About the Writer
Ashley Hutson lives in rural Maryland. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in several journals, including Fiction International, The Forge, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Conium Review, Jellyfish Review, River Teeth, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Read more at www.aahutson.com.
Read our recent interview with Ashley here.
MARRIAGE DISSOLUTION: SCENARIO #1
He hates guns, so I buy a gun. I hate guns, so I buy a gun. Here I am, sauntering up to the glass case of a sporting goods store. Me! This is me, I remind myself as I stutter out a request to the man behind the counter. Inside a week, I am a gun-owner.
I do not tell the husband I have purchased a gun. When I bring it home, I load it and begin leaving it in irresponsible places. Under a pillow. Inside the printer's paper tray. On an oven rack.
One day the husband and I have an argument. He's reciting the usual repertoire that precedes an entire day of silence. He's standing in the hallway and I'm standing in the doorway of the kitchen.
I lean over and pop open the microwave—Surprise!—and I pull out the gun. I put the barrel to my temple and shoot myself dead, and that's that.
MARRIAGE DISSOLUTION: SCENARIO #2
The husband sits me down on our couch. He looks nervous. He says, L—, I have something to tell you. I have been having an affair, and it's with that online girl you hate who is a lot younger than you and has blue hair and loves everything I love.
At first I only blink. Then I say, Does this mean...divorce? You want a divorce?
He looks apologetic. He's an unusually nice person, so this is painful for him. Yes, he says. Divorce. That is what this means.
I put my head in my hands and cry like a devil is lifting off me. Thank God, I sob. Thank God, thank you, God.
He's a little unnerved. If he's suspects I'm speaking directly to God, he is correct. I'm surprised, too. But now that the atheist husband has thrown himself overboard, faith is flooding the length of me like a tidal bore.
After a minute, he puts his hand on my shoulder and also begins crying. He thinks I'm weeping tears of grief, and he wants to mourn something lost, too. We sit like this for a while.
Then I get myself together and straighten up. He believes he has ruined me, so he tries to hug me. Tactfully, I avoid his embrace. I wipe my nose. I smile kindly, and with a full and refreshed heart I say: “How soon can you move out?”
At night I pray not to God but to my best friend Tobias. I clutch the mattress and think, Help me, Tobi, please help. I picture Tobi sitting on my couch like he did that one Christmas a couple years back when I was snorting pain pills and content with the trajectory of my life. At the time, he was knitting something yellow. I had invited him to help us set up the Christmas tree, and after it was up he sat on the couch and pulled a half-finished scarf out of his backpack. When he started working he appeared very spiritual, like he was entering the fabric loops himself.
Tobi talks a lot about himself and is funny. His winter coat smells like butterfly wings, equal parts spicy and sweet. He tells me about all the older men who want to whisk him away to other countries. Meanwhile he's living in low-income housing. Meanwhile he's piling up student debt. But I can never tell him, Just do it. Just fly to Australia, who cares if you get stranded and unhappy. You're young, you'll figure it out and write a book later. I don't tell him this because Tobi is my only friend.
We've known each other since kindergarten, but it's only recently I've been praying to him. I cry at night, quietly, while my husband sleeps. Tobi's apartment is a lot messier than mine, and overall he's made more flighty life-decisions than me. But he always smells good and pays for hair cuts. He has a job. When someone invites him somewhere, he hops in his car and goes.
Tobi, Tobi, help me.
My husband moves out for reasons unknown and unfantasized. Tobi moves into my apartment, and we live as roommates. We share meals together at the table. He asks me about the book I am reading, picks it up after I'm done, and we chat about it over dinner. I tell him all about what I'm writing, and he tells me all about college life as a non-traditional student, his job, and his love affairs. He tells me stories about his other friends, none of whom he invites over because he respects my space. His stories are always laced with a certain tone, as if he's saying, Check out how ridiculous this person is.
Every Friday evening we go grocery shopping, and I hold the list while he reaches for things. He enthusiastically agrees when I suggest we go to a real person to check out.
When something breaks around the house, Tobi knows how to fix it. If it is something he's not sure about, like wiring, he calls the landlord in a timely fashion. Tobi is not afraid to stand up for this house and our home.
On weekends we lounge on the couch and watch dishy television and gorge ourselves on popcorn and chocolate and McDonald's food and discuss how much we hate ourselves for doing so. Then we laugh, because actually we are very happy with ourselves. Then we use the bathroom and brush our teeth, our toothbrushes side by side. Then we say our I love yous. Then we climb into the bed we share, and we hold hands in friendship until we fall asleep.
This happens each week, each day, each night, in perpetuity, until both of us die.
