I WONDER WHAT IT’S LIKE TO WALK AMONG THE STARS?
My wife, Anne, stands at the window staring out into the darkness. “I wonder what it would be like to walk among the stars?”
I try to guess why she’s turned off all the lights in order to pose this conundrum. My leg whacks against the corner of the coffee-table and I suppress a curse as pain shoots up my thigh-bone. I sense Anne will not consider “fucking shit” an appropriate response to her query.
I’m not sure what she might consider appropriate. The question strikes me as the kind a slightly off-center first-grader might ask but I’ve learned, after fifteen years of marriage to Anne, to treat such questions with profound caution.
My early-in-the-marriage howls of laughter generally bought me a night in the spare room or on the recliner in the living-room in front of the TV, followed by a dozen red roses and profuse apologies. At that moment, I was in the mood for neither punishment nor repentance.
I try to pull something together. “I don’t think you can walk among the stars, sweetheart. I mean, for one thing, you’d suffocate. There’s no air in space. For another, stars aren’t like stepping stones. They’re millions of miles apart. Besides, there’s no gravity to hold you down, and you’d freeze solid in a nanosecond.”
She gives me the look she always gives me when I’m being particularly dense. “That isn’t what I meant.”
I see roses and apologies looming. “OK. What do you mean?”
“Haven’t you ever wondered what it might be like to walk among the stars, like treading on black velvet covered in sequins?”
I’m utterly unable to make any connection between sequined black velvet and the night sky arcing over our heads. My leg throbs where it met the corner of the coffee table and I’m missing Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. “No, I can’t say I have.”
“Well, that’s the difference between you and me. When I feel sad, I think about things like walking among the stars.”
“You’re sad because you can’t walk among the stars?”
Anne doesn’t answer right away. One of two things is happening; either she’s turning my query over in her mind, which is unlikely since she seldom gives what I say serious consideration, or I’ve said something so not what she’s looking for, it’s rendered her speechless.
She could, of course, be planning to turn to me and say, “Let’s forget the whole thing and go to bed.”
In your dreams, pal.
Her expression shifts to one of awed incredulity. “I sometimes think we speak a different language.”
I decide to change the direction of the conversation since I’m not getting anywhere with the fucking stars. “What’s made you sad?”
I don’t really want to know since it’s bound to be me – it usually is - but asking seems the decent thing to do.
“I don’t know. I want to turn inside out, like a spaceman whose helmet cracks or his spacesuit rips. He sort of explodes out of his skin.”
“You’d do that all right if you tried to walk among the stars. How can you be sad without knowing why?”
Anne perks up and I allow myself a moment to believe I’ve finally said the right thing. I may yet come out of this in one piece.
“Don’t you ever just feel sad?” she asks, her eyes ashine with tears.
Shit. All I’ve done is make her cry. I grapple around in the convolutions of my brain to come up with an appropriately comforting answer.
“I generally get pissed off. I suppose I might feel sad if the cat got run over. I mean really squished, like the little pisser from next door.”
Anne’s perky look alters to one of utter amazement. “The cat?”
I can’t tell if the quiver in her voice heralds an onrush of waterworks or an outburst of uncontrolled hilarity. I pray for the latter.
Tears flood out of her eyes and pour down her cheeks, twin rivers that meet under her chin and start to drip.
“I’m talking about how I could explode out of my skin with sadness, how I’m trying to distract myself wondering what it would be like to walk among the stars and all you get out of it is squished cats? You’re telling me you never, ever feel sad?”
I’m being accused of something; insensitivity, the inability to express emotion, gibbering idiocy when faced with anything that can’t be put into a mathematical formula and solved, something equally heinous to the crimes committed on Law & Order: SVU.
“Perhaps you don’t.” Anne stares at me as if I’ve just beamed into our darkened living-room from Mars. “Come to think of it, when your mother died I remember you telling your brother well, the old bird’s finally fallen out of the tree.”
“She was a hundred and three for God sake.”
“And you kept her ashes in a cereal box.” She begins to sob in earnest and I look around the darkened room for tissues.
“Only until we got the urn we wanted.”
“I cried for weeks after my mother died,” she sobs.
“Years,” I mutter.
“Don’t you understand - I’m sad.” Anne cries harder. I finally locate the tissues on the double-crossing coffee-table and hand her a wad which she clutches to those soft, round breasts of hers, allowing the river of tears to drip off her chin unchecked.
I start to sweat. I feel as if I’ve landed on the roof of a runaway train hurtling towards a tunnel that has no more than six inches clearance.
She glares at me. “Do you feel anything about anything ever?”
I remove my eyes from her breasts. “Like I said, I get pissed off.”
What the hell. I’m not going to win this one. Don’t get me wrong. I love Anne. Actually, I’m crazy about her but when she gets all weepy and starts moaning about wanting to walk among the stars, she loses me. I mean, I want to be her hero, her knight in shining armor, a warrior leaping to rescue her from the fucking dragon. I’ve no clue how to rescue her from wanting to explode out of her skin. You tell me.
She finally presses the wad of tissues to her face and I wonder if I can take that as a signal it’s safe to move towards her. Maybe, if I keep my stupid mouth shut and do the hug thing I can save us both from exploding.
I put my arms around her and she jumps as if I just jabbed her with an electric prod.
“What are you doing?”
“I was giving you a hug. I thought it might help.”
She pushes me away. “You think sex is the answer to everything.”
Well, it pretty much is, but I know better than to say so. “I was just going to give you a hug.”
“I know you and your hugs.” She starts to cry again. “I’m really, really sad and I don’t know why and all you can do is talk about squished cats and sex.”
“I never said anything about sex.”
She stops sobbing long enough to gulp, “You don’t love me. I can see it in your face. I bet you wouldn’t even feel sad if I died. You’d probably call up your brother and tell him the fucking bitch finally shit the bed.”
She’s gone into rage mode. That’s good. Rage I can relate to. Rage I understand. Now, we can have a knock-down, drag-out, screaming fight followed by ferocious sex. That way, we’ll both get to walk among the stars.
© Copyright 2016 Roisin Moriarty. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Poem / Poetry
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