinky cubicle in a big corner office with floor to ceiling windows facing Xperience Fitness, our favorite gym to bike, run, and flesh-merge in the private shower. We hit it off instantly. During the first workout, he called us kindred spirits. Four years later, we’ve become connected through commonalities: BodyShred, songwriting, surrealist and symbolist poets, London’s Jewish Museum of Art, and Bing. Last week, he said, “We’re like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. Idealists meant to write our own love songs.” Later that same night, in bed at the downtown Marriott, he played and sang a song he’d written, for me, “I Find Myself In You.” “In the way you hold my hand, with each kiss I understand exactly how you feel. In the tender words you speak, when I’m in doubt you still believe that dreams, they do come true.” Poor Mitch. He can’t compete. I move the mouse’s arrow to the black X on the top right corner of the screen. “Let’s not do this to each other.”
“You should say that to Jack.” He takes the mouse from my hand and moves the cursor back to the blinking box. He types K.
- kitty funerals
- klonopin side effects
- knee spasms
- kay jewelers layaway policy
- kalidescope heart
“There’s a guy at work that says he can shut off marital pain by simply wishing it away,” he says.
“What a fortunate gift.”
“He says it works when the body is in alignment with the mind.”
“Some people get it all.” I type L.
- las vegas
- liquid diet recipes
- love sonnets
- lunar eclipse
“Would you like it if I was the type of man who wrote love sonnets and songs?”
I swipe a thumb across his chin, and sing, “I know I must confuse you daily. I say I will and then I say I won’t. You ask me if I want to give up. You keep reminding me you don’t.”
“I still think that’s one of your best songs.” He grabs my hands. “I miss hearing you sing. Why don’t you sing anymore?”
As a young girl, as soon as I realized songs could be written, and that songs could be written by people like me, I started writing songs. I’m not the best singer, or the world’s greatest piano player, but I know hundreds of chords that when put together in unique ways produce melodic, thought-provoking songs. At least that’s what Jack says.
“Will you sing me “A Little Bit of Love”? He points to the old upright piano sulking in the den, an engagement present from his grandmother, Aya, who gave it to us after arthritis stole her fingers. It’s the song I wrote for our wedding.
“I forget the words.”
“Just the first verse.” He closes his eyes. “Please.”
“No.” Only Jack Eberlien’s pleading can make me sing.
“I’ll give you two hundred more if you do.”
I clear my throat. “A little bit of love will go a long, long way. Ask the soldier who fights for those he saves. Ask the father who never walks away. Oh, a little love will go a long, long way.”
“So good.” He wraps his arms around my knees.
“Personal space much?”
He sits back. “Why were you looking up lunar eclipses?”
“The last word on the list is lunar eclipse. Why that?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I know stuff, too. I know that a lunar eclipse blocks the sun.”
“It’s actually called a Selenelion.”
“It’s when the Sun and an eclipsed Moon can be observed at the same time. It only happens before sunset or just after sunrise when both bodies appear above the horizon at nearly opposite points in the sky.”
“Which one am I and which one are you?”
“They’re both dead, so take your pick.”
“The sun isn’t dead.”
“It is dead. Just like the moon.”
“But the sun glows and the moon shines. How can they be dead?”
“They fake it well, don’t they?”
“I don’t believe it.” He stands. “Stop lying to me.”
“Fine. They’re not dead.”
“You’re just saying that because you know it’s what I want to hear.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing.”
“Tell me the truth. Are they dead or are they alive?”
“They have the appearance of life but they are in fact dead.”
He lies on the floor, supine, and puts his hands behind his head. “Type M.”
I sit still, reticent to proceed. M is the 13th letter of the alphabet, the halfway point to the letter Z: the finality. “There’s this device called The Danjon scale which rates the overall darkness of a lunar eclipse,” I say. “There are five levels.” I hold up my hand and spread my fingers. “As the numbers increase so does the brightness. But because the scale starts at zero, and not at one, there are four levels of illumination instead of five. Zero, in this case, is quantifiable.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“A zero in science is countable.”
“Is this what you and Jack talk about?”
I laugh. “He’s not that smart either.”
“So what do you two talk about?”
“All I’m saying is that not everything is a plus, Mitch. Sometimes zero is the sum of an experience.”
“Are you calling me zero?” He stands. “Cuz I’m not. I’m glowing and I’m shining and I’m not dead.”
“I’m gonna go ahead and type M, unless you wanna stop.”
He sits. “Move starts with M, so let’s move on.”
- mind reading techniques
- mentally stimulating conversations
- mathematical equations
- me and mia
He scoffs. “You really do confuse me daily.”
“Like a good mathematical equation.”
“I’m good at math, too.”
“What’s the prime factor of four hundred?”
“Nobody knows that.”
“Four hundred is not a prime number.”
“Then why did you ask me?”
“Because now you owe me six hundred, which is only divisible by one and itself.”
“Good lord.” He types N. “What’s wrong with you?”
