Fever of Thyself
She tells him she wants a divorce just before their appetizers arrive. All the love has dried out, she says, and what's left is something else — call it affection, like the way you might feel about a Labrador retriever. But he doesn't even seem to notice. He keeps talking at her, past her, going on about some article he read about a new carbon emissions law, and isn't the bruschetta divine? She repeats herself, just to be sure, but he doesn't stop smiling. There is something almost robotic about the way he chews his food without breaking eye contact even once, and for a moment she imagines him standing in front of the bathroom mirror, tenderly removing his face plate to oil the little cogs and gears inside his head, and she has to stifle a laugh with her napkin.
They've been making anniversary reservations at this restaurant for four years, even though she hates it. She hates the scurrying fleet of waitstaff, the dizzying array of silverware laid out like a torturer's instruments, the servers who purse their lips when she mispronounces "tagliatelle." No more.
Afterward, she takes his hand in front of their house and tells him that maybe he should find a hotel, just for a little while. But somehow he weasles his way inside and takes up residence in the guest bedroom instead.
He does not seem to understand the situation. He greets her each morning as cheerfully as ever. Sometimes he even puts the coffee on before she leaves for work. Often she returns to find him napping in his recliner, or clipping his toenails in the sunroom. He asks about her day. She is unsure how to proceed.
After enough time has passed, she takes the handsome nurse at the dispensary up on his offer for coffee. She returns to find the living room in disarray; her husband has gutted the throw pillows, broken a plate, chewed her favorite slippers to shreds. He has urinated in the peace lilies. She drags him outside and locks the door. At night her husband stalks the perimeter of the house, wailing and rending his garments and reciting half-remembered poetry. Moonlight butcherings of Keats at her windowsill. Eventually she is forced to relent.
An arrangement is drawn up. He must keep himself to the guest bedroom, the guest bathroom, the kitchen, and the sunroom. He must accept that she has moved on, and cannot, under any circumstances, tear through the house on all fours, overturning her furniture and pulling out her dresser drawers.
Months pass, and the handsome nurse moves in with her. Her husband pulls his lips back, lets out a low growl that rumbles in the pit of his stomach. The hair on the back of his neck stands on end. But he is a man of his word, and retreats into the darkness of the guest bedroom. The nurse draws from a monkish wellspring of patience and understanding. We have all been here before, he says.
The sounds of sawing and hammering keep her up at all hours of the night. Her husband makes vague overtures to "expansions" when they cross paths in the hallway, his arms laden with protractors and levels and painter's tape. She tells herself that it's good for him, that hobbies are a sign of personal growth and acceptance.
There seems to be no end to the expansions. Her home is dwarfed by them, cast into the shadows of byzantine domes and slender minarets, skeletons of brickwork and heat-treated pine, rooms of increasing geometric complexity, until the home they bought together seems to be an incongruity, hanging from his handiwork like an atrophied limb. She does not understand where he has found the time and energy, to say nothing of the resources involved.
Sometimes, when she passes by the guestroom to do her laundry, she swears that she can hear a woman's voice somewhere inside. A child's bright laughter. A dimly sensed world beyond that door, a life she has never seen.
Sometimes she pauses for a moment, lets her hand light on the cold brass knob. She worries that one day she will not be able to resist.
The handsome nurse from the dispensary can sense that something troubles her. When they lay together in the dark, he asks what is wrong. She is tempted to tell him about the voices, the urge to open the door and peek inside. Instead, she turns over and kisses the crease in his brow. Nothing, she says. She nestles her head under his chin and closes her eyes, and when he starts to snore, it almost sounds like someone sawing wood.
is a freelance writer living in Charleston, South Carolina. He studied at South Carolina State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and served as an editor for the Inkwell Student Literary Journal
. His work has been published in freeze frame fiction