Malta is a country in Europe. It has an international airport and certain types of vegetables. I don’t care about nutrition, but my wife always bugs me about it because of rectal cancer. I don’t know where my wife is now. Chile maybe. Or Singapore. She was pregnant once, but she is no longer pregnant. I like Malta because it has good tennis and waterskiing and cafes overlooking things that are considered to be semi-beautiful to fully beautiful. The cemeteries are relaxing. Also the strippers are good. Two of the strippers have gray eyes. One of them is named Saskia. She has medium sized breasts with pink puffy nipples the size of silver dollars. I think I am in love with her, but she smokes a lot. I am currently sitting at an outdoor café in Malta. I am looking at something that is probably considered semi-beautiful. I will go waterskiing later then have a cocktail and not worry about rectal cancer. When I talk to a pretty girl I will pretend to know something about Hegel, or somebody else, but it kind of depends on how I’m feeling, or how many cocktails I’ve had.
Once I had a conversation with my wife who is possibly living in Mizzoula. My wife was confused about something.
“You don’t understand about things,” she said.
“But I’m happy,” I said.
“Exactly,” she said. “That’s what I’m talking about.”
I met my wife in a Thai restaurant. We had four drinks each and decided to move to Uruguay. It made sense. If we were eating French bistro, or Cuban it might not have made sense. We might have moved to Cleveland, or started a death cult. In Uruguay we ate steak and had five balconies. We felt like we had time to talk and to have sex and not think about rectal cancer. My wife is smarter than me and beautiful, but she is also very sad.
“Do you think life will get easier?” she asked me once a long time ago.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe.”
One time she said she wanted our first child to look like me.
“What about you?” I asked.
“I hate my lips. And my hair.”
“I like your lips and your hair.”
She took a deep breath. Her eyes didn’t roll, but they almost rolled.
Three days before leaving me, my wife and I had cocktails at a friend’s apartment followed by an argument on the way home.
“That’s my privacy,” I yelled.
“Oh Christ,” she said.
Always the rolling of eyes.
Always the snorting of nose.
My wife is 31 and was born in Connecticut.
She does not believe in werewolves, or international airports.
We are unofficially separated, which is somehow related to my selfishness and/or semi-affair I had with her best friend.
Once, before I cheated on her with her best friend I emailed my wife to find out how to use street view on Google maps.
honey, i am laughing right now at you…my team is laughing too. i said to them now i know why we are married….
when you type in the address into google maps you should be able to see an icon that says street view…..
I am eating aged gouda with some leftover Soave. I’m on a balcony overlooking Malta. I have enough money for one more year of living in Malta and then I will perform a jackknife off the rock of Gibraltar. I don’t know. The main thing is that my wife left me because I cheated on her with her best friend in a mud bath. The mud bath was in Jakarta. My wife was taking a nap and her best friend was covered in mud and we did things in the mud I’m not proud of.
Tourists at the next table over from me want to talk about the local color. I pretend I can’t speak English. I order chambord and pastry using a made up accent. They can’t tell the difference. They’re from Orlando. Start a cigarette. Drink chambord. Spread jam on the pastry. My wife and I used to travel. We traveled to Europe, Mexico, part of Africa, Southeast Asia, and other places like Greece where we had sex on a ferry in the middle of the Sea of Crete. We smoked French cigarettes. We sometimes cried. In Mexico she wore a green bikini and we ate BLT’s and drank Coke with real sugar cane in it. In America they use corn syrup instead, but obviously it’s better with cane sugar. Also the bottles are smaller. People are smaller in Mexico, too, but that is unrelated. When she left me it was a Sunday. I was making a martini, preparing to read the paper about either the Clemson Tigers, or how many people had purportedly just been crushed in a foreign earthquake. Boxes lined the walls. Her last things. She took a shower before going. I will never shower with her again in this lifetime, I thought, feeling the green bottle of vermouth cool and heavy in my hand. In the course of a lifetime people rent more movies about multiple car explosions than people they will shower with. Is that sad? In recorded history only one elk ever water-skied the circumference of the Red Sea. It was on drugs and drowned horribly.
I live on the planet Earth.
