"Dress of Roses" by Sergej Bag.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
ARM IN ARM, MARCH ON
by Jean-Luc Bouchard
“I am the keeper of your memories,” I remember her telling me once, and I thought her true. A year and a half later, blinded by flowers and weepy female relatives, she proved it. From the memories she saved for me, I learned that it was a beautiful ceremony, her side of the family compromising on the catering, mine on the priest instead of judge. We invited 150 and received 147. My uncle even fell asleep before he had a chance to comment on the half-Colombian niece. We lay in bed that night, too tired and hungry to consummate the marriage, holding hands while she told me about the best man’s wit.
And life was the same as it had been before, but now we lived past the end of something. Putting the toilet seat down was no longer a test, but was proof of making the right or wrong decision. Listening to her bark on the phone to some poor customer service rep, I twirled the ring around my finger. She complained about my dishwasher loading and I became too stern when I described the efficiency of cups to the side. Days stopped ending and, instead, nights began, when I’d have to return home and face what I’d eagerly begun years ago, committed now to seeing it through. These nights bled into days, when I worked and found new ways to stay out late, and during this cycle I never felt well-rested.
When I first touched another woman, it wasn’t my fault. The other woman, young and pale, thought I didn’t deserve my job and said she wanted me, and I would be too old too soon to be able to say no to this opportunity. We made love six times before she asked for more and I told her I couldn’t. The next morning, I watched from the bed as my wife prepared herself for work, putting on blush and buttoning a blouse, a frown dragging down her face, and I thought, “There’s no way she loves me as much as she thinks she does.” When she kissed me and left, no mention of the sacrifice I’d made, I was so upset that I went to work without shaving and laughed when people asked if I was starting a beard.
Around this time, I began to think I was exhausted, my eyes always dry with fatigue. But even after long weekend nights of sleep, I’d wake up and stare at her talking over a plate of egg whites and feel my sockets scratch and constrict. To soothe them, I began looking at women on the subway with hungry interest instead of the slow-turning sorrow I’d become accustomed to; I smiled at the woman who sold me sandwiches at lunch and asked her if she lived in the area. She turned from the cash register and said, “What?” and I said, “Have a great day” and left.
In five years, I kissed eleven women and slept with four. Toward the end, my wife went through a year of poor health and I washed the piss from our sheets more than once in the early morning. We spent most nights watching two episodes of a TV show before one of us leaned over a laptop and the other prepared lunches for the next day. The area between her stomach and waist grew hard and bulbous, and I found it impossible to ignore during sex. She began to work from home, and then from bed, and then not at all, her office managing to survive without her expertise, which is what I believe finally sent her buckling into the shape of the letter C, sleeping on her side out of necessity, breathing hard from a mouth stuffed with twisted fingers. I don’t know how the mortician straightened her out, but I didn’t ask, nor did I have the nerve to look past the wood of the ruler-straight oak.
In the days that followed, I shuffled between rooms in gray sweatpants and cleaned out my apartment. Among shopping bags and shoeboxes, I found scraps of poems, or perhaps notes, scribbled onto receipts from cafes I never knew she visited, buying elaborate drinks I’d never seen her order. In a shiny purse I never saw her carry, I found a yellow receipt marked “Days feel shorter than ever,” “I can’t say what I enjoy anymore,” and “I have known for some time now how I will die: at my own hands.”
Jean-Luc Bouchard is a writer living in New York whose work has appeared in PANK, NANO, Umbrella Factory, Specter, Danse Macabre, Eastlit, 100 Word Story, ExFic, and other journals. He can be followed @jlucbouchard, and his work can be found at jeanlucbouchard.com.