The Last Night They Spent Together Before the Separation
They put the children to bed, all eight of them. They put the camera
crew members to bed, all eight of them, though most of the crew stayed
up, listening through the thin suburban floors, clutching their fists
at each other for all that was not being recorded.
In the kitchen, she said to him, "You may not agree, but the children
really are the most important thing. We have to think of them in all of
this." He said to her, "I know." Then he said, "You don't have to be
such a bitch about it." She said, "Is that the way you talk to the
mother of your children?" and he said, "Stop thinking of the children.
Just for a minute, can't you think of us?"
She did not storm away, into another room, because she could feel the
camera crew listening and even though they were each tucked into beds
in the bunking area behind the false wall in the basement and their
cameras were not on, she felt beholden to them, like a child to its
teachers. Instead, she took a bag of apples, provided by Dole, and
began to slice them for the children's lunches. Thus she was in a
position to dramatically thrust the knife into the air when he made his
next remark, which he delivered as if it were scripted, though that was
not strictly allowed:
"I think I'm in love with someone else."
There was the satisfying thunk as the knife became a heavier weight in
her hand and torpedoed, as if by destiny, into the heavy wood cutting
board in front of her. She thought to herself "cut." She may have
actually said "cut." And then an uncertain silence fell between them
because what more was there to do or say?
He had backed up against the refrigerator when the knife came down, as
if he'd been commanded to wince, though he knew exactly where that
knife would go and that it would stay there. This was not Court TV. He
stood in a small avalanche of happy drawings of houses and stick
mommies and daddies and finger-painted abstractions that he was almost
certain had not been made by his own children but by the children of
his producers and editors and perhaps, it was rumored, by the extremely
gifted two-year-old daughter of one of the network executives, a
toddler with a prodigal understanding of light and color and space,
drawings that had come down when he had backed himself without fear
against the refrigerator door while her knife came to rest in the place
that it had to.
So she moved to him. And now he did wince because it was not something
he understood. Her mouth was doing that slight twitching thing it did,
which could mean she was annoyed or about to laugh or possibly that she
was having an allergic reaction to the heavy foundation she wore so her
skin would appear skin-colored on television. He wasn't sure anymore.
He wasn't sure he had ever been sure. He might watch old episodes in
his new bachelor pad to see if there was something recognizable about
the way her mouth moved in the first season. Or perhaps it was a tic
she had picked up for the cameras. He would go back and watch all the
seasons to see what fragments of wife revealed themselves. He
would build a montage of her.
So she moved to him and put her mouth to his neck. Then his jaw, just
below the left earlobe. Then the earlobe.
The camera crew, highly trained in their field, heard the small sound
of something strange and intimate taking place and pounded the carpeted
floor of their chamber.
She kissed his chin. She took one of his hands, which was curled into a
half-hearted fist and flattened it out between her two hands. She
kissed his hand.
He could not remember if she was tender. She was edited to sometimes be
tender. But was she? She was murmuring something as she kissed him, but
he couldn't understand what she was saying until he lowered his head to
where her lips met his chest. "Is it you?" she was asking, "Is it you?"
What's more, he realized as his head came down to touch her head, she
was not quietly kissing him, but smelling him. It was her nose, not her
mouth, which left his skin damp and goosebumped where she touched him
She smelled his forearm below the elbow crook. She smelled his side
just above his hip where his jeans made a hard ridge beneath his
t-shirt. He still smelled the same, which meant that this could not be
happening. For a moment she thought of the knife again. For a moment
she thought of another life entirely.
In the dark, the camera crew crept into a pile on the hard, hooked gray
carpet. The places where they squeezed each other for reassurance were
soft and sometimes moist.
For a moment he looked at the knife stuck deep in the cutting block.
For a moment he could not imagine any part of the life that had come
From the hall came a shrill noise, like the cry of an animal before it
is eaten by a bigger animal. They both stood up straight. They both
thought of the children, though each of them thought of a different
child in particular.
The camera crew stood barefoot in the dark hallway. They were cold,
they said. They couldn't sleep. Their hands were open and red, as if to
show the source of their cold and sleeplessness.
She put apple slices in their hands. He marched them back downstairs.
When he came back up, he said he thought he might watch reruns for just
a little while before bed.
Susan McCarty's fiction and nonfiction has recently appeared or is
forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Hotel Amerika, The Iowa Review and
Conjunctions. She's working on her Ph.D in Creative Writing at the
University of Utah.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201010lastnight.htm
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Temari 09.
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