I am asking you to remove yourself from my automobile.
I was still. I stayed in my seat.
Werner, this is ridiculous, you know I don’t have anywhere else to go.
Werner took the keys out of the ignition, got out of the car, opened the trunk and put my backpack on the sidewalk, gently, as if it was living, then he got back into the car.
Remove yourself from my automobile.
I was silent. I opened the door and got out and he turned the car on again.
It was hard not to take it personally, how fast he drove away.
A man sitting on the library steps waved excitedly like he had been expecting me to show up. I looked at him and half-waved back, but then he realized that we didn’t know each other so he shrugged and turned back to talk to the man sitting beside him.
Light left the sky quickly when a fat cloud came. A yellow phone booth across the road was so bright, I wondered if it had just been painted.
It was possible, I thought, that my husband had simply replaced me after I left him to work on Werner’s farm, that he had simply gone out and found another woman, a simple fix for his wifeless life. Someone to understand his situation in life, to understand his needs as a human man in this world. I thought of my husband sitting on a bench looking at the river down the way. I thought of him running in the snow. I thought of him eating an apple and how his jaw could stretch out almost like a snake’s, fitting a whole half of it in his mouth, and then he’d chew for a full five minutes as he clacked at his blackboard. Across, across, across and then pause, and then across some more, next line, more acrossing. I could see him exactly as he had been on that night months before (a Tuesday, I think) when I had gone to bed early (citing the medications, the hormones fizzing in my blood) and woken up in the middle of the night, gotten out of bed for a glass of water and stopped at the doorway of his office to look at him writing on his blackboard, clacking away at it like he was some kind of machine, and as I watched him doing his calculations it occurred to me that I did love him and that despite loving him I was still leaving and isn’t that what people always roll their eyes at, say that doesn’t make sense, say it’s misguided, selfish, stupid, whatever. The little lamp in the corner of my husband’s office made his fair skin seem golden and he smiled at me and I thought this was how I would always remember him. This is the little piece of my husband that I will store permanently in myself.
Did it wake you? Am I working too loudly?
No, I like it. It’s a good noise.
I thought you hated the chalkboard.
I do, but the sound of you putting things on it, that makes it okay.
I know that when other memories of my husband have gone threadbare and splintered, this will be the one that lives. When I am eighty and explaining my life to someone much younger I will pause when I mention my first marriage and this will be the version of my husband that I remember. Smiling his tiny smile, his I-am-in-the-middle-of-something-but-I-love-you smile.
Remembering this, I put myself inside that phone booth and didn’t expect him to answer, or if he did I was expecting not to recognize his voice, like he might be using a new one since I left. But that didn’t happen. He answered. He said hello like there had been no change in his life, like his life had gone on completely and normally without me being around, like he could just keep waking up and having coffee and clacking at the blackboard and jogging in the park and saying the same words in the same way and sleeping on the same side of the bed and making the same steaks in his skillet and turning on the lights in the same bedroom when the sun went down and reading a book in his same reading chair and all the while his voice wouldn’t get up and leave his throat and his body wouldn’t take itself apart and fall into a little heap on the floor and his brain wouldn’t turn to mud and pour out of his ears. He could do all the things that he did when I was there, even when he was doing those things without me being there.
Hello, he said.
Hello? he said.
I said his name.
I said, It’s Elyria.
He said, Ha.
And then we were quiet for I don’t know how long. A big truck drove by. The man who was driving was hooting at the radio, which was just the sound of a crowd cheering.
I went to another country.
That much I had figured out.
I should have told you, I said.
My husband inhaled fast, tried to make a word and didn’t.
Well? he asked.
Do you have something to say?
I don’t know.
You don’t know.
I’m not sure.
He did the inhale thing again. Well, if it’s all the same to you I’m going to get back to work now. The next time you call you might want to have something to say.
And the line went dead and a machine-woman started speaking, asking for more money, saying please, saying have a nice day.
I slung my backpack on, walked down an alley, put my backpack down, and crouched over it to have an almost human moment. I felt like I got close to being a rational person right then, phlegm dripping in my throat, face turning red. In this situation, any rational person would be hurt and being hurt would cause her to have a real feeling, and that real feeling would make her cry in a real and serious way. A rational person would feel upset instead of just knowing she was upset. Her feelings would show up in her body as if she had no choice in the matter and this would cause her to realize she needed to find a way back to her home, to her real life that was somehow going on without her. She would immediately go to an airport and buy a plane ticket. She would start practicing her apologies on the flight and when she got back home she would start seeing a therapist to prove to herself and everyone else how sorry she was, how wrong she was, how much she needed help. And if she was lucky, her husband would work hard to forgive her—he would work at forgiveness every day like it was a very difficult equation. And slowly, eventually, they would go back to being okay, to being a two-piece team moving through life. And when this rational person was in therapy she would talk about things like her dead sister and her monster mother where the hell was her father, anyway, and she through all this she would make progress in her therapy and when someone asked how she was she would say, I am okay; I’m in therapy; We’re sorting things out; we’re making progress. But first this rational person would need to get to an airport and to buy a plane ticket straight back home and before she could do that she would need to have the courage to do that and before she could have the courage she would need to want to have the courage, to need to want to try to have the courage to say I give up, I was wrong, take me home.
In my almost human moment, I felt the tears building up behind my eyes, bubbling there, humming like a teakettle before it boils, but I didn’t cry. Blood rushed around in my body like it was being chased by something, but then it stopped and I knew I wasn’t a rational person. I stood up straight, put myself back in order and tried to figure out where to go next.
© by Catherine Lacey. Used by permission of the author.
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