I've been unemployed for two years now. Off drugs for three. I've stopped cleaning the house obsessively and throwing things when angry. You're cured! the husband says. Or says in so many words. Or doesn't say at all, because he's not too concerned one way or another as long as everything seems fine, so perhaps this statement is solely my imagination.
I only want you to be happy, he has said. Which means, I only want to be un-bothered.
On nights I cannot sleep I lie on my couch and watch Three's Company.
Three's Company is the only addiction left. The husband finds it charming, so there's no call to give it up. I watch the characters misunderstand each other. They always get it right in the end, though. My couch has an intermittent foul odor I've tried and tried to pinpoint but cannot. If I stay still long enough I stop noticing it.
At this point, I have transformed into a good person. I quit drinking. I quit smoking. I quit thinking about the bodies of other men and women. I get out of bed at a reasonable hour. I wash dishes on a regular basis. When the husband says, Let's watch wrestling, I say, Sure thing, Boss, and I say it in a playful and believable tone. Life is good now, even by my own estimation.
Also at this point, I am out of money. I am afraid to drive. I am afraid to leave the house. I am terrified I smell bad, that defeat is hanging on me like a bad onion.
You're cured! says the husband. Or doesn't say. He really is a good person. He truly loves me. Marriage is complicated, my mother said once, way before I ever met the husband. Everyone considers leaving at one time or another. She said this more recently. He's a simple man, don't hold it against him, she added. Don't expect too much.
On the TV screen, Mr. Roper makes a crack about Mrs. Roper being a total bitch and smiles directly at the camera. Everyone applauds.
I shift my position. I need to face it: I will never get the stink out of this couch.
PRIVATE SELF-HELP ACTIVITY #1
Pinch yourself. Pick at whatever is available to be picked. Run hands through hair until small clumps are removed. Tell yourself that it was dead hair, anyway.
Tobi stops by in late November and tells me that after he graduates in three weeks, he is moving to California with his newest guy. They expect to get everything settled and moved by the end of January. It's scary, but it's time for a change, he says. He says, What do I have to lose?
I stare at him, wondering if I am still a real atheist since I've been praying at regular intervals. Does God exist? Do I want God to exist? What can God do for me? If God isn't Tobi, then who?
We should do something big before I leave, he says. He really means it. My heart prickles with love. Yes, we should, I say.
He ends up coming over a few more times. We discuss his hopes and fears and I watch him smoke cigarettes outside. I would have gone to his graduation ceremony, but he skipped it and asked the school to mail him the diploma.
The final time he leaves my house it's just like every other time he leaves. A week passes before I understand that I won't be seeing him again for over a year, possibly longer, and that if I ever do see him again it will not be the same, because both our lives are continuing at this very moment.
I also realize that we never did anything big. I text him to say sorry, and he responds, No worries. I forgot, too.
The husband loves the wife. The wife loves the husband.
There is a structure they live in. It is unusual. It is divided in two. He has a house and she has a house. There is a bridge between the two for when they wish to visit one another. And his house is in Delaware. And her house is in California. And it takes a lifetime to walk the bridge. And at the end of life they meet in the middle and die there.
No one admits to having such a house, but look around. They choke the landscape.
I am sleeping in the bed. I haven't changed the sheets in over a month, and they feel heavy with night sweat.
Tobi has been gone for six months. At first he texted me once a week. Then it became sporadic bursts, and now I haven't heard from him for three months.
I have stopped praying.
The husband comes in to see how I'm doing. It's noon, he says. Time to get up. His voice is tender.
He doesn't know what to do with me, but he keeps vigil. Right now there is no gun and no blue hair. There is nothing standing between us. He's just sitting there, on the edge of the bed, with a look on his face from a long time ago, and I love him.
Last night I hated him, but this morning I love him. I love him, I love him. My husband, I love him.
I lie there, holding the thought. Remember this, I say to myself. This is the magic of waking.
PRIVATE SELF-HELP ACTIVITY #2
Be grateful for everything. To begin, fabricate an occasion for such thankfulness.
As you open a kitchen cupboard on a cloudy winter morning and reach for a coffee cup, pretend you are in a prison in a faraway country. This prison is freezing cold. The guards are not above torture. You are fed slop through a hole in the door.
Now: imagine yourself dreaming of this cozy kitchen—this moment exactly, in fact—as you sit on the filthy straw your jailers have provided for toileting. As a prisoner, you'd be yearning for this coffee cup with the tiny red flowers, right? You'd be jealous of these eyes that gaze through a kitchen window.
As a prisoner, you would marvel. Long ago, you chose all of this.
See yourself as your prisoner-self sees you. This cupboard is yours. Everything inside is yours. The sugar jar is yours. And after you pour the coffee and wipe everything clean, you are able to exit the room.