More specifically I live in a place called Malta. People assume I am immature, or not taking life seriously because I don’t own multiple RV parks in Tennessee, or am currently water proofing a deck while simultaneously talking about the capital gains tax while simultaneously strangling Tom Cruise in an extroverted way that is somehow healthy. Sometimes I want to be water proofing a deck while simultaneously doing a jackknife into someone’s wedding, or the debris of a wedding after someone has driven a speedboat into it. Other times I am vaguely annoyed, or overhearing the phrase “face rape” casually used on the bus, or making a double Rob Roy in front of people to impress them. My wife is very sad. Once she packed her bags and pretended she was going to kill herself with a paring knife in the shower except I told her I loved her and we cried a little and drank hot chocolate with expensive honey in it. After she found out about what happened in the mud she didn’t want to talk to me, but first she slapped me in the face. That was the first time anyone slapped me. I wondered if it made her feel better, or worse, or if she would even remember doing it. We sat outside on the lawn of our old house. We looked up at the sky like we were in a movie about somebody’s husband doing things in the mud with his wife’s best friend that was more and more looking like it was not going to be the kind of movie where things worked out. This was happening in America. This was in the time of high-speed chairlifts and robot dogs in Tokyo. I remember looking at her face in a very intent way. Maybe I wiped away something from her nose? Maybe because of all the crying combined with the steam of the hot chocolate? Behind us was a hammock and the woods. The woods were full of mooses and sasquawtches that quietly face raped each other in an American way that seemed to say we don’t care what you think as their hot breath steamed up the pine trees. Then I looked at her stomach, which was big and round. I patted it and said something to it I don’t remember. I might have said, “Hi there” or something else that doesn’t matter. Three weeks later she had an abortion and moved to Connecticut to live with her mother. The main reason was because of the business in the mud, but there were other reasons, too. If regular love is 8 or 9 out of 10 we were probably already 6 out of 10. This is pre-mud I’m talking about. The day she had the abortion I drove out to the ocean and laughed. It was sort of a laugh-yell. I started walking, then running, the whole time laugh-yelling. Everything was in slow motion. It was like this for days. Sometimes I ate, but a lot of the time I drank whisky and looked not outside a window, but at the actual glass of the window itself, the atomic structure maybe. I tried to go outside, but it was difficult. As a smoke screen to my depression I would buy a steak and sear it in salt and pepper with a little butter. I would eat it while watching “You’ve Got Mail” and then imagining the whole cast being killed by a speedboat driven in slow motion by me and a sasquawtch that was somehow equally disappointed in life. That’s when I knew I was fucked. I didn’t care if I got rectal cancer. I prayed for rectal cancer. I took two-hour showers. I drank merlot from the glove compartment. In the mornings I got dressed for a walk then just sat at the kitchen table. Then I would have lunch. For lunch I usually made tuna sandwiches with special canned tuna from Italy that I got from a special deli. Then I would add black pepper and olive oil and pepperoncinis and more black pepper. After lunch I would do research on werewolves and have a glass of merlot. At five, I would make myself a drink and read Forbes magazine, or watch spycam massages of Japanese swimmers online, who always acted surprised, but not totally surprised when the male masseuse suddenly pulled his wang out of his white nurse pants and waved it around like a horny brook trout. For dinner I would have pasta with more merlot. After dinner I would write emails and have a drink and imagine ending pain and suffering in the world via mass face rape.
Then I would watch TV.
I am at the Malta International airport. I ask for a ticket to America. I go to the airport bar and order a martini. I watch the TV on the wall. Some crowds are yelling at something, holding signs. I can’t make out what the signs say. I look out the window at the planes taking off. How old would my baby be now? Eight months? A year? They wouldn’t be talking yet probably, maybe just crawling, or smiling at something no one else notices. I don’t know what sex to imagine it is. At first I imagine it to be a boy, but then I realize that is probably prejudiced in some way. I think of the baby as a girl for half the time, the other half as a boy. If it were a boy his name would be Graham, a girl, Bailey. I get peanuts and a bloody Mary after we take off. We climb to twenty thousand feet. We watch a movie, a family drama about how midgets shouldn’t be teased, or asked to commit suicide for the greater good. I adjust the air vent. I think about Montivideo, the time my wife and I were there. We talked about the future while making butternut squash soup. My job was to make drinks while she cut up the squash. She used a really cheap knife. I made a joke about how cheap the knife was by pretending to cut my wrist with it, which she didn’t find funny.
