It started small. A pair of socks she said had holes in the toes… A sweater she told me had attracted moths… The plants got mold. The books were musty. The carpets had dust mites or some such vermin, I don’t know. It all just started to disappear. Every day, something else. Shoes, ornaments, picture frames, old letters, cards…
Even the fucking furniture, can you imagine? I come home from work and the couch is gone. Needed re-upholstering or, fuck, whatever. Next, the dining room table. Lamps. It’s just gone. When it happens slowly, you almost don’t see it. You just live with it.
I’ve known her since she was 16. 15 or 16. High school. At first I thought her sister was the one. Prettier, right. But then I actually talked to her. And it just hit me. This girl, this girl right here – the one that’s lettin’ me tease the shit outta her – the one that’s amused by me – she’s the one. Rest of my life kinda feelin’. Rest of my life.
She says I’m a bullshitter, you know. Says I’m always tryin’ to impress people with my tough guy act. Fuck. Say one true thing, she says. “I love ya,” I tell her. I put my arms around her and I say, without hesitation, “I love ya.” Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
Come home late one night, right. I practically kill myself comin’ in the front door ‘cause she’s got a chair parked in the entrance. This was during her move-the-furniture-around-every-fuckin’-day-phase, before the get-completely-rid-of-everything-that-isn’t-nailed-down phase – and I — I get into bed, right. She’s not asleep, I can tell she’s not asleep which makes sense ‘cause I swore like a banshee when I went ass over tea kettle over that chair. Fuck! Anyway, she’s not asleep ‘cause I can feel that she’s awake and this was in the early years – well, mid-way maybe. My point is that she was awake, I was injured, all I needed was– (Pause)
One Christmas we had this thing about the laundry. Fuck. Laundry. Who cares, right? I step out of the shower, nearly break my fuckin’ neck ‘cause there’s no bathmat there anymore, I reach for my towel and…ya…(beat) I’m really pissed now, right. She’s in the kitchen makin’ a – what d’ya call it? – a coffee cake – and I storm down there buck naked, right, and there’s somethin’ about the smell of cinnamon and the water runnin’ in the sink and her hair up off her neck and I’m dripping wet and fuckin’ freezing!
She always refers back to that morning. Holidays. Somethin’ about it havin’ been a holiday sort of crystalizes the memory and it’s now like an event to be referred to over and over and over and fuck! It’s not like I planned it. It’s not like I charge into the kitchen bruised, soaking wet, buck naked and horny every fucking Christmas. And if the towel had been there – and the bathmat – for Christ’s sake – none of it would have happened. None of it! So that’s what I told her. You get these ideas in your head about laundry and you implement these ideas without mentioning anything about it to me – things are gonna happen.
Our mattress is on the floor now. She donated the box spring to a woman’s shelter. That’s the kind of thing a man wants to think about as he’s slippin’ under the covers each night. Women’s issues. Makes for a really erotic evening.
I’ve been taking on too many jobs lately. Keeps me focused. When that mask comes down and the torch blows and the smell of melting solder wafts up into my nostrils, everything is right again in the universe. Not to be too metaphorical about it, but I’m a welder. I join pieces of metal together. I can join anything together for that matter – but my wife eludes me.
My wife eludes me.
You know, you might find this hard to believe, but there’s never been anyone but her. Not interested. Not interested in that. I married her, she’s the one I want. Used to be OK to want her so much.
Now she just buries her face in the pillow and I can feel her body trembling.
The other day – coupla months ago maybe – I’m drivin’ along Union Street over by the university, on my way to a job – and I’m remembering when she was a student on campus and I was startin’ out, the welding business and all… I used to pick her up outside the library after it closed and I’d drop her off outside MacCorry Hall for her classes in the morning. We’ve always been the odd couple: her with her glasses and her seriousness, me with my – whatever – and, anyway, I’m drivin’ along Union Street, thinkin’ of the good ole days when we still had furniture, and, bingo, I see her. Fuck. It’s like a blast from the past, seeing her standing outside the library like she’s waitin’ for me. So I pull over, nearly causing a chain reaction pile-up behind me, cause I slammed on the brakes so hard, and I’m about ready to shout, “What the hell are you doin’ here?”, when I see him approach… Big smile breaks across her face, her arms spread apart – he’s grinnin’ like a monkey – and he grabs her and clasps his hands behind her head, pulls her forward and kisses her on the lips…
Then the hug, hips forward, swaying in the breeze…
There’s a time, a right time, for everything. You light the torch, you heat the metal and, at just the right moment, you touch the tip of the solder to the red spot, and, bingo… If your hand is steady and your vision is good, the result is not just union, it’s Beauty.
[From The Welder, an early version of Amour.]
© Elizabeth Anne French 2017