- names of angels
- neurological disorders
- nutritional weight and wellness
- national american university
- no numbers: identity beyond measure
“What’s ‘no numbers: identity beyond measure’?”
“It’s a silly documentary I watched on Netflix a while back.”
“What’s it about?”
“A woman who hates her lunar-eclipse-zero-balance-no-glowing-life.”
“Ouch.” He types O.
- ogre battles
“Ogre battles?” He laughs. “Have you and my mother been secretly meeting behind my back?”
I laugh, and type P. “Oh, hell no.”
- personality quizzes
- power versus control
He leans in and stares at the screen. Perhaps he’s trying to telekinetically change the order of the words, or perhaps he’s trying to erase them altogether. Regardless, for a moment, I swear the words power and control switch places.
“What’s a pess-e-udo-nimes?”
“It’s pronounced pseudonym. It’s like an alter ego.”
“Like Jekyll and Hyde?”
“More like pseudo and nim.”
“Like you and me and Bennie and Bar?”
We met at Bennie’s Bar in Champagne, IL on Valentine’s Day 2015. He walked up and challenged me to a game of darts, losing five games in a row, noteworthy because by trade he’s a professional darts player. I hate darts. But I smiled and granted a consolation kiss with each victory. When our lips touched, I half expected to smell on his breath alcohol and cigarettes. Instead, I inhaled peppermint gum and forest-spice cologne. Later, inside his dart-award apartment, after he stopped me from taking off my bra, I knew I’d say yes if he asked to see me again, which he did, again and again, until there was nowhere to run but to the alter. A man had picked me, and that’s all I’d ever wanted. But being picked leads to other places, like mother-in-laws, holidays, bills, bad sex, bitterness, lying, affairs, anger, one stillborn birth, and Jack Eberlien.
“I guess that makes sense.”
“I knew it.” He types Q.
- quotes of life
- queen rock band
“What’s quick-o-tick mean?”
“It’s a work word.”
“It’s a weird word.”
“It’s an unsatisfying word.”
He pushes me to the left and, with one index finger at a time, types q.u.i.x.o.t.i.c. Then he reads, “Foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals, especially marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action.” He faces me. “This doesn’t sound like a work word.” He looks back at the screen. “Is it a Jack word?”
“You need to let him go.”
I type R.
- reactionary theory
- roe v wade
- rotten tomatoes
- resuscitation masks
“Do you think we need resuscitation?” he asks.
“That’s a good example of reactionary theory.”
“I don’t even want to know what that means. Why can’t you talk to me like a human?”
“When an individual feels forced into a certain behavior, they will react against the coercion. This reaction is often exemplified by an increased desire for the behavior that is now restrained. This resentment may manifest in doing the exact opposite of what the power authority requires.”
“I’m sorry I’m not smarter.” He types S. “Is that something you wish I was?”
I type S.
- sensory adaptation
- saying goodbye to someone you love
- second trimester screening
- songwriting tips and tricks
- starlight lyrics
He leans in for a kiss, chapped lips coming at me like a sandpit. I pull away. “I stink, Mitch, and I’m tired.” His baldhead and twisted nose makes me question the beauty and balance of future children I know we’ll never have.
“When’s the last time you ate something?”
I started starving myself at the age of thirteen, the same day Courtney Plith-Bloomquist, the skinniest girl in school, called me, in front of the entire gym class, boomerang butt, adding, “Wherever it goes, it always comes back.” Everyone, including the gym teacher, laughed. Boys mocked me in the hallways and everywhere I went outdoors. Girls puffed out their cheeks in the locker room. At home, I ripped up baggy jeans and oversized t-shirts until summer vacation arrived and I lost ten pounds in June. Thirty pounds later, I was a slender and sleek size four. By the end of the following school year, I was skinnier than Courtney-fucking-Bloomquist, who I assume out of jealousy branded me with new, crueler nicknames like anna-rexia and tooth-pick-toria. But nobody laughed. A few kids even told her to shut up, yelling “she’s skinner than you are, bitch.” Senior year of high school, and four years of college, proved problematic as nobody, including boys, seemed to care if I was fat, skinny, or barely alive. Many of the boys talked about liking girls with a little meat on their bones. To an anorexic, all the years of perfecting skinny only to go unnoticed is by far the cruelest name, joke, and game of all.
“Answer me,” he says. “When’s the last time you ate?”
I reach for the power cord.
“Don’t you dare turn it off.” He blocks my hand from touching the chord. “We’re not done.” He types T. “T is for truth. And that’s what I’m looking for.”
- the best little girl in the world
- talk-stop therapy
“Are you still in therapy?”
I don’t respond. Or move.
“I’d pay for it, if you’d go.”
“Did you not hear me when I talked about reactionary theory?”
“Sing me more of “A Little Bit of Love.”
“You won’t or you can’t?”
“Is there a difference?” I type U. He types T. I type U. He walks to the piano and sits on the bench. “Come play and sing for me.” He smiles. “And for you.”
“I said no.”
