Fiction Fiction 2009


What I know now is that I should not have continued shelling out 200bucks a pop to you. On some days I felt you two were picking up a frequency like a dog whistle that I just wasn’t able to hear. Of course, you might just have a great gift for empathy, but then I’d have to ask where was this gift when Jerry was trying to have me committed to the attic like that woman in Jane Eyre who set everything on fire.

If I had your job, I might ask a person: If a nuclear disaster occurred, and you had to live out those final painful days just stretched out somewhere thinking about your life—This is who I am. This is what I love. This is what I believe—who would you want hearing your whispers? Or perhaps better: Who do you trust to hear your whispers? Whose breath do you want mingled with your own? Whose flesh still warm beside you?

I once heard a preacher discuss the miracles of Jesus in a way that made total sense to me. He said that science could explain the act, but that the timing was a miracle. And every now and then during that period of time we were seeing you, I would wake in the middle of the night to an old feeling, a sad feeling. Some dream had transported me back to when I could feel. And I could remember what hope felt like. Not happiness necessarily, but hope. A kind of natural happiness grows out of hope, a kind of longing and imagining of what might be. You know, back when I was so miserable, I read true crime all the time, the grislier the better, and I wondered, What is wrong with me? But I needed to reassure myself about where I was. At least I wasn’t married to a serial killer. At least he didn’t make me pretend to be dead or a young boy when having sex. Those aren’t bodies stacked up out there in his toolshed, but little Tupperware containers filled with sorted screws and nails. The fascination with someone else’s reality is a total escape (this is where I think you might come in). We look at a bad situation and say, “Whew,” or we laugh/judge/ridicule. We want confessions—car wrecks, true crime, divorce battles, someone’s nervous breakdown. Who is the fattest person in the family? But what kind of life is that, if you have to spend all your time filling up on all the awful stuff that is not your life? I had just ordered video biographies of John Wayne Gacy Jr. (sicko clown) and Jeffrey Dahmer (cannibal) when I caught a glimpse of myself in your bathroom mirror and thought, Oh my God. And that is when I had to slam on the brakes. I slammed on the brakes, and then the world crashed, and with the wreckage I heard silence, and with the silence I heard my own voice. I had been screaming all the while. For years I had been screaming. As in Horton Hears a Who!, that realization also made me see how selfish all this divorce/religion/self-analysis can be—I had not read to my children or just sat and watched their television programs with them in weeks. I had not stretched out beside them and rubbed their backs, whispered to them about all the good things that will happen in their lives, until they fell asleep. I had not done a thing to my hair in months, and I had worn the same jeans for a week straight, the same ones I had let my scarecrow wear the whole summer before. I was a mess.

Remember how I finally ended our time with you? Remember how I made a big confession that I had fucked the plumber who stopped by to make a few repairs? Well, the truth is I didn’t do that at all. That’s the story you hear all the time, kind of like the banker and his secretary, the professor and his student. The carpenter, electrician, plumber. The butcher and the baker and candlestick maker. That is a cliché right out of porn central. Bored wife wanders around the house all day wearing little to nothing and fucks whatever passes by. And you all believed it. Now that was offensive to me. I may be a lot of things but cliché is not one of them. And of course Jerry didn’t really believe it, though he jumped on it like a dog on a bone because then he could accuse me of something specific. Alienation of affection. Boo hoo. And when he threatened to let it affect the decision about the kids and how we’d divide the household goods, I started singing “(I’m a) Girl Watcher,” and we agreed to disagree and agree to a truce.

Though we never discussed my confession, I think deep down Jerry must know that I am too loyal a person to have screwed the plumber—loyal to the kids, loyal to my own moral code, and loyal to my own sense of aesthetics (no offense to the plumber, of course, but not my taste at all). No, my biggest betrayal to Jerry is that I quit trying. When I finally found my own voice, I realized I had nothing else I wanted to say to him. I stopped talking, nothing feeding nothing until nothing was huge and nothing begot nothing. Feeling nothing is not good, but it’s where a lot of people stop and stay. The nothingness is so delusional and numbing. It’s like stretching out in the snow and taking a little nap, and the comfort of discomfort is a scary thing. The lull into nothingness should be feared by all. I hope that as you read this letter you are actually able to identify me, to place me among the assembly line of broken parts and broken hearts that pass through your business. I hope you are able to remember how I often had to pee at the most unlikely (boring!) times and how you have always wished that you had gotten the recipe for my grandmother’s pound cake, which I described so well one day when you asked me to talk about something I was proud of. I know you are proud of all those times you went to Asian and African places, but I just have to tell you, those stories are depressing. Maybe I got speared and boiled in a pot in some past life, I don’t know, but those things you put on display give me the creeps. I’m afraid you’ll come out there one day and find a client speared right there in the hallway with what came off your wall. But what I’m most afraid of is that people want to come there and stay, get comfortable with the little games and the burden of trying to fix something that just can’t be fixed. I hope you will remember that, whatever I was, I was not apathetic. Bored? Oh dear God, yes, I was bored much of the time, but whenever I said I was bored or lonely or tired, it was my own voice saying it. I heard a voice that said, Feel something. And so I did, and I continue to. I wish you peace and love, Dr. Love. I wish you a happy daughter and a smooth-running vehicle and better decor. I thank you for the time you have spent reading me free of charge.


Hannah from three suburbs over

PS: Enclosed is a photo of me and my kids at Disney World right after we rode Space Mountain, which is why the little one looks kind of scared. She barely made it up to the height mark that will let you ride. It was so much fun we went as many times as we could and even after screaming and carrying on and getting slung back and forth, I am proud to say that I no longer look one bit like shit on a stick.

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Jill McCorkle is the author of five novels and four story collections. Her most recent collection of short stories, Going Away Shoes (from which this has been adapted), will be published in September.

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