Glen Pourciau

We couldn't find our double sleeping bag, but I woke up one night remembering where I'd put it. I saw my hand putting it on a hook in the guest closet of our vacation home, not in easy view, behind some other things hanging in the closet, but I wanted to be sure before I said anything. I planned to drive there in a couple of days, making the trip before he did because he had business to tend to. I could get some time alone, do some reading and hiking, tidy up the place, look in the closet for the sleeping bag, and if I found it I'd call and let him know.

I made the trip without a hitch, no problem with the house, doors and windows secure, nothing in disarray, opened a few windows to get some air circulating. I checked the guest closet and there it was, the double-bed sleeping bag hanging on the hook. I got my phone and called him.

It wasn't there, he said when he heard.

It's right here. I'm looking at it.

I looked in the closet, he said.

I explained how you couldn't see it from the doorway.

He said he knew exactly what I was talking about, but he'd looked where I said the sleeping bag was hanging and it wasn't there before.

I told him I'd leave it where it was so he could see for himself. He didn't answer. He said he'd see me on Saturday and hung up.

I understood a few things about him after thirty-seven years of marriage. He had a history of being right about everything and that handicap was hard for him to overcome. Though I tried to put his words out of my mind they kept coming back to me as I read my book, as I enjoyed the fresh air, the vistas, the feel of the ground under my feet. As I ate dinner it was as if I were grinding his words in my teeth, disgusted by the taste.

Still, I knew how to put on a face, part of survival, the way I saw it. So when he arrived I didn't let my bitterness show. Glad to see him, hug and a kiss, no sign of the sleeping-bag conversation in his face or mine. He unpacked without a word on the subject. I had the refrigerator and pantry full and he helped me cook dinner. He helps because he likes things prepared his way. Fair enough bargain, everything a little more browned and peppery than I'd prefer, but I'd had some time before he came to cook things my way. No mention of the sleeping bag at dinner, but after our team clean up I led him to the guest closet and showed him the sleeping bag.

It wasn't there, he said.

It's right where I found it. Are you saying I put it there and then told you it was there all along?

I'm just saying it wasn't there.

He walked out of the closet and headed for our bathroom. I retreated to my chair to read my book, but distracting thoughts blurred the lines. I could hear his toothbrush running, and I knew that if I weren't mad at him the sound of it wouldn't distract me. After he'd cleaned his teeth to his satisfaction he came to me.

I know it wasn't there, he said.

He waited for me to answer or, I suppose, to confess.

It was there, I said.

He went to our bedroom. He liked to read sitting up in bed, and we turned pages for over an hour before I joined him. I rolled over without a word and he turned his light off and rolled over, facing the opposite direction.

At breakfast we were silent, except the sounds we made as we ate. He seemed amused by the quiet. After he'd swallowed his last bite he leaned on his forearms and looked at me. I gave him the eye contact he seemed to want, and he finally stood and picked up his cereal bowl.

It wasn't there, he said.

If you say that one more time I'm driving home.

How far are you willing to take this? he asked.

How far are you willing to take it?

Why are you doing this?

I'm not doing anything, I said. You're so sure of yourself that you can only see things your way. To you, it's the only thing real.

Is that the point you're making?

I'm not making a point. You're making the point and you don't see it. Why can't you believe me?

Are you trying to break my will? Are you trying to exert power over me just to prove you can? Why would you do that?  Do you feel that helpless?

I don't want to break your will. You just don't see that you can be wrong.

But it was not there, he said again.

I walked straight to the bedroom and packed and he did nothing to stop me. I got in my car and drove back home, cursing out loud and imagining him suffocating while trapped headfirst in the hanging sleeping bag.

I enjoyed the time free of his utter faith in himself, but it angered me that he didn't return until the time we'd planned. My peculiarities weren't going to interfere with his time away.

Eventually I heard the garage door rolling up. He came in much the way he always did, kiss on the cheek, how you doing, and the rest of the evening not a word spoken about my early departure or the reason for it.

In the morning he got ready for work while I read the paper at the kitchen table, but whenever he was nearby I had a sense that he was waiting for me to speak.

Time for him to leave, kiss on the cheek, but on his way out he stopped.

It wasn't there, he said.

Glen Pourciau's first book of stories, INVITE, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, The Literarian, The New England Review and many others.

Read more of his work in the archive.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Omar Eduardo.

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