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September 1, 2017 Fiction


Gwen Werner

Funeral photo

We move next door to a gas station. The town is small. No stoplights. Small enough that beer is delivered from a single brewery in a single form: light.

We are so newly married that to mention my husband feels like a fib and my drinking has gotten to the point where I am too abstracted to even put on my glasses. I watch all ten seasons of Friends, though am often confused about plotlines. I shout for my husband from our bed: “Baby, tell me what’s happening!”

I remember that I love my husband once every few days. On Arbor Day it is because I flip through a book of his, poems I do not intend to read, and out flies a receipt dated two months before we met. He had purchased a box of candy with a discount and paid with a credit card. I sigh, thinking of a husband before he had me.


My husband gets me a job cleaning the meat packing plant, which is a job usually reserved for high school sophomores. He yanks the sheets from my throat down to the end of the bed and says, “Work in twenty-five. Schneider’s.” He kisses my knuckles. I pull clean underwear out of a drawer.

I eat yogurt with granola for breakfast every day. I call it “Perfect Breakfast.” 

My horoscope says, “Let the dust settle,” and I yell, “Settle for what?” to the stove. It hasn’t been hot for weeks and is full with pots and pans. My husband, taking a shit, shouts, “What?” through the bathroom door and I scrape Perfect Breakfast into the trash.

As I walk out the front door the wind picks up and blows half of a bird’s nest on my head. I walk into the meat packing plant still pulling weeds from my scalp.

At a desk inside the front door sits Debbie, a big-sweatered lady, forehead damp. I find out she does the bookwork for the plant. Who knew dead pigs needed a secretary?

I don’t find my husband when I get home from my first day. I look around and see his evidence, a blanket curled up like shed skin around the base of his armchair, a wet tea-stirring spoon beside the sink. 

He tells me my nostrils flare when I’m angry, though I don’t believe him when he says this, because I’ve heard him comment on Nicole Kidman’s “weird” nose. The man has no sense of noses.


I lean against Debbie’s desk and ask, “You ever read Jane Eyre?” I pick up her tape dispenser and give it a little shake. “It’s pretty sad. You seem happy, maybe try Pride and Prejudice. They all fall in love.”

“Oh, sure,” big smile. Debbie licks a stamp.

I mop up cow blood for hours then come home, wash my ass, and lounge in a robe I swiped from a hotel. I look at the clock. I light up a smoke and tap my ash into a soup can I placed on the porch two days ago, which is now part-full, and I eyeball the streetlights starting to come on. My husband is late.

The phone rings, it’s him: “Did you thaw the chicken?”

“Was I supposed to?”

“Never mind,” he says and hangs up.

“Tornado season,” says the woman on television. 

“There are even tornadoes in space this time of year,” replies her co-anchor.


I have a very small goal at work today and it is to finish my coffee before Debbie.

In the break room, I open my lunch box and a napkin falls on my lap. I take a bite of my egg salad and shake the napkin out. It’s covered in something squiggly, my husband’s handwriting: “I don’t want to be married anymore.”

I say to myself, “Jesus, jesus, damn, hell, jesus.”

I get home, open the garage door, and I make a deal with God. A big bottle of window washer fluid winks at me. Its sheerness, its lagoon blue. I hear my husband dropping silverware in the kitchen, shouting, “piss,” still in my home for some reason. I push on the lid with my palm and twist, the click of the childproofing under my bones. I am not a child as I sip and swallow. 

I push it back on the shelf with both hands and wander inside to kiss the husband who doesn’t want to be my husband.

I am something hasty: an aunt, drunk in the afternoon.

I am something indignant: autumn’s last leaf.

I’m in bed again, but reading a book this time. I see my husband scowling at me while I squint. “Astigmatism!” I shout.

“You’re drunk!” he says back.


After a day of mostly hanging around Debbie’s desk, I stop at the gas station and buy a packet of miscellaneous vitamins. They’ll be the thing that finally fixes me, I think, but know they won’t. They’re like the meal planning and the reupholstering.

The woman at the register tells me a guy comes in every day for a lotto ticket and someday he’s going to buy her a Winnebago. 

“My husband, god bless him, will be the mechanic, see? And I’ll just be along for the ride,” her skin like seersucker.

She talks and I take the vitamins one by one pretending they’re poison.


My horoscope today says something about dreams and money.

After Sunday brunch and during a game of battleship, I tell him, “I read something back in school about you need to heal your darlings.” 

He sinks one of my battleships, and I think of the few times my husband had called me “darling,” at a cousin’s wedding when he wanted me to grab him a slice of cake, when I broke my dead grandmother’s tea set in one big dropped box, when he asked me to dance in our living room for the last time. 

We aren’t overly affectionate. I bragged to my old girlfriends, “We don’t need to be gratuitous. Our love for one another is heavy on our backs.” 

My husband sinks another of my battleships. He says, “It’s kill,” or maybe I heard him wrong. He leaves me there on the couch poking at a bump I find on the top of my foot. It might be nice to split my skin, see what’s going on under there.

I get in the bathtub and think my teeth might be the sharpest things I own.


I get fired. I knew I’d eventually get fired, but I figured they liked having my legs around. Anyway, they give me my notice and I turn and walk back home. Halfway there, I stop and buy another packet of assorted vitamins from the gas station. Still no Winnebago.

It isn’t until I’m halfway through my post-firing Perfect Breakfast that I realize his wet teaspoon isn’t on the counter. I open all of the cupboards and drawers and windows in the house. He left me the toothpaste. I say, “Oh, thank Christ.” 

I flip the comforter down, throw the pillows on the floor and turn on the TV. The woman on the news tells me about some ducks that fell down a drain, so I switch it right off.

A note is folded and stuck underneath the KitchenAid mixer. It was a wedding present from my mother that I wanted desperately and he couldn’t have given a good goddamn fuck about it, the mixer. I pull the note out from under my beautiful mixer and shove it back to my molars. I chew and chew, but it’s still there.

I go outside, tripping over my soup can, and look up. I will anything to fall.

image: Tara Wray