I’m leaving him, soon
flowers die. Yesterday he brought home flowers, I don’t know why.
daisies, bright pink, open-faced. Out of place.
I do my best, but this home sags with filth. Resentment,
old as this marriage, sticks to doorknobs and window sills. It gums up
corners. When Gabe leaves for work, I climb the stairs to our attic
sit absolutely still. I listen to the crackle of dust sifting through
windows are all stuck shut.
How many days until the flowers die? I can’t leave before
then. Gabe won’t remember to refresh the water. The stalks will
scattering petals across the counter. Gabe won’t remember the
vase was a gift
from his Aunt Lucy, that it’s hand-wash only, or where it’s
kept. I just want
out, I don’t want a mess.
We made promises to each other, in the beginning,
everyone does. I wanted to see the Temple of Kukulcan, Chichén
Itzá, and Gabe
said he’d take me. I wanted to climb its 365 steps, send 365
wishes up to the
gods, the sun, whatever’s up there. Gabe said he’d stick
with prayers to God,
Gabe wanted five children, six—each filled to the brim
with love and approval, as he and his brother weren’t. I promised
to try. No
one can predict the wishes that won’t be granted. Or how blame
will be assigned.
The farthest south we ever got was Nassau, for our
honeymoon, a hundred years ago. Gabe dozed beneath palms while I swam
I slipped beneath waves, eyes closed. I floated free in the ocean, let
push me around. Already I wondered if I could ever be content, held in
Every morning, I listen to Gabe’s tires crunch down the
gravel drive, then accelerate onto asphalt that brings him to the city,
people in his life who make him laugh. Last time I saw his office was
ago. He’s messy there, too, but it’s happy chaos. Every
night, the place is sanitized
While Gabe’s at
work, I switch on the TV news, let the world’s atrocities wash
over me without
paying much attention. When I run the vacuum, I don’t bother to
volume. I’m okay, not hearing every detail, not knowing
I spray Sage n’ Citrus air freshener, a perfumed rain to
down the dust. The hardwood in the hall goes sticky. The scent covers
but it can’t disguise the disappointment, stuffed into these
rooms so long it’s
soaked through carpet and curtains, paint and plaster, to the rotten
this place up. Everything’s shellacked with filmy silence.
When our only child left, everything he cared about in the
bed of his truck, he was so eager his tires kicked up gravel. For weeks
picked pieces from dirt that once grew vegetables. I didn’t tell
I give the flowers five days, six tops. Then I’ll go. Not
Chichén Itzá—by now, my knees ache just looking at
pictures. But somewhere.
Until then I’ll do my best. Any minute now I’ll hear
Gabe’s tires turn back
down our drive, slower this way. We won’t talk much over dinner,
having used up
our words. In bed we’ll sleep without touching, not hostile.
Safe. All night
long we’ll inhale and exhale each other’s breath, recycling
the old filth of
our life together. Both of us will store a bit of it, just enough to
everything, deep in the dark of our two separate bodies.
Rukeyser earned her Creative Writing MA from Lancaster University, UK.
Her work appears in: Atticus Review, Eclectic Flash, Ink Sweat and
Tears, Melusine, Metazen, The Mom Egg, The Other Room, PANK, Short Fast
and Deadly, and SmokeLong Quarterly. She won Hippocampus
Magazine’s 2011 Contest for Creative Non-Fiction. She does her
best to explain herself here: www.susanrukeyser.com.
story arrived as a single word: sticky. An early Spring triggered an
onslaught of tree pollen. Seemingly overnight, everything was coated
with a sticky yellow-green. Our windows were shut tight against it, but
it found its way in. Allergies made my eyes sticky, too. I wrote for
days, about the itch, the gummy surfaces, the stifling, closed-up
house. Finally a hard rain fell. Everything outside was scrubbed clean.
Inside, cleaning up was more complicated. I realized I was writing
about an aspect of marriage: the burdensome comfort of containment.
“Stuck Shut” is about the compromises we make in order to
live peacefully. It’s about routines, how we cope. It’s
about everything we stop talking about but don’t forget, the
sticky memories that hold us.