Once we made love at night near a koi pond in a Japanese garden. It was November, which is summer there. “No one’s ever made love there before,” my wife said, as we walked back towards our apartment, the street lamps making her eyes shine.
I wonder if she will be happy to see me. I try to sleep on the plane. I am sitting next to an old lady who is probably dying of rectal cancer. We are all dying of rectal cancer. I think of telling her and the whole plane that we are all going to die before realizing they would probably not be clear on the fact I was talking about rectal cancer and not that the plane was going down. A better way to die?
I write a note to my wife and my dead baby on a cocktail napkin that once supported my third bloody Mary.
On it I write, “Please forgive me for not caring enough and only thinking about myself all the time. I want to be a better person so I moved to Malta. We are all dying of rectal cancer.
Much love, Dad.”
In my mind everything is equally mysterious, but with more potential happiness. Potential happiness that is hard to pin down. My potential happiness is like an excited eel let loose in a slick marble bath. Does that sound right? When you listen to it it should sound right. This is my point. My point is that it’s possible to feel this way despite circumstances beyond our control. Like werewolves, or being unborn, or being patriotic, or being afraid of rectal cancer.
I arrive in New York.
I go to my hotel room and order a rib eye and a bottle of Chilean cabernet. I wonder about the pronunciation of the Seychelles Islands. Say-chillies? Say-shells?
I drink the whole bottle of cabernet.
“Fuck my wife,” I say to the empty bottle of cabernet.
Outside it’s dark and feels pretty much like what a hotel room should feel like at nighttime.
I call my wife who is in Maine, possibly.
I want to tell her what is happening, but she seems disinterested, listening to our conversation from a safe distance.
“On the computer,” she says.
The feeling (love? something similar?) she had for me before the thing with the mud is somewhere else now, underwater maybe, or floating in the clouds over Machu Picchu, disoriented, lost. You maybe never know when the feeling first goes away, but when it does you can never get it back no matter how good looking you are, or how much money you have tied up in RV parks in Tennessee, or even how many times you talk to her about Tom Cruise without laughing. You could say, “I want to put on a Tom Cruise mask and softly strangle you in an extroverted way that is somehow healthy,” and she will answer, “On the computer,” which will make you wonder whether or not you took life seriously enough. Did you laugh when she suggested bi-weekly family budget meetings? Did you talk about the capital gains tax in a focused, but casual way at dinner parties that made other people simultaneously fear and respect you?
She tells me I need to stop calling her like this.
I tell her I still love her.
“You don’t get it,” she says, and hangs up.
Having an opinion is important. I think if there were werewolves trying to face rape me or if I was dying of massive rectal cancer I might have a different opinion about things in general. Actually sometimes I’m concerned I literally might be dying of massive rectal cancer. Three of my aunts died of cancer and two of my uncles. Sometimes life is just people dying of rectal cancer while other people watch Tom Cruise movies quivering slightly with unexplained happiness. My wife used to tell me she was leaving me because I had a bad attention span when it came to talking about life insurance or the future. There had to be a constant recognition that life was hard and if that attitude wasn’t readily apparent in my everyday demeanor she would look at me angrily, crushing a Yoplait yogurt, or an Aunt Jemima bottle with her bare hands.
One time we fought about syrup.
I wanted the authentic kind from Vermont, which was more expensive and she wanted Log Cabin. I told her, “Log Cabin, really?” and she threw the Log Cabin at the soup aisle and left. This was our second date. I followed her outside. It was wintertime and I felt scared like I was having some kind of minor heart failure that would end in the possible coldness of an ambulance. I was disgusted at myself for wanting more expensive syrup from Vermont. As we walked I said I was sorry. Later we had sex and I took three Polaroids of her wearing a cowboy hat and gray panties that had black stripes on them. We laughed about the syrup. I thought life would be different.
I’m in Maine trying to get a hold of my wife.
I haven’t talked to her in probably two days or so.
The airports are filled with people yelling at each other, looking panicky.
On TV the president of somewhere is talking to another president.
They look serious and make confident hand gestures towards the TV cameras.
What do they know? I wonder. What do they understand about life that makes them want to act like we aren’t all dying of massive rectal cancer while watching Tom Cruise movies slightly quivering or whatever?
“I’m trying to find my wife,” I say to a young female bartender. I’m in an airport bar called Coyote Jack’s after having two tequila shots in a row and one Budweiser.
