“Marriage” by James Armstrong

I have been married for six years. I have not spoken with my wife for the past five. We live together, you understand. We sleep in the same bed and eat dinner at the same table. Yet no matter how hard I try, I cannot talk to her.

We never ran out of things to say while we were dating. We had similar interests—we both liked to cook, and we watched the same TV shows. She was relaxed and easy-going, which was exactly what I was looking for. By degrees, I suppose, I began to fall in love with her.

I had always known I wanted to get married, and right away I began asking myself if Lynn might be the one. I’m not sure I know what that means anymore, but back then I thought I did, and I was sure Lynn was it—true love, or at least something close enough. I proposed to her after dinner one night at a fancy French restaurant, and she accepted.

On our wedding day, I could hardly dress—I was so nervous—but I knew there was no one else I wanted to spend my life with. When I kissed her at the altar, I don’t think I had ever felt happier in my life.

For the first several months, things went well. We fought occasionally, but we always made up. Afterward, we would laugh at the absurdity of the things we’d argue over, the proper way to scrub a toilet or who had made coffee the last time.

After a while, Lynn started having to work more at the office. They were cutting back, and she was doing the jobs of two people. It wasn’t fair, but if she didn’t want to get sacked in the next round of layoffs, we were just going to have to deal.

Then Lynn’s uncle died. She had never been close to her father, who had abandoned them when Lynn was a teenager. Uncle Mark was the closest thing to a father she had. She mourned him for quite some time, and made it clear she needed to be alone in her grief.

After that, she started having problems with her gallbladder—at least that’s what the doctors thought it was. The whole thing cleared itself up after a while, so it could have been something else. The pain was intense for a couple of months, though, and she didn’t want to do anything—even talk.

In all this time, we would wake up together, have our morning coffee, swap out parts of the newspaper, go our separate ways to work, come home, have dinner, spend a couple hours watching TV, and go to sleep at each other’s sides. It was an orderly routine and didn’t call for us to say much of anything. Everything was understood.

That’s why I can’t tell you the precise day on which Lynn and I stopped talking. We had grown used to saying little, and soon we were saying nothing at all. The breakfast table was silent. Nothing was said over the course of dinner. We would sit on the sofa staring at the TV, and it would do the talking for us.

The worst, I think, was in bed. I would lie there next to her, wanting to say something, but I couldn’t. We had grown distant in every sense of the word except the literal one, and that hurt more than anything.

Days and weeks passed, months, and we said nothing. Lynn seemed remarkably calm about the whole situation. She would shower and dress in the morning as if nothing were wrong. She would get home and start sorting through the mail without a word, or even a look. It was as if nothing had changed, but everything had changed. My wife had stopped speaking to me, and I didn’t even know why.

Was she mad at me? Had I committed some unspeakable offense? I tried to think of what it might be. Something I had said? Not said? I began scowling at her when she walked into a room, and she would roll her eyes at me and leave.

At last, I decided I needed to be the bigger person and break the silence. I still couldn’t speak to her, however, so I wrote a note:

“Dear Lynn,” it said, “I can’t stand what has happened to us. Why don’t we ever talk anymore? If I have done something, I honestly don’t know what it was, but I am sorry. I never intended to hurt you or cause you pain. I love you, Lynn. I love you, and I want things to be the way they were before. Will you come back to me? Please? Yours Forever, Bobby.”

I left the note on the kitchen table where she would be sure to see it, then went into the bedroom and waited for her to get home. I heard the sound of her car pulling up and of its motor going still. The car door slammed. The front door to the house opened and closed, and footsteps went off into the kitchen.

I listened for a long time and heard nothing. I wanted to cry out, but I held my peace. Eventually, I heard footsteps again, and then the front door opening and closing.

I went out into the kitchen. Lynn had left me a note:

“Dear Bobby,” it said, “Went to gym. Be back later. Would you mind going to store while I’m out? I’d go myself, but it’s the opposite direction. We need milk, eggs, salad, tomatoes, and green beans. Also, if the mac & cheese is still on sale, pick up a couple boxes. Love Always, Lynn.

“P.S. Got your note. Thanks.”

I read it three or four times, still not knowing what to think. “Love Always, Lynn?” What did she mean by that? I pour my heart out to her, and she asks me to go to the grocery store?

Yet it was the postscript that was strangest of all. The note would have made sense if she hadn’t read what I’d written, but she clearly had. She had read my note, acknowledged it, but acted as if I had given her directions to the gas station.

