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"Head to Give," short story excerpt

Friday 6/18/21

Motherfuck this is good.


“We can’t be doing this,” the woman who was just a head said. “I can’t be doing this.”

“Oh, we’re doing this,” her husband responded, trying to sound as shiny as a silver dollar, because he’d never seen a silver dollar that looked scuffed and shine equated to sincerity if you had the right level of energy.

He’d forgone fastening the seat belt across his wife’s forehead, so she just sat there on the passenger side of the car, facing the glove compartment.

“This is atrocious,” she continued. “I can’t see a damn thing. Just the interior. Which is the color of vomit, I might sad. You know I get car sick when I can’t look out towards the horizon.”

“Don’t we all?” the man replied, trying to be conciliatory and empathetic.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means I Iove you,” he offered. “I’m happy we have this time together.”

“You motherfucker,” the wife said, but her husband didn’t take it personally. She possessed a great deal of sadness. Wasn’t her fault. Wasn’t anyone’s fault. That’s the worst kind of sadness, the man knew. A person wants to have a say in their own despair, even if they can’t fix it. If the world is to blame, one has less control.

“Do not steady me with your hand,” the wife continued, as the man placed his palm on her forehead. She wished she could bite him, and her teeth clacked fruitlessly.

“I don’t want you to roll on the floor again,” he said as soothingly as possible. “Remember when the pebbles got in your eyes? That Burger King ketchup packet in your ear?”

“Of course I remember,” his wife answered. It felt like so long ago and also as if it were yesterday. It was yesterday. God knows how long that packet had been there, which somehow made it worse.

They’d done an admirable job with the skin under the chin of the man’s wife. It felt like living leather. Not everyone got this chance. For a second chance. A third chance. A fourth chance at love. At life and the life-affirming power of connection.

“May our love be preserved as you have been preserved,” the man had said when she’d been returned to him, drinking a toast with his wife’s head on a footstool as he sat in the deep furrows of his favorite chair.

“What, no whiskey for me?” she snapped, so he dumped some into her mouth, but most of it dribbled down her chin into the fabric of the footstool. He thought about turning her at an angle and using her hair to blot the whiskey, then reconsidered and smoothed one of her eyebrows instead, because it looked quite frayed and made him think of an electrified cat or an infected paper cut.

The man spoke of old people who no longer touched. You knew they didn’t. They’d been married for sixty years, and it’s not like come the evening the older gentleman said, “Baby, I have the lube, assume the position, daddy’s coming home.”

They wouldn’t even want to touch each other. It was enough just to see that the other was there. And it probably wasn’t a great joy to behold what was beheld. But that’s how much they were in love. That’s what love can do. Wasn’t so much out of body as beyond body.

They subsisted on friendship and talking. The knowledge that they knew each other. The deeper knowledge that they’d continue to know each other more until the very last. They’d still never get it all, those old people. But they’d have come closer than anyone else ever had with either of them, and that wasn’t close.

It was so idyllic. Ahem and amen. But a few weeks after continuously thinking about how idyllic it was, the man had picked up his wife’s head and tried to get it to do things for him that she might have done on her own way back before, but she wasn’t having it.

“Don’t make me bite!” she warned, so he turned her head to try something and she said, “What the fuck are you doing with my ear you sick bastard.”

He mumbled something about “come on, baby, just let me,” but by the time the words came, well, other desires had gone. Hard nights for good people. Those are the nights that feel like they last the longest. One sweats them out without actually sweating.

“It’s not working, babe,” the man’s wife said one morning from her place at the side of the bathroom sink while the man brushed his teeth. Her voice didn’t have that quality of raddled edges and the tone of the leaf blower powering through it that it sometimes had. She hadn’t stopped loving him. They were just growing apart. It happens for all kind of reasons. Who knows what theirs might have been?

He tried. Thought about last shots. Heaves right at the buzzer. Maybe one would go in. “If this doesn’t work, then perhaps this might restart us.”

He took her to her favorite restaurant for brunch. The waiter poured the tea and shot the man a look of “What do you want me to do, Jack?” as he eyed the woman’s dainty little cup.

The man shook his head, an irony not lost on him as he looked at his wife’s own head sitting there so lost and forlorn on the creamy white of the tablecloth. The pain that went through him—a second irony—as she opened her mouth like it was the last movement she’d ever make, and the waiter poured the tea straight in, some of it splashing in the woman’s eyes.

“My love,” the man said, after the waiter was gone, “doesn’t that hurt?”

“No,” she replied, “It’s all the same now.”

They took a long drive in the car after. A talking drive. One of those excursions where frank views must be expressed, but with patience and understanding for what they might mean to the other person. You’re still something. You still were something. What two people were at a point in their shared path deserves its dignity, in the end.

“Maybe if we’d had children, Wally,” the wife said, the sadness of all the leaves that had ever fallen from all the trees in her voice. She let him steady her head as they drove so that she wouldn’t roll to the floor, which had been cleared, just in case, of ketchup packets and road gravel. He’d even tossed a Dramamine into her mouth to help with the motion sickness. And she was right, dammit. The inside of a car really does look like the color of vomit when you see it through someone else’s point of view, never mind, he reflected, that vomit could come in all colors. He got it.

“It’s never too late, my love,” he replied, getting caught up in her mood, the pangs of her tone.

“Oh really, jackass?” she answered. “And how would would that work? You do some more of the ear fucking and a kid pops out my nostril?”

Shit. He’d done it again. He’d hurt her. She wasn’t to blame for the reaction. It was a human reaction. He wished he were better with words.

“I meant metaphorical children, Babs,” he suggested, and they felt sad together.

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