Flash Four Alternate Endings to a Six-Year Marriage
There’s a comfort to our clinging, to the familiarity of togetherness, where the pain is predictable and the pleasure enough.
There’s a tornado, the biggest of the century, and everyone saw it coming but us. Two days ago, the afternoon peaked at 107 degrees Fahrenheit; yesterday, it blizzarded. The chaos has hardened our faces, cemented your brows into bricks and melted my smile. I walk around the house in a sundress, a relic from our honeymoon, while you bundle in your winter coat. We argue over the air conditioning and sit on separate sides of the couch, each of us silently fuming. The weather woman gives instructions on how to stay safe, warns of high winds, of a storm that will split trees and lift cars. We don’t have a basement to hunker in, and you blame me for it. This was supposed to be our temporary house, a stepping-stone until we got better-paying jobs and had children. Before the years of you waiting and withering in a house I didn’t want to leave, because the life I wanted could be contained in this one-bedroom-no-basement-no-children place. Now, we press our backs into the tiny hallway, away from windows. Outside, the winds shriek, and objects thud against our roof, our walls. When the first window shatters, I reach for your mittened hand, squeezing tight. The front door bursts, then the back, and we grip one another, our lead limbs stubbornly clutched, but the winds keep coming, wrapping us in a swirl of loose paper and lost shoes. How can we hold on to each other, with my sweaty skin, your slippery polyester coat? The roof lifts, and then I am lifted too, until I’m floating, flying, I’m out of your reach.
We catch colds that last months. Painless, but bothersome. We sneeze and shiver, kiss with chapped lips, and bump raspberry noses. Blame the other for making us sick. When we visit the doctor, he peers into our ears and down our throats, holds an icy stethoscope to my heart and shakes his head. You’ve both begun to unravel, he says. Too much air has slipped between our shared threads, and it’s filled us with a cold emptiness, one worsened each night with the tension from all that pulls us apart.
Soon, we will lose ourselves entirely, split at our seams and slip to the floor as a pile of string, or drift with the wind. We hope whichever way we split, we stay together. There’s a comfort to our clinging, to the familiarity of togetherness, where the pain is predictable and the pleasure enough. We spend our last days beneath an afghan your grandmother made us, a wedding gift, and as I weave my fingers through the crocheted gaps, you weave your fingers through mine. We order Chinese food and eat it from the carton, collect tissues in a mountain on the rug. We exhaust every topic of conversation and live our last evening quietly, skin to skin, the rhythm of our breathing momentarily aligned. Beyond the safety of our living room, the world is a blur of overnight shifts, needy family members, piling bills, bad drivers, people who don’t hold the door, too much to live with together. How can we keep ourselves in one piece? We hold hands as we unravel completely, but the ceiling fan blows us apart.
We lay limb-locked in bed, half asleep, when the ceiling splits. Light shatters the room, illuminating our water glasses (mine empty, yours untouched), the finger smudges on the window (stuck shut since last spring), your features, startling in this unfamiliar glow. Chunks of drywall thunder our comforter, and we lean closer to one another, shielding our eyes. When I open mine again, I see alien silhouettes bathed in blue, long and lean, their arms reaching toward us. Their faces shift as I stare, adopting the gazes of strangers, coworkers, former lovers. As they near, we tangle our bodies tighter, my elbow to your forearm, your knee to my ankle. We hold on to one another, but our eyes wander to the new beings, to their smiles and soft edges, their aqua skin, electric. They surround us, wrapping their fingers between our limbs, tugging. I look at you, and you look back, undecipherable but understanding. How can we hold each other when they beg to hold us instead? We sever our grips and reach for another.
Thieves break in as we sleep. I hear them first, the sound of fingers in the silverware drawer, the thud of each cabinet door slamming shut. There’s no need to worry, you tell me, it’s just a bad dream. The sounds fall silent, like they can hear you, then erupt, louder, like they’re getting closer, about to get us. Groggy and begrudging, you stumble from the bed and down the hall, leaving me alone in the dark quiet of my fear. My fingers tremble as I dial the emergency line, and the operator’s voice slips from the phone to the floor without reaching my ears. I pray for you to reappear, victorious. I pray for the thieves to flee from the house in fear and never return. I pray to grow wings, or guts. All our marriage, I’ve always been the one to stand still for too long. All our marriage, you’ve been the one to fight. The noises stop. I bury my fingers into your pillowcase, let the scent of your coconut shampoo soothe me and clutch it tight. Beyond the window, sirens swirl. Rising from the bed, I tiptoe through the hall, fearing I’ll find your body on the floor. Nothing is out of place. The drawers are closed. The TV still hangs on the wall. There’s no sign of anything taken, no sign anyone broke in at all, but you are gone. The front door swings in the night breeze, and I stand in our house alone, still holding your pillow.