I went to the store and got milk, eggs, salad, tomatoes, green beans, and three boxes of macaroni and cheese. When Lynn got back from the gym, I fixed green beans and mac and cheese and warmed up some eggplant we had left over in the fridge. We ate in silence then went into the living room and watched TV.

The next day, I left another note:

“Dear Lynn,” it said, “What is going on? I’m confused. Do you still love me? If so, how come we can’t talk together anymore? I feel like I’m living with a stranger, only it’s a stranger I already know. Does this make any sense to you? Help me. Please. I don’t know what to do. Desperately Yours, Bobby.”

I got another note in response:

“Dear Bobby,” it said, “Garbage collector didn’t pick up the trash for some reason. Did we put it out too late? Maybe it’s some crazy govm’t holiday. Anyway, I put it in the garage so it wouldn’t block the curb. Went to the store to pick something up for Mom’s birthday. See you when I get back. Love Always, Lynn.

“P.S. The note was sweet. Thnx.”

I wanted to pull my hair out. I drove to the shore and looked into the ocean. I wondered what it would be like to drown. I’ve always been afraid of the water, and I figured that must be about the worst death there is—to drown in the ocean.

Then I thought I would rather drown in the ocean than in a pool. At least in the ocean, you’re swallowed up by something immense, something so big you can scarcely imagine it. How much worse to drown in a pool—to drown in a bathtub—to drown in a glass of water.

I came back and found Lynn already in bed. I lied down next to her and started to cry. I wept until my tears were gone and there was nothing left inside of me. She never woke up.

The next day we had breakfast together as if nothing had happened. We went to work, came home, had dinner, and watched television. I found the monotony of our life laughable, but I didn’t know how to change it.

I wanted to ask Lynn if she’d like to do something different. Perhaps we could go out dancing, though truth be told, I can’t dance, and I only wanted to do that because I thought it was something you were supposed to do if you were a couple. Besides, who could hear each other with all that music—and what I really wanted to do was talk.

Perhaps the next weekend we could get away somewhere. The mountains maybe. I had never been to the mountains, and I had no idea how to get there, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. At least it would be different than sitting in that house—that tiny house—and not knowing what to do.

I never took her dancing, and we never went to the mountains. I hated the situation, but how could I change it when I couldn’t even talk to her?

So I decided to make tacos. I had never made tacos before, so at least it was something different. I bought tortillas and salsa and lettuce and sour cream and refried beans. We would make tacos, and life would be better.

Lynn’s a vegetarian, so that’s why there was no meat. She scooped extra large spoonfuls of beans into her taco and covered them with lettuce and tomato and sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. She had four bean tacos, then took a spoon and scraped the last of the beans onto her plate with a little cheese and sour cream. She ate it all then left me with the dishes and went out into the living room to watch her favorite show.

After doing the dishes, I went out and sat beside Lynn on the sofa. The TV had one of those sitcoms that used to make her laugh so hard I was afraid she might fall off the couch. It was a rerun, though, and we had both seen it before. She had the volume turned up really high, and the laugh track ran every time there was a joke. Neither of us laughed.

A commercial came on, and it was louder than the show, as commercials always are. What was more, it was one of those really awful commercials from a local car dealership. Could it get any worse than that?

And there, sitting next to Lynn on the sofa, watching a bad television show break for an even worse commercial, there came a huge, low-pitched, unmistakable sound. It drowned out even the TV. From right beside me came the most enormous fart I had ever heard in my life.

And it reeked. There could be no mistaking this for moving furniture. After eating four tacos and a small mountain of refried beans, Lynn had let rip the most foul-smelling odor imaginable. I wondered if we would ever be able to let people into the house again.

Lynn and I looked at each other. And we began to laugh. It was the first time I could remember either of us laughing in a very long while. We laughed louder and louder, until tears started coming down, and we threw our arms around each other’s necks and kissed each other gently on the cheeks. I lifted her up off the sofa and took her back to the bedroom where we made love and fell asleep and woke up in the morning and said nothing.

Marriage is like that sometimes.

James Armstrong has had stories appear in The Long Story, Birmingham Arts Journal, Concho River Review, The Chaffey Review, and other publications. His plays have been published in Arts & Letters, Canyon Voices, The Louisville Review, Yemassee, and The Best American Short Plays: 2012-2013.