Pains of Existence
Michelle Dove

I was having the Pains of Existence, so my husband Hugh was finding some blank paper to let me let the pains out.

Just draw with your eyes closed, like this, he said, and he scribbled something or another on the paper. Now open your eyes and tell me what you see.

A duck with a sailor's hat? I said. Or a duck under a boat. Either one.

You're good at this, Hugh said. A natural. His hand rested on my shoulder like you comfort the dying. Now you try—

Instead of just scribbling, I concentrated. I mean, what else did I ever try hard on? I thought I'd made the outline of two geese, flying synchronized over a large cloud.

Oh my, was what Hugh said. You are feeling a bit off, aren't you? And he turned the paper so I could see it clearly: the devil with horns or a horned beast or something with a puffy stomach and short antlers. Whatever it was, it was sinister. And I was doomed to spend the rest of the night mulling over living and dying and whatever came in between, whether it was worth it, any of it, whether or not I should care about anything at all. Whether I should keep vigil the night through to review all the hard choices and life choices and non-choice choices I'd made—yes, all those unbelievable choices—when what options had I really had? What options do we ever have? Like whether I should stay awake or go to sleep or wake up and put on clothes, since dressing was so hard, matching pants to shirt and shirt to pants and belt to shoes, et cetera. Yes, dressing was the hardest of all, I could argue, when nothing in the world made any sense, not even the birds (irregular flight patterns) or the bees (dying off). Not to speak of the children! Yes, there were new tiny, adorable people popping up everywhere, with everyone, with names that would undoubtedly inspire the greatness they'd one day surely seek: Karina, Leopold, Penelope Rue, Denver, Vasily. Greatness that would certainly make their ancestors proud, since wasn't that always the point, surpassing the generation before you, and the one before that, and the one before that, et cetera, until everyone was living all kingly and fine and in the smartest way they knew how? And what of the future, not just as regards life but technology! Why, how could we keep up, no matter how hard we tried, since wasn't it inevitable we'd all eventually lose control of our minds and limbs and fingers, not to mention our throats and bladders and noses, all those parts that connect end over end. And if that's where we were headed—where I was headed—even now, when I still was young enough, as they say, to count the number of trips to the ER on one finger, the number of surgeries on another....

There wasn't a voice in my head I didn't hear. There wasn't a voice in the room, either, until there was.

I pulled my head out from the pillow it had been hiding under. I listened.

Oh, Marianne, oh Marianne, Hugh was singing, as if my name was a song in its own right. How about some hot tea? Hugh was saying, even that a kind of song. I sat upright in the bed. Listened to his off-key voice echoing through the house. He was already thinking about what to make for dinner. He was already in the kitchen lighting a fire under the kettle.

Michelle Dove has fiction in or coming from Passages North, Barrelhouse, PANK and others.

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