“Was she on your flight or something?” the young female bartender says, looking confused.
“Or something,” I say, sort feeling drunk from the tequila shots.
“What?” the bartender says.
“I think this is the end of the world.”
The bartender, who I just noticed has big breasts that are possibly slightly banana shaped, pretends to focus on a glass she is cleaning. “That’ll be nineteen dollars,” she says.
When I call my wife again there is no answer.
I take a plane to Las Vegas.
Then I take another plane to San Francisco.
My wife has a condo in Pacific Heights that her father bought her as “insurance.”
I go to a bar near the condo.
The bar’s theme is South Pacific so I order a Mai Tai.
On TV is footage of riots going on in Hong Kong that no one is watching.
“Give me another Mai Tai,” I say before getting the bill and buzzing my wife’s condo.
A woman in her late-thirties, holding an axe comes to the door that is not my wife.
“Who are you?” the woman says, holding the axe up, squinting into the streetlight behind me.
“I’m the husband of the woman in 302,” I say.
The woman looks at me more carefully.
“She’s not here,” the woman says.
“Where is she?” I say. “I really need to find her.”
The woman looks at me. She puts the axe down.
“Family emergency,” I say.
The woman goes away.
“Family emergency,” I say to myself in a small voice that quivers slightly.
After about thirty seconds the woman comes back without the axe.
The woman puts her hands on her hips, breathing out slowly.
“Ok, I think she’s in New York,” she says.
In the cab to some hotel downtown I call my wife.
“I just went to see you at your condo, but you weren’t there,” I say. “I miss you. I just saw the fondue place we had fondue at that one time. Remember when you made fun of that obese Austrian family, or at least they looked Austrian, and then later we took a shower together and you kept saying, “oh yeah oh yeah?” Remember when we thought about moving to Greenland so we could concentrate on each other?”
I look on my wife’s Facebook page. It says, “Part of every misery is … the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer.”
“C.S. Lewis,” it says under the quote.
I Google “Andrea Montenegro nude.”
I jerk off to Andrea Montenegro nude then go to weather.com to see what the weather will be tomorrow, then go to sleep.
I order a bloody mary at an airport bar in Philadelphia.
I see a semi-obese family in McDonalds ordering lunch together.
They have on Minnesota Vikings sweatshirts and look semi-afraid about the future.
I think about calling my wife, but then I don’t. Seeing her in person is better, I tell myself. Seeing her in person will force her to “live in the now.”
Part of me realizes that my wife has fallen out of love with me and part of me realizes that nothing matters in the face of rectal cancer and Tom Cruise. What I’m trying to be is honest with myself. Somewhere over North Dakota I thought about killing myself. Not really, but sort of. I thought about this after wondering what my unborn baby would’ve looked like as an adult. We would’ve gone to pumpkin patches and taken family pictures on haystacks. We would have had New England style clam chowder on some kind of pier. They would grow up. They would play professional football or be a semi-depressed veterinarian.
For some reason after twenty minutes of flying my plane turns around and lands back in Philadelphia. People on the plane nervously drink complimentary wine and talk in loud voices.
“Sorry, there are no more flights to New York today,” the stewardess says on the PA.
Most people try to remain calm. One person talks into their cell phone crying. Some people stay at the airport or try to get on different flights even though some of the airline employees are leaving. Some of them are also crying in their cell phones.
I rent a car.
If I were going to kill myself I would light my rental car on fire and drive it into a wedding while playing Night Ranger at full blast.
Is it ok to think like that?
Is it ok to live in Malta and dream about UFO’s being real?
Sometimes, just before I go to bed, I have a vision. They find me dead, in my arms a half-drunk seventy-five dollar bottle of Cab, eight porno mags, and a Black Uhuru Greatest Hits CD. My toxicology report is the saddest ever written.
It is in the Smithsonian now.
Right now though I am really worried about my life. That it’s changed somehow, in a deeper way that is difficult to measure. My wife and I used to look at life and laugh, feeling confident in a general sense that is impossible to appreciate until it is gone or warped into something different, something less confident. When we were together I sometimes had “fake heart-attacks.” This is where your heart clenches up on you, as if a french fry had gotten terribly tangled in one of your arteries and so you then proceed to breathe real easy, quietly telling yourself that you aren’t going to die like this, in a T-shirt with an iron-on of you and a fraternity brother riding the “tallest roller coaster in North America.”
