The kettle tries to whistle but chokes on its own steam. The handle scalds. The spout is useless. Water dribbles out, splashes the side of the mug. Liquid snakes between the floor’s cracks. The room needs retiling. This kitchen is all wrong, I say. All wrong. Everything about it. Everything in it. My husband doesn’t look up at me. I don’t notice that some of the water lashed my foot red until after.
Later, in the bathtub, the faucet drips and I can’t get it to stop. This bathroom is all wrong, I say. The mirror is cracked. It’s all wrong, I yell to someone, anyone. I know my husband is in the bedroom but I also know he’s reading Consumer Reports, which means he does not hear me. He can’t be interrupted. He consumes the magazine cover to cover, several times over the course of several sittings, takes notes in the margins and flags certain pages using colored sticky notes, though he doesn’t buy anything except for the Consumer Reports subscription. He gave away his non-essentials a year ago in an attempt to de-clutter his life. Our house took on a skeletal aspect: shelves with lone objects lingering, closets with three items hung, carpets removed to bare floor. At first the space was liberating, and then I began to feel vulnerable in my own home, too exposed to the rest of the world. In the process of paring away, he removed not only the fluff of materialism, but also treasured books and photo albums and mementos from our wedding.
In the morning the heat won’t click on no matter how high I set the thermostat, and the coffeemaker, an appliance I fought to keep, burns the coffee. The ceiling fan clicks and stops spinning. The paint is chipping off the wall and into the kitchen sink, clogging the drain. All wrong. All of it, I say, to no one in particular.
The latest issue lies open on the bed with red circles around certain appliances: a multi-chambered vacuum cleaner, a convertible with seat warmers, a sprinkler system with solar-powered timers. I would ask my husband if he wants these things, if this is some sort of barely coded message meant to help him reverse his ways, but he is gone already, his dirty underwear crumpled behind the bathroom door next to a wet towel. His one pair of shoes, scuffed brown penny loafers, is missing from the shelf in his closet.
When he purged his life of excess, shoes were the first to go. We have a shoe problem in this country, he said, it’s a sign of our perverse, capitalistic ambition. Take high heels. We’re never satisfied with where we stand. Always climbing higher. He liked to make things political. He fancied himself a radical, refusing to cave to the demands of modern, urban life. I was wearing boots with a wedge. I slipped them off and hid them under the desk. Think of the factory workers gluing these rubber soles to these tops. He pointed to a pair of my beat-up Nikes. Think of how mindless that life must be. He tossed them into a trash bag. Think of how much space we’ll have without them. Space to breathe.
Eventually he got rid of the trash bags, too. Instead we use a metal crate and dump the trash directly from there into the dumpster, then hose out the crate’s interior. I do this most days; my husband has a strong gag reflex.
I remember how my husband hovered as I thinned the contents of my closet, leaving only bare essentials. I worked earnestly, so he could see my full commitment. When he was asleep, though, I went to the dumpster and gathered my acrylic sweaters and leg warmers and argyle socks and movie posters and hid them in the back corner where he would not find them.
I get home that evening and don’t see my husband’s scooter in the front hall. He got rid of his car long ago. The scooter is long and slender and light, essential qualities for his transit method of choice, he explained. The kitchen is dark. The fridge contents are untouched but something smells inside. The box of baking soda isn’t working. It’s all wrong: the smell, the weak, sickly pucker of the refrigerator door when it opens and shuts, the missing scooter, or maybe the fact of the scooter in the first place. It’s hard to know. I don’t trust instinct anymore. I don’t know if things are wrong because I didn’t think they’d be like this or because I did. I might as well be standing outside where fierce wind rips across the lawn.
The floor creaks under my feet. Termites are plunging through the wood, the carpenter told me. The house is falling apart. It could be weeks or months or years, but eventually it will crumble into a pile of dust, he assured me of that. The ceiling sags in the place where a leaky pipe deposits yellow water. On my last birthday I told my husband about the required repairs, emphasizing the insatiable hunger of the termites, the impending collapse of our abode, which seemed dramatic. If anything was likely to get his attention, I figured it was that. We don’t need to fix these things, my husband told me when I showed him the list I had made. We live in the here and now, not the world of wants and shoulds and evers. I didn’t understand it, what he said. I would have asked for an explanation, for some clarification, but he was deep into a new Consumer Reports and I was deep into a chocolate torte I’d bought myself at the bakery. I knew better than to disturb him. I knew better than to draw his attention to my sugary indulgence.
After I eat dinner, neither my husband nor his scooter returns to the house. That night I sleep on my sheet-less bed without him; we started using sleeping bags as blankets, no pillows. The human body evolved without plush under the skull. The bed itself is a luxury, he likes to tell me. That night it is cold and even though I don’t typically reach toward him, I miss the warmth he emits into the space between our bags.
Consumer Reports continues to come each month. I let the issues pile up in the mailbox. I don’t want them cluttering the house. The postman leaves notes saying I must remove them or he won’t have anywhere to put the new mail. But I am not waiting for any letters or postcards, and I enjoy receiving his notes, appreciate the tender scrawl of his handwriting. The metal box sags under the magazines’ weight but doesn’t give completely. Soon its door refuses to shut and the magazines heap along the curb.
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