When she made the list for him she hadn’t been concerned with the results, not really. It had felt good simply to use her fancy handwriting and expensive parchment: mow the lawn, boil the chicken bones for stock, give up something you love, grow your toenails longer than is comfortable in shoes, pick up lottery tickets and ice cream on the way home. The items on the list had come to her at random as she washed a dish or plucked a hair from her chin or put gas in the car. Each time a task would come to her she would pull out her pocket-sized notebook with the colored parchment and add a task to the list beneath an undecipherable bird beside gold filigree. He had left the list on the counter beside the coffee pot only a day after she had written it:
mow the lawn boil the chicken bones for stock give up something you love grow your toenails longer than is comfortable in shoes pick up lottery tickets and ice cream on the way home
She grinned seeing all the handwritten tasks sliced in half with pen. She held the list as she checked the lawn and chicken bones. She saw the lottery tickets near where the list had been left. Found the ice cream in the freezer. She catalogued the things he loved and noticed the shelf that once held boxes of jigsaw puzzle pieces had been cleared off. She noticed the slight discomfort in his walk as the days progressed.
After dinner one night following his completion of the list she kissed him straight on the mouth. She kissed his cheek. You’re perfect she said. I will love you forever she said.
In the morning she woke with his arms around her in that island-forming sort of way couples have creating geography through limbs. She indulged momentarily in this and then removed herself from it. He didn’t notice she’d moved. She thought he is tired from completing the tasks on the list. She left the room. She brewed the coffee. She fed the pets. She brushed her hair. She entered the room with half an island. Saw it hadn’t moved. She poured him a cup of coffee, made it the way he liked, and returned it to the room where he still slept. The smell of the coffee woke him. When she handed it to him he smiled.
She looked at him and thought his smile is different than I remember, this isn’t the smile he gave me last night or the night he first smiled at me or the night I really remember him smiling, there is something wrong with this smile, with this exchange, he has stopped loving me. Why had he not wakened at the same moment she woke? She thought of an article or image or list in which the necessity of partner synthesis is determined to be the underlying fundamental value to all relationships. If he did truly love her wouldn’t he have synthesized with her or her with him? She was sure she loved him. It was him who hadn’t taken to the synthesis. We are doomed, she thought, we have not yet synthesized, we are missing the underlying fundamental characteristic to all successful relationships.
Components of daily routine take place. Teeth are brushed. Coffee is refilled. Meals are had. Between each, she will look for the article or image or list depicting the importance of synthesis. This search will prove unsuccessful and in its place she will come across another article or image or list depicting the key to success. She will see lots of individuals accomplishing said success. She will strategize how to make her life appear more like theirs.
At the grocery store a thought will come to her, dust the baseboards. She will pull out her pocket-sized notebook with the colored parchment and use her fancy handwriting and pen it beneath the undecipherable birds beside the gold filigree. She will do this again while waiting for the coffee to brew or the alarm to go off or the mail to come.
She will find the list atop the counter beside the coffee pot and grin seeing the distinct marks of ballpoint pen through text:
dust the baseboards nip your lip while shaving eat only what you pull from the ground yourself love only me collect your urine give away your belongings sleep with no shelter until the rainy season ends love only me
It takes longer to confirm all the stricken through tasks on the second list have been completed. She notes the spot of blood on the bathroom sink, the tupperware containers of urine in the medicine cabinet, the muddy shoe prints by the front door, the remnants of soil in the colander, the sheen of the baseboards. She holds the colorful parchment with the undecipherable birds and gold filigree in her hands. She looks at the lines of text split in half by pen. She fingers each task on the list letting the heavy lines through words guide her.