THINGS WE DO
(the 2011 Innovative Fiction Contest winner, selected by Lydia Millet)
I had this joke with someone I used to love. We'd say to each other: Saying I love you, that's our thing, our special thing, just for the two of us. Whatever becomes of us, you can't ever say that to anyone else. Or: Having sex, that's our thing, our special thing, you better never do that with anyone else, not even if we split up. You can do other things with them, of course, you can do anything you want with anyone you want at any time under the sun, but never that, because that's our thing.
Removed, the wedding ring and the engagement ring lie obediently together upon the ledge. That's the thing about objects, they're so obedient, and it's a god damn relief if you ask me. You put them there upon the ledge and there they shall stay until someone or something comes along.
We shouldn't keep drinking $3 gin & tonics, but it takes more imagination than we've got to stop doing so, plus the sunsetting light is the color of booze and outside in the yard behind the bar the wall of ivy wavers in the exceptional light like something from a lovelier place.
Recently I've developed an addiction to the word FEROCIOUS—I've had other addictions at other times, such as LULLABY, JUBILANT, HOWEVER—and have started using it too much, mainly in my head but also out loud, using it to say things like "I had to be ferocious to figure out how to put that Ikea bookshelf together; I had to be especially ferocious with the top part."
Our friends compliment the plants we have in our apartment. They say, "Wow, you have a lot of nice little plants."
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.
I could get pregnant, you know, from all this make-up sex we're always having.
I have this idea that I'm not going to write any untrue things anymore. I'm only going write things that are true, true, true.
Say I am pregnant. How do you think it feels about all this poison?
The Guy Who Calls Me Baby doesn't come out very often, but when he does I feel shy around him, like a new bride.
In second grade we made leprechaun traps for St. Patrick's Day. We placed those little golden balls they use to decorate cakes inside our traps and left the traps on our desks. The next morning all the golden balls were gone but no one had caught a leprechaun. I can't remember what the purpose of this lesson was, Ms. Kroll, but I remember the witchy sound of your long fingernail scratching your scalp. It was exciting to make the traps and disappointing to find them empty, but overall it was a time of belief.
He says, "I desire you." He means, "Every night I dream of other women."
Maybe thirteen should be left blank, like those buildings with no thirteenth floor. That's another thing, I get more superstitious by the year. In a few decades you'll find me wearing garlic around my neck.
My husband is having trouble sleeping. I think he's thinking about sex.
I crouch on the bed, massaging The Guy Who Thinks I Don't Know How to Use the Word Renovate Properly. Doing this reminds me of working with clay, slowly squeezing until something grows from nothing. Not that I've ever worked with clay. Not that I've ever made a bowl that could hold anything.
You may say: "We really ought to renovate the bathroom." You may not say: "We need to renovate our thinking about this problem."
In a hotel in Cincinnati, someone's 90-year-old grandmother is falling in the bathtub and snapping three small ribs.
So many bombs shattering across the globe, yet it was private grief that kept them up at night.
He said: "Please don't put things in third person past tense. Just because it's third person past tense doesn't mean it's a story. It's not as though third person past tense will protect you."
I've thrown up three times since I've known him:
Our friends admire our marriage and ask us for advice.
Once something I wrote made the judge of a contest indignant. He wrote, "This is something that this woman should share with her husband alone, if with anyone, and probably not even with him."
He's always called me his "Little Try-er." He says: "You are always try, try, trying to make things good." This is both a compliment and an insult.
Lightbulbs make me feel peaceful these days, as do water glasses.
The person with whom I used to have the joke about never saying I love you to anyone else recently told me: "You would have been happy no matter who you married. You always loved everyone. I mean that as a compliment."
The Guy Who Has Urges Impossible to Satisfy comes up to the bar and grabs my ass. He's very predictable but that doesn't mean he doesn't scare me.
"I'm a monster, I'm a monster, I'm a monster, I'm a monster," he says four times in a row, just like that, and I can't tell if he's joking or serious.
He says, "You are like, you are like, you are like a glass of cold water that I drink from every morning."
On nights when I can't sleep I dream that our apartment is way larger than I ever realized. It has nooks and crannies and lofts I never knew about. In fact there is a section of our apartment where an entire forest could be planted!
I had this plan that I would be happier this year than ever before. That day by day, twig by twig, I would construct my inner nest, and meanwhile my skin would be better than ever and my patience would be infinite and I'd be able to talk easily with strangers, and maybe even would finally learn how to whistle, and wouldn't be scared of driving.
When he pointed at me and shouted, "You!" I couldn't tell if I was being singled out for love or scorn.
"All I want is X," he says. "That's all. Just X."
What's with this feeling of dread? Two weeks ago I wrote an email to an old friend proclaiming my transcendent happiness, or at least the promise of it.
We turn the air conditioner off.
"You're being so nice to me right now," The Girl With the Hot Milk says. "Thank you."
In the grocery store I see a woman with an infant. She reminds me of me. She's even got a zit where I've got a zit. When I approach her, she smiles warmly.
I'm interested in building narrative through fragments. James Joyce's claim, "I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors-and-paste man," has been on my mind a lot lately, along with David Shields' Reality Hunger: a Manifesto