“Breathe easy,” my wife would say. “Slow breaths, baby.”
Sometimes I would see bright flashes of my childhood. My father’s Budweiser swim trunks. How I eclipsed the moon with my thumb. The time I accidentally hit my sister with part of a brick, pretending I was an artillery commander in a forward-area of our backyard.
Life is not living up to its potential somehow.
Go to work, take pills, come home, watch the news, drink, repeat?
One morning, back when I had a “serious job,” while attempting to hide a bottle of high-powered muscle relaxants in my Roladex, I found something on the Internet. It was a grainy image of some Zapatista foot soldiers. There were four of them. They had rifles and an SUV parked next to a cliff overlooking a valley the color of jade and ripe bananas. The caption under the photograph read, “Commander Guerrero oversees ‘controlled zone’ last November.”
I think I wanted to be like them, but I didn’t know how.
At the beginning of our relationship my wife would always rub my back with affectionate concern. She would say, “Hey there baby—breathe.” Then she would do a little made up dance that was maybe samba-like, or flash her medium-sized breasts, laughing.
I park my rental car and start walking around Brooklyn.
I am in Little Yemen.
Sometimes when I’m doing things like walking down a street in Little Yemen I think of how my wife’s face looked when I told her about the things that happened in the mud. It was a look I had never seen before in real life or in the movies. For weeks the first thing I thought about in the morning was that face. Sometimes faces say things better than anything else. I remember feeling embarrassed and wanting to kill myself—lighting myself on fire then walking into the middle of a wedding, saying nothing as I cut into the wedding cake, my death-flames licking a nearby flower arrangement. Somehow this is what I should have done without questioning it. It feels better. One time I bought a Christmas tree by myself. A man coming out of Red Lobster with his family jokingly said something about being lonely on the holidays so I punched him in the throat.
“You want this to happen in front of your family?” I said.
“Fuck you,” the man said, sort of wheezing.
“Fuck you, too,” I said.
After fighting, my wife and I always went into different rooms. For one three month period we were nonstop fighting for some reason. We could feel each other’s anger seep through the walls like badly grating music. “When we have children we have to be better,” my wife would say earnestly during foreplay three months later. I nodded, gently whapping my engorged wang against her cheek, saying “oh yeah oh yeah.”
In the middle of the street I see a woman lying face down on the street.
It is late afternoon in Brooklyn.
There are some gray clouds.
The woman lying face down on the street looks up at me.
She motions to me.
I go over to the woman lying face down on the street.
“What is it?” I say.
“You shouldn’t be here,” the woman says.
I look around and see other people lying face down in the street.
“Walk away quietly,” the woman says.
I walk away quietly down another street.
I go inside a corner bodega. Nobody’s there so I take a Snickers. I put a dollar bill on the counter. I look up at the clouds, eating the Snickers.
What frightens people most is dying and then there is nothing, like no God or angels sitting on clouds playing pinochle with Lee Majors. Anyway it’s not like blackness because that would be something so it’s really more of a nothingness like when you sleep and don’t remember anything.
I find the building I’m looking for. I go inside. I feel the building’s warmth. I go past the door right before the stairs with the old Yemeni couple. The old Yemeni couple constantly yelled very loudly at each other and ate lamb seemingly every night, which is stereotypical, or mildly racist somehow, but true. On the second floor under the fire extinguisher it reads, WEREWOLVES RULE in thick felt pen. One woman tenant said, “How ironic,” when I was looking at it one time. I fake laughed and said, “Have a good weekend.” Have a great weekend? “If werewolves are ironic then I am dying of massive rectal cancer,” I imagined saying to the fire extinguisher.
I walk up two more flights.
Our apartment is on the fourth floor.
Outside the door is a bag of recycling because today is recycling day.
It smells like someone making tomato soup.
The door is slightly ajar so I go inside.
I take my shoes off.
I go to the bathroom and check my hair in the mirror.
I go to the kitchen where my wife is sitting with her back to me.
“I’m home,” I say.
My wife doesn’t answer.
My wife starts breathing heavily while not looking up.
She is looking out the window of Brooklyn and not saying anything.
Trevor J. Houser has published stories in Pindeldyboz, Story Quarterly, and Zyzzyva among others. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.
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