- up where we belong
- urdu artwork
He stands and leaves the living room: stirs in the kitchen, the laundry room, and the den; opening drawers, slamming cupboard doors, banging the walls. I click on Facebook and read a private message from Jack: Hey baby, miss u like crazy.
Ur sweet, can’t talk now, miss u 2. Mitch starts humming, the unharmonious sound closing in. He comes into the room, holding a 20-D camera.
I minimize Facebook. “What are you doing?”
“You’ll see soon enough.” He snaps an impromptu picture of me: wide eyes, mouth wide open, clawing fingernails ready to scratch his eyes out.
He laughs. “This is gonna be my new profile pic.”
“No it isn’t. I look like a stroke victim.”
“Then let me take a good picture of us and put it up.”
“It’s your page and profile. Use your own goddamn pic.”
“Lots of people have profile pics with their spouse.”
I grab the camera and push the delete button. “Your profile. Your pic.”
“Then will you take a nice one of me?”
I snap a quick picture and hand him the camera. “There.”
“Aren’t you even gonna look at it.” He brings the camera screen to my nose.
“I know what you look like, Mitch.” Awkward face, uneven-squinty eyes, asymmetrical nostrils. Even worse than mine. Jack sent you a message appears on the bottom of the screen.
“Looks like the songwriter’s back in town.” He hangs the camera around his neck.
I close the screen. Like most things in life, if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. “He means nothing to me.”
“Is he tall?”
“Nobody’s tall at Techsitex.”
“Is he funny?”
“He’s ten-minute interesting, if that.”
“Tell me what he looks like.” His tone turns firm and unyielding.
“He looks like a man.”
Mitch takes to his knees and gets eye level. “If you answer this next question truthfully, I promise to never ask you anything about him again.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Tell me what he looks like and leave nothing out.”
“Go take pictures of the snow.”
He walks to the window and stares outside.
The first time I saw Jack Eberlien at Techsitex, walking around the building with the CEO, he was dressed in a fine tailored dark-blue suit and a swirly patterned bowtie. The first time I glanced into his blue eyes, my heart raced like bloodlust. The first time he approached my cubicle and asked me, a measly customer service representative—the lowest notch on the corporate totem pole—if I liked to work out, because I looked fit, I blushed and almost fell off the chair. The first time he said he wrote songs and played the guitar, I wished for a second, third, and a really long fourth. Fifth. Ad nauseam. And then he kissed me in the bathroom hallway, a foretaste of what was to come over the next two months, meeting secretly in the dark, far away from the gossiping ears at work and from the dubious eyes of spouses, like Mitch and his wife, Trina. I love when he holds my hand in daylight, during an Uber ride or in the lobby of the Marriott. After the first time we made love, he asked, “Are you okay with limitations?” I lied and said yes. “I love you A to Z,” he said. “Absolutely to Zenith. Amazing to Zippity-Doo-Dah. All in to zoom in. A-OK. To zoom-zoom-zoom.”
“Is Jack your quixotic?”
“I think he’d like to be.”
“I can be your quixotic.” He grabs my hand. “Just tell me know how to do it and I will.”
“It’s not something you can learn.”
He counts the fingers on my right hand. “You said these would bring us back if we ever got lost.” A single tear shoots down his cheek. “Is that not true anymore?”
I type V.
- victoria secret
- valentine’s day ideas
- vampire diaries
- vision world
My cell phone rings. Mitch grabs it and flips it open. “Sup gorgeous. It’s Jack.”
“Hang up,” I yell, pushing the end button.
The phone rings again. I press end and tuck it in my bra. The phone rings again. And again. Mitch types W.
- waterford crystal
- weeping waterfalls
- wizard of oz
- whiskey sour punch
- wynn hotels
“Aren’t you gonna get it?”
“There’s nothing to get.” I type X.
- xperience fitness
- xhiliration floral red dresses
“Seems like a quite determined fellow.” He types Y.
- you care clinics
- your love is my drug
- you’re so vain
- you can begin again
He sits on the floor and presses his back and head against the wall. He stares at his hands. “You said they’d always bring us back together. Those were your exact words.”
“At one time, I thought they could.”
“Just read me the Z’s.”
“My heart doesn’t show that it’s both yes and no,” I sing. “I’m waiting. I’m watching. I’m searching for a sign. No, my heart doesn’t show cuz I really don’t know. It’s so much easier to go with both yes and no.”
“You can’t have it both ways, Victoria. That’s not how marriage works.”
I type Z.
“I get it now,” he says, stands, tosses six one hundred dollar bills on the ground, and leaves the room.
I don’t yell, come back, please stay, let’s work it out. No shedding of tears. No more broken promises. No try and try again. I turn off the laptop and play on the piano every song I’ve ever written. Then I go into the kitchen and open the refrigerator door, wondering if eating is more reminiscent of my and Mitch’s improbability or my and Jack’s incongruence. Either way, I know I’ll continue to do what I do, because that’s what